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Memorial Day Jack Mormon Alexander Doniphan

Michael Quinn’s book The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power talks about many incidents which led to the “extermination order” by Missouri Governor Boggs.  These events are often referred to as the Mormon War in Missouri.  While there were some armed struggles, it seems more like vigilante and frontier justice than an all out war.  But with Memorial Day upon us, I wanted to highlight a person that people know a little about, Alexander Doniphan, who was known as one of the first “Jack Mormons.”

The term “Jack Mormon” is familiar to most of us.  Generally, it means a Mormon in name only.  In modern usage, a Jack Mormon is probably inactive, doesn’t really go to church, doesn’t follow the Word of Wisdom or other orthodox Mormon habits, and may or may not be proud of his Mormon heritage.  However, in the days of Joseph Smith, Quinn says on page 101, “non-mormon allies were known as ‘Jack-Mormons’, originally an LDS term of endearment.”

Alexander Doniphan is even mentioned in LDS manuals, such as this primary manual.  Quinn talks about these incident as well, and adds some more details, while leaving out some.  It is interesting that the church manual talks about the LDS being prevented from voting, while Quinn talks about a few other incidents as well.  I’m sure the church left out the following account about the Haun’s Mill massacre out of the primary manual for good reason.  From page 100,

When one of the Missouri militiamen found ten-year-old Sardius Smith’s hiding place, he put “his rifle near the boy’s head, and literally blowed off the upper part of it,” testified survivor and general authority Joseph Young [brother of Brigham] shortly thereafter.    Other Missourians used a “corn-cutter” to mutilate the still-living Thomas McBride.  When the survivors found the elderly man, his corpse was “literally mangled head to foot.”

It is terrible the brutality the Missourians inflicted upon the saints.  I have mentioned before that I do not believe the saints were without fault, but this brutality is atrocious, and was never prosecuted.  Continuing on,

A generally unacknowledged dimension of both the extermination order and the Haun’s Mill Massacre, however, is that they resulted from Mormon actions in the Battle of Crooked River.  Knowingly or not, Mormons had attacked state troops, and this had a cascade effect…  Finally upon receiving news of the injuries and death of state troops at Crooked River, Governor Boggs immediately drafted his extermination order on 27 October 1838 because Mormons “have made war upon the people of this state.”  Worse, the killing of one Missourian and mutiliation of another while he was defenseless at Crooked River led to the mad-dog revenge by Missourians in the slaughter at Hauns Mill.

This is where Alexander Doniphan comes in.

Despite the hatred of some Missourians toward Mormons, other non-Mormons protected LDS friends in the state.  William Thompson endured several lashes “with a cowhide,” rather than tell a mob where the Mormons were.  Better known among Mormons was Missourian Alexander W. Doniphan, who had risked his standing in his own community by defending the Mormons against expulsion from Jackson County in 1833.  In 1834, he startled fellow Missourians by praising the effort of Zion’s Camp to reclaim Mormon lands in Jackson County.  As state representative from Clay County, Doniphan regretted that his fellow residents had asked the Mormons to leave the county, and he successfully persuaded the Missouri legislature to create Caldwell County [in an 1836 compromise.]  When anti-Mormon troops surrounded Far West and forced its surrender, General Samuel D. Lucas ordered Doniphan to summarily execute Joseph Smith, and six other Mormon leaders who were in custody in November 1838.  Doniphan refused to obey the order, thus risking a similar summary execution himself.  By putting his own safety and career at risk, Alexander Doniphan saved Smith’s life and earned a permanent place as one of Mormon history’s non-Mormon heroes.

I want to quote from a website regarding Doniphan’s actual reply–I think it is impressive.  The website is http://www.historicliberty.org/tours/Alexander%20Doniphan%20-%20Juarenne.htm, and states,

When the Mormons surrendered to the militia, Doniphan’s commanding officer gave the order for Joseph Smith, the Mormon leader, and six others to be shot. Doniphan’s reply was “It is cold-blooded murder. I will not obey your order. My brigade will march for Liberty at 8:00 tomorrow morning, and if you execute these men I will hold you personally responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God.” Doniphan chose to subject himself to the threat of possible court-martial rather then to carry out an order which meant the execution of men not found guilty by civil or military tribunal.

Continuing on from Quinn page 101,

Without the drama of Doniphan’s military insubordination, militia general David R. Atchison restrained his own troops and used his political clout to benefit the besieged Mormons.  Another young Missourian wrote his father in December 1838 that the governor’s “extermination” order was a “foul disgrace to our State,” and the the Mormons had every right “to defend [themselves] with force and arms…”  The Jews call such benefactors and rescuers, “righteous Gentiles,” but during Smith’s life these non-Mormon allies were known as “Jack-Mormons,” originally an LDS term of endearment.”

So, I wanted to learn a little more about Alexander Doniphan.

  • Alexander Doniphan Elementary School is found on 1900 Clay Drive, in Liberty, Missouri
  • Doniphan served 3 terms as a state representative, and worked as a lawyer, who represented Joseph Smith.  Quoting from the website above, “During his career as a trial lawyer Doniphan defended more than 188 men, none of whom suffered the extreme penalty for the crime with which he was charged. This was true in Joseph Smith’s case. Doniphan tendered his services as a civil defender of the Mormons who were never convicted in court. Thus was spared the life of one who led the beginning of one of the great religious movements of our day. This building stands as a monument to Doniphan’s compassion and respect for the law. “
  • There was a presentation on Doniphan at the Truman Presidential Library in 2007.  ‘He once met Abraham Lincoln and Lincoln is reported to have said: “Alexander Doniphan is the only man I have ever met who lived up to my previous expectations.” Today there many items which bear his name including several towns, a school, a battleship, a county, a highway and numerous local awards.’
  • He went on to lead a very successful campaign in the Mexican-American War in 1846-7.
  • He was a slaveholder, who favored keeping the union in tact.

For more information on the 1838 Mormon War, check out this Wikipedia entry.  I am grateful for non-Mormon allies such as Doniphan, and hope we will always appreciate men like this.

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9 comments on “Memorial Day Jack Mormon Alexander Doniphan

  1. Thanks for this post! I previously knew next to nothing about Doniphan.

  2. Thank You for this post… it was very informative and shows a lot of courage of Alexander Doniphan and character as well as integrity.

  3. Interesting story that reminds us to also look outside of the Church for examples of true integrity. I don’t think I had ever heard of Doniphan, but now I’m glad I have.

  4. I remember first hearing about Doniphan when I taught 9-year old primary. I thought, “I don’t ever remember hearing about this!” It is always nice to have allies like him.

  5. […] in Missouri.  Mormons were kicked out of Jackson County, Missouri, and a non-Mormon legislator, Alexander Doniphan brokered a deal in which the Mormons were required and restricted to Caldwell County, Missouri […]

  6. I will be ever grateful to Alexander Doniphan for the exemplary integrity and courage he manifested in standing up to his commanding officer against what would have been the unjust executions of my great-great grandfather and my great-great grand uncle and others I revere. He is one of my heroes.

  7. I just named my baby boy after this Doniphan, after hearing about this story in a General Conference. We need so many more courageous, just and righteous souls like this amazing man in our world today.

    Thanks for the great post!!!!

  8. […] Click here for a brief history of the term.  Do you know any other Jack Mormons? […]

  9. […] Click here for a brief history of the term.  Do you know any other Jack Mormons? […]

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