Church History
Zion’s Camp (Camp of Israel)

“Zion’s Camp (Camp of Israel),” Church History Topics

“Zion’s Camp (Camp of Israel)”

Zion’s Camp (Camp of Israel)

From May to June 1834, approximately 230 men, women, and children marched to Missouri to help the Saints who had been expelled from Jackson County, Missouri, the previous year. This expedition, known today as Zion’s Camp, was initially called the Camp of Israel. It was formed after Joseph Smith received a revelation in February 1834 commanding him to call up the strength of the Lord’s house to redeem Zion from its enemies.1 The revelation instructed Church leaders to recruit at least 100, and preferably 500, men to travel to Missouri. In March, Joseph Smith and others traveled through New York to obtain volunteers and funding for the expedition.

engraving of groups of men marching past log homes with people watching them

Depiction of the Camp of Israel arriving in Missouri.

Joseph led a contingent from Kirtland, Ohio, to Missouri. At the same time, Hyrum Smith and Lyman Wight departed Pontiac, Michigan Territory, with a group of approximately 20 individuals. Gathering recruits along the way, the two groups joined each other in June at the Salt River settlement in Missouri before proceeding to Clay County. Throughout the journey, participants occasionally suffered from a lack of food and water. Since the group marched as much as 40 miles a day, some also experienced blistered and bloody feet. A few members of the expedition complained about these conditions, which made the trip unpleasant for others.

Although the February 1834 revelation depicted the camp as a military operation, Joseph Smith and other Church leaders saw it as a purely defensive campaign. Believing that Missouri governor Daniel Dunklin was willing to call up the state militia to restore the Saints to their lands, Joseph wanted the Camp of Israel to march to Missouri and request that Dunklin summon the militia. After the militia had escorted the Saints back to Jackson County, the Camp of Israel would remain to protect Church members from being driven out again.

Citizens of western Missouri, however, were concerned by the approaching camp and some mobilized for battle. On June 19, 1834, for example, five armed men approached the camp at Fishing River and swore that the Camp of Israel would “see hell before morning” from a group of 400 men.2 However, a tremendous thunderstorm raged that night, dropping huge hailstones, swelling Fishing River to nearly 40 feet deep, and preventing the attack. “It seemed as if the mandate of vengeance had gone forth from the God of battles to protect his servants from the destruction of their enemies,” Joseph Smith’s history concluded.3

Aware of the opposition to the camp and hearing that Dunklin had reneged on his promise to call up the militia, Joseph Smith petitioned the Lord for guidance. On June 22, 1834, he received a revelation stating that it was no longer required that the camp redeem Zion. Before that redemption could occur, the revelation continued, the elders of the Church needed to receive an endowment of power in the Kirtland house of the Lord, which was then under construction. The camp began to disband at the end of June. This dispersal was hastened when a cholera epidemic broke out among camp members, eventually killing 13 participants and 2 Missouri Church members. In July 1834, many members of the camp returned to Kirtland.

Although the Saints were not restored to their Jackson County land, most who traveled with the Camp of Israel did not see the expedition as a failure. Some, such as Brigham Young, regarded it as a privilege to march with Joseph Smith and learn leadership principles from him. Others saw God’s hand blessing their lives throughout the journey. The expedition also served as a proving ground for future Church leaders. When the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was formed in February 1835, 8 of the original 12 men called had marched with the Camp of Israel. All men called as the first Seventies in February 1835 were also members of the camp.

Related Topics: Jackson County Violence