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Theodore Turley: A Biography
Richard E. Turley, Jr.

[This is another in a continuing series of newsletter articles that together will make up the first rough draft of a biography of Theodore Turley. The draft will undergo considerable revision before being published in book form. I invite all family members to read it critically, make suggestions, and offer additional information for possible inclusion. Feel free to e-mail me.]

6 Trouble in Zion, 1838

Theodore and Frances Turley and their family arrived in northwestern Missouri on the brink of what would become known as the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri.1 Five years earlier, vigilantes had attacked Church members in Jackson County, eventually driving many of them northward across the Missouri River to Clay County, where they found temporary refuge before moving to newly created Caldwell and Daviess counties. When the Turleys arrived in Caldwell County in July 1838, relations between the Latter-day Saints and their neighbors had grown tense.

On August 8, several Saints went to vote at Gallatin in Daviess County. When some anti-Mormons tried to keep them from voting, a fight broke out. Over the next several weeks, tensions mounted. In early October, a mob drove Latter-day Saint settlers from De Witt in Carroll County, their pleas for assistance to the Missouri governor, Lilburn W. Boggs, going unheeded. Fearing for their lives, the besieged Saints fled to Far West, some dying along the way.

In the ensuing weeks, both sides made forays against the other, the Saints being determined not to be driven again, yet receiving little help from the government in defending their rights. Among the Saints’ chief antagonists was Samuel Bogart, a Protestant minister who headed a renegade Missouri militia group. After Bogart took three prisoners, a group of Latter-day Saints attempted to rescue them, engaging Bogart’s troops in what came to be called the Battle of Crooked River. In the gunfire, one man died on each side, and two other Latter-day Saints fell mortally wounded and would soon perish, including David W. Patten, a member of the Church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles.2

Despite his reluctance to heed the Saints’ repeated pleas for help, Governor Boggs seemed less hesitant to help their opponents. After hearing reports of the conflicts between the Saints and their neighbors, including reports of the Battle of Crooked River, Boggs issued his infamous Exterminating Order, declaring that “the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State, if necessary for the public peace.”3

Meanwhile, downstream from Far West where the Turleys lived, a group of families had settled along Shoal Creek in what was called Haun’s Mill. Hoping to escape conflict, the Haun’s Mill settlers had entered into a truce with local Missouri militia. Whether the militiamen received the governor’s Exterminating Order or chose to violate the truce of their own accord is unclear. In either case, on 30 October 1838, some 200 to 250 of them brutally attacked the Haun’s Mill settlement, killing eighteen persons and wounding thirteen others, including a woman and a seven-year-old boy. Among the Saints killed by the militia were a seventy-eight-year-
old man, who surrendered his gun only to be shot with it and viciously mangled from head to foot with a corn knife, and a ten-year-old boy, pulled from his hiding place by an attacker who then blew off the top of the child’s head.4

The following day when a large body of Missouri militia besieged Far West. Church leader Joseph Smith and several other leading Saints accepted an invitation to meet with militia leaders to discuss peace. But when they arrived in the militia camp to negotiate, they were instead taken prisoners. After a kangaroo court-martial that evening, the major general of the militia ordered that the Church leaders be shot the next morning. A subordinate general, however, declared the order illegal and heroically defied his superior, thereby saving the lives of the Church leaders, who would still remain imprisoned for months. After their leaders were taken prisoners, the Saints at Far West surrendered their arms to the militia and found themselves at the mercy of the soldiers, who were then free to commit outrages against the unarmed citizens and to appropriate their property, ostensibly for military purposes.5

In a petition filed the following year, Theodore Turley would seek redress from the state of Missouri for the “Loss of 2 horses Bridle & Sad[d]le &c” worth one hundred and fifty dollars. He would also seek twenty dollars for “Loss of Harness Taken” and forty dollars for “Loss of Tools Taken” by “men calling themselves militia.”6

On 10 December 1838. a committee of nine men appointed by the citizens of Caldwell County drafted and signed a memorial on the citizens’ behalf. The nine men included Brigham Young, who would become the second president of the Church; Heber C. Kimball, who would become his counselor; Theodore Turley; and John Taylor, Theodore’s friend who would
eventually succeed Brigham Young as Church president.

In their memorial, Theodore and the others described the persecutions of the Saints in Missouri and the recent capturing and plundering of Far West by the troops. They recounted that when the militia “arrived near Far West, and presented the Governor’s order, we were greatly surprised; yet we felt willing to submit to the authorities of the state.” They also described what happened next:

“We gave up our arms without reluctance. We were then made prisoners, and confined to the limits of the town for about a week, during which time the men from the country were not permitted to go to their families, many of whom were in a suffering condition for want of food and firewood, the weather being very cold and stormy.

“Much property was destroyed by the troops in town during their stay there, such as burning house logs, rails, corn-cribs, boards; the using of corn and hay, the plundering of houses, the killing of cattle, sheep and hogs, and also the taking of horses not their own; and all this without regard for owners, or asking leave of any one. In the meantime men were abused, women insulted and abused by the troops; and all this while we were kept prisoners.

“Whilst the town was guarded, we were called together by the order of General Lucas, and a guard placed close around us, and in that situation we were compelled to sign a deed of trust for the purpose of making our individual property, all holden, as they said, to pay all the debts of every individual belonging to the Church, and also to pay for all damages the old inhabitants of Daviess may have sustained in consequence of the late difficulties in that county.

“General Clark had now arrived, and the first important move made by him was the collecting of our men together on the square and selecting about fifty of them, whom he immediately marched into a house, and placed in close confinement. This was done without the aid of the sheriff, or any legal process. The next day forty-six of those taken, were driven off to Richmond, like a parcel of menial slaves, not knowing why they were taken, or what they were taken for. After being confined in Richmond more than two weeks, about one half were liberated: the rest, after another week’s confinement, were required to appear at court, and have since been let to bail. Since General Clark withdrew his troops from Far West, parties of armed men have gone through the country, driving off horses, sheep and cattle, and also plundering houses; the barbarity of General Lucas’s troops ought not to be passed over in silence. They shot our cattle and hogs merely for the sake of destroying them, leaving them for the ravens to eat. They took prisoner an aged man by the name of John Tanner, and without any reason for it, he was struck over the head with a gun, which laid his skull bare. Another man by the name of Carey was also taken prisoner by them, and without any provocation had his brains dashed out by a gun. He was laid in a wagon and there permitted to remain for the space of twenty-four hours; during which time no one was permitted to administer to him comfort or consolation; and after he was removed from that situation, he lived but a few hours.

“The destruction of property at and about Far West is very great. Many are stripped bare, as it were, and others partially so; indeed take us as a body at this time, we are a poor and afflicted people; and if we are compelled to leave the state in the Spring, many, yes a large portion of our society, will have to be removed at the expense of the state; as those who might have helped them are now debarred that privilege in consequence of the deed of trust we were compelled to sign; which deed so operated upon our real estate, that it will sell for but little or nothing at this time.

“We have now made a brief statement of some of the most prominent features of the troubles that have befallen our people since our first settlement in this state; and we believe that these persecutions have come in consequence of our religious faith, and not for any immorality on our part. That instances have been, of late, where individuals have trespassed upon the rights of others, and thereby broken the laws of the land, we will not pretend to deny; but yet we do believe that no crime can be substantiated against any of the people who have a standing in our Church of an earlier date than the difficulties in Daviess county. And when it is considered that the rights of this people have been trampled upon from time to time with impunity, and abuses almost innumerable heaped upon them it ought in some degree to palliate for any infraction of the law which may have been made on the part of our people.

“The late order of Governor Boggs to drive us from the state, or exterminate us, is a thing so novel, unlawful, tyrannical, and oppressive, that we have been induced to draw up this memorial, and present this statement of our case to your honorable body, praying that a law may be passed, rescinding the order of the governor to drive us from the state, and also giving us the sanction of the legislature, disapproving the conduct of those who compelled us to sign a deed of trust, and also disapproving of any man or set of men taking our property in consequence of that deed of trust, and appropriating it to the payment of debts not contracted by us or for the payment of damages sustained in consequence of trespasses committed by others. . . .

“In laying our case before your honorable body, we say that we are willing, and ever have been, to conform to the Constitution and laws of the United States, and of this state. We ask, in common with others, the protection of the laws. We ask for the privilege guaranteed to all free citizens of the United States, and of this state, to be extended to us that we may be permitted to settle and live where we please, and worship God according to the dictates of our conscience without molestation. And while we ask for ourselves this privilege, we are willing all others should enjoy the same.

“We now lay our case at the feet of you legislators, and ask your honorable body to consider it, and do for us, after mature deliberation, that which your wisdom, patriotism and philanthropy may dictate. And we, as in duty bound, will every pray.”7

Despite this plea, the prejudices that gave rise to the Exterminating Order remained, and the faithful Saints, including the Turleys, would be forced from the state over the next few months, many of them suffering terribly.8

[Next issue: “Helping the Poor to Move, December 1838 to April 1839”]

Draft of 7 April 1997
© 1997 by Richard E. Turley, Jr. (Reprinted with permission.)
Originally published in the May 1997 Theodore Turley Family Organization Newsletter

  1. Stephen C. LeSueur, The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987).
  2. Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2d ed., 7 vols., ed. B. H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1948-53), 3:41-86, 149-75; LeSueur, 1838 Mormon War, 1-142; Alexander L. Baugh, “The Battle Between Mormon and Missouri Militia at Crooked River,” and Keith W. Perkins, “De Witt – Prelude to Expulsion,” in Arnold V. Garr and Clark V. Johnson, eds., Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint Church History: Missouri (Provo: Department of Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University, 1994), 85-103, 261-80; Max H. Parkin, “Missouri Conflict,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 927-32.
  3. History of the Church 3:172-77; LeSueur, 1838 Mormon War, 150-53; Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Clarifications of Bogg’s ‘Order’ and Joseph Smith’s Constitutionalism,” in Garr and Johnson, Regional Studies, 27-83; Dale A. Whitman, “Extermination Order,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 480.
  4. History of the Church 3:182-87; LeSueur, 1838 Mormon War, 162-68; Alvin K. Benson, “The Haun’s Mill Massacre: Some Examples of Tragedy and Superior Faith,” in Garr and Johnson, Regional Studies, 105-18; Alma R. Blair, “Haun’s Mill Massacre,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 577. Among the eighteen persons killed by the militiamen was one friendly non-Mormon.
  5. History of the Church 3:187-92; LeSueur, 1838 Mormon War, 168-86; Parkin, “Missouri Conflict,” 927-32.
  6. Theodore Turley petition sworn 7 May 1839 before the clerk of the circuit court of Adams County, Illinois, copy of original in my possession. This petition has been printed in Clark V. Johnson, ed., Mormon Redress Petitions: Documents of the 1833-1838 Missouri Conflict (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1992), 368.
  7. History of the Church 3:217-24; Johnson, Mormon Redress Petitions, 14-21.
  8. William G. Hartley, “‘Almost Too Intolerable a Burthen’: The Winter Exodus from Missouri, 1838-39,” Journal of Mormon History 18 (Fall 1992): 6-40.