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Danites in Missouri (Part 5 of 8 )

The Danites were a Mormon vigilante group who tried to fight back against Missouri mobocracy.  Were they good guys or bad guys?  W.W. Phelps & Thomas Marsh both testified about Danite actions in the Mormon-Missouri War in 1838.  Both men were lumped in with the apostates and were excommunicated.  Dr. Bruce Van Orden is the biographer of W.W. Phelps and says Phelps returned after some time out of the church.  We’ll also tackle the Milk and Strippings story in which we are told in Sunday School that Marsh left the church in defense of his wife.  Is that true?

GT:  I do want to spend a little bit of time. I know John Hamer has written a wonderful post on the Milk and Strippings story.  It seems like Thomas Marsh gets a bad rap for that whole episode, and we kind of gloss over the problems in Missouri. What were some of these other issues that Thomas Marsh had?

Bruce:  I’ve already said that Phelps was egocentric and sought to excel. It got him in trouble from time to time. I’m not exonerating him from his eccentricities. But I would say that Marsh was motivated by his ego and his desire to excel, even more than Phelps was, and he didn’t have nearly the talent. He did get trained in the printing press business, and he wanted to take over the Church’s periodical that had been started after the Cowderys’ had been cut off, Oliver and Warren Cowdery.  They had run the Messenger and Advocate, and so, the Messenger and Advocate died. They created a new newspaper called the Elders’ Journal. But then, that stopped in Kirtland when the Saints had to leave Kirtland. But it was reinstated in Far West, Missouri in the late summer of 1838, the Elders’ journal. It had two issues come out. Marsh wrote some lengthy articles in it, building himself up as a great man and great leader, and helping save the Church from apostasy of other people, including Phelps and all the Whitmers, but also these earlier guys in Kirtland, as well. He wanted to kind of take over the printing operation because he knew it had given Phelps power and influence.  He started to do that. But Joseph preferred to have the editor be his younger brother, Don Carlos Smith, and that probably bothered Marsh to a certain extent. Marsh ended up seeing what the Danites were up to.

Bruce:  It bothered him and he talked to Joseph Smith about it. Joseph didn’t really know about all of the activities of the Danites because it was secret, and he kind of sloughed it off. Then he [Marsh] saw even more in Daviess County. I guess he was losing influence, anyway. We don’t know all the reasons. He had been offended by this milk stripping issue, although I think that’s a minor event, rather than THE main event.

GT:  Right.

Bruce:  But, as a minor event, it offended him and his family. So, he decided in mid-October 1838, “I’m against Joseph Smith, now.”  Then he wrote that affidavit out, giving great detail to what the Danites had done, and attributing it to Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith.

GT:  So, you’re saying Joseph really wasn’t aware of the Danite incidents?

Bruce:  Well, that’s a historical question about how much he knew. The official version that has come down in sanitized Church History is that Joseph Smith really didn’t know about it, and it was a secret organization, and they did all these bad things. Well, he sanctioned some of their activities. They’re just no denying it. In Daviess County, he was there when they were doing it, and he didn’t stop them. But, how much he knew about the blood oaths and all that, remains to be seen.  But it was Sampson Avard, one of the leaders of the Danites, who went state’s evidence on the side of the Missourian charges against Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith and George Robinson and McCray and all those guys who were arrested. The biggest testifier against the church leadership was Sampson Avard, the really dirty guy in the Danites. He went state’s evidence.

We go further into the Danites and the Missouri troubles, and who testified against Danite actions.  Check out our conversation….

Mormon Danites tried to fight back against Missouri mobs.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Bruce!

564: Mormon-Missouri War of 1838

563: Cleaning House in Kirtland: Phelps vs Marsh

562: Were Phelps Missouri Troubles Self-Inflicted?

561:  Jailed Before Joined

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Cleaning House in Kirtland: Phelps vs Marsh (Part 3 of 8 )

Following the Kirtland Banking Crisis, many were disillusioned with Joseph Smith’s leadership.  Thomas Marsh was among those who helped Joseph clear out the disaffected, and he set his sights on a disgruntled W.W. Phelps.  Dr. Bruce Van Orden, biographer of W.W. Phelps and author of We’ll Sing and We’ll Shout, will tell us more about the showdown.

Bruce:  [Marsh] was the president of the Twelve because he was supposedly the oldest. Section 112, which outlines what the Twelve Apostles do, in taking the gospel to all the world. Well, [apostles] Marsh and Patten stayed in Ohio for a while and got rid of some of the apostates that were coming forward as a result of this bank crisis and other apostate activities going on. There were lots of them. Four of the original Twelve were cut off from the Church, under the direction of Joseph Smith, with the aid of Thomas B. Marsh. Marsh was trying to say, “I’m helping you clean up the place.”  Then, he was assigned to go back to live in Missouri, where he didn’t have any specific authority, but he took with him an admonition from Joseph Smith that Phelps and John Whitmer, were doing some things in error. Well, what Joseph Smith had heard from Marsh is that they were using these monies to buy up the property. Then, they would carve out the property into lots in Far West into square lots, and then sell them for a profit. But, the money that was brought in as a result of the profit from selling these lots was to go to the temple. But Marsh didn’t like the idea that these guys were in charge, and he wasn’t. So, when he got back to Missouri in late 1837, and then in 1838, he concocted another court, and this time had enough support from the High Council. It wasn’t presided over in the right way, at all. They excommunicated W.W. Phelps and John Whitmer and installed themselves as the new presidency. ‘Okay, we got rid of them. We’re not the presidency,’ Thomas Marsh and David Patten.

GT:  So this is confusing.

Bruce:  It is confusing. It’s complicated, but it was a power struggle. It was a coup. By the way, Phelps was not perfect in his relationship.  He shot back and had snide remarks and was a bit mischievous in his relationship with Marsh at that point.

GT:  So, let me make sure we understand. Essentially, the Whitmers and W.W. Phelps are leading the church. Marsh is an apostle and actually president the Twelve Apostles, but they’re not supposed to have authority where a High Council exists. Marsh, essentially, usurped authority in Missouri and excommunicated Phelps and the Whitmers. Is that right?

Bruce:  He and Patten both plotted with members of the High Council to undermine Phelps and Whitmer. Remember, David Whitmer still in the east. By the time they finally held the proceedings, David Whitmer had returned, but they didn’t excommunicate him because they felt that–well, Bishop Partridge says, “You’re doing this entirely illegally. A court for them would be held by the bishopric, not by you guys.” According to the revelations, Partridge was right, but they went ahead and excommunicated those two anyway, with the High Council’s approval.  He wanted to get it done before Joseph Smith arrived. Then when Joseph arrives, he can say, “See, I helped you clean out Ohio, and I’ve cleaned up Missouri and now we’re ready to have you just take over.”

GT:  Okay. Marsh basically cleaned out all the apostates.

Bruce:  And Patten, together.

GT:  So, all the people that were upset about the bank, so that would have been McLellin, probably.  Is that right?

Bruce:  McLellin was the fifth one that ended up being lost.

Phelps would return to the church, but this wouldn’t be the last time he was excommunicated.  Check out our conversation….

Thomas B. Marsh and W.W. Phelps had a power play against each other for leadership in Missouri.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Dr. Van Orden.

562: Were Phelps Missouri Troubles Self-Inflicted?

561:  Jailed Before Joined

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Were Phelps Missouri Troubles Self-inflicted? (Part 2 of 8 )

W.W. Phelps was deeply involved in editing a political newspaper prior to joining the Church and was no stranger to partisan political fights.  When he and the saints arrived in Missouri, trouble followed quickly.  Was Phelps to blame for the poor reception in Missouri?  Dr. Bruce Van Orden, biographer of Phelps and author of We’ll Sing and We’ll Shout, will answer that question.

GT:  W.W. Phelps, when he was in New York, got involved in the political tussles in New York, as you mentioned, the anti-Masonic party and that sort of thing. How much of the problems in Missouri we’re because of his pugnacious, I guess, attitudes in the newspaper industry?

Bruce:  The word pugnacious is fair, but it is unfair to place all the blame on Phelps. Some people have done that. Because he was a newspaper editor, people knew about him, his name was on the business. It was right next to the courthouse and people knew about Phelps, but he was not alone….

GT: Who are some of the other people?

Bruce:  Well, I’d say Sidney Rigdon, David Whitmer, John Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, William McClellan, probably Edward Partridge, Isaac Morley, John Corrill.

GT: So, quite a quite a few.

Bruce:  Yeah.

GT: Do you think–could they have lived there in peace if they’d have been a little less combative?

Bruce:  No doubt about it. But the reason they were combative is because they felt that this was the New Jerusalem and that Christ would be coming quite soon. They felt that. Even in the Evening and Morning Star, Phelps talked about the signs of the times and that they were telling us that the time is coming in the Redeemer of Israel hymn. He said the tokens already appeared, meaning the signs are already here to say that it’s coming. He wrote, “I may be wrong in this, but I’m calculating this based on biblical evidence, and I think it might be nine years from now, when he comes.”

GT: Oh wow. So, you can understand why the Missourians were pretty upset.

Bruce:  Yes, I can certainly understand.

We’ll go deeper into the Missouri Troubles.  Check out our conversation….

Phelps pugnacious writing style didn’t help Mormons get along with their Missouri neighbors.

Don’t miss our previous conversation with Bruce!

561:  Jailed Before Joined