“Independence: Living in Zion,” New Era, May 2005, 29
Missouri has been and will be the site of many key events in Church history. It was the location of the Garden of Eden and Adam-ondi-Ahman, where Adam gathered his posterity for a final blessing (see D&C 107:53–57). It was the place the Saints in Joseph Smith’s day started to build Zion but were violently driven out before their dreams could be realized. It is the place where the Lord Jesus Christ will return again to a New Jerusalem (see D&C 57:2–3; A of F 1:10).
And, right now, Missouri is a place where the youth of the Church are building firm foundations for the future while looking to the past for guidance.
In 1831, the Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith and others to go to Missouri, where they would receive an inheritance of land (see D&C 52:5). The Prophet dedicated the temple lot in Independence, Missouri, on August 3, 1831. Today the Church owns only a portion of that original lot. The rest is owned by other churches.
On the Church’s portion of the lot is the Independence Visitors’ Center (top, right). As you enter the center you are greeted by a large mural of Christ’s Second Coming. A quiet reverence fills the building, punctuated only by the buzz of missionaries bearing their testimonies and giving tours to visitors.
Maika Tuala (bottom, right) is a priest in the Independence Second Ward. He is preparing for a mission and has even brought an interested visitor to meet the missionaries at the center.
“It’s a privilege to live here,” Maika says. He says the modern-day Church members in Independence have a mission to spread the gospel and build up Zion.
“There are people who are looking for the gospel,” says Anita Walker (opposite page), a Laurel in the Independence Fourth Ward. “We just have to find them.”
The early Saints worked to build homes, schools, and settlements in Missouri. However, by the end of 1832, some Missourians were beginning to fear growing numbers of Mormons moving in.
Starting on July 20, mobs destroyed the Latter-day Saints’ businesses (above) and property and eventually drove them out of Jackson County in the middle of winter. The Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that they had been driven out because they were not following His commandments (see D&C 101:2–6).
Church members exiled from Independence later moved to northern Missouri. In 1838, while visiting them in Daviess County, the Prophet declared by revelation the location of Adam-ondi-Ahman (see Church History in the Fulness of Times , 188).
Lyman Wight, one of the original missionaries to Missouri, was an early settler in Adam-ondi-Ahman (left). “He is the one that brought our family into the Church,” says Daniel Burgon, 17, of the Shoal Creek Ward. Daniel and his sisters Angela, 14, and Natalie, 12 (below), are descendants of Sanford Porter, whom Lyman Wight introduced to the gospel.
The Burgons like to go to Adam-ondi-Ahman to feel its peace and enjoy its beauty. The valley floor is now used for farmland, and the surrounding hills are deeply wooded. On the site are a few scenic overlooks, including Spring Hill and Tower Hill. “Preacher Rock,” where the Prophet is said to have stood and taught, is a short walk off the main trail at Tower Hill. There is even a marker to show the spot where Lyman Wight’s cabin once stood.
Latter-day Saint settlements in northern Missouri, like Far West, continued to prosper in 1838, but dissension again crept into the lives of the members. A battle with the Missourians at Crooked River (above) marked the beginning of an all-out war. The Governor of Missouri, Lilburn W. Boggs, gave an extermination order against the Latter-day Saints.
At Haun’s Mill, a few miles east of Far West, the violent removal of the Saints began with full force. Jacob Haun, leader of the settlement at Haun’s Mill, had disregarded the Prophet’s advice to move his people out of the small settlement. On October 30, a mob came to Haun’s Mill. The men living there sought protection in the blacksmith shop, but the mob shot into the shop and at everyone in sight, including women and children who were fleeing into the woods. At least 17 Saints were killed, and more than 13 were wounded.
One of the wounded was Alma Smith, age seven, whose hip had been shot out by a musket ball. His mother, Amanda Smith, found him in the blacksmith shop. Nearby were her husband and another son, both dead. She pleaded with the Lord to preserve Alma’s life, and she heard a voice directing her how to heal him. He took a few weeks to recover, but Alma’s hip was healed.
Today, Haun’s Mill is an abandoned field, overgrown with weeds. The slow-flowing river and waist-high grass give no indication that anyone ever lived or died there. But Slade, Ashley, and Whitney Thackeray (right) have a special feeling for this Church history site. They are descendants of Alma Smith.
Slade and his sisters know miracles are not just a thing of the past. They have seen them in their own lifetimes as well.
The first time Slade, 16, heard Alma Smith’s story was in family home evening. “It changes the way I look at my family. It changes the way I pray. It has strengthened my testimony.” Slade nods his head and smiles, remembering when he was very ill and was hospitalized a few months ago. “If it wasn’t for prayer and priesthood blessings, I don’t know where I’d be.”
Before Far West was taken by the mob militia, Joseph Smith and other Church leaders were betrayed by the colonel who led the Latter-day Saints’ forces: he turned them over to the militia. The Church leaders were illegally court-martialed and sentenced to be executed. Their lives were saved the next day when a Missouri general, Alexander Doniphan, refused to obey the order.
The Prophet and five other men, including the Prophet’s brother Hyrum, were sent to Liberty Jail in Clay County to await another trial. The lower level of the jail, where the prisoners were kept, was small, dirty, and had such a low ceiling that they could not stand up straight. The guards were on the floor above and lowered what little food they gave the prisoners through a trap door in the floor (below). The dungeon was cold, and almost no light came in through the tiny barred cell windows. They were there for four months.
Inside the Liberty Jail Historic Site in present-day Liberty, Missouri, is a rotunda containing a replica of the jail. In the replica are mannequins representing the Prophet and his associates who were held there. Visitors can now come, sit in a semicircle around the jail, and listen to a history of what happened there.
Jacob Tracy, a priest in the Harrisonville Ward, looks down into the dungeon of the jail. At 5′11″ he wouldn’t be able to stand up straight if he were down there. He’s looking at a replica of Hyrum Smith, his fifth-great-grandfather.
He likes to come here with his brother, Joseph, 12, and his sister, Becky, 18, (opposite page) and think about the sacrifices early Church members made. Plus, Jacob says, “Knowing the history of what happened to them can help us. We have so much to look forward to here in Zion.”
Of course, these three know that Zion is not only a place in Missouri: “Thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion—The pure in heart” (D&C 97:21).
“You can live anywhere,” Joseph Tracy says. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from.”
In other words, you don’t have to live in Jackson County, Missouri, to be in Zion. No matter where they live, youth of the Church can live a little closer to Zion when they build the Lord’s kingdom through righteous living and giving all they have to Him (see Moses 7:18).
In July the Lord reveals to Joseph Smith that Zion, with its center in Independence, Missouri, should be the gathering place of the Saints.
In April Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon (right) visit the members in Missouri a second time.
In May the Prophet and the men who form Zion’s Camp leave Kirtland, Ohio, to come to the aid of the members who had been chased out of Jackson County. They are disbanded before they enter Jackson County.
In March the Prophet arrives in Far West and establishes Church headquarters there for a few months.
On April 16 Joseph Smith and the other prisoners are allowed to escape and rejoin the Church members who are, by now, in Illinois.