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
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
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
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
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
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:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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.
8. Swartzell, p.22.
9. Swartzell, p.26.
10. Swartzell, p.26.
11. John Smith, August
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,
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
25. John Smith, August
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
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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