This article is about the Mormon group. "Danite" can also refer to a member of the Tribe of Dan.

The Danites were a fraternal organization founded by Latter Day Saint members in June 1838, in the town of Far West in Caldwell County, Missouri. During their period of organization in Missouri, the Danites operated as a vigilante group and took a central role in the events of the 1838 Mormon War. Whether or not the Danites existed in the years after the 1847 arrival of the LDS in Utah is still debated. However, they remained an important part of Mormon and non-Mormon folklore, polemics, and propaganda for the remainder of the 19th century, waning in ideological prominence after Utah gained statehood. The exact nature and scope of the organization, and the degree to which it was officially connected to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are a matter of some dispute among historians.

In 1834, during the march of Zion's Camp, Joseph Smith created a militia known as the "Armies of Israel" to protect his community; this group was also called the Danites. After the 1838 war, the term "Danite" was often connected with any Latter Day Saint militarism, including the Nauvoo, Illinois police, the bodyguards of Joseph Smith, Jr., the "whistling and whittling brigades", and Brigham Young's so-called "Destroying Angels" or "Avenging Angels." Although some members of these later groups had been Danites in the Missouri period, the leadership of the 1838 secret society, particularly Sampson Avard, was not associated with the leadership of the peace-keeping militias using the same name.



The Danites organized in the milieu of mutual hostility and conflict between the Mormon settlers and the more established Missourians, with numerous acts of violence perpetrated on both sides. They were active as a formal organization in Missouri in 1838. They began as a group of zealots determined to drive out internal dissension among the Mormons — the so called 'dissenters' which group included former high ranking Mormons including the Three Witnesses — but progressed to becoming involved in militia and paramilitary conflicts with U.S. forces and both civilians and law enforcement of Missouri.

The Latter Day Saint movement had experienced periods of conflict and violence with neighboring communities. Prior to this period, Joseph Smith, Jr had promoted a non-violent policy,[1] but this era of pacifism was coming to an end. In August 1833, Smith recorded a revelation that stated:

And now verily I say unto you, concerning the laws of the land, it is my will that my people should observe all things whatsoever I command them. And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me. Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land; And to the law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.[2]

This revelation encouraged church members "to bear it patiently and revile not" when "men will smite you, or your families" [3] yet also justified self-defense: If, after being endangered three times, "he has sought thy life and thy life is endangered by him, thine enemy is in thy hands and thou art justified." [4]

Prior to 1838, the Latter Day Saint movement had two centers — one in Kirtland, Ohio and the other in northwestern Missouri. The headquarters and First Presidency of the church were in Kirtland, while the Missouri church was led by a Stake Presidency made up of David Whitmer, W. W. Phelps, and John Whitmer. In 1836, John Whitmer and Phelps founded the town of Far West, Missouri, which became the headquarters of the church in Missouri. Throughout 1837, the church in Kirtland was experiencing internal conflicts over the failure of the church's bank. Ultimately, Joseph Smith, Jr. and Sidney Rigdon of the First Presidency lost control of the headquarters, including the Kirtland Temple, to dissenters led by Warren Parish. Smith and his followers relocated to Far West during the early part of 1838, beginning a period where Smith and other church leaders began to take the view that the church was fighting for its life.[5]

During the spring of 1838, events had come to a boiling point as the number of Mormons swelled in Missouri and Ohio and rifts within the church itself developed.[6] Sudden heavy Mormon immigration combined with their tendency to vote in a bloc for whichever candidate Smith endorsed aroused hostility from the native Missourians. These tensions were escalated by the fact that Smith had been issuing prophecies that Missouri was meant to belong to Mormons since 1831.[7] These prophecies were given a militant flavor by LDS leaders such as Sidney Rigdon, whose "Salt sermon" and "July 4 Oration" encouraged the Danites to actively seek driving non-Mormons and Mormon dissenters from the state. LDS claims to rights to Missouri were countered back and forth with hostile rhetoric from non-Mormon news sources and politicians. Eventually the situation became dire, with one government agent writing:

"The citizens of Daviess, Coroll, and some other normal counties have raised mob after mob for the last two months for the purpose of driving a group of fanatics, (called mormons) from those counties and from the State. These things have at length goaded the mormons into a state of desparation that has now made them the aggressors instead of acting on the defensive."[8]


In June 1838, a group of Mormons began meeting together in Far West under the leadership of Sampson Avard, Jared Carter, and George W. Robinson to discuss the problem of Mormon dissenters.[9] The group organized under the name "The Daughters of Zion." A second group was formed in nearby Adam-ondi-Ahman where stake president and special counselor in the First Presidency John Smith recorded the name Danites in his diary and characterized the meetings as routine events.[10] The name "Danites" probably refers to a Biblical prophecy found in the Book of Daniel (Daniel 7:18). According to Albert P. Rockwood, a loyal Mormon writing in October 1838:

"The Companies are called Danites because the Prophet Daniel has said that the Saints shall take the kingdom and possess it forever."[11]

Thomas B. Marsh, former President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, left the church, citing improper handling of the church's finances by its leadership. He began writing and speaking critically of the church, which resulted in his formal excommunication. He left after hearing reports of the destruction of non-Mormon settlements, including Gallatin, by the Mormons. He was present at early Danite meetings and claimed that the Danites swore oaths "to support the heads of the church in all things that they say or do, whether right or wrong."[12] The newly formed Danites disagreed initially on what steps to take against the dissenters, who had left the church but still lived nearby on land that had murky legal status. The properties had been purchased with a mixture of common and private funds, and in the name of both the LDS church and private individuals. Reed Peck, another ex-Mormon, alleged that Jared Carter and Dimick B. Huntington proposed that the group "kill these men that they would not be capable of injuring the church."[13] Marsh (while still a practicing Mormon) and John Corrill successfully argued against the proposal.[citation needed]

"Salt Sermon"

John Corrill recalled that "the first presidency did not seem to have much to do with [the Danites] at first", and some of the Danites clearly saw this sermon as a sign of approval.[14] The matter was tabled until the following Sunday (June 17, 1838) when Sidney Rigdon preached his Salt Sermon, in which he likened the dissenters to "salt that had lost its savor." He went on to state that the dissenters would be "trodden under the foot of men."[15] Corrill stated that "although [Rigdon] did not give names in his sermon, yet it was plainly understood that he meant the dissenters or those who had denied the faith."[14] Rigdon's strongly worded sermon may have played a significant role in encouraging the dissenters to leave the county.[16]

Danite Manifesto

Ebenezer Robinson (who remained with the church after 1838), recalled that the next day a letter was "gotten up in the office of the First Presidency,"[17] which Danite leader Sampson Avard later charged was written by Sidney Rigdon.[18] The letter was addressed specifically to the principal dissenters: Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, John Whitmer, William Wines Phelps, and Lyman E. Johnson. It made several accusations concerning the actions and character of these dissenters and then stated:

"We have solemnly warned you, and that in the most determined manner, that if you do not cease that course of wanton abuse of the citizens of this county, that vengeance would overtake you sooner or later, and that when it did come it would be as furious as the mountain torrent, and as terrible as the beating tempest; but you have affected to despise our warnings, and pass them off with a sneer, or a grin, or a threat, and pursued your former course; and vengeance sleepeth not, neither does it slumber; and unless you heed us this time, and attend to our request, it will overtake you at an hour when you do not expect, and at a day when you do not look for it; and for you there shall be no escape; for there is but one decree for you, which is depart, depart, or a more fatal calamity shall befall you."[19]

The letter — later known as the "Danite Manifesto" — displayed the signatures of eighty-three Mormons, including that of Joseph Smith's brother, and fellow member of the First Presidency, Hyrum. Robinson later claimed that all of the signers were Danites.[17]

The letter had the desired effect and the few named dissenters quickly fled the county, relocating to Liberty and Richmond in neighboring Clay and Ray counties. Despite the harsh treatment of the few vocal dissidents, a dozen others were permitted to peacefully remain in the community. One of the expelled dissenters, John Whitmer, claimed that they had been "driven from their homes" and robbed "of all their goods save clothing & bedding &c."[20] Reed Peck agreed, asserting that "the claims by which this property was taken from these men were unjust and perhaps without foundation cannot be doubted by any unprejudiced person acquainted with all parties and circumstances."[21]

Expanding Role

The Danites' role shifted from internal enforcement to external defense when the non-Mormon Missourian majority asked the Mormons to leave, at first making a request without threat of force. In coming months, hostilities between Mormons and Missourians would grow to the point that the State Militia drove most of the Mormons out of Missouri. Governor Lilburn Boggs issued Missouri Executive Order 44 on October 27, 1838, which expelled the Mormons from Missouri.

However, conflict developed between Smith and the Danites' leader, Sampson Avard. In Smith's account, Avard, while a new member to the Church, formed a "secret combination", an allusion to a nefarious society as discussed in the Book of Mormon. Smith further stated that Avard's pride and zeal prompted him to organize the group contrary to the will of Smith and the other leaders of the Church. According to this view, Avard illegitimately claimed to be the Lord's agent, and according to a quote Smith attributed to Avard, he wanted to profit from vigilantism by taking "spoils of the goods of ungodly Gentiles [non-Mormons]."[22]

Joseph Smith soon took action against Avard in the name of the church, removing him from all military duties and establishing him as a surgeon to help with the wounded; Avard mentions this demotion himself.[23] Avard was eventually excommunicated. Smith's History of the Church states: "When a knowledge of Avard's rascality came to the Presidency of the Church, he was cut off from the Church, and every means proper used to destroy his influence, at which he was highly incensed and went about whispering his evil insinuations, but finding every effort unavailing, he again turned conspirator, and sought to make friends with the mob."[24]

With the opposition leaders ousted and the hostilities increasing, the sanctioned Danite group took on three additional primary functions, (1) enforcement of the Law of Consecration, (2) political activities, and (3) militia activities.[25]


The Law of Consecration was a commandment given to the church to establish a kind of communitarian program whereby the saints were to give or "consecrate all their money and property to the Church" and lease it back, so that the church could purchase lands for settlement by the destitute converts continually pouring into northwestern Missouri. Corrill recalled that "shortly after the Danites became organized, they set out to enforce the Law of Consecration, but this did not amount to much".[26]

Political Activities

In the realm of politics, the Danites were called upon to distribute tickets containing the names of candidates approved by the Presidency for the election which was held on August 6. Church leader John Corrill was the approved candidate and consequently won election to the Missouri House of Representatives, but he conceded, "Many saw that it was taking unfair advantage of the election and were extremely dissatisfied" (Corrill, p. 33). Except for 15 or 20 votes, the election was nearly unanimous.[27]

A second outpost of Danites had been organized in Daviess County under the leadership of Lyman Wight, who was also a colonel in the state militia. The Danites in Daviess County took part in the Gallatin Election Day Battle, when a group of non-Mormons attempted to prevent any Mormons from voting.[28]


Danite activity eventually progressed from political action to military action. On July 4, 1838, the Latter Day Saints in Far West held a large Independence Day celebration. As part of the celebration, a military review was held in which both the Mormons of the legal Caldwell County militia (led by Colonel George M. Hinkle), and the Danites (led by Jared Carter, Sampson Avard and Cornelius P. Lott) paraded.[29] The keynote address came from church spokesman, Sidney Rigdon, who gave an oration, sometimes referred to as the Mormons' "Declaration of Independence" from the "persecution of mobs."[citation needed] In it, Rigdon announced:

"And that mob that comes on us to disturb us, it shall be between us and them a war of extermination; for we will follow them until the last drop of their blood is spilled; or else they will have to exterminate us, for we will carry the seat of war to their own houses and their own families, and one party or the other shall be utterly destroyed..."[30]

Although the First Presidency was generally pleased with the speech and had copies printed and distributed, Brigham Young later recalled that it was "the prime cause of our troubles in Missouri."[31]

Daviess Expedition

The new policy of an "aggressive defense against mobs" was put into practice in Daviess County when a group of non-Mormon vigilantes, primarily from Clinton and Platte counties, began to harass Mormons in outlying areas. The vigilantes hoped to drive the Mormons from the county through a policy of intimidation, the burning of isolated homes, and the plundering of property. Seeing the mob violence as a repeat of the nightmares they went through in Independence, Missouri a half-dozen years earlier, the Latter Day Saints requested assistance from state authorities, with little success. On October 18, Joseph Smith called for the assistance of all men who could participate; elements of the Caldwell militia, as well as some of the Danites and their secret oaths of vengeance, gathered at Adam-ondi-Ahman, the saints' headquarters in Daviess County. From there, Apostle David W. Patten led raiding parties against the settlements of Gallatin, Millport, and Grindstone Forks. The cannon with which the mob had promised to attack Far West was found buried in the ground, and the towns were basically deserted; remaining non-Mormons were expelled, and some stores and homes were burned. Additionally, the property left by the fleeing mobs was "consecrated" by the raiding parties and brought back to the bishop's store house in Adam-ondi-Ahman. These actions caused Apostles Thomas B. Marsh and Orson Hyde to dissent after this incident. They traveled to Richmond and swore out an affidavit replete with falsehoods concerning the existence of the Danites, and spread rumors that a Danite "destroying company" had been set up with instructions to burn Richmond and Liberty.[32]

Battle of Crooked River

1838 saw an escalation in tensions between the members of the Latter Day Saint church and their neighbors in northwestern Missouri. Ray County was located immediately south of the Mormon Caldwell County. The two counties were separated by a so called 'no man's land' measuring six miles by one mile, known as "Bunkham's Strip" or "Buncombe Strip." This unincorporated strip was attached to Ray County for administrative and military purposes. The citizens of Ray County and their neighbors to the west in Clay County, first began to have concerns about the Mormons to the north when a group of "dissenters" from the church were expelled from Caldwell County. These dissenters, including David Whitmer, W.W. Phelps, John Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery had been the leaders of the Latter Day Saint church in Missouri. They relocated their families to Richmond and Liberty, the county seats of Ray and Clay, respectively, and claimed that their lives had been threatened and their property had been stolen by the Mormons.[33]

Conflicts between the Mormons and non-Mormons in Carroll County and Daviess County throughout the summer put settlers in the more settled counties of Ray and Clay increasingly on edge. This unease reached a bursting point when further dissenters, Thomas B. Marsh and Orson Hyde of the Mormon Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, arrived in Richmond and reported that the Mormons had invaded Daviess County and sacked the county seat of Gallatin. They also charged that a Mormon group known as the Danites planned to burn Richmond and Liberty to the ground. This testimony sent the worried citizens into a near frenzy. Women, children and property were ferried across the Missouri River for protection against an imminent Mormon invasion, and the state militia was put on alert.

Lead-up to the battle

General David R. Atchison, of Clay County, commander of the state militia in northwestern Missouri ordered a company led by Captain Samuel Bogart of Clay County to patrol Bunkham's strip to "prevent, if possible, any invasion of Ray county by persons in arms whatever".[34] Bogart was not necessarily the best man for the job. According to Peter Burnett, a resident of Liberty, "Captain Bogard was not a very discreet man, and his men were of much the same character."[35] Bogart had previously participated in a vigilante group that harried the Mormons in Carroll County.

Bogart quickly exceeded his orders. He and his men began visiting the homes of Latter Day Saints living in Bunkham's Strip, forcibly disarming them and ordering them to leave Ray County. Bogart then apparently penetrated into Caldwell County and began to similarly harass Mormons there, advising them to remove to Far West, the county seat.[36] Returning to Ray County, his men captured three Mormons — Nathan Pinkham, Jr., William Seely, and Addison Green — who may have been acting as scouts against a potential invasion from Ray County.

Exaggerated reports quickly made it to Far West to the effect that a "mob" had captured and intended to execute a group of Mormon prisoners. The Mormons immediately assembled an armed rescue party. Although Colonel George M. Hinkle, head of the official Caldwell County militia was available, Joseph Smith placed Apostle David W. Patten in charge of the force.[37] Patten, who had come to be known as "Captain Fear-not", for his part in the attacks in Daviess County, was apparently a leader in the Danite organization, and the choice of him over Hinkle may indicate the rescue was planned as an unofficial excursion. The Mormon force quickly moved south along the main road connecting Far West and Richmond.

The battle

Click the image for an enlarged map illustrating the Battle of Crooked River.

On the night of October 24, 1838, Captain Bogart's unit had camped along the banks of Crooked River in Bunkham's Strip. Patten and the Mormon rescue company approached from the north along the main road. At daybreak on the 25th, the Mormons encountered the militia's sentries. A brief firefight ensued with each side testifying that the other had fired first.[38] One of the sentries, John Lockhart, shot Patrick Obanion, the Mormons' scout. Obanion later died from this wound. Lockhart and the other guards then fled down the hill to the militia camp which took up a defensive position.[39]

The Mormon company approached the camp of the Ray militia and formed a battle line in three columns, led by David W. Patten, Charles C. Rich, and Patrick Durfee. Rich later recalled that soon after the Mormons had formed their lines, the militia "fired upon us with all their guns."[40] A general firefight commenced, but the militia were situated behind the riverbank and held the strategically superior position. Patten decided to charge the militia position, shouting the Mormon battle cry of "God and Liberty!" The Missourians were without swords and so broke their lines and fled across the river in all directions. During the retreat, the Mormons continued to fire and one of the militiamen, Moses Rowland, was killed.

During his charge, however, Patten was shot and mortally wounded. Ebenezer Robinson recalled that Patten had been "brave to a fault, so much so that he was styled and called 'Captain Fearnought'."[40] Although it was not immediately realized, Gideon Carter had also been killed, making a total of three Mormon fatalities and one militiaman fatality. The Mormons collected their wounded as well as the baggage Bogart's unit had left in the camp and made their way back to Far West.[41]


Although the battle resulted in only four fatalities, the effect was a massive escalation of the Mormon War. Exaggerated reports (some claiming that half of Bogart's men had been lost) made their way to Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs who responded by issuing Missouri Executive Order 44, known as the "Extermination Order," which stated that "[t]he Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state." Boggs called out 2,500 state militiamen to put down what he perceived to be open rebellion by the Mormons. In the end, the leaders of the church were captured and the bulk of the membership were forced to leave the state.

Thousands of Latter Day Saints had flowed into Missouri in just a few years; they were against slavery and voted as a bloc. This led to the unease and the mob action against the Saints; Sidney Rigdon fueled the fire with his July 4 speech. The Missouri state officials considered the Mormons to be the aggressors in the war, and after the destitute saints were forced to flee to Illinois, their homes in Far West and Adam-ondi-Ahman were occupied by the mob. A large number of church leaders, including Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, Parley P. Pratt, and George W. Robinson were charged with many crimes including treason. It was during a preliminary hearing that Smith and the other defendants learned that Danite leader Sampson Avard had testified against them. As a result of the testimony, Judge Austin A. King of the Fifth Circuit of Missouri ruled that there was sufficient evidence to hold Smith, Rigdon and other leaders for trial; nevertheless, they waited for over six months in Liberty Jail for their trial. Despairing of ever being allowed to come to trial, Smith and the others escaped from the prison, and soon made their way to join the Latter Day Saints in Quincy, Illinois.

Number of Danites

The two primary and opposing views concerning the extent of the Danite organization are represented by authors D. Michael Quinn and Alexander L. Baugh.

Quinn follows the affidavit of self-professed Danite John N. Sapp, who stated on September 4, 1838, that the number of Danites was "betwixt eight and ten hundred men, well armed and equipped...." He also credits the testimony of another Danite, Anson Call, who claimed that "the whole of the Military Force" at Far West belonged to the Danite organization. Based on these and other statements, Quinn concludes that nearly the entire fighting force of some 900 Mormon men in Caldwell and Daviess counties had become Danites, and that by end of summer 1838, to be a member in full standing a Mormon must also have been a Danite.[42]

Baugh disagrees and argues that the Danites were always "a select group." He finds the testimony of John Corrill, who gave the total number of Danites at 300, more reliable than that of Sapp or Call.[43]

Joseph Smith's Involvement

Establishing the true leadership of an organization that self-identifies as secret, unofficial, and determined to protect an organization at all costs has made accurate history difficult, if not impossible. There are many primary accounts of the Danites and their activities — from the recorded court testimony to numerous eye-witness and personal accounts — but these sources are often highly partisan and are occasionally contradictory, coming from disaffected or disgraced Mormons such as Sampson Avard, John D. Lee, Fanny Stenhouse, and Ann Eliza Young. The existence of the Danites from June 1838 until the end of the Mormon War, and their participation in key events is well attested. However, controversy remains regarding the nature of the connection between the LDS leadership and the Danites, as well as whether or not they survived as an organization beyond 1838.

Joseph Smith, while never identifying as a Danite himself, publicly took on a militaristic persona at times. In 1834, Smith was elected as commander-in-chief of the Armies of Israel by the Kirtland high council, and according to the Danite constitution, "All officers shall be subject to the commands of the Captain General, given through the Secretary of War".[44] Smith had the title of Secretary of War for three years before the Danites were organized.[45]

Smith wrote of their actions with approval. He wrote in his Scriptory Book that Sidney Rigdon spoke on the subject of the dissenters, who "took warning, and Soon they were Seen bounding over the prairie like the Scape Goat to carry of[f] their own Sins we have not Seen them Since, their influence is gone, and they are in a miserable condition. So also it with all who turn from the truth to Lying Cheating defrauding & Swindeling."[46] According to Peck, Sidney Rigdon likewise approved, even asserting that the Mormons were within their rights to expel an undesirable minority from their midst, saying that: "When a country, or body of people have individuals among them with whom they do not wish to associate and a public expression is taken against their remaining among them and such individuals do not remove it is the principle of republicanism itself that gives that community a right to expel them forcibly and no law will prevent it."[47]

Joseph Smith's most explicit endorsement of the organization was found in his journal, where he outlined their expanded role on July 27, 1838:"Thus far, according to the order of the Danites. We have a company of Danites in these times, to put to right physically that which is not right, and to cleanse the Church of every great evil which has hitherto existed among us inasmuch as they cannot be put to right by teachings and persuasyons [sic]. This company or a part of them exhibited on the fourth day of July [—] They come up to consecrate, by companies of tens, commanded by their captains over ten."[48]

Over time, as the prominence and violence of the group grew, Smith began to condemn the group. The first recorded repudiation by Smith of the Danites was after Smith was charged with treason in fall of 1838.[49]

Smith was also able to exercise authority over the group, ousting its leader, Sampson Avard. However, it is possible to claim that this action happened either because of his connection to the Danites or because he was the President of the Church.

Hyrum Smith

Hyrum Smith was a member of the First Presidency of the church at the time that his signature appeared on the document known as the "Danite Manifesto."[50]

Avard's Testimony

Sampson Avard became the lead witness for the prosecution in a trial of Joseph Smith and other Mormon leaders. Many had expected Avard to be the primary suspect, and his role as a witness was a surprise to both the Mormons and Missourians.[51] Avard testified that he considered "Joseph Smith, jr., as the prime mover and organizer of the Danite band."[52] He went on to record several pages of testimony in which he implicated Smith as the overall commander of the Daviess Expedition and other Danite vigilante activities. He also included a recitation of a Danite Constitution with 8 articles, specifying that the "executive power" of the Danite society would be "vested in the president of the whole church."[53] Moses Clawson, John Corrill, Reed Peck, and others all named Avard as the head of the organization and George M. Hinkle testified that Joseph and Hyrum Smith never commanded any Danites in the field.[54] Statements from other participants including Ebinezer Robinson,[55] Morris Phelps,[56] and John D. Lee,[57] however, place Smith in a commanding role.

Some have pointed out that to avoid prosecution, Avard may have promised prosecutors that he would implicate Smith in the Danite organization.[58] While it is clear that Smith was aware of the existence of the Danites and initially approved of certain Danite activities, his role in the creation of the Danites and his involvement in its later actions is still unknown. After Avard's excommunication, Smith publicly condemned both Avard and the Danite organization. No documents exist to prove if the organization continued to operate with official LDS sanction after 1838.

Alleged Survival in Utah

LDS historian Leland Gentry asserts that after Sampson Avard was captured in November 1838, the Danite movement "died a quick death."[59] Nevertheless, after the Mormons settled in Nauvoo, Illinois and later in Utah, they were dogged by rumors the Danites continued to exercise a sinister influence within the Mormon community. These beliefs were fueled by the fact that many former Danites occupied prominent paramilitary or law enforcement roles in the new settlements. For example, former Danite Hosea Stout became the chief of police in Nauvoo. Then, after Joseph Smith was assassinated in 1844, Brigham Young made Stout head of the "Whistling and Whittling Brigade" — an extralegal group of young boys who followed strangers around Nauvoo and made them nervous until they left.[60] Another former Danite, Orrin Porter Rockwell, became a body guard to Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, and later to Brigham Young. In Utah, Rockwell gained fame as one of Young's alleged "Destroying Angels."[61]

But despite the presence of former Danites within the LDS Church, there is little or no evidence that they continued to exist as an organized body after 1838, or that they participated in some campaign of terror against anti-Mormons in Utah. For instance, former Danite John D. Lee was one of the leaders of the Mormon militia in southern Utah that participated in the Mountain Meadows massacre. But although Lee's lengthy confessional describes the operations of the Danites in Missouri, he makes no indication that the organization continued to exist after the Mormons were forced out of the state.[62] Still, the rumors continued although there was little evidence to back them up. For instance, when the expedition of Lt. John W. Gunnison was killed by Indians in 1853, some claimed that the Danites had a hand in the affair.[63] However, these claims were refuted by an official investigation led by Gunnison's second in command.[64] The same rumors circulated when Indians killed territorial official Almon W. Babbitt on the plains in 1856.[63] In the 1870s, Ann Eliza Young and Fanny Stenhouse both authored exposés on Mormonism and claimed that the Danites were still active, and primarily occupied with the task of discreetly murdering and disposing of Mormon dissenters and outsiders perceived to be a threat to Brigham Young's power.[65] Nevertheless, they provided no evidence to back up their claims.

Mixed Messages from Brigham Young

In Utah, Brigham Young made numerous public statements about the Danites which were sometimes contradictory. For the most part, he dismissed claims that the Danites continued to exist. However, on one occasion he publicly threatened actions similar to those of the Missouri Danites. On July 5, 1857, just before the start of the Utah War, Young utilized vocabulary similar to the fiery sermons that preceded the Mormon War of 1838. In the address Young referred to former Mormon persecutors, mobocrats, and the "priests, editors, and politicians" who were then denouncing the Mormons and demanding military action against them. Young declared that if these provocateurs came to the Utah Territory, the Mormons would deal with them. He stated that anyone who entered the territory and didn't "behave themselves," including any Mormon who "unlawfully disturbs anyone," would "find a 'Vigilance Committee.'" This was most likely a reference to the famous San Francisco Vigilance Committee of 1856, an organization that one writer has called "the largest and most influential vigilante group in American history."[66] In addition, Young declared that any such men would find "not only the Danites, whom they talk so much about, biting the horses heels, but the scoundrels will find something biting their heels."[67]

Otherwise, Young consistently denied the existence of Danitism in Utah in both public and private. For instance, in June 1857, he stated in a public address,

"[people assert that the Danites] are in every town and city throughout the whole of the United States, and that their object is not known by the people. That they are all over the world; that there are thousands of them, and that the life of every officer that comes here is in the hands of the Danites. That even the President of the United States is not safe, for at one wink from Brigham the Danites will be upon him and kill him...It is all a pack of nonsense, the whole of it."[68]

Later, in September 1857, Young said in a private meeting of the church leadership,

"the world accuse me of controlling the affairs of Calafornia & kansas &c. The people do believe that we have a Band Called the Danites but how Could they exist so long without shedding Blood? For we Cannot find that they have killed any body. But I do not know of any such men."[69]

A decade later, Brigham Young again denied the existence of violence by Danites. On April 7, 1867, he stated:

Is there war in our religion? No; neither war nor bloodshed. Yet our enemies cry out "bloodshed", and "oh, what dreadful men these Mormons are, and those Danites! how they slay and kill!" Such is all nonsense and folly in the extreme. The wicked slay the wicked, and they will lay it on the Saints.[70]

Historian Leonard Arrington attributes the stories of Danites in Utah to overzealous descriptions of the "Minute Men," a law enforcement organization created by Brigham Young to pursue marauding Indians and white criminals.[71] As stated above, Arthur Conan Doyle and other authors had also popularized the idea of blood-thirsty Danites riding rough-shod through Utah in various fictional works.[72] At the same time, there also exists evidence that in order to deter and punish crime in Utah Territory, Brigham Young occasionally authorized local church leaders to engage in vigilante actions on an ad hoc basis.[73] For instance, in early 1857, Young ordered local authorities to carefully monitor two recently released convicts who were on the trail to California. If they were caught stealing livestock along the way, he authorized their summary execution. Historian Ardis Parshall believes that this led to an attack on an unrelated party which wounded several individuals in a case of mistaken identity.[74] Indeed, in the same sermon where he spoke of the Danites and Vigilance Committees in 1857, Young also stated,

"There have been men here who have had their plans to arrange for robbing; and I will take the liberty to say that, when we find them, 'judgement will be laid to the line and righteousness to the plummet.' Those are my feelings, and I express them plainly, that the good and honest may be able to pass from the Eastern States to California, and back and forth, in peace...I want the people in the States to know that there are a few poor curses here, and to know that we do not want gangs of highwaymen here. And I say to such characteres...we will send you home quick, whenever we can catch and convict you."[67]

These vigilante actions may have also been a source for the continued Danite myth.[74]

Depictions in Popular Culture

A number of modern authors make references to "Danites" as a shadowy, secret group who terrorized 19th century Utah. These references usually appeared in popular fiction or works critical of the LDS church, and rumors of Danites practicing some form of Blood atonement often play a significant role in these accounts.

Danites feature prominently in Story of the Destroying Angel by R.L. Stevenson's and Fanny Van De Grift Stevenson, part of the collection The Dynamiter. Danites are represented as a world-wide secret organization of spies and assassins, dedicated to enforcing the edicts of Brigham Young. They are described as the force that makes Utah a "strong prison [...] who can escape the watch of that unsleeping eye of Utah?" (More New Arabian Nights: The Dynamiter[75]). They are described as bloodthirsty murderers, planning the "massacre of sixty German immigrants" (ibid.) and with the ability of making dissenters disappear without a trace.

A particularly famous example is Arthur Conan Doyle's fictionalization of the Danites in A Study in Scarlet[76], the first Sherlock Holmes novel, published in 1887. In the story, the Danites constitute a rather brutal group of enforcing vigilantes operating under the direction of Brigham Young—and more particularly the fictional Sacred Council of Four, silencing criticism and questioning, and preventing dissenters from leaving the Salt Lake Valley. Doyle's embellishment of the folklore surrounding the original Missouri band transplanted to a romantic wild west setting, the established criminal notoriety of Rockwell, and rumors of Young's Avenging Angels made acceptance of the "authoritative" Sherlock story a simple matter for English readers. However, after a visit to Utah in 1923, Doyle wrote more sympathetic Mormon characters into his work.

Sally Denton, in her book American Massacre, claims that the Danites and "blood atonement" had a prominent role in 19th century Utah society. Denton attributes the creation of the Danites to Joseph Smith as his “secret group of loyalists” and suggests that they became “one of the most legendarily feared bands in frontier America.” According to Denton, this “consecrated, clandestine unit of divinely inspired assassins” introduced “the ritualized form of murder called blood atonement-providing the victim with eternal salvation by slitting his throat.”[77] Denton claims that “blood atonement” was one of the doctrines which Mormons held “most sacred” and that “[t]hose who dared to flee Zion were hunted down and killed.”[78] Denton implies that large numbers of such “atonements” occurred during the Mormon reformation of 1856, although “none of the crimes were ever reported in the Deseret News", and that the “bloody regime…ended with [Jedediah] Grant’s sudden death, on December 1, 1856.”[79]

See also


  1. ^ Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy,pp. 82
  2. ^ D&C 98:4-7
  3. ^ D&C 98:23
  4. ^ D&C 98:31
  5. ^ Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy,pp. 92
  6. ^ Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy,pp. 90
  7. ^ History of D&C 57
  8. ^ LeSueur, Stephen C., The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, University of Missouri Press, 1990, p. 145
  9. ^ Baugh 2000, p. 36
  10. ^ Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy, pp. 93
  11. ^ Jesse & Whittaker 1998, p. 23
  12. ^ Document 1841, pp. 58
  13. ^ Peck, p. 22
  14. ^ a b Corrill 1839, p. 31
  15. ^ Van Wagoner 1994, p. 218
  16. ^ Gentry 1972, p. 2
  17. ^ a b Quinn, p. 94
  18. ^ Document 1841, pp. 102
  19. ^ Document 1841, pp. 103–106
  20. ^ John Whitmer, p. 184
  21. ^ Peck, p. 28
  22. ^ Gentry 1974, p. 4 Also, History of the Church 3:180.
  23. ^ Document 1841, pp. 99
  24. ^ History of the Church, Vol. 3, p. 181
  25. ^ Anderson, pp. 28-30, 34-35, 61-64, Johnson pp. 42, Baugh, pp. 37-40
  26. ^ Corrill, p. 46; Lee, pp. 64-66
  27. ^ Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy, pp96
  28. ^ Lee, pp. 60-63
  29. ^ Baugh, p. 45; Elders' Journal Aug. 1838
  30. ^ Van Wagoner, p.
  31. ^ Times and Seasons, October 1844
  32. ^ Document 1841, pp. 57–59
  33. ^ Peck, pp. 27-28
  34. ^ Document 1841, pp. 108
  35. ^ LeSueur 1990, p. 132
  36. ^ Baugh, p. 100
  37. ^ Document 1841, pp. 127
  38. ^ Baugh, p. 103
  39. ^ Document 1841, pp. 142
  40. ^ a b Baugh, p. 104
  41. ^ LeSueur 1990, pp. 141–42
  42. ^ Quinn 1994, pp. 102–03
  43. ^ Baugh 2000
  44. ^ Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy, pp. 85
  45. ^ Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy, pp 99.
  46. ^ Cook, Lyndon W and Cannon, Donald Q., (1838), Far West Record, p. 225
  47. ^ Peck, p. 33
  48. ^ Faulring, p. 198
  49. ^ Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy, pp101
  50. ^ Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy, p. 94
  51. ^ Lesueur 1986, p. 6
  52. ^ Document 1841, p. 97
  53. ^ Document 1841, p. 102
  54. ^ Baugh, p. 41
  55. ^ Quinn, p. 93
  56. ^ Document 1841, pp. 109–110
  57. ^ Lee, p. 73
  58. ^ Lesueur 1986, p. 13
  59. ^ Leland H. Gentry, The Danite Band of 1838, BYU Studies 14, no. 4 (1974), 19.
  60. ^ Nauvoo Whistling and Whittling Brigade
  61. ^ Wife No. 19, Ann Eliza Young, page 269
  62. ^ John Doyle Lee, Mormonism Unveiled: The Life & Confessions of John D. Lee
  63. ^ a b Norman F. Furniss, The Mormon Conflict:1850-1859, 41, 53.
  64. ^ Beckwith, E.G.; Gunnison, J.W. (1856). Report of explorations for a route for the Pacific railroad: near the 38th and 39th parallels of north latitude : from the mouth of the Kansas River, Mo., to the Sevier Lake, in the Great Basin. Washington [D.C.]: War Dept.. OCLC 8497072, p. 74.
  65. ^ Wife No. 19, Ann Eliza Young, page 274. Tell It All, Fanny Stenhouse, page 169
  66. ^ Christian G. Fritz, Popular Sovereignty, Vigilantism, and the Constitutional Right of Revolution, The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 63, No.1, p. 39, 58 (1994).
  67. ^ a b (Young 1857, p. 6)
  68. ^ Deseret News 6/17/1857.
  69. ^ Journal of Wilford Woodruff, 5:90.
  70. ^ Young 1867, p. 30
  71. ^ Leonard Arrington. Brigham Young: American Moses, 250.
  72. ^ Rebecca Foster Cornwall and Leonard J. Arrington. Perpetuation of a Myth: Mormon Danites in Five Western Novels, 1840-90.
  73. ^ Ardis E. Parshall. "Pursue, Retake & Punish: The 1857 Santa Clara Ambush." Utah Historical Quarterly.
  74. ^ a b Ardis E. Parshall. "Pursue, Retake & Punish: The 1857 Santa Clara Ambush. Utah Historical Quarterly.
  75. ^ Stevenson, R. L.; Fanny Van De Grift Stevenson (1953) [1885], The Dinamiteers, London and Glasgow: Collins 
  76. ^ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet as free ebook
  77. ^ Denton 2003, p. 16
  78. ^ Denton 2003, pp. 70, 106
  79. ^ Denton 2003, p. 106


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Danite — Dan ite, n. 1. A descendant of Dan; an Israelite of the tribe of Dan. Judges xiii. 2. [1913 Webster] 2. [So called in remembrance of the prophecy in Gen. xlix. 17, Dan shall be a serpent by the way, etc.] One of a secret association of Mormons,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Danite — [dan′īt΄] adj. of the Hebrew tribe of Dan n. 1. a member of this tribe ☆ 2. a member of an alleged secret Mormon organization, supposed to have been formed about 1838 …   English World dictionary

  • Danite — /dan uyt/, n. 1. a member of the tribe of Dan. 2. a member of an alleged secret order of Mormons supposed to have been formed about 1837. [1525 35; DAN + ITE1] * * * …   Universalium

  • Danite — noun a) A member of the Biblical tribe of Dan. b) A member of a fraternal vigilante group founded by members of the Latter Day Saints in the 1830s …   Wiktionary

  • danite — dan·ite …   English syllables

  • Danite — Dan•ite [[t]ˈdæn aɪt[/t]] n. 1) bib a member of the tribe of Dan 2) rel a member of an alleged secret order of Mormons supposed to have been formed about 1837 …   From formal English to slang

  • Danite — /ˈdænaɪt/ (say danuyt) noun 1. Bible a descendant of Dan. Judges 13:2. 2. a member of an alleged secret order of Mormons supposedly formed about 1837 …   Australian English dictionary

  • danite — ˈdaˌnīt noun ( s) Usage: usually capitalized Etymology: Daniel, 5th son of Jacob (Gen 30:6), the eponymous ancestor of the Danites (Judg 13:2) + English ite 1. : a member of the Hebrew tribe of Dan 2. : a member of a secret association of Mormons …   Useful english dictionary

  • Eldad the Danite — (9th century)    Traveller. The traveller’s tales of Eldad the Danite, that is, of the tribe of Dan, as he was known, describing Jewish kingdoms descended from the Lost Ten Tribes, were very popular among the medieval Jewish communities. In one… …   Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament

  • DAN — (Heb. דָּן), the fifth son of Jacob and the firstborn of bilhah , Rachel s maid (Gen. 30:1–6). The Name The narrative attributes the origin of the name Dan to Rachel, who said: God has vindicated me (dananni); indeed, He has heeded my plea and… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism