Letter from William W. Phelps, 27 February 1834

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

Feb. 27, 1834.
Dear Brethren.—The times are so big with events, and the anxiety of every body so great to [w]atch them, that I feel some what impressed to write oftner than I have done, in order to give you more of the “strange acts” of this region. I have just returned from , the seat of war in the west. About a dozen of our brethren, among whom were br. , and , were subpoenaed in behalf of the , and on the 23d (Feb.) about twelve o’clock we were on the bank, opposite , where we found company of “Liberty Blues,” near fifty rank and file, ready to guard us into . The soldiers were well armed with U. S. muskets, bayonets fixed, &c, and to me the scene was one “passing strange,” and long to be remembered. The martial law in force to guard the civil! About 25 men crossed over to effect a landing in safety, and when they came near the warehouse, they fired six or eight guns, tho’ the enemy had not gathered to witness the landing.
After we were all a cross, and waiting for the baggage wagon, it was thought not advisable to encamp in the woods, and the witnesses with half the compa[n]y, marched nearly a mile towards , to build night fires, as we were without tents, and the weather cold enough to snow a little. While on the way the Quarter Master, and others, that had gone on a head to prepare quarters in town, sent an express back, which was not the most pacific appearance that could be. continued the express to for the 200 drafted militia; and also to for more ammunition; and the night passed off in war like style, with the sentinals marching silently at a proper distance from the watch-fires.
Early in the morning we marched strongly guarded by the troops, to the seat of war, and quartered in the block house, formerly the tavern stand of S. Flournoy. After breakfast, we were visited by the District Attorney, , and the Attorney General, Mr. [Robert W.] Wells. From them we learned that all hopes of criminal prosecution, was at an end. Mr. Wells had been sent by the to investigate, as far as possible, the outrage, but the bold front of the mob, bound even unto death, (as I have heard) was not to be penetrated by civil law, or awed by Executive influence. Shortly after informed me that he had just received an order from the , that his company’s service was no longer wanted in , and we were marched out of town to the tune of Yankee-doodle in quick time, and soon returned to our camp ground without the loss of any lives. In fact much credit is due to , for his gallantry and hospitality, and I think I can say of the officers and company, that their conduct as soldiers and men, is highly reputable; so much so, knowing as I do the fatal result, had the militia come, or not come, I can add that the ’s safe return, refreshed my mind, with Zenophon’s retreat of the ten thousand. Thus ends all hopes of “redress,” even with a guard ordered by the , for the protection of the court and witnesses.
Before a crop is harvested, it becomes ripe of itself. The dreadful deeds now done in , with impunity, must bring matters to a focus shortly. Within two or three weeks past, some of the most savage acts, ever witnessed, have been committed by these bitter branches. Old father Linsey, whose locks have been whitened by the blasts of nearly seventy winters, had his house thrown down, after he was driven from it; his goods, corn, &c, piled together, and fire put to it, but fortunately, after the mob retired, his son extinguished it.
The mob has quit whipping, and now beat with clubs. Lyman Leonard one of the number that returned from Van Buren, had two chairs broke to splinters about him, and was then dragged out doors and beat with clubs till he was supposed to be dead—but he is yet alive. Josiah Sumner and Barnet Cole were sever[e]ly beat at the same time. The mob have commenced burning houses, stacks, &c. and we shall not think it out of their power, by any means, to proceed to murder any of our people that shall try to live in that county, or perhaps, only go there.
Such scenes as are transpiring around us, are calculated to arouse feelings, and passions in all, and to strengthen the faith and fortify the hearts of the saints for great things. Our Savior laid down his life for our sakes, and shall we, who profess to live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God; shall we, the servants of the Lord of the vineyard, who are called and chosen to prune it for the last time; shall we, yea, verily, we, who are enlightened by the wisdom of heaven, shall we fear to do as much for Jesus as he did for us. No; we will obey the voice of the Spirit, that good may overcome the world.
I am a servant, &c,
. [p. 139]


  1. 1

    TEXT: The first stroke of a “w” is inked, but the rest of the letter is missing.  

  2. 2

    On 8 November 1833, Orson Hyde penned a letter to the editors of the Boonville Herald, stating, “I am two days from Independence, the seat of war.” Commenting on the letter featured here, Oliver Cowdery, editor of The Evening and the Morning Star, declared, “We have received several communications from the seat of war.” Phelps’s use of the term “seat of war” here is not a description of the current state of affairs in Jackson County in February 1834 but rather of his perception of Jackson County when he last resided in the region, before mid-November 1833. (“The Outrage in Jackson County, Missouri,” The Evening and the Morning Star, Dec. 1833, 118, emphasis in original.)  

    The Evening and the Morning Star. Independence, MO, June 1832–July 1833; Kirtland, OH, Dec. 1833–Sept. 1834.

  3. 3

    According to Jackson County land records, William Everett owned land as early as January 1832 on the Jackson County side of the Missouri River approximately three to five miles north of Independence. Everett operated a ferry that docked at Liberty landing, located a few miles downriver and about five miles south of Liberty, Missouri. (Jackson Co., MO, Land and Property Records, 1832–1867, “Record of Original Entries to Lands in Jackson County Missouri,” microfilm 1,019,781, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL; see also McLellin, Journal, 28 Feb. 1833; Letter to Edward Partridge, 5 Dec. 1833; Letter from William W. Phelps, 6–7 Nov. 1833.)  

    U.S. and Canada Record Collection. FHL.

    McLellin, William E. Journal, Apr.–June 1836. William E. McLellin, Papers, 1831–1836, 1877–1878. CHL. MS 13538, box 1, fd. 6. Also available as Jan Shipps and John W. Welch, eds., The Journals of William E. McLellin, 1831–1836 (Provo, UT: BYU Studies; Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994).

  4. 4

    Flournoy was one of the original settlers in Independence in 1826. His brother Jones sold land to Edward Partridge in December 1831 and later participated in the assault on Partridge in July 1833. Flournoy’s tavern was vacant at this time. Phelps’s description of the abandoned tavern as a blockhouse (a small military fort) was probably an exaggeration. (Wilcox, Jackson County Pioneers, 152–153; Jones H. Flournoy and Clara Flournoy to Edward Partridge, Deed, Jackson Co., MO, 19 Dec. 1831, CHL; see also Parkin, “History of the Latter-day Saints in Clay County,” 100, 103–104.)  

    Wilcox, Pearl. Jackson County Pioneers. Independence, MO: By the author, 1975.

    Flournoy, Jones H., and Clara Hickman Flournoy. Deed to Edward Partridge, Jackson Co., MO, 19 Dec. 1831. CHL. MS 14294.

    Parkin, Max H. “A History of the Latter-day Saints in Clay County, Missouri, from 1833 to 1837.” PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1976.

  5. 5

    The Upper Missouri Enquirer reported that Judge John F. Ryland, Amos Rees, and Robert W. Wells concluded “that it was entirely unnecessarry to investigate this subject on the part of the State, as the jury were equally concerned in the outrages committed it was therefore not likely that any bills would be found and consequently no good could possibly result from any further investigation of the subject.” The Evening and the Morning Star stated, “It could not reasonably be expected, that after binding themselves to violate the law they would now act according to it, and find bills against their own accomplices in those deeds of murder and violence.” (“Mormon Difficulties,” Missouri Intelligencer and Boon’s Lick Advertiser [Columbia], 8 Mar. 1834, [1]; “The Outrage in Jackson County, Missouri,” The Evening and the Morning Star, Mar. 1834, 139.)  

    Missouri Intelligencer and Boon’s Lick Advertiser. Franklin, MO, 1819–1827; Fayette, MO, 1827–1830; Columbia, MO, 1830–1835.

    The Evening and the Morning Star. Independence, MO, June 1832–July 1833; Kirtland, OH, Dec. 1833–Sept. 1834.

  6. 6

    In 401 BC, Xenophon, an Athenian who had accompanied Cyrus the Younger on an expedition against Artaxerxes II in Persia, successfully led the retreat of his army (known as the Ten Thousand) from the Euphrates River to the Black Sea after Cyrus was killed in battle and after another commander, Clearchus, had been executed under the guise of a peace conference. (See Rouse, March Up Country, vi–xi, 1–108.)  

    Rouse, W. H. D., trans. The March Up Country: A Translation of Xenophon’s Anabasis. 1st American ed. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1958.

  7. 7

    Though Phelps suggested that all hope of attaining redress had ended, the Mormon exiles continued to seek justice in the civil courts, first in Jackson County and then in 1835 in Ray County. ([Edward Partridge], “A History, of the Persecution,” Times and Seasons, Feb. 1840, 1:50.)  

    Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.

  8. 8

    Abigail Calkins Leonard, a witness of the attack on her husband, said that the group “threw him into the air, and brought him, with all their might, at full length upon the ground. When he fell, one of them sprang upon his breast, and stamping with all his might, broke two of his ribs.” Describing the attack further, Leonard claimed, they stripped “his clothes all from him excepting his pantaloons, then five or six attacked him with whips & gun sticks, and whipped him untill he could not stand but fell to the ground. . . . I then called to Mrs Brace who resided in the same house with us to come out and help me carry my husband into the house. When carried in he was very much lacerated and bruised, and unable to lie upon a bed and was also unable to work for a number of months also at the same time and place Mr Josiah Sumner was taken from the house, and came in very bloody and bruised from whipping.” (Abigail Calkins Leonard, Affidavit, Hancock Co., IL, 11 Mar. 1840, Mormon Redress Petitions, 1839–1845, CHL; Tullidge, Women of Mormondom, 166; Porter and Romig, “Prairie Branch, Jackson County, Missouri,” 22.)  

    Mormon Redress Petitions, 1839–1845. CHL. MS 2703.

    Tullidge, Edward W. The Women of Mormondom. New York: Tullidge and Crandall, 1877.

    Porter, Larry C., and Ronald E. Romig. “The Prairie Branch, Jackson County, Missouri: Emergence, Flourishing, and Demise, 1831–1834.” Mormon Historical Studies 8 (Spring/Fall 2007): 1–36.

  9. 9

    Phelps declared that the mob, by 1 May 1834, had burned “nearly all” of the Mormons’ buildings in Jackson County. John Corrill corroborated this statement, saying that by 14 June 1834, “for fear that we would return and enjoy our dwellings again, they set fire to, and burned them down.” (“The Outrage in Jackson County, Missouri,” The Evening and the Morning Star, May 1834, 160; “The Outrage in Jackson County, Missouri,” The Evening and the Morning Star, June 1834, 168.)  

    The Evening and the Morning Star. Independence, MO, June 1832–July 1833; Kirtland, OH, Dec. 1833–Sept. 1834.