“Danites,” Church History Topics
In 1838, Joseph Smith and other Church members fled from mobs in Ohio and moved to Missouri, where Latter-day Saints had already established settlements. Joseph Smith believed that opposition from Church dissidents and other antagonists had weakened and ultimately destroyed their community in Kirtland, Ohio. By the summer of 1838, Church leaders saw the rise of similar threats to their community in Missouri.
At the Latter-day Saint settlement of Far West, some Latter-day Saints organized a group known as the “Daughters of Zion” or the “Danites,” whose objective was to defend the community against dissident and excommunicated Latter-day Saints as well as other Missourians. Danites intimidated Church dissenters and other Missourians; for instance, they warned some dissenters to leave Caldwell County. During the fall of 1838, as tensions escalated during what is now known as the Mormon-Missouri War, the Danites were apparently absorbed into militias largely composed of Latter-day Saints. These militias clashed with their Missouri opponents, leading to a few fatalities on both sides. In addition, Mormon vigilantes, including many Danites, raided two towns believed to be centers of anti-Mormon activity, burning homes and stealing goods.1 While anti-Mormon vigilantes targeted and sometimes killed noncombatant Latter-day Saints, Danites primarily confiscated or destroyed property they feared could be used by their opponents.2
Historians generally concur that Joseph Smith approved of the Danites but that he probably was not briefed on all their plans and likely did not sanction the full range of their activities. The Danites existed for only five months, from June through October 1838, and were only ever active in two counties in northwestern Missouri. Though the existence of the Danites was short-lived, it resulted in a longstanding and much-embellished myth about a secret society of Mormon vigilantes.