In 1838, my great-great grandfather, Tarlton Lewis, along with several thousand other converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gathered in Missouri. They were unwelcome, not so much because of their religion, but because they were not sympathetic to slavery. The locals perceived, and with good reason, that the “Mormon” influx could decide whether or not Missouri would enter the Union as a slave state. Intent on driving the newcomers out, mobs gathered, houses and barns were set afire and crops were destroyed. When the Mormons defended themselves they were accused of being the aggressors and the governor issued a declaration that “the Mormons were to be driven from the state or exterminated.”
On October 30, 1838, at a place called Haun’s Mill, a group of Mormons had gathered. Angry mobs were threatening them from all sides and the brethren met in council to deliberate the best course to pursue for the common defense. About 28 of the men armed themselves to be in constant readiness in case of attack. At about 4:00 p.m. a company of about three hundred armed men approached on horseback and, without warning, began firing on the inhabitants of the settlement.
The women and children scrambled for cover as best they could while those men who were able retreated to the blacksmith shop and returned fire through gaps between the logs. Tarlton and his brother Benjamin were wounded but managed to get home where Benjamin coughed up a bullet that had lodged in his stomach. He died before morning. Returning to the blacksmith shop with several others, Tarlton and his wife, Malinda, expected to be fired upon any moment. They gathered up the bullet-pierced and maimed bodies of their friends and threw them down an abandoned well. Although he was badly wounded, Tarlton helped his wife dig a grave for Benjamin. In addition to the many wounded, about twenty persons lost their lives that day.
There was one Isaac Laney who was shot in the abdomen. Malinda tore off her kitchen apron and bound it about his abdomen to keep everything in place. They managed to get Mr. Laney to their home before the mobs returned. When she saw them coming, Malinda had Tarlton hide under the house. The mobbers searched the house and upon seeing Mr. Laney, decided that he was too near death to waste another bullet on and left, never knowing the whereabouts of Tarlton. Mr. Laney recovered and later went on to Utah. Tarlton also recovered but he carried a bullet in his shoulder until he died at a ripe old age.
David F. Boone, Professor of Church history at BYU, tells the story of Amanda Barnes Smith (1809-1886). Just days after arriving in Missouri, her husband and second son were killed in the Haun’s Mill Massacre, and one of her 6-year old twins, Alma, had a hip blown completely out by a gunshot. “Mere days later,” says Professor Boone, “people flocked to the area to hear the story of his miraculous healing, the alleged result of a mother’s prayer. ‘Christ was the physician,’ Smith said, ‘and I was the nurse.’”
A few days after the massacre, the Saints were ordered to leave the state. “Robbed of all her possessions, Sister Smith had no provisions and no transportation except her feet. She had a backbone of steel,” Boone says. “She left her four children at the site of the massacre, walked to the mob leader’s home, banged on the door, and said, pointing to the livestock, ‘You have my horse!’ When the mobster wanted to sell it to her and then charge her for having fed it, she firmly replied, ‘No. I don’t have any money. It’s my horse. I need it. I’ll take it now.’ One account reports that she used her apron as a lead rope to get the horse home.”
“She showed incredible courage in the face of deadly force,” says Boone. “Man’s inhumanity to man always raises my hackles…I don’t care who the underprivileged one is; it’s just not right.” (BYU Magazine, Spring 2013)
“The bravest battle that ever was fought; Shall I tell you where and when, On the maps of the world you will find it not; It was fought by the mothers of men. Nay, not with cannon or battle shot, With sword or braver pen; Nay, not with eloquent word or thought, From the mouths of wonderful men.
“But deep in a woman’s walled-up heart—Of woman that would not yield, But patiently, silently bore her part—Lo! there in that battlefield. No marshaling troop, no bivouac song; No banners to gleam and wave; And, oh! These battles they last so long—From babyhood to the grave!
“Yet, faithful still as a bridge of stars, She fights in her walled-up town—Fights on and on in the endless wars, Then silent, unseen—goes down.” (Joaquin Miller)