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.
Haun’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?’
“‘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
Doris White is a native of Oregon and graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and a minor in Editing. She loves to talk with others about the gospel of Jesus Christ.