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Lilburn W. Boggs letter

Lilburn W. Boggs (1796-1860), sixth governor of Missouri from 1836-1840

Lilburn W. Boggs (1796-1860), sixth governor of Missouri from 1836-1840

On October 27, 1838, Missouri governor Lilburn W. Boggs issued Missouri Executive Order 44, known more commonly among Latter-day Saints as the “Extermination Order,” in response to the conflict between Mormon and Missouri settlers in the northwestern counties of the state.  The premise of the order was that the Mormons should be “exterminated” or driven from the state due to their “open and avowed defiance of the laws, and of having made war upon the people of this State,” and that such an order was necessary “for the public peace—their outrages are beyond all description.”

A casual observer may ask why go to such extreme measures, or how could the governor come to such conclusions.  While not an eyewitness to much, if any, of what went on between the Mormons and Missouri militia, Boggs was constantly receiving reports of the so-called “war” in the northwest corner of his state.  On October 26, the day before issuing the infamous “Extermination Order,” Boggs wrote a letter in which he reveals a little of what may have influenced him to take such measures against the Mormons.  In this letter, written to Colonel Joseph Hawkins, Boggs writes:

“I have first received information from the County of Davis [sic] that the Mormons have driven the citizens of Davis [sic] from their homes, burnt their homes, destroyed their property, have reduced to ashes the town of Gallatin, the county seat of Davis [sic] County, including the clerk’s office, post office and all the public records.–The citizens of Davis [sic] have requested of the Executive protection and to be reinstated in their homes….”

He then goes on to issue orders for more troops and provisions to be raised to aid the citizens of the county per their request.

Lilburn W. Boggs letter to Colonel Joseph Hawkins, October 26, 1838

Lilburn W. Boggs letter to Colonel Joseph Hawkins, October 26, 1838 (Vault MSS 724)

This letter is a great window into Boggs’ mindset just prior to issuing the order that would force the Latter-day Saints from their beloved Missouri.  Of most concern to Boggs was the destruction of government property, including the clerk’s office, post office, and public records, or anything that appeared to be an act of war against the state of Missouri.  While the reports he received may have been exaggerated some, there is evidence that such acts were performed to an extent by those connected with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.   This letter was also written just two days after the Battle at Crooked River, where Mormon troops fought the Missouri state militia, and which some saw as an act of treason against the state.  Regardless of these actions being in self-defense or retaliation for other wrongdoings, including being attacked while attempting to vote in Gallatin just months prior, it was these extreme acts by the Mormons against the government of the state of Missouri that pushed Governor Boggs to the point were he felt compelled to act in a manner to save his state.

This letter is currently part of an exhibit in L. Tom Perry Special Collections.  You have just one more week to view it along with other items related to the Mormon Missouri experience as we remember the unforgettable events of this time period in Church history that occurred over 175 years ago.

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