In its early years of Mormon history the LDS Church met serious resistance when it attempted to expand into the state of Missouri in the 1830s.
Joseph Smith only exacerbated the problem when he printed an inflammatory sermon by associate Sidney Rigdon in pamphlet form. In this July 4th oration, Rigdon threatened anyone who would attempt to trample the rights of the Mormon people, “And that mob that comes on us to disturb us; it shall be between us and them a war of extermination, for we will follow them, till the last drop of their blood is spilled, or else they will have to exterminate us: for we will carry the seal of war to their own houses, and their own families, and one party or the other shall be utterly destroyed.”
Mormons often tell a one-sided story of persecutions brought upon them in western Missouri, but rarely does one hear about the atrocities perpetrated by the Mormons during this same time period. LDS historian Richard Van Wagoner notes, “On 18 October, however, Mormon raiders were able to ride out. Apostle David W. Patten, known by his Danite tide ‘Captain Fearnought,’ descended on Gallatin with a large contingent of men and, after plundering the small village, burned most of it to the ground. Then the marauders pillaged the Daviess County countryside, depositing their spoils, which they termed ‘consecrated property,’ in the bishop’s storehouse at Diahman” (Sidney Rigdon: Portrait of Religious Excess, p. 234).
Van Wagoner notes that this atrocity led two Mormon apostles to sign a sworn affidavit condemning these actions. On October 24, 1838 Thomas Marsh, the president of the Quorum of the Twelve signed the following:
Affidavit of Thomas B. Marsh
“They have among them a company, considered true Mormons, called the Danites, who have taken an oath to support the heads of the Church in all things that they say or do, whether right or wrong. Many, however, of this band are much dissatisfied with this oath, as being against moral and religious principles. On Saturday last, I am informed by the Mormons, that they had a meeting at Far West, at which they appointed a company of twelve, by the name of the ‘Destruction Company,’ for the purpose of burning and destroying, and that if the people of Buncombe came to do mischief upon the people of Caldwell, and committed depredations upon the Mormons, they were to burn Buncombe; and if the people of Clay and Ray made any movement against them, this destroying company were to burn Liberty and Richmond.
* * * *
The Prophet inculcates the notion, and it is believed by every true Mormon, that Smith’s prophecies are superior to the laws of the land. I have heard the Prophet say that he would yet tread down his enemies, and walk over their dead bodies; and if he was not let alone, he would be a second Mohammed to this generation, and that he would make it one gore of blood from the Rocky mountains to the Atlantic ocean; that like Mohammed, whose motto in treating for peace was, ‘the Alcoran or the Sword.’ So should it be eventually with us, ‘Joseph Smith or the Sword.’ These last statements were made during the last summer. The number of armed men at Adam-ondi-Ahman was between three and four hundred” (History of the Church 3:167).
It isn’t difficult to understand why the local non-Mormons in the area were fearful of Joseph Smith and his followers.
On the same day that Marsh voiced his concerns, Mormon Apostle Orson Hyde swore to a statement that concurred with Marsh: “The most of the statements in the foregoing disclosure I know to be true; the remainder I believe to be true.”
Van Wagoner points out that both men resigned their positions and membership in the LDS Church. The day after signing their affidavits, both Marsh and Hyde wrote a letter explaining that they left the church “for conscience sake,” with Hyde adding that he did so “fully believing that God is not with them” (p. 243).
Despite the strong rhetoric, both men eventually returned to the LDS Church. However, Van Wagoner notes that “neither ever denied the truthfulness of the statements made in their affidavits or the 25 October 1838 letter.”