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Extermination Order

by Dale A. Whitman

A military order signed by Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs on October 27, 1838, directed that the Mormons be driven from the state or exterminated (see Missouri Conflict). Boggs' action was based on information brought to him that day by two citizens of Richmond, Missouri, concerning the Mormon-Missourian conflicts in northwest Missouri and on reports of the Battle of Crooked River, in which armed Mormons had clashed with a company of state militia on October 25.

Boggs, acting in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the Missouri militia, ordered General John B. Clark to March to Ray County with a division of militia to carry out operations against armed Mormons. The order described the Mormons as being in "open and avowed defiance of the laws, and of having made war upon the people of this State." It stated that "the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace—their outrages are beyond all description."

A copy of the order reached General Samuel D. Lucas of the state militia by the time he encamped outside the LDS town of Far West, in Caldwell County, on October 31. Lucas gave a copy to the LDS Colonel George M. Hinkle and other Church representatives, to whom he dictated terms of surrender, and they showed it to Joseph Smith. It was probably a significant factor in the Prophet's decision to surrender to Lucas.

Following Joseph Smith's surrender, arrest, and imprisonment, the governor's order was carried out by a combination of militia troops and vigilantes. It culminated in the forcible removal from Missouri of virtually all members of the Church during the winter and early spring of 1838-1839.

The legality and propriety of Boggs' order were vigorously debated in the Missouri legislature during its 1839 session. The order was supported by most northwest Missouri citizens, but was questioned or denounced by others. However, no determination of the order's legality was ever made.

On June 25, 1976, Governor Christopher S. Bond issued an executive order rescinding the Extermination Order, recognizing its legal invalidity and formally apologizing in behalf of the state of Missouri for the suffering it had caused the Latter-day Saints.

(See Daily Living home page; Church History home page; 1831-1844 home page)


"Document Containing the Correspondence, Orders, etc. in Relation to the Disturbances with the Mormons; and the Evidence Given before the Hon. Austin A. King." Office of the Boon's Lick Democrat, Fayette, Mo., 1841, p. 61 (contains full text of the order).

Gentry, Leland H. "A History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri from 1836 to 1839." Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1965.

LeSueur, Stephen C. The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri. Columbia, Mo., 1987.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Extermination Order

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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