of Danite Meetings in Adam-ondi-Ahman, Missouri
July to September 1838

John E. Thompson

Taken from Restoration 4 (Jan. 1985):11-14. Used by permission of author with minor editorial revision.

Although the Danite society had been established among the Mormons in nearby Caldwell County before the 19th of June, 18381, there is no evidence extant of any Danite meetings in Adam-ondi-Ahman, Daviess County, Missouri, before July 14,1838.2 From that point forward, however, we are able to reconstruct from, among other sources, the diaries of John Smith (who, in addition to being the Prophet's uncle, in this period was President of Adam-ondi-Ahman Stake as well) and William Swartzell (a Danite who apostatized from the faith), the dates of a series of Danite meetings there. Interestingly enough, all of these meetings took place on Saturdays, most likely in the evenings. Between July 14 and September 1, this is the only pattern of Danite meetings discernable.3 This pattern clearly fit the rhythm of a semi-rural society such as Daviess County was at that time. Farmers would go to town most naturally on Saturday night for social gatherings and then attend Church.
It was William Swartzell, in his diary entry of July 14, who first mentioned what he called a "Daranite" meeting in Adam-ondi-Ahman. He had not yet joined and was, therefore, not an eyewitness yet to the proceedings. But what he gleaned from conversation with others who were inside gives an interesting glimpse of what took place:
"Some talk of a meeting--for what purpose I do not know--it is called a Daranite meeting. It was held in a grove, in the woods, adjoining brother White's house, where a number of benches were made out of trees split in two. Sentinels, armed with pistols, swords, and guns, were posted on the outskirts of the grove, while the Daranites, as they were called, occupied the center. Just as these things were going on, brother Higby asked me if I could eat strong meat. I answered him that I could, if the meat had a good scent. The answer deprived me of being then let into the secret, or being admitted to the meeting. As I walked by the side of brother Barnes, towards the place of meeting, I asked him what this meant; he answered me by saying that it was going to prove who were the men of God, and who were not; adding, further, that I had better not come along with him. So I walked back to the place where we had started from, where I found brother Sherry, and I spoke to him about it, and he said it was no good thing that they were about, and that he had no faith in this Daranite business. After the meeting adjourned, brother Thayer said to me, 'Ah! brother Swartzell, you should have been at the meeting; you should have heard all about the Daranite business, for brother Joseph preached, and brother Hiram, and brother [Sidney] Rigdon.' I told him what brother Barnes had said to me. He (brother Thayer) replied, 'I dare not tell you what they said or preached; but never mind, next Saturday is another Daranite meeting, and then I will cause you to come in, too, to learn this mystery--providing no one objects to your being a Daranite, or a man of war!'"
Even though John Smith's diary, surprisingly, lacks confirmation for this particular meeting of the Danites, there is no particular reason to doubt Swartzell's story. For the reason for this is not hard to find. From July 11 to July 16, John Smith was distracted from his journal (if not the events of the day as well) by the considerable effort of raising logs for his house.5
The next Saturday (July 21,1838) there was, indeed, another Daranite meeting, precisely as Andrew Thayer had told Swartzell there would be. At that meeting, Swartzell was one of about fifty persons initiated into the Danite band. Joseph Smith, Jr. "preached to us for some time."6 Then the Danite oath was administered by Lyman Wight.7 Finally, after some further discussion, Lyman Wight
"...next informed us that he would give us a sign 'Whereby ye may know each other anywhere, (either by day or by night,) and if a brother be in distress. It is thus: To clap the right hand to the right thigh, and then raise it quick to the right temple, the thumb extending behind the ear.'"8
One week later on July 28, Swartzell again mentioned a Danite meeting at which there was a lot of preaching. Again, a number of men were initiated.9 Swartzell did not mention the presence of the First Presidency at this meeting, but the phrase "preaching as usual" makes one wonder, since on July 14 and 21, preaching had been done by Joseph Smith. This possibility is further enhanced by the fact that the next day, July 29, the First Presidency was not only present in Adam- ondi-Ahman, but preached from Lyman Wight's new house.10 So it is by no means impossible that they preached at the Danite meeting the previous evening as well.
Unlike the meeting of the Danites of July 14, John Smith independently confirmed the dates of the last two July meetings in discussing a third meeting the following Saturday:
"August 4th 1838 this day the Danites met the third time in Adamondiahman since the 22 July nothing uncommon has taken place more than the common business of the church Last Sabbath Presidents Smith & Rigdon held meeting in this city."11
When President Smith stated that the Danites met on August 4 for the "third time in Adamondiahman," it is clear that he was looking back to the meetings of July 21 and 28 as the first and second. It is unclear whether "since the 22 July" refers to "the third time" or "nothing uncommon." If it is intended to read "Since the 22 July nothing uncommon has taken place...", there is no problem. If however, it is interpreted to read that the Danites met the third time since July 22 then there would be a minor error in dating, since there was no Danite meeting on July 22, but only July 21. It is not necessary, however, to read the passage that way. Thus, we have discovered strong confirmation in John Smith for Swartzell's last two July meetings.
In view of this fact, it seems at first surprising that William Swartzell mentioned no Danite meeting on August 4. Certainly, as a member, he should have been there. But, an explanation for this state of affairs is not hard to find. Swartzell tells us that on August 4 he was "eight miles from Adam-on-Diamond."12 He apparently missed the meeting altogether, therefore, had nothing to report about what took place. We should not assume, however, from Swartzell's silence that there was no Danite meeting in Adam-ondi-Ahman on August 4, for John Smith is certainly a reliable source. And John D. Lee stated that he took his own Danite vows immediately prior to the general election of August 6, 1838, in Adam-ondi-Ahman.13 Almost certainly, that would have taken place on August 4, precisely as Stake President John Smith recounted.
Whether or not there was a Danite meeting in Diahman on August 11, however, is much more difficult to determine. Though the pattern we have observed thus far would lead us to expect a Danite meeting this Saturday as well, John Smith was in Far West that day meeting with the High Council.14 His silence, then, does not rule out the possibility of a meeting, but it does make it more difficult for us to establish.
First Presidency scribe and Danite Colonel George W. Robinson wrote in the "Scriptory Book of Joseph Smith Jr" that Joseph Smith, Jr. was in the "North country" on August 11, meeting with Almon W. Babbitt and some Canadians who had refused to settle where the First Presidency had directed.15William Swartzell, however, emphatically placed the Prophet in Diahman that day for a meeting we shall discuss below.16 Robinson was not an eyewitness to what transpired in the "North country" that day, since he remained in Far West to meet an official delegation from Ray County.17 Swartzell, on the other hand, was there. So, it may well be that Joseph dealt with the Canadians in the morning and returned to Diahman in the afternoon. That would not seem to be stretching the laws of credibility.
But when Swartzell recorded that Joseph met a committee from Clay County in Diahman the same day Robinson and company met the committee from Ray in Far West, it is clear that he was mistakenly guilty of conflating two events. This unfortunate mistake should be dated to the period between 1839 and 1840, when Swartzell was preparing his journal for publication. It is unthinkable that he would have made this sort of mistake in his original journal as events were taking place, for he gives evidence of being a careful diarist as well as an eyewitness. Unfortunately, his original journal has apparently not survived.
If, then, we remove from Swartzell's published August 11 record all language about the supposed visit of the Clay Committee to Adam-ondi-Ahman, we may attempt to approximate what the original journal might have said:
"11th...They called at brother White's and then at the usual place of meeting for worship, where Joseph Smith, Jr., and about a hundred other persons, were assembled... L. White ... addressed them ... declaring 'that he owed nothing to the laws--the laws had not protected him--he had been on the rack these seven years--he had suffered enough--God did not intend him to endure more--and that he would not yield to the laws of Missouri--he would sooner die and be buried.'"18
Such intemperate, if not treasonous, language as Swartzell here attributed to Lyman Wight is not the sort one would expect to have been addressed to a diplomatic committee of Gentiles from an adjacent county to ascertain Mormon attitudes. All one has to do is compare Wight's speech here with the sort of discussion which actually took place between the Mormons in Far West and the Ray Committee that very day.19 Rather, Wight's speech was of the sort that were being addressed regularly to Diahman Danites during this period, some of which have been preserved for us elsewhere in Swartzell's journal.20
That this August 11 meeting was a Danite gathering is confirmed by other interesting facts as well. First, Swartzell states they called at Lyman Wight's, then the "usual" place of meeting. It seems apparent that he had in mind the same Danite grove he described in July adjacent to Wight's new house near the top of Tower Hill. The number in attendance (100) also suggests a Danite meeting. We do not know the total number of Danites in Daviess County, but the best estimates suggest that the total in both Caldwell and Daviess Counties was about 300-400.21 So the number one hundred does not sound too high for a single gathering in one place. Finally, the prominent role accorded Lyman Wight in this gathering reminds one of his role as "High Priest," as Swartzell called him in his description of the meetings of July 14, 21, and 28, 1838, discussed above. From these circumstantial points, we conclude that the meeting of August 11 in Swartzell's journal was originally a Danite gathering, the significance of which he had forgotten by the time he revised the document for publication.
Nor is the presence of Joseph Smith, Jr. at this Danite meeting that ridiculous. We have already noted that he was in the "north country" that day and, particularly, Adam-ondi-Ahman. Further, Leland H. Gentry admitted that the First Presidency attended at least one Danite meeting in Far West (probably in June),22 so why not this one in addition? Besides, we have already noted that Swartzell placed the entire First Presidency at Danite meetings in Diahman on July 14 and 21.23 And we have argued that Smith and Rigdon may have been at the Danite gathering of July 28 as well. So, not only is there certainly no reason why Joseph couldn't have been present at this meeting, but this pattern of his attendance at other meetings tends to support this conclusion.
The following Saturday, August 18, is a different situation. John Smith's diary states that there was a regular weekly Danite meeting.24 But it gives no indication whatsoever of what transpired there.26 Swartzell, however, says nothing at all in confirmation. It is not hard to see why. Only two days later Swartzell left Adam-ondi-Ahman, escaping to Gentile Clay County by way of Far West, Caldwell County.26 He never returned to his home or his faith. It may be safely argued that by this late date, he had lost interest in the activities of the Danites altogether. But that does not mean there was no meeting on August 18, since John Smith's account is undoubtedly correct.
Whether or not there was a meeting the following Saturday is difficult to determine. Swartzell, as previously noted, had apostatized and therefore recorded no further Danite meetings. But John Smith is not much help either. He wrote absolutely nothing in his journal after August 20 until September 1, 1838. And all that he wrote about that period, in his entry of September 1, was "August time passes as usual as has for some time past."27 This extremely ambiguous sentence could have included the regular weekly Danite meeting on Saturday, August 25, 1838, one would certainly hesitate to insist that it does. So while it is difficult to establish a regular Danite meeting for the 25th of August, we certainly cannot rule out the possibility that there was one. In view of the practice of the period leading up to this time, it certainly is a possibility.
Saturday, September 1, 1838, may well have been the last regular weekly Danite meeting ever held in Adam-ondi-Ahman. Stake President John Smith recorded: "The Daughter of Zion met today."28 It may have been the last weekly meeting because at this critical juncture, things began rapidly heating up in Daviess County. At about this very time, the Saints in Adam-ondi-Ahman were voting in the Law of Consecration, a clear step forward in Danite War planning.29 (In so doing, they were following a precedent established earlier in Far West.30) One week later, Joseph Smith, Jr., and Lyman Wight were brought to trial in Daviess County by Justice Austin A. King (called "the mob party" by the Saints and History of the Church).31 The trial was inconclusive because its proceedings were cut short.
From that point forward, John Smith's diary states that the Saints in Adam-ondi-Ahman stood "upon our arms day and night to gard against the mobb."32 Smith's recollection of this important period of time (Sept.-Oct.) is confirmed by the following statement of William Huntington, who, newly arrived in town, was building a house at Diahman at the time. He wrote:
"I was nearly one month Trying to build me an house for my family who ware at Far West I slep in my clothes with my rifle in arms nearly one Month day times we labored what we could with our arms and Amunition by our sides while Others ware on scouts ranging timber and pararies watching the movements of the mob who ware expected on us ever hour Thus we labored day and night."33
In that new situation, the weekly Danite meetings (held on Saturday evenings in Adam-ondi-Ahman, as we have seen, from July 14 to September 1, 1838) were apparently discontinued. The Danites, instead, adopted a military posture of constant deployment and consultation. Even at this later stage, however, it could be argued that the posture of the Danites was, perhaps, more defensive than aggressive, as evidenced by the remarks from the diary of John Smith and the journal of William Huntington cited above.
Only in the latter part of the month of October did this situation again change. Then, the Danites moved into a short period of aggressive military actions, primarily in the Crooked River Battle and the celebrated last expedition to Daviess County.34 In that period, consecration of Gentile goods and destruction of Gentile property became the focus of Danite activities.
But, in the period between July 14 and September 1, 1838, in Daviess County, the Danites, for all their violent rhetoric (which undoubtedly played a catalytic role in preparing for actual violence later), by comparison with their later deeds, were relatively quiet. The dissenters had been driven out of Far West even before the first recorded meeting of the Danites ever took place in Adam-ondi-Ahman. And, since that was, as Leland Gentry has pointed out, the original purpose of the Danites coming into being, we sense in the period between July 14 and September 1 in Daviess County, a quiet development of the Danite's strength in numbers and a redirection of their purpose which mainly took place in this series of Saturday evening meetings.
Indeed, with the exception of the poorly considered raid on Adam Black and other Daviess County citizens following the Election Day Riot of August 6, there is little that can be directly laid to their charge at all during the period between July 14 and September 1. Nonetheless, it must be recognized that the secret continuance of such a militant group of vigilantes among the Latter-day Saints, with or without the guidance of the First Presidency, was a dangerous expedient which ultimately paved the way for the expulsion of the Mormons from the State of Missouri. Such was the nature of the Danitism which began meeting in Daviess County in July of 1838 in those Saturday evening meetings.


1. Leland H. Genry, "A History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri (1836-1839)," Ph.D. dissertation, Brigham Young University, 1965, p.317.
2. William Swartzell, Mormonism Exposed, Being a Journal of a Residence in Missouri From the 28th of May to the 20th of August, 1838, Together with an Appendix, Containing the Revelation Concerning the Golden Bible, with Numerous Extracts from the "Book of Covenants," &c., &c. (Pekin, Ohio: by the author, 1840), pp.17-18. (Hereafter simply referred to as Swartzell.)
3. This is not to argue that there were no other Danite activities in Adam-ondi-Ahman during this period except on Saturday evenings. We know of at least one other event between July 14 and September 1 involving Daviess County Danites: the so-called visit to Adam Black (and others) in the wake of the Election Day Riot of August 6, 1838. The visit to Adam Black on Wednesday, August 8, clearly was outside the scope of the day to day operations of the Danites during this period. None of this would rule out the existence of a pattern of regular Saturday evening meetings in Adam-ondi-Ahman between July 14 and September 1, 1838.
4. Swartzell, pp.17-18. The individuals Swartzell referred to in this passage may safely be identified as follows: "White": Lyman Wight, a Colonel in the Missouri Militia, later a Mormon Apostle, whose house was near the top of Tower Hill. (Tower Hill was the site of an old "Nephitish Alter or Tower" (Joseph Smith "The Scriptory Book of Joseph Smith Jr.--President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints in all the World," p. 43, Library Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, hereafter to be called LDS Archives). The "Alter or Tower" has more recently been identified by archaeologists from Brigham Young University as an Indian Burial mound. Lyman Wight may have been the highest ranking Danite officer in Adam-ondi-Ahman. Certainly, he may be said to have played a key role in the events in Daviess County which led up to the expulsion of the Mormons from the State of Missouri.
"Barnes" was Lorenzo Dow Barnes, an early convert to Mormonism and an effective early Mormon missionary.
"Brother Sherry" was William M Cherry, mentioned as a land holder in the land records of Adam-ondi-Ahman. See George W. Robinson, "Record Book A Adam Ondi Awmen Mo," H. G. Sherwood papers, microfilm of holograph, LDS Archives.
"Thayer" was Andrew Thayer also mentioned as an Adam-ondi-Ahman land holder in Record book A.
"Hiram" was the Prophet's brother Hyrum Smith, a member of the First Presidency of the Church at this time. Hyrum was killed in the Carthage Jail at the same time as his brother in June 1844.
"Higbee" could be Elias Higbee, the Captain General (Supreme Commander in other words) of the Danite band. But it is not certain. Other possibilities are Francis Higbee (a relative) and John S. Higbee.
5. John Smith, journal, July 11 and 16, 1838, microfilm of holograph, LDS Archives. (Henceforth, this journal will simply be referred to as John Smith.)
6. Swartzell, p.21.
7. Swartzell, pp.21-22.
8. Swartzell, p.22.
9. Swartzell, p.26.
10. Swartzell, p.26.
11. John Smith, August 4, 1838.
12. Swartzell, p.28.
13. John D. Lee, Mormonism Unveiled; or The Life and Confessions of John D. Lee (St. Louis: Bryan, Brand & Co., 1877), p.57.
14. John Smith, August 11, 1838. The name "Jo. Greene" is Smith's diary entry here, though is evidently incorrect. The name is given as John Patten in Far West Record, August 11, 1838, which otherwise lends support to Smith's journal entry for this date.
15. Joseph Smith, "Scriptory Book," August 22, 1838, p.68.
16. Swartzell, p.32.
17. Far West Record, August 11, 1838.
18. Swartzell, p.32.
19. Compare Swartzell, p.32, with Far West Record, August 11, 1838.
20. Swartzell, pp.17-18, 20-21, 25-26.
21. Gentry, "A History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri."
22. Gentry, ibid.
23. See above in this article. See also Swartzell, pp.17-18, 20-22.
24. John Smith, August 18, 1838.
25. John Smith, August 18, 1838.
26. Swartzell, pp.35-36.
27. John Smith, September 1, 1838.
28. John Smith, September 1, 1838.
29. John Smith, September 2, 1838.
30. Joseph Smith, "Scriptory Book," July 27, 1838, pp. 60-61. For further information on the law of consecration practiced in Northern Missouri among the Saints, see H. Michael Marquardt (ed.), Joseph Smith's 1838-39 Diaries (Salt Lake City, Utah: Modern Microfilm Co., 1982), note at bottom of page 14.
31. Joseph Smith, "Scriptory Book," September 7, 1838, pp.60-61.
32. John Smith, "Since Sep 6th to Oct 12th," journal entry.
33. William Huntington, Journal, Typescript copy, p.13. Special Collections, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. See also John D. Lee, Mormonism Unveiled, pp.65-69 for similar observations.
34. For discussions of these significant events, see Stephen C. LeSueur, "The Mormon War: The Struggle to Maintain Order in Northwestern Missouri in 1838" M.A. Thesis, George Mason University, 1981.

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