In 1831 most of the Latter-day Saints in the United States had gathered to two areas—Kirtland, Ohio, and Jackson County, Missouri. In 1833 the Saints in Jackson County were driven from their homes. They settled temporarily in Clay and Ray Counties in Missouri, where the local citizens helped the destitute members. But by 1836, tensions increased as the citizens of those counties became concerned about the number of Latter-day Saints settling there. Two new counties, Caldwell and Daviess, were created specifically for the members of the Church, in hopes that by separating the Mormons from the non-Mormons, the troubles between the two groups would come to an end.
Then, in 1838, when the Kirtland Saints were driven out of their homes in Ohio, they also went to Missouri. The non-Mormons in Missouri became alarmed when they saw hundreds of additional Church members moving in weekly. Many Missourians feared that the large Latter-day Saint population would take political and economic control of their state.
Tensions also increased because the Lord had revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith that the New Jerusalem would be built in Missouri. As some Church members boasted about how Zion would be built in Missouri, the old settlers worried about what would happen to them and their homes. Some of them thought the Mormons would drive them away, so they determined to drive the Saints out first.
By October 1838, persecutions had intensified until many thought there would be civil war. After a battle between the Saints and the state militia at Crooked River, the governor of Missouri, Lilburn W. Boggs, blamed Church members for the confrontation and issued an extermination order. In part, the order said, “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” (Church History in the Fulness of Times, 201).
Joseph Smith counseled all the members living in Missouri to gather to either Far West or Adam-ondi-Ahman for protection. However, Jacob Haun, who was the leader of the settlement at Haun’s Mill, didn’t want to leave his property. He counseled the others living there to stay; they would defend themselves if necessary.
On 30 October, a mob of about 240 men approached Haun’s Mill with the intent of carrying out the governor’s extermination order. When they attacked, the men in the settlement sought protection in the blacksmith shop while the women and children fled into the woods. One of the Church members swung his hat at the mob and cried for peace, but the mob only shot at him. The mob also fired on the unarmed women and children. At least 17 people were killed at Haun’s Mill, and 13 others were wounded.
Tensions were growing in Far West also. The state militia took over the city. In November 1838, many Church leaders were arrested and taken to prison. Joseph Smith and other brethren were taken to Liberty Jail, where they spent four difficult months. While they were there, the rest of the Saints got ready to leave Missouri and move to Illinois. But even as they prepared to leave their homes, many of them were harassed by the mobs.
Through this difficult time, the Saints kept the commandments and prayed for help and protection. They knew that if they remained faithful and obedient, the Lord would continue to watch over them.