As the population within its limits increased, there sprung up a strong desire for a separate and independent organization as a County. Richmond, the County seat of Ray, where the records were kept and where the courts were held, was so far distant as to be very inconvenient for those having business to transact. So on the 26th day of December, 1836, the County of Caldwell, with its boundaries as at present, was organized, with its seat of justice at Far West.
Shortly prior to the organization of the County, the Latter Day Saints, or Mormons, who had been compelled to abandon their homes in Jackson County in consequence of the hostility existing between them and their Gentile neighbors, sent John Whitmer and others to select a home in the wilderness, where the peculiar doctrines of that church might be taught and practiced in peace. The site of Far West in the northern part of Mirable Township was chosen, and Mr. Whitmer returned to Clay County, where the Mormons were temporarily stopping, to inform them of the selection and declared that Far West was to be the New Jerusalem where Christ would reign with His saints.
The site chosen for Far West was a high rolling prairie, visible for long distances, from all directions. The plat of the town as laid off embraced a square mile of territory, to wit: N.E. quarter of section 15; N.W. quarter.of section 14; S.E. quarter of section 10; and S.W. quarter of section 11. In the centre of the town a large square was left as a site for the temple which it was their design to erect. The square was approached by four main streets, each a hundred feet wide. The Mormons built no other town in the County. Here Joseph Smith II, the prophet-chief, established his residence; and the town became the great commercial center of the Mormons. As its population increased, additions to the town were laid out. At the time of the Mormon war the population of Far West was about 2,500, and it was the largest town in the state, north of the Missouri River.
When the selection of Far West as the New Jerusalem had been approved, the Mormons came into the County in great numbers. Their settlements extended along Shoal Creek into Livingston County, and spread out over considerable portions of Daviess and Clinton Counties. They entered the greater part of the public lands in Mirable, Rockford, Kingston, and Fairview Townships. Many of them settled on land in Hamilton, New York, Davis, Breckenridge and Kidder Townships. The majority of them were farmers. The population of the County increased to about 7,000 in habitants.
It was the design of the leaders to erect at Far West a magnificent temple whose walls and towers were to be an evidence to future generations of their zeal and prosperity. One tenth part of all labor, time, and earnings was devoted to the buildings of the temple; public store-houses to receive offerings and donations were built. Great rocks for the foundation were hauled: a basement was excavated; the corner stone was laid; but the temple was not built. Feuds and jealousies among themselves, and the hostility of their neighbors, prevented the consummation of the project. Now the ruins of the foundation and one farm house are all that are left to mark the site of the city and temple which the deluded followers of Joseph Smith II had been taught to believe was consecrated to the Most High and to them, His chosen people.
The Mormons as a people were honest, sober, and industrious, but the object of the leaders was to make money and obtain power. Joseph Smith II and his brother Hyrum, with the church's funds purchased of the government large bodies of land around Far West, which they did not scruple to sell their followers at exorbitant prices. When the leaders set the example of speculating in the devotion of the people, it is scarcely to be wondered at if their sub ordinates went to greater extremes to fill their purses. And if they had but little respect for their obligations to each other, they had less for the laws of the State, or the rights of their Gentile neighbors. Some of their daring leaders boldly taught the doctrine that the Lord had given the earth and the fullness thereof as an inheritance to His people, and that they were His people, and had a right at pleasure to take what pleased their appetite or fancy.
At the time of the difficulties in Jackson County, Joe Smith organized a band of men, called the "Army of Zion", to protect his people against the assaults of their enemies. Amongst these were many who were too lazy to earn a living by the sweat of their brow. Desperadoes and vagabonds joined this band for the purpose of plundering. Squads of them strolled about the country, threatening the men, intimidating the women, and appropriating in the name of the prophet any property which pleased their taste.
As the Mormons largely outnumbered the Gentiles, they elected to all offices of honor and trust persons of their own faith. Smith was careful that the persons selected should be subservient to the will of himself and his apostles. The Gentiles complained that it was impossible for them to obtain a fair hearing before the Mormon magistrates and juries; that the trials were farces; that the leaders taught, and the members acted on, the principle that Gentiles had no rights which a Mormon was bound to respect; and that not the merits of the cause, but the creeds of the con contestants, determined which way the scales of justice should turn.
Whether these complaints were true or false, they were believed by many, and naturally excited deep indignation a against the Mormons. Tales of debauchery, theft and murder were told of them, and their expulsion from the country de demanded. These bitter feelings engendered brawls and riots. Crowds of excited fanatics pelted obnoxious Gentiles on the streets of Far West with clubs and stones. In retaliation, armed Gentiles rode into public meetings where their lawless conduct was being denounced, seized the speakers, and applied the lash until blood trickled. down their backs. Both sides ceased to resort to legal methods for the enforcement of their rights. Amidst so much excitement and in subordination the civil authorities were powerless to enforce the laws and punish offences.
Finally, in 1838, the discord became so great and outrages so frequent, that the State authorities felt it their duty to interfere. Governor Boggs issued a proclamation calling out the militia to aid in restoring order and enforcing the laws. The militia were placed under the command of Generals John B. Clark, David R. Atchison, and Alexander W. Donophan. General Doniphan's brigade advanced at once toward Far West. The main body of the Army of Zion, under the command of George W. Hinkle, whom Smith had designated as commander-in-chief of the Mormon forces, was held in reserve at Far West to be used as emergencies might require. Smaller bodies were thrown forward to guard the approaches from the south and east.
The First fight occurred on a branch of Crooked River, near Randolph McDonald's, in the south-western part of the County, between a company of Ray County militia, numbering about sixty-five men, under the command of Captain Bogard, and a body of Mormons numbering about one hundred and fifty, commanded by Chas. W. Patton, to whom the Mormons had given the name of 'Thunderbolt'. The militia had taken one Mormon a prisoner, and were encamped in a bend of the creek, when the Mormons made a night attack and succeeded, after an obstinate resistance, in driving the militia a cross the creek, which was quite deep at that point. The militia lost two or three in killed, and five or six wounded. The Mormon prisoner was killed by the shots of his friends. The Mormon loss is not known, but is supposed to have been greater than that of the militia. Bogard's company was the advance guard of Doniphan's command, which reached the battlefield a couple of days afterwards.
On the next day an engagement was fought at Haun's Mill on Shoal Creek, south of Breckenridge. At that point a Mormon outpost, entrenched in the mill, and a blacksmith's shop, was attacked by the Livingston County militia, under Capt. Comstock. After a brief struggle the Mormons threw down their arms in token of surrender, but one of the militia-men having been severely wounded, his comrades were so enraged that their officers were unable to check them until eighteen of the Mormons were killed and a number wounded. Haun, the proprietor of the mill, was killed, and with the rest of the dead was buried in a well that stood near by.
The result of these encounters destroyed the confidence of the Mormons and caused Joe Smith to propose terms of capitulation to General Doniphan, who arrived the next day. After some negotiation, it was agreed that the Mormons should surrender their arms, deliver up their leaders for trial, and withdraw from the State. Accordingly Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wright, Amasa Lyman, W.W. Baldwin, and General Hinkle were taken before Judge King, at Richmond, for examination. Sidney Rigdon was released, but the rest were committed to jail to answer an i.ndictment for treason against the State. After an indictment was preferred, they obtained a change of venue to Boone County. While on their way to Columbia under a military guard, they bribed their guards and escaped.
The surrender took place in November. The days were cold and bleak; but the Gentiles clamored for the instant removal of the Mormons. The old and young, the sick and feeble, delicate women and suckling chilren, almost without food and clothing, were compelled to abandon their homes and firesides to seek new ones in a distant State. Valuable farms were traded for a yoke of oxen, an old wagon, or anything that would furnish the means of transportation. Many of the poorer classes were compelled to walk. Before half their journey was accomplished, the chilly blasts of winter howled about them, and added to their general discomfort. The suffering which they endured on this forced march though great, was soon forgotten in the prosperity of Nauvoo, their new asylum. Their trials and sufferings, instead of damping the ardor of the Saints, increased it a hundred-fold: 'The blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church'.
During the years 1838 and 1839, the greater part of the Mormons passed from our borders. But there were some whose eyes had been opened to the folly of their leaders, and who denounced injustice whether committed by saints or sinners John Whitmer, who had selected the site of Far West, refused to follow the leadership of Joseph Smith farther, and still resides on his farm near the ruins of the town he had located. David Whitmer, the Bozarchs, George Walters, Abner Scoville, Avery Smith, and others remained, and have recained the respect of all for their good qualities and kind acts.
The exodus of the Mormons reduced the population of the County from six thousand to less than one thousand; but the deserted farms and houses offered inducements to emigration that was not despised, and new settlers rapidly filled the places of the departed hosts.