Hawn’s Mill Massacre of 1838 Resulted in 30 Mormon Casualties

Caldwell County, Missouri, was once the location of a great deal of persecution against members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often nicknamed “Mormons”). At a settlement called Haun’s Mill, a group of Saints was massacred in late October of 1838.

Hawn's MillHaun’s Mill was a small settlement 12 miles east of Far West, Missouri, and was founded by Jacob Haun, who some sources say was a convert to the Church from Green Bay, Wisconsin, though recent research from Brigham Young University professor Alex Baugh seems to show he was not a member of the Church. Baugh’s research also indicates that this man’s name has been misspelled for many years and his last name is actually spelled Hawn, as his headstone in Yamhill, Oregon, records.

Hawn had moved to Shoal Creek in 1835. Hawn’s Mill (which is named after its founder, Jacob Hawn, so its spelling has been recently changed to reflect the discovered correction in Hawn’s name) consisted of a mill, a blacksmith shop, a few houses, and a population of about twenty to thirty families at the mill itself and one hundred families in the greater neighborhood. Tragically for the people in the wagon train, on October 30, nine wagons with immigrants from Kirtland arrived at Hawn’s Mill and decided to rest there before continuing onto Far West.

Tensions in the area had been rising between the Mormons and non-Mormons for quite some time. Several misunderstandings and prejudices led the governor of Missouri, Lilburn W. Boggs, to issue what became known as the infamous Extermination Order, stating, “The Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state, if necessary for the public good. Their outrages are beyond all description” (See History of the Church, 3:175).

After a small battle between the Saints and the non-Mormons at Crooked River, Joseph Smith, prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, advised everyone in the area where tensions were highest (which included the settlement of Hawn’s Mill) to relocate to Far West, Missouri, or to Adam-ondi-Ahman (also in Missouri) for safety. Records seem to indicate that Jacob Hawn did not want to leave his property, so he stayed and instructed the people of the settlement to stay as well.

Despite a so-called peace settlement on October 28, in which both parties signed an agreement to not attack the other, the non-Mormon party did not disband. On the afternoon of October 30, about 240 armed men approached and attacked Hawn’s Mill.

Joseph Young, Sr., a recent arrival at Hawn’s Mill, described the late afternoon setting: “The banks of Shoal creek on either side teemed with children sporting and playing, while their mothers were engaged in domestic employments, and their fathers employed in guarding the mills and other property, while others were engaged in gathering in their crops for their winter consumption. The weather was very pleasant, the sun shone clear, all was tranquil, and no one expressed any apprehension of the awful crisis that was near us—even at our doors” (In History of the Church, 3:184).

While there was no indication for the settlers that danger was so near, they did have some men on lookout and an emergency plan of using the blacksmith shop as a fort if necessary. With only minimal warning, the mob attacked at about 4:00 p.m. Many women and children ran to the woods to hide while the men fortified themselves in the blacksmith shop. Though David Evans, the military leader of the small group of Saints, cried for peace, the mob opened fire on everyone, pitilessly attacking women, children, and even elderly men.

Two of the women, Amanda Smith and Mary Stedwell, grabbed Amanda’s two daughters and ran across the millpond walkway while the mob continued to fire at them. The mob quickly forced its way into the blacksmith shop and one man shot a ten-year-old boy, Sardius Smith, in the head, reportedly saying later, “Nits will make lice, and if he had lived he would have become a Mormon” (In Jenson, Historical Record, Dec. 1888, p. 673; see also Allen and Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, pp. 127–28).

Sardius’ younger brother, Alma, who was only seven, saw both his father and brother killed. Alma was shot in the hip, which shattered his bone, but he was miraculously healed (see story below). Even with the people who were able to run to safety in the woods and hills, at least 17 people were killed in the massacre, and 13 were wounded. Jacob Hawn was wounded, but he survived.

Looking back on the tragedy a few years later, Joseph Smith said, “At Hauns’ Mill [sic] the brethren went contrary to my counsel; if they had not, their lives would have been spared” (History of the Church, 5:137).

This is a tragic story in the history of the Saints, and the people who died were all innocent and undeserving of their fate, but the story is a testament that we need to follow the prophet of God whose counsel will protect us and guide us. We can also learn from this sad experience to work harder to develop peaceful relationships with those who do not believe as we do. Violence and anger will only bring more violence and anger.

Here is the miraculous story of Amanda Smith’s faith which helped to heal her son Alma after his hip was shattered in the Hawn’s Mill massacre.

On that terrible day in 1838, as the firing ceased and the mobsters left, [Amanda Smith] returned to the mill and saw her eldest son, Willard, carrying his seven-year-old brother, Alma. She cried, “Oh! my Alma is dead!”

“No, mother,” he said, “I think Alma is not dead. But father and brother Sardius are [dead]!” But there was no time for tears now. Alma’s entire hipbone was shot away. Amanda later recalled:

“Flesh, hip bone, joint and all had been ploughed out. . . . We laid little Alma on a bed in our tent and I examined the wound. It was a ghastly sight. I knew not what to do. . . . Yet was I there, all that long, dreadful night, with my dead and my wounded, and none but God as our physician and help. ‘Oh my Heavenly Father,’ I cried, ‘what shall I do? Thou seest my poor wounded boy and knowest my inexperience. Oh, Heavenly Father, direct me what to do!’ And then I was directed as by a voice speaking to me.

“ . . . Our fire was still smouldering. . . . I was directed to take . . . ashes and make a lye and put a cloth saturated with it right into the wound. . . . Again and again I saturated the cloth and put it into the hole . . . , and each time mashed flesh and splinters of bone came away with the cloth; and the wound became as white as chicken’s flesh.

“Having done as directed I again prayed to the Lord and was again instructed as distinctly as though a physician had been standing by speaking to me. Near by was a slippery-elm tree. From this I was told to make a . . . poultice and fill the wound with it. . . . The poultice was made, and the wound, which took fully a quarter of a yard of linen to cover, . . . was properly dressed. . . .

“I removed the wounded boy to a house . . . and dressed his hip; the Lord directing me as before. I was reminded that in my husband’s trunk there was a bottle of balsam. This I poured into the wound, greatly soothing Alma’s pain.

“‘Alma my child,’ I said, ‘you believe that the Lord made your hip?’

“‘Yes, mother.’

“‘Well, the Lord can make something there in the place of your hip, don’t you believe he can, Alma?’

“‘Do you think that the Lord can, mother?’ inquired the child, in his simplicity.

“‘Yes, my son,’ I replied, ‘he has showed it all to me in a vision.’

“Then I laid him comfortably on his face, and said: ‘Now you lay like that, and don’t move, and the Lord will make you another hip.’

“So Alma laid on his face for five weeks, until he was entirely recovered—a flexible gristle having grown in place of the missing joint and socket, which remains to this day a marvel to physicians. …

“It is now nearly forty years ago, but Alma has never been the least crippled during his life, and he has traveled quite a long period of the time as a missionary of the gospel and [is] a living miracle of the power of God” (“Amanda Smith,” in Andrew Jenson, comp., Historical Record, 9 vols. [1882–90], 5:84–86; paragraphing and punctuation altered).


Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 2003, 193–210


“The Shield of Faith,” James E. Faust, General Conference, April 2000

New Study Manual for Mormon Teenagers Addresses Controversial Aspects of Church History

by Doris White

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (frequently nicknamed the “Mormon Church”) has recently released a new study manual for teenagers who study the Doctrine and Covenants, a book of modern scripture that records the organization of the Church and its early history.

doctrine-and-covenants-manualWhile the study of the Doctrine and Covenants for teenagers is certainly not new, the significance of this new manual is substantial. Several controversial events of Mormon history are covered in this manual. Whereas before, the focus was mainly the doctrine that is contained in the book and the history that brought about the revelation of those doctrines, the new manual also teaches the background about some potentially divisive episodes. Church leaders have obviously recognized that it is important to be very clear about these episodes and doctrines so that from a younger age members of the Church will know the truth and will not be so easily misled by enemies of The Church of Jesus Christ who present half truths or only portions of past events that, by themselves and out of context, could lead to a loss of faith.

Having an accurate understanding of circumstances, as well as an accurate portrayal of all the facts, gives the reader a fuller understanding of doctrines and events. There are some people who are very antagonistic towards The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some of them willingly distort the truth to damage others’ faith. Some have honest misconceptions about the history of the Church and feel they are doing Church members a favor by telling them how it “really” is. By taking a new approach with the youth of today, church leaders are giving them the truth early so they can judge for themselves what is truth and what is not. Read more

William W. Phelps: Printer unto the Church

by Bruce A. Van Orden

Bruce Van Orden is a retired professor of Church History and Doctrine in Religious Education at Brigham Young University. In addition to volunteer work with needy individuals, he is writing a biography of William W. Phelps.

William W. Phelps is most well-known in Mormon history for his uplifting hymns. Less appreciated is his calling soon after he joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be “a printer unto the Church.” It was prophesied that “the world [would] receive his writings” and that he, Phelps, would “obtain whatsoever he can obtain in righteousness, for the good of the saints” (D&C  57:11-12). W. W. Phelps fulfilled this revealed duty as he published the Church’s first periodical, The Evening and the Morning Star; helped publish early editions of the Doctrine and Covenants; served as Joseph Smith’s scribe for the Book of Abraham and many other documents; helped publish the first hymnbook (for which he wrote about half the hymns contained in it); and helped compile the Church’s official history. Next to Joseph Smith, during the Prophet’s lifetime W. W. Phelps did more than any other leader to put forward the doctrines of the Kingdom of God.

A photograph of the Kirtland Mormon Temple by Terrie Bittner.

Kirtland Temple

Any Latter-day Saint who has had the privilege to attend a temple dedication has sung or heard these words: We’ll sing and we’ll shout with the armies of heaven,/Hosanna, hosanna to God and the Lamb! (Hymns, 2). W. W. Phelps composed the anthem “The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning” for the first temple dedication in Kirtland in 1836. Often in general conference the Saints have sung or heard: Now let us rejoice in the day of salvation.No longer as strangers on earth need we roam./ Good tidings are sounding to us and each nation,/ And shortly the hour of redemption will come (Hymns, 3). This was the first of the “hymns of the restoration” written by a Latter-day Saint in this dispensation, by Phelps in 1832 in The Evening and the Morning Star in Independence, Missouri. Phelps has more compositions (fifteen) in the Church’s current hymnbook, published in 1985, than any other author. Read more

The Truth about the Practice of Polygamy in the Mormon Church

by Doris White

Continuing misconceptions about the historical practice of polygamy in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have beleaguered its members since the institution of the practice. Here we will attempt to answer some of the questions people still have about polygamy today. We will try to accurately portray the historical and religious environment surrounding The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which church is frequently called the “Mormon Church” by mistake) during the period when polygamy was practiced.

Polygamy Is No Longer Practiced Today

First of all, to clear up a common misunderstanding, polygamy is not practiced today by any member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To practice polygamy today will lead to excommunication. Gordon B. Hinckley, fifteenth president of The Church of Jesus Christ, said the following in October 1998:


A portrait photograph of mormon prophet Gordon B Hinckley,

Gordon B Hinckley

Read more

Annual Re-Enactment of the Mormon Exodus from Nauvoo


Reasons for the Original Exodus

In a bone-chilling temperature of -12°Fahrenheit, 1,000 people gathered in Nauvoo, Illinois, on February 3, 1996, to remember the original Mormon Exodus from the Saints’ beloved city. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently referred to as “Mormons”) had been forced from their homes many times before, but this occasion in 1846 was the last time. Then president of the Church, Brigham Young, said:

We could have remained sheltered in our homes had it not been for the threats and hostile demonstrations of our enemies. Our only means of avoiding a rupture was by starting in midwinter. Our homes, gardens, orchards, farms, streets, bridges, mills, public halls, magnificent Temple . . .  we leave as a monument of our patriotism, industry, economy, uprightness of purpose and integrity of heart (History of the Church, 7:603).

The Saints were, this time, leaving not only their homes and city behind, but (as they thought), their country. Heading for the unsettled West, they intended to leave the United States, where they had endured so much persecution. However, the Utah Territory, where they settled, soon became part of the United States after the war with Mexico. Read more

Women’s Rights and Mormonism

Extraordinary Mormon Women

Women belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have always done remarkable things. Emma Smith, first president of the Latter-day Saint women’s organization, told the women working with her, “We are going to do something extraordinary” (Relief Society Minute Book, Nauvoo, Illinois, March 17, 1842, Church History Library, 12), and they haven’t stopped doing extraordinary things since their organization on March 17, 1842.

Quote: In this Church the man neither walks ahead of his wife nor behind his wife but at her side - Gordon B. Hinckley Read more

Nancy Elston Hammer: A Personal Account from the Haun’s Mill Massacre

Austin Hammer was born May 6, 1804, in South Carolina to John and Nancy Hammer. He married Nancy Elston on September 7, 1826, in Wayne County, Indiana. Nancy Elston was born February 2, 1806, in Lexington (now Fayette) County, Kentucky, to Josiah Elston and Rebecca Lewis. Soon after their wedding they moved to Ohio, where they lived for three years, and then moved to Henry County, Indiana. Here they embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ and were baptized members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church—in 1835. They then moved to Shoal Creek, Caldwell County, Missouri, where they had title to 180 acres of land. Austin and 16 other men were killed October 30, 1838, while guarding Haun’s Grist Mill, in eastern Caldwell County, Missouri, from mobs trying to burn it down. The Hammers had 6 young children at the time. A few weeks after the massacre at Haun’s Mill, the young widow took her 6 children to Pike County and then to Indiana to live with her husband’s family. Nancy Hammer was anxious to return to the Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo, Illinois, so a friend provided them the resources to go—and then supported them until they could take care of themselves. The family eventually made the trek across the plains to the great Rocky Mountains. Nancy Elston Hammer died October 10, 1871, in Smithfield, Cache County, Utah, faithful to her God to the end.

A quote: "Be assured that there is a safe harbor. You can find peace amidst the storms threaten you", by Joseph B. Wirthlin.The following is an account of the Haun’s Mill Massacre as told by Austin’s widow and their son John.

A Mob Attacks

In the fall of 1838, mobs in the area were threatening to burn down the mill because it ground corn for members of The Church of Jesus Christ. “All the mills in that part of the country refused to grind for them as they were owned by the mob parties, hoping to starve them out.” Because of the threats, a few of the brethren volunteered to guard the mill. This they did for several days and nights as the mob kept repeatedly threatening violence. Finally the mob leaders agreed to meet with some of the Mormons to see if they could work out a compromise. On the day appointed, a fixed number of brethren were at the mill, hoping to work out a settlement and anxious to restore peace. Read more

Lorena Washburn Larsen’s Memories of the Black Hawk War

Lorena Washburn Larsen, Daughter of Mormon Pioneers

Lorena Washburn (1860-1945) was born in Manti, Utah, five years before the Black Hawk War. Her family belonged to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently called the Mormon Church). Her parents Abraham and Flora Gleason Washburn were Mormon pioneers and emigrated from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1848.  Brigham Young, president of The Church of Jesus Christ, called the Washburns to settle Manti in 1849 after Ute chiefs Wakara and Sowiette visited him asking for permanent settlers in the area. In 1865, the Chiefs became uneasy as settlements expanded. Because of starvation among the Utes, a few of them began stealing the Mormons’cattle. On April 9, 1865, in Manti, at a meeting between the Mormons and the Utes discussing the cattle thefts, an altercation ignited the violence. Black Hawk, an Indian brave, successfully united neighboring tribes against the Mormons.

My Memories of the Black Hawk War

Quote by Lorena Washburn Larsen. "We march hand in hand, with love, hope, courage, perseverance, and divine trust our guiding star."I was just a small child when the Black Hawk War with the Ute Indians began in April, 1865. We lived in Manti, Utah.  All the people living in the east part of town were told to move onto our street or into houses not farther east than the second row of blocks east of Main Street. That would make it easier to defend the town against the Indians.

In our home there was one large living room, a bedroom, and a kitchen. Under the living room was a large cellar with a trap door in the living room. During the war, we were in danger of Indian attacks at any time of day or night. Mother told us and the neighborhood children to be  on the lookout in the daytime. If we saw a group of horsemen coming at any time, we were to all run to our house and she would hide us in the cellar.  We had one such scare. A large group of horsemen came riding around Temple Hill and came galloping up our street. We all ran and were quickly hidden in the cellar. Then Mother discovered that it was a scouting party who had been out looking for Indians. Read more

The Loggers Who Helped Build Nauvoo

The history of the early pioneers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—which church is sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church—is teeming with inspiring stories of courage, sacrifice, industry, and a willingness to give everything to build the Kingdom of God on the earth. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is donating a commemorative historical marker to tell the story of one such group of early pioneers: the Wisconsin loggers whose sacrifice and labor helped to build Nauvoo, Illinois.

Nauvoo, sometimes called the city of Joseph, was central to the heritage of The Church of Jesus Christ. The historical marker will be built at the Trail of Honor Park in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. It will sit near the mills where Latter-day Saints harvested more than one and a half million board-feet of lumber and then floated it down the Black River to Nauvoo some 400 miles away. The Choir will dedicate the site June 19, 2013. Ron Jarrett, president of the Choir, said:

The sacrifices of these logging pioneers are not well known, even among Church members. We wanted to honor these unsung heroes by singing their praises. [1]

Settling in Nauvoo

Quote by Keith Stepan, "When the Saints built the first Nauvoo temple they gave it their all. They sacrificed in the poverty to help pay for materials and they donated much of the labor."At the beginning of 1839, the early members of The Church of Jesus Christ were being forcefully evicted from their homes in Missouri under threat of violence. They found refuge in Illinois and were able to purchase land along the banks of the Mississippi, including a small town called Commerce. There were only a handful of dwellings at the time, and the land was swampy. The Prophet Joseph Smith, the first president of The Church of Jesus Christ, renamed the town Nauvoo, a Hebrew word meaning “beautiful.” The pioneers drained the swamp, platted the land, and began building up the towns. The state Legislature granted the Nauvoo Charter, which gave the Latter-day Saints the right to establish the local government as well as a local militia, a municipal court, and a university. The Prophet Joseph extended a call to members of the Church to gather to the area, and they came by the thousands. [2] Read more

Don Carlos Smith: Brother of a Prophet, Preacher of Truth, Dependable in Crisis

Don Carlos Smith was the youngest brother of Joseph Smith, the first prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members of this church are sometimes nicknamed Mormons.

Don Carlos was born March 25, 1816, in Norwich, Windsor, Vermont to Joseph Smith, Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith. On June 9, 1830, the Mormons held a conference in Fayette, which was followed by a baptismal service. Don Carlos was among those baptized that day. He received the priesthood at age fourteen.

Quote by Henry B. Eyring, "We need strength beyond ourselves to keep the commandments in whatever circumstances life brings."Don Carlos was six feet four inches, very powerful looking, and very kind and charitable. Many felt he was much like his more famous brother, Joseph, in personality.

Don Carlos Smith married Agnes Moulton Coolbrith on July 30,1835, at Kirtland. He became a high priest on January 15, 1836. That same year he became the president of the high priests quorum. He also oversaw the Elders’ Journal. Read more

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