Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Peter Whitmer Jr., Ziba Peterson, and Frederick G. Williams arrived in Missouri early in 1831 on a mission to the Native Americans. Peterson and Whitmer remained in Independence, where they were employed as tailors, while the others preached to Delaware and Shawnee Indians in the adjacent Indian Territory. In June 1831, 13 sets of missionaries were called to attend a conference in Missouri and preach along the way. During the same time, a branch of the Church in Colesville, N.Y., was asked to immigrate to Missouri and settled in Kaw Township. In July, Joseph Smith and several elders traveled to Independence, where the prophet received a revelation (D&C 57) indicating that Zion, the New Jerusalem, would be built there.
This revelation led to an immediate influx of members. Edward Partridge was appointed Bishop of Zion and administered to the temporal needs of the incoming saints. In 1832, Sidney Gilbert established a store and W. W. Phelps set up a printing office, from which he published The Evening and The Morning Star and later the Book of Commandments.
By June 1833, there were 1,200 members in 10 branches in Jackson County. Some, however, were ill prepared for settling on the frontier and were disobedient to Church counsel. These difficulties added to the challenge of dealing with the old Missouri settlers, who became alarmed at the increasing number of Latter-day Saints and their different economic, political, and spiritual lifestyle. In July 1833, over 400 Missourians gathered at the Jackson County courthouse to demand removal of the Mormon settlers. When the Mormons refused to leave, the Church’s printing press was destroyed and Church leaders and outlying settlements were attacked by mobs. The saints’ efforts to seek protection through the courts failed. Finally, on 5 November 1833, the saints were disarmed and mobs drove them from Jackson County.
Joseph Smith and about 200 men, called Zion’s Camp, arrived from Kirtland, Ohio, to protect the Missouri members in 1834. A violent storm prevented confrontation and the group was subsequently disbanded at the Prophet’s direction.
The Jackson County refugees found safety in Clay County for two years and then, amid growing adversity, moved to the western uninhabited Caldwell and Daviess counties. Throughout 1836 and 1837, Church members continued to gather and establish settlements in Caldwell County. In the fall of 1837, Far West had more than 100 homes, hotels, a printing house, and a school. Joseph Smith moved Church headquarters to Far West in 1838, where a temple site was selected and dedicated. Cornerstones were placed on 4 July 1838. Adam-ondi- Ahman was one of the outlying settlements in Daviess County. It was revealed to Joseph Smith on 19 May 1838, that this location was where Adam would “come to visit his people,” as spoken by Daniel (D&C 116).
Apostasy and dissention fueled internal Church problems in 1838. Several prominent leaders were excommunicated. In two speeches during June and July, Sidney Rigdon declaimed the saints’ independence from “mobocracy” and called for apostates and dissenters to leave the Mormon community. These speeches incited Missourians. Throughout the fall hostilities escalated and in October Apostle David W. Patten of the Quorum of the Twelve and two other saints were killed in the Battle of Crooked River. Gov. Lilburn W. Boggs, who refused to aid the saints or quell violence, signed an order authorizing the expulsion and extermination of all Mormons. A militia attacked the Church’s Haun’s Mill settlement killing 17 men and boys. On 31 October, the state militia laid siege to Far West, and several prominent Church leaders were arrested. Joseph Smith was sentenced to death. However, his life was spared when Brig. Gen. A. W. Doniphan refused to carry out the execution. Instead, Joseph Smith was incarcerated for five months in Liberty Jail as he awaited trial. After the Mormon militia surrendered, the Missouri militia plundered Far West and drove out the saints. Thousands of displaced Missouri Mormons found refuge in Illinois, where they later established Nauvoo. In the extremity of his suffering in Liberty Jail, sometimes called the Temple Prison, the Prophet sorrowed for the plight of the saints whom he dearly loved. In his anguish, the Lord comforted him with some the sublimest prose in scripture in Doctrine and Covenatnts 121.
Some members found shelter in the more tolerant city of St. Louis, and in 1844, a branch was organized there. Shiploads of Latter-day Saint immigrants used St. Louis as a port of debarkation, or passed through on their way to Council Bluffs. Part of one such company obtained passage on the steamship Saluda. On 9 April 1852, the ship’s boiler exploded outside Lexington, Miss., killing approximately 100 passengers. The citizens of Lexington came to the relief of the victims, providing medical care, replacing clothing, burying the dead, and adopting the orphaned. By 1849, a conference was formed in St. Louis with 3,000-4,000 members. The St. Louis Stake was organized in 1854, but was discontinued in 1858 after Brigham Young called all members to Utah.
Missionary work thereafter was sporadic until later in the century. Originally part of the Northern States Mission, Missouri was incorporated into the Southwestern States Mission in 1900, which became the Central States Mission in 1904. That year, Utah entered an exhibit at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, which became the focal point of missionary efforts. In 1911, the first branch was organized in Independence, and in 1914 President Joseph F. Smith dedicated a meetinghouse there.
Five new chapels were dedicated between 1926 and 1927. By 1930, branches functioned in Independence, Joplin, Kansas City, St. Louis, Sedalia, St. Joseph, Springfield, and Webb City. In 1939, the mission had over 6,000 members and averaged 200 baptisms per year. President George Albert Smith visited Missouri in 1949 and dedicated meetinghouses in Kansas City and St. Louis. Stakes in those areas followed in 1956 and 1958, respectively. In 1977, the second Missouri mission was created with headquarters in St. Louis. President Gordon B. Hinckley visited St. Louis to conduct his first regional conference as president of the Church in April 1995. He returned on 1 June 1997 to dedicate the St. Louis Temple.
During the early 1900s interest in Church-related historic sites in Missouri was revived. In June 1939 Wilford Wood, in behalf of the Church, purchased the old Liberty Jail where Joseph Smith and others were incarcerated during the winter of 1838-1839. Restoration of the building began in 1945 and on 15 September 1963 it was dedicated by Elder Joseph Fielding Smith. Wood also assisted in the purchase of 30 acres of ground at Adam-ondi-Ahman. Today, there is a visitors center in Independence and a monument at Far West.
In the early part of the 20th century, Church leaders began building friendships with leaders of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, now the Community of Christ. In June 1940, President George Albert Smith paid a visit to Frederick M., Israel A., and Elbert A. Smith. During that visit leaders of both churches foresaw a time of good will coming between the two churches. In 1992, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed in the RLDS Church’s auditorium.
Over the years, public feeling toward the Church in Missouri has improved. In the 1930s, musical groups comprised of Church missionaries were invited to broadcast performances over local radio stations. In more recent years, the Church sponsored an annual summer pageant, “A Frontier Story, 1833,” depicting the early history of the Church in Missouri, which ran between 1985 and 1997. An exhibit at Missouri’s capital, Jefferson City, titled “Mormon Experience in Missouri,” was shown during the summer of 1998. The extermination order issued by Gov. Boggs in 1838 was eventually rescinded by Governor Christopher S. Bond on 25 June 1976.
In 2002, membership reached 54,761. In 2005, membership reached 59,377.
Andrew Jenson. Encyclopedic History of the Church, 1941; “Church Dedicates its 50th Temple,” Church News, 7 June 1997; “Church Now Owns Liberty Jail Site,” Church News, 22 July 1939; Daniel H. Ludlow (ed.). Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1991; “Exhibit Forges New Link with Missouri,” Ensign, July 1998; “Independence Pageant ‘A Frontier Story’ Has Been Canceled,” Church News 19 April 1997; Jay M. Todd, “Another Smashing Tabernacle Choir Tour,” Ensign, October 1992; Leland Homer Gentry. A History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri from 1836 to 1839, 2000; “New Drama Urges: ‘Love as He Loved,'” Church News, 30 June 1985; “Pageant Attracts Record Numbers,” Church News, 4 July 1987; Parley P. Pratt. Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, revised by Scott Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor, 2000; R. Scott Lloyd, “Church Succors Tornado Victims,” Church News, 17 May 2003; Stephen C. LeSueur. The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, 1987; William G. Hartley and Fred E. Woods, Explosion of the Steamboat Saluda, 2002.