816 North Opinion

David Knopf: Monument tucked on back road offers lesson on Mormon history

Monument marking Zion’s Camp in Clay County.
Monument marking Zion’s Camp in Clay County. Special to The Star

Wandering is what makes this possible, and the dust on my car is evidence of my back-road curiosity.

I turned off South Liberty Parkway to photograph a brilliant orange sun rising through the trees. When I was done, I continued up Campbell Drive, a Clay County two-lane, looking to turn around.

On my right, I spotted a tall, four-sided monument behind an ornate fence. It was a remote area, surrounded by trees, a dilapidated farm and pasture pocked by junk cars and trash. I stopped for photos.

It wasn’t until later that I read the monument’s engraving and learned it marked the place where Mormons settled after being expelled from Jackson County in 1833. It was just a few years before they were forced out of Clay, and later from Caldwell, Daviess and Ray counties.

The monument was reminiscent of one we might see for a prominent historical figure.

Unveiled in 2011, the monument noted that “political, economic and religious conflict led to the expulsion of approximately 1,200 Mormons from Jackson County,” many settling on and around Michael Arthur’s farm in Clay County.

Some even worked for Arthur, including John Whitmer, whose brother David was said to have witnessed Joseph Smith’s vision of the gold plates that led to the Book of Mormon.

In 1834, Smith led 200 Mormon men, women and children from Kirtland, Ohio, to Clay County. His goal was to help negotiate the return of property lost in the expulsion from Jackson County. The expedition was known as “Zion’s Camp” — a reference to the City of Zion envisioned as a Mormon holy city.

Ultimately, Smith was unsuccessful, the monument notes.

“In the end, political, social and circumstantial events prevented Zion’s Camp from realizing its primary objective” of helping those who were expelled from Jackson County return there.

And conflict between the Mormons and other settlers proliferated.

Following a pattern that shadowed the Mormons wherever they went — eventually repeating in Caldwell, Daviess and Ray counties — Smith’s followers were expelled from Clay County in 1835.

They settled in Caldwell and Daviess, setting the stage for the creation in 1838 of Far West, a community that was soon home to as many as 5,000 Mormons. Among them were Smith — who fled Ohio in January that year — and Oliver Cowdery, like Whitmer, one of three witnesses to the “Book of Mormon.”

But friction — internal as well as external — continued to shadow the sect. The conflict between early Christian settlers and the Mormons escalated to violence and what’s now referred to as the Mormon War. More a series of bloody ambushes, armed conflict included the massacre at Haun’s Mill and Battle of Crooked River, a skirmish in northern Ray County that killed a number on both sides.

Ultimately, the violence led to the jailing of Smith and other Mormon leaders in Richmond, the county seat, in November 1838.

It took place after Alexander Doniphan, a military officer and lawyer, famously refused to carry out an extermination order issued by Missouri’s governor. Though not Mormon himself, Doniphan is still revered by the church for his principled stand.

Smith and five other Mormon prisoners were later set free to leave the state after having been transferred to a jail in Liberty to await trial.

A few years ago, Logan, Utah, resident William Jensen published a historically faithful novel, “Adder in the Path,” that recounted the impact the conflict had on both Christian settlers and the Mormons who followed them.

Interest in the story continues today, as Mormons and others visit historical sites in Jackson, Clay, Caldwell, Daviess and Ray counties to trace the path of Smith’s followers. Among their destinations is a handsome monument marking Zion’s Camp, one tucked away on a back road in Clay County.

Have a story to share? Write David at davidknopf48@gmail.com.