Approximately 150 people assembled Oct. 30 in the Far West meetinghouse of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to honor and remember the victims and survivors of the Haun's Mill Massacre.
The event was held on the 160th anniversary of the tragedy, commemorating the sacrifice of the 17 Latter-day Saints killed and the 14 who were wounded by a band of 200 Missouri vigilantes who attacked the isolated Mormon community, some 16 miles from Far West. The assault is the single greatest tragedy in terms of loss of life as a result of persecution in LDS history.The memorial service was organized and directed by Dr. Mark A. Scherer, historian for the RLDS Church. Other participating organizations included the Restoration Trails Foundation, the John Whitmer Historical Association, the Missouri Mormon Frontier Foundation, and the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation.
A number of Latter-day Saints participated on the program including Alexander L. Baugh, Pleasant Grove, Utah; Maurine C. Ward, Hyrum, Utah; and Michael L. Hutchings, Sandy, Utah. Other participants included Andrew Bolton, director of Peace and Justice Ministries; Susan K. Naylor, public relations coordinator; and W. B. "Pat" Spillman, president of Restoration Trails Foundation.
Music for the services was provided by members of the Cameron Ward, Liberty Missouri Stake. Jenny Doan, Hillary Doan, and Celeste Didericksen sang a special rendition of "How Firm a Foundation." The hymn has a special connection to the tragic events of that fateful day. Amanda Barnes Smith and her family were encamped at the mill during the last week of October 1838, and her husband, Warren Smith, and son Sardius were both killed and another son Alma was severely wounded in the hip.
In her writings, Amanda noted that during the extreme hardships following the ordeal, the words from the seventh verse of the hymn came to her mind: "The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose I will not, I cannot, desert to his foes; That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I'll never, no never, no never forsake!"
It was these words that sustained her in her darkest hour.
In his remarks, Brother Baugh, an assistant professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU, gave a brief history of the Haun's Mill settlement, then recounted some of the tragic events and acts of heroism of that fateful October afternoon.
He also stated: "Fortunately, the dark days of religious persecution and physical opposition experienced by the Mormons in Missouri are gone. Furthermore, the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that we should have put away any feelings of animosity towards those individuals who perpetrated acts against the Latter-day Saints of that day. We live in a new day and a new generation."
Maurine Ward, a member of the Hyrum 8th Ward, Hyrum Utah Stake, spoke as a representative of the descendants of the Haun's Mill victims and survivors. She shared tender thoughts about the sacrifices of three Mormon mothers who lost family members: Wealthy Dewey Richards, whose 15-year-old son George Spencer was killed; Amanda Barnes Smith, who, as noted, lost a husband and a son; and Nancy Jane Hammer, whose husband, Austin Hammer, was mortally wounded while defending the community and who died later that day.
Speaking of Nancy, Sister Ward noted that the Hammers lived several miles from the mill, so it was not until the next day that she learned of her husband's death.
"By the time she had got to the mill the next morning, the dead had all been buried in the well. Three weeks after the massacre, Nancy Jane was given 10 days to leave the area," Sister Ward said. "This 32-year-old mother had six children to evacuate using one wagon and one blind horse. She was able to trade the wagon for two horses and a light one-horse wagon. Into this small wagon she put bedding, clothes, corn meal and other scanty provisions and set out in the cold. She and one daughter were the only ones with shoes, her other children went barefoot or wrapped their feet in rags as they walked across the frosty, wet, or snowy ground towards Illinois."
Brother Hutchings, a board member of the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the development and preservation of historic Mormon sites, focused his remarks on the fact that when the Saints first came into Missouri in 1831, the Lord forewarned them that there would be problems, "but, there were still wonderful blessings to be had."
Brother Hutchings said his organization is committed to working with the RLDS Church (which has owned the property since 1960) to develop the site so Church members and particularly descendants of the victims of the Haun's Mill tragedy could learn more about what happened there and experience and reflect upon the history and sacrifice made by the Saints.
Following the memorial service at the meetinghouse, those attending traveled to Haun's Mill for the final part of the program. Mark Scherer, RLDS historian, spoke and noted those who had gathered here had done so about the same time (4 p.m.) that the attack began 160 years ago. He then invited all the descendants of the victims to come forward and lay a wreath in their behalf. Following the wreath ceremony, Celeste Didericksen and her daughters Jenna and Kimber performed, "Haun's Mill," written by Sister Didericksen.
About 40 Haun's Mill descendants attended the services, including Colleen Peterson, from Bountiful, Utah, a descendant of Austin Hammer. "It was such a worthwhile thing to attend," she remarked. "I felt the need to represent my great-great-great-grandfather who sacrificed so much. There was a good hand-in-hand spirit with the RLDS and LDS churches."
For Wendy E. Gibbs, a descendant of Amanda Barnes Smith, it was the first time she had been to Haun's Mill. She and six other family members traveled from Woods Cross, Utah, to be there for the services. "I had read so much about this, and now to be there made it real for me," she said.
Kenneth Goates of West Valley City, Utah, a descendant of Captain David Evans, branch president at Haun's Mill, attended with his sister, Alice G. Avis, from Highland, Utah. "It was all wonderful!" he said. "The moving thing was realizing, as I was grouped with the descendants, that our ancestors were there 160 years ago to the minute. "