“Hawn’s Mill Massacre,” Church History Topics
“Hawn’s Mill Massacre”
Jacob Hawn (sometimes spelled “Haun”) was one of the first settlers along Shoal Creek in northwestern Missouri. He built a mill and called the settlement Hawn’s Mill; it was about a day’s walk from the large Latter-day Saint center in Far West. Hawn was not a member of the Church, but he was friendly with the group of Latter-day Saints who settled near his mill in the late 1830s.
On October 30, 1838, as part of the escalating violence that drove early Saints out of the state of Missouri, a company of rogue militiamen attacked the Saints at Hawn’s Mill.1 While women and most children from the settlement hid in the woods, a group of Latter-day Saint men and boys sought shelter in the blacksmith’s shop. The attackers surrounded the shop and shot repeatedly through the gaps between the roughly hewn log walls, killing both those inside the shop and those who attempted to surrender. After the initial attack, they dragged out several young boys who had hidden under the blacksmith’s bellows and shot them execution style. Seventeen Latter-day Saints were killed and another 12 to 15 were wounded.
Stories of the tragedy played a prominent role in the Saints’ memory of their experience in Missouri. One well-known account was written by Amanda Barnes Smith, whose husband and 10-year-old son were killed at Hawn’s Mill when the family stopped there while relocating from Ohio to the Saints’ new gathering places in Missouri. Amanda prayed for guidance and received personal revelation as she treated her seriously wounded 7-year-old son.2
Because the massacre took place three days after Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs issued his extermination order, which authorized militia efforts to drive the Saints from the state, many have assumed the order led to the massacre. Some evidence suggests that the attackers were unaware of the order, and that the massacre was an act of vigilante violence, perhaps in retaliation for Mormon raids in Daviess County.3
Before violence broke out, Joseph Smith had counseled Saints in outlying settlements such as Hawn’s Mill to gather to Far West.4 A few years later in Nauvoo, he wondered whether the massacre could have been prevented if the Saints at Hawn’s Mill had followed his counsel.5 It is difficult to say whether the Saints attacked at Hawn’s Mill could have avoided violence. Those who had only recently arrived from Ohio had already been harassed and disarmed by mob members along the way.6 There may not have been a safe opportunity to reach the appointed gathering place at Far West.