The Moral Panic Causes Trouble in Zion

The Haun’s Mill Massacre.  The Mountain Meadows Massacre. The Rwandan Genocide.   Ethnic Cleansing in Bosnia and Serbia.  How do such terrible atrocities happen?

Kenny Ballantine is in the process of producing a documentary called Trouble in Zion.  The documentary discusses the events leading up to the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri.  It highlights the Extermination Order and Haun’s Mill Massacre, as well as events leading up to these terrible events.  Kenny showed a pre-release version of the film at the Mormon History Association in Independence, Missouri in May, and he is also showing the film at Sunstone here in Salt Lake City in August.  I really enjoyed the film, and highly recommend it.  I thought Kenny was pretty even-handed, and had experts discuss reactions by both Mormons and non-Mormons which escalated the violence.

Following the presentation at the MHA Conference, Ballentine explained that he didn’t want his documentary to look like a Ken Burns documentary.  A fan of comic books, Kenny found a comic book illustrator to show scenes depicting the conflict.  It took me a while to get used to the comic book art, but it is starting to grow on me.  Kenny was kind enough to give me an advanced copy, and I would like to offer some of my impressions about the film and the conflict.  I hope he stops by to answer questions too!

I was really impressed with the lineup of experts Kenny interviewed.  The most famous people include Richard Bushman, LDS assistant historian Richard Turley, CoC Apostle Andrew Bolton, Washington State University Religion and Sociology professor Armand Mauss, and BYU Church History professor Alex Baugh, among an impressive list of guests.  He outlined a series of events leading up to the Hauns Mill Massacre and the Extermination Order.  Some of the key events include:

  • July 20, 1833.  Bishop Partridge is told to leave Jackson County immediately.  He refuses and is tarred and feathered.  Three days later, he signs an agreement to leave the county.  Ballentine doesn’t really address the reasons why the Missourians were upset at the Mormons, though he does mention that the first Missourians wanted slavery to be legal, while the Mormons from the North were generally against slavery.  WW Phelps published an article in the Evening and Morning Star that Mormons wanted to welcome people of all color.  This is the reason the Missourians were upset, which is why they attacked Bishop Partridge, and destroyed the Mormon printing press.  (Joseph was living in Kirtland at this time.)
  • Oct 31-Nov 7.  Missourians incite hostilities against the Mormons.  Mormons leave for Clay County.
  • In 1836, the Missouri legislature declares Caldwell County will be set aside for Mormon settlement.  (This is the home of Far West.)  Ballentine doesn’t mention that the original “Jack Mormon”, non-Mormon Alexander Doniphan brokers a deal to create the county.  (I previously mentioned Doniphan as one of the first Jack Mormons.)
  • 1838.  Joseph leaves Kirtland under the cover of night due to the Kirtland Bank Crisis  (I blogged about this earlier).  Upon arriving in Missouri, he finds dissent among Missouri Mormons as well.  John Whitmer, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and WW Phelps are excommunicated.  Many of these dissenters opposed living the Law of Consecration.  (As I mentioned in my previous post on consecration, it won’t work unless all members of the community participate, and many of the dissenters did not want to participate.)
  • June 17, 1838.  Sidney Rigdon issues the “Salt Sermon.”  In the sermon, he referenced the scripture about “salt that has lost it’s savor”, and essentially issued an ultimatum that Mormon apostates should leave the county or be forcibly removed.  Most of the dissenters move south to Ray County.
  • July 4, 1838.  Rigdon issued another fiery patriotic sermon stating that the Mormons and Missourians would wage a “war of extermination…one party or the other”.  It seems the subsequent Extermination Order by Governor Boggs wasn’t quite what Rigdon had in mind.
  • Aug 6, 1838 – Mormons in Daviess County were prevented from voting.  The Whig candidate said Mormons were only supposed to live in Caldwell County and should be ineligible to vote.  He was concerned that Mormons would vote for the Democratic Candidate, because Mormons were overwhelming Democrats back then.  A big brawl broke out that has often been called a “battle”.  There were exaggerated rumors that Mormons were killed.
  • Aug 19, 1838 – Mormons were expelled from DeWitt, in Daviess County.  Following the election, Missourians decided to expel Mormons.
  • Oct 18, 1838 – The Mormons decide to retaliate.  Known as the Daviess Expedition, a group of Danites (a secret Mormon militia group) led an effort to expel Missourians from Gallatin, Millport and Grindstone Fork.   Mormons plundered the property and burned the stores and houses to the ground.
  • Oct 24, 1838 – The Battle of Crooked River.  Mormons attack and scatter the Missouri Militia.  Many of the Missouri Militia erroneously believe all others are killed.  Only 1 Missourian was killed, but LDS Apostle David Patten (known as “Captain FearNot”), Danite leader Gideon Carter were both killed; 9 other Mormons were wounded.
  • Oct 27, 1838 – Governor Lilburn Boggs issues the Extermination Order; “the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace…”
  • October 30, 1838 – The Hauns Mill Massacre; 18 Mormons are killed, ranging in age from 10-year old Sardius Smith, to 62 year old Thomas McBride.  I would like to quote directly from the film.

“On October 30, 1838, a large group of armed Missourians marched on the small and peaceful Mormon settlement known as Haun’s Mill, primarily in retribution for the Mormon gutting of Daviess County.

Alex Baugh, associate professor of Church History and Doctrine at BYU said, “This was a revenge thing.  The sad part about that is that there is not one person in the Hauns Mill community that we can identify as having gone up on that Daviess expedition earlier in the month.  So sadly, on October 30, the Livingston County Militia, along with a number of those who had been kicked out of Daviess County came and attacked the Mormon settlement of Haun’s Mill.

Amanda Barnes Smith was a young Latter-day Saint mother who recorded the events of that day.

“A little before sunset, a mob of 300 came upon us.  The men hollered for the women and children to run for the woods while they ran for the old blacksmith shop.  Our men took off their hats and cried for quarters, but the mob paid no attention and shot them down.  I took my little girls and ran for the woods.  My boys I could not find.”

Amanda’s two little boys, Sardius and Alma had followed their father into the blacksmith shop.  The men had hoped to use the shop like a fortress in the event of an attack.  Instead, it quickly proved to be a death trap.  Seeing no other alternative, the men made a desperate dash for the woods, nearly all of them being gunned down in the process.  Many of the attackers looted, humiliated, and brutalized the wounded and dying.  The oldest victim was 62 year old Thomas McBride who after surrendering his weapon was hacked to death with a corn knife.  And the youngest was 10 year old Sardius Smith.  An enraged Missourian leveled his gun against the small boy’s head, and after proclaiming that ‘nits become lice” pulled the trigger.

Amanda found her husband and 10 year old son Sardius dead, and her 6 year old son’s hip was “all shot to pieces.”Apostle Andrew Bolton of the Community of Christ said,

“Hauns Mill was a tragedy:  17 boys and men are killed and another one dies later from his wounds.  Hauns Mill was a peaceful settlement of Mormons: 15 miles from the main group in Far West, but therefore isolated and vulnerable in the sectarian war that was erupting around them.  Two days before the massacre they reiterated their commitment to live in peace with their neighbors.  This was a genuine, authentic group that didn’t want any part of the violence and suffered horrible tragedy.  The lesson from Haun’s Mill is the innocent get hurt whenever there is human violence.  It spills over, and there is tragedy.

So how does such a tragedy happen?  Why do neighbors turn so quickly on each other?  In my previous post, I discussed the Rwandan Genocide.  Armand Mauss describes the “Moral Panic” in Ballentine’s film.  He is professor emeritus of Sociology and Religious Studies at Washington State University.  He retired in 1999, but continues to be active on Mormon studies.  He is probably most famous for his book The Angel and the Beehive.  The Moral Panic explains how groups turn so quickly violent.

“The Moral Panic refers to a Conflict situation in which a new religion or a fad or fashion presents to the host society a threat to for want of a better phrase, ‘all that they hold dear.'”

When a society is gripped by a moral panic, that society is apt to respond as though their facing matters of life and death.  That leads to violence that is considered justifiable in almost any extreme, because of what we see is at stake.  It makes it possible for people who yesterday felt very friendly toward another people, suddenly see those people not only as enemies, but as less than human.”

All of the restraints that people normally feel about the way human beings should treat human beings, those restraints gradually melt away, and people who are perfectly nice, decent people, find themselves doing things that they would have never thought that they could do….Under other circumstances a group of Mormons and a group of Missourians might have gone to dinner together and had a good time, but under these circumstances, they faced the Moral Panic.”

It is truly astonishing how quickly neighbor can turn against neighbor.  It is truly a tragedy when cooler heads do not prevail.

As I said before, I really enjoyed Ballentine’s film.  There is much more to the film than I have presented here.  If you get a chance to see this film at Sunstone, I encourage you to see it.  I know Ballentine is still trying to obtain financing to finish the film.  While it is not yet complete, I think it is an excellent film at this point.  I’ve invited Kenny to stop by, and I am sure he would welcome questions and comments.  If you would like a preview, click here for the official Website.  There are some clips to watch.

15 comments on “The Moral Panic Causes Trouble in Zion

  1. A lot of these atrocities seem be religiously based. One could also argue that the largest threat to world peace is radical islamist jihadists. I think John Lennon had the right answer.

  2. Thanks for reviewing the film. I would be happy to accept any questions / comments, and I look forward to meeting anyone who comes out to the Sunstone screening on August 6th.


  3. I agree with much of what you are saying, but I have to disagree on the Palestinian / Israeli conflict.
    It is no secret that Muslims believe that Islam MUST cover the earth and anyone/thing that opposes that progress is labeled infidel. Any war involving Islam is religiously based.

  4. Bishop Rick and Andrew, I moved Andrew’s comment about Tutsi’s and Hutus to the Rwandan post where it seemed a bit more appropriate, but I decided to leave the comment about the Palestinian conflict because one of the experts in Trouble in Zion referenced that. Andrew Bolton’s son (I can’t remember his first name) noted that many fewer people were killed in the Missouri Mormon war simply because people didn’t have access to weapons like the Israelis and Palestinians. I remember he also said that there was no central authority in Missouri, whereas there was a real breakdown of central authority in Gaza.

    Yes it is true that many atrocities are religiously based, but there is a good deal of evil that comes about based on economics or plain old bigotry. The Nazi regime was more atheistic than religious. Certainly the Rwandan genocide had Christian attacking Christians, but had nothing to do with religion–it was ethnic hatred. The Bosnians, Croats, and Serbs were more interested in killing each other based on ethnicity rather than religion, though there were some Christian/Muslim skirmishes in that war. The British took over Hong Kong from the Chinese keep the opium trade going, and that had nothing to do with religion either. I believe many of the ancient Roman and Greek conquests were more for economic and political reasons than simply religion. Crucifying Jesus on the cross was not a religious punishment, but a political one. The Romans wanted all insurrectionists stopped, and the San Hedrin indicated that Jesus was guilty of treason in order to get him killed. Pontius Pilate didn’t care one whit if Jesus claimed to be the son of God.

    Kenny, I think the information about the WW Phelps editorial is an important piece of the 1833 Missouri attacks. Would you consider adding information about that to the film? Also, I showed the film to my parents last week. One thing my father said that wasn’t addressed in the film was that Joseph had warned the people of Hauns Mill to leave the settlement. They didn’t heed Joseph’s advice and ended up getting killed. I know I’ve heard a quote like that attributed to Joseph, and I wonder if you have plans to add any additional information like that, or are you simply trying to raise enough money to finish effects and start distribution?

  5. Andrew Bolton’s son is Matt Bolten.

  6. There are several important historical items that are omitted from the film. Choosing what info to include and what to exclude while maintaining an engaging pace and running time is no easy task. In the end I let the scholars decide what pieces of information were the most important. The parts that they focused on in their interviews are the parts I focus on in the film. A film cannot give a full contextual account of history in an hour or two. It can however convey the essence of that history and deliver an important message. I hope that it sparks an interest in people who will then seek out the real scholarship that is out there for further study.

    And in answer to your question, I do not have any plans to add material to the film. The money I am raising now is for some finishing touches (audio mix, color correcting, effects).

  7. “It is no secret that Muslims believe that Islam MUST cover the earth and anyone/thing that opposes that progress is labeled infidel. Any war involving Islam is religiously based.”

    @Bishop Rick

    If Bin Laden actually believed what he taught he’d be the first in line to blow himself up. In other words dying for religion is grand, as long as it’s someone else doing the dying while the folks in charge reap the political and/or material benefits. Thus I strongly disagree with your assertion that “any war involving Islam is religiously based” — that’s how they sell it at home and to us (and they’ve done a fabulous job), but that’s not what it’s really about.

  8. thanks kenny. I agree that it is impossible to fully discuss all aspects of the conflict in just an hour, and it can be tough to decide what to keep.

    I know bishop rick and I have discussed danites at zelph’s blog previously. I though the discussion here would go in that direction rather than in the direction of islam. I thought kenny did a good job of pointing out danite actions. the church typically doesn’t talk about danites, and I felt kenny did a good job of pointing out their actions without villianizing them in the conflict. as we remember, elder joseph on zelph’s blog tried to defend the hauns mill massacre by laying the blame on the danites. such accusations are irresponsible. sure the danites were guilty of escalation and intimidation, but they didn’t massacre people like the hauns mill killers did.

    I will agree with andrew on his point. islam wasn’t really a jihad in serbia like it has been in other conflicts. chechnya initially wasn’t a jihadist war until islamic radicals decided to turn it into a jihad.

    I saw a film from a&e called ‘the first 2000 years of christianity.’ I found the discussion about the ottoman empire and its effect on christianity very interesting. muslims severely limited missionary efforts of christians, but they were quite tolerant of christians in the empire. it wasn’t as antagonistic as bishop rick characterized. many muslims are tolerant, but the jihadists are the ones that make the news.

  9. I think you guys are missing my point. We are not talking about the same thing. I don’t deny that MH probably has good Muslim neighbors or that Osama is a coward for the reason’s stated by Andrew. My point is that Islam has 1/3 of the world’s population because of war. It’s meteoric rise is a direct result of invasion/persuasion. In other words, Islam was forced on Syria, Jordan, Palestine (Jerusalem), Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Iran, all of North Africa, some parts of India and China, and even Spain, by the use of force. Convert or face the Cimeter. This led to the crusades as Christians couldn’t stand the fact that Muslims controlled the Holy Land. We have already mentioned today’s Jihadists, and don’t ignore the recent spread throughout the western world.

    Don’t be fooled by those that claim Islam is a peaceful religion. That is blatantly false. Muhammed claims he was commanded by Allah to fight wars to spread “the true word of Allah.”

    The very heart of Islam is its worldwide spread by whatever means necessary.
    I’m not making this up. This is well known fact borne out by history and modern day scholars.

    Regarding the Danites – I purposely avoided that one for fear of drumming up bad past experiences.

  10. “My point is that Islam has 1/3 of the world’s population because of war.

    The same can be said of Christianity. Charlemagne converted most of Europe to Christianity by the sword as he created the Holy Roman Empire.

    It’s meteoric rise is a direct result of invasion/persuasion. In other words, Islam was forced on Syria, Jordan, Palestine (Jerusalem), Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Iran, all of North Africa, some parts of India and China, and even Spain, by the use of force. Convert or face the Cimeter.

    The same can be said of Christianity. Charlemagne and various popes led the Inquisition and Crusades. Europe is overwhelmingly Christian because of coercive conversions. Even the Salem Witch trials were “confess or die.” The slaves in America became Christian because we weren’t about to let them practice their native African religion when they came here.

    This led to the crusades as Christians couldn’t stand the fact that Muslims controlled the Holy Land.

    Muslims and Christians both have blood on their hands for the centuries of wars against each other in battles over the Holy Land. Europe was warring with itself, so the Pope thought it would be a good idea to unite Europe and attack the Muslims instead. He was right–it did help stop the warring in Europe, but created a host of atrocities elsewhere.

    In the 4th Crusade, the pope sent Crusaders to take the Holy Land from Muslims. This was more of a political move to consolidate power than anything in particular the Muslims did. The Catholic Crusaders needed to go through Constantinople to get to Israel. While there, they sacked the city, killing many Orthodox Christians. They weakened the Orthodox Church so much that it enabled the Muslims not only to keep Israel, but expand into Turkey and turn Turkey from an overwhelmingly Christian nation to a Muslim nation. So, Christians are just as responsible for “convert or die” mentality.

    So yes, Islam has a history of violence–it “is well known fact borne out by history and modern day scholars.” It “is well known fact borne out by history and modern day scholars” that Christianity has a similar history. Jihadism, Missouri mobs, Mormon mobs, and the Crusades should all be equally condemned. The violence between the Koreas, as well as the Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims in India/Pakistan should be condemned just as much as Rwandan genocide.

    One can read many scriptures in Bible and say that both Judaism and Christianity both espoused war. Certainly the Canaanites weren’t even given the “convert” option–it was simply die because you are so wicked. When we laud Joshua as an example of righteousness for sacking all the Canaanite cities without leaving a man, woman, child, or cow alive, we are hypocrites. (What exactly did the animals do that was wicked?) I don’t believe God commanded Joshua to command genocide. (I don’t know if you remember my post on Joshua’s Unholy War. (As you can imagine, Tara didn’t agree with my take on the story.)

    Radical Muslims that encourage Jihad should be roundly condemned, but we shouldn’t forget that radical Crusaders were guilty of the same thing. People like Osama feel that the current Jihad is a tit-for-tat for the Ottomon Empire crumbling after World War I. These types of people are thinking about centuries of religious wars, not just the last 60 years when Islam has become increasingly radicalized.

    Karen Armstrong has a book called The Battle for God where she discusses Islamic, Jewish, and Christian Fundamentalisms turn to violence to maintain “pure” beliefs in a modern world. I understand the allure of fundamentalism in any religion, but I think it is dangerous.

  11. Now we are on the same page.

    I don’t remember Joshua’s Unholy War post. I think it predates me contributing to this blog, but I will read it this week. I can imagine the discussion between you and Tara on this one. Maybe its good I didn’t participate, because it would have seemed to be ganging up on Tara.

    Below is the BRT (Bishop Rick Translation) of your last comment:

    Even the Salem Witch trials were “confess or die.”


    Even the Salem Witch trials were “confess and/or die.”

    …she discusses Islamic, Jewish, and Christian Fundamentalisms turn to violence…


    …she discusses Islamic, Jewish, and Christian Fundamentalism’s return to violence…

  12. Since Islam and Christianity have been in common existence, they have been in constant ebb and flow against each other due to historical circumstances. (Did you remember that there would have been no Charlemagne if Charles the Hammer hadn’t first stopped the military invasian of France by Islam at Tours?) Rome was exhausted by the Goths and could not stop expansion of Islam into the Roman world. The Islamic rise in the East got smashed by barbarians coming out of the steppes who would have preferred to be conquering China. Everybody gets to play, as Andrew points out, because any ideology, religious or otherwise, can be used to advantage by those with a lust for power.

    Morality is the property of an individual, no matter how much cultural interactions may amplify or smother that morality.

  13. Bishop Rick, I’m fine with your BRT of my comments. FireTag–I love the last line of your comment.

  14. MH, I can’t improve upon what you said in #10 re, Christianity’s spread across the world by violence and force. If we can forgive Christianity, we can forgive Islam, too.

    Bishop Rick, if the violence of the misguided Danites does not mean the Mormon religion is false, neither does the violence of the Muslims equate with falsehood in their religion.

    The tensions between Muslims and the West sounds a lot to me like the “Moral Panic” that occurred in Missouri, etc.

    There is a solution: Think about the Anti-Nephi-Lehis (Alma 24). In peaceably laying down their lives they touched the hearts of their blood-thirsty attackers…

    Even if Muslims believe they must convert the whole world (I have doubts about this), we know that they won’t (nothing can stop the work of God from progressing). So we have no reason to fear, regardless of what they do/say/think.

    Whether it be Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists, Catholics, Hindus or Protestants, I’ve seen light in the faces of people who love God/fellow man, regardless of religious differences.

    Here is a thought attributed to Buddha (verses 5 & 6 of the Dhammapada):

    “5. For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love, this is an old rule.
    “6. The world does not know that we must all come to an end here;–but those who know it, their quarrels cease at once.”

    BTW, I think if Americans hadn’t sacredized the “right to bear arms” a bit of moral panic wouldn’t be near so disastrous as what happened in Haun’s Hill and Mountain Meadows (and such like). Guns are such a cowardly way to defend oneself, and so dangerous to keep around a family home. They are so unnecessary, except as a way to quickly kill feral or overpopulous animals or injured farm animals.

  15. […] about Jackson County—the much more interesting period of Mormon history.  (I had heard Alex interviewed in the video Trouble in Zion, and he is one of the 3 historians featured on the cover of the DVD.)  To my delight, Alex ran […]

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