On May 5, 1834 Joseph Smith, prophet and leader of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (Mormon Church), led 85 men out of Kirtland, Ohio, towards Missouri. Their purpose was to help the Mormons in Missouri whose land, homes and possessions had been taken from them by mobs. As they marched, recruits joined them. When the last group of recruits arrived, there were a little over 200 men, 12 women and 9 children. The oldest volunteer was Samuel Baker who was 79, and the youngest was George A. Smith, Joseph Smith’s cousin, he was only 16. The Lord had commanded Joseph Smith to gather 500 men to the cause, or as many as would volunteer. Thus, the group was smaller than the Lord had requested.
The men of Zion’s Camp walked the 900 mile one-way trip. They usually walked between 20 and 40 miles per day. Brigham Young, second Mormon president, who went on the trek said, "it was seldom that I ever laid down to rest before eleven or twelve o’clock at night, and we always rose very early in the morning [usually around 3 or 4 in the morning]." The group always camped on Sundays, held Church meetings, and partook of the sacrament, obeying the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy.
On June 18th, the Prophet felt the presence of danger and woke the camp early. As they marched through the city of Richmond, a woman warned them "there is a company of men lying in wait here, who are calculating to kill you this morning as you pass through." The company was only able to march nine miles because of broken wagon wheels but they were never attacked. They had intended to reach Liberty but instead set up camp between two forks of the Fishing River. The following is what happened as recorded in Church History in the Fullness of Times.
- Joseph learned that mobs were preparing to attack, he knelt and prayed again for divine protection. Joseph’s fears were confirmed when five armed Missourians rode into camp, cursing, and swore that the Mormons would “see hell before morning.” They boasted that nearly four hundred men had joined forces from Ray, Lafayette, Clay, and Jackson counties and were then preparing to cross the Missouri River at Williams Ferry and ‘utterly destroy the Mormons.’ Sounds of gunfire were heard, and some of the men wanted to fight, but the Prophet promised that the Lord would protect them. He declared, ‘Stand still and see the salvation of God.'
- A few minutes after the Missourians left, a small black cloud appeared in the clear western sky. It moved eastward, unrolling like a scroll, filling the heavens with darkness. As the first ferry load of mobbers crossed the Missouri River to the south, a sudden squall made it nearly impossible for the boat to return to pick up another load. The storm was so intense that Zion’s Camp abandoned their tents and found shelter in an old Baptist meetinghouse nearby. When Joseph Smith came in, he exclaimed, ‘Boys, there is some meaning to this. God is in this storm.’ It was impossible for anyone to sleep, so the group sang hymns and rested on the rough benches.
- One camp member recorded that ‘during this time the whole canopy of the wide horizon was in one complete blaze with terrifying claps of thunder.’ Elsewhere the beleaguered mobbers sought any refuge they could. The furious storm broke branches from trees and destroyed crops. It soaked and made the mobbers’ ammunition useless, frightened and scattered their horses, and raised the level of the Fishing River, preventing them from attacking Zion’s Camp. The Prophet recalled, ‘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.’”
- Parley P. Pratt and Orson Hyde, who later became Apostles were sent to the Missouri capital to discuss the Mormons' position with Governor Daniel Dunklin. In their meeting, they were told that Governor Dunklin had decided against sending out the state militia to help them because he was afraid of starting a civil war. Parley P. Pratt and Orson Hyde returned to camp and reported this to Joseph Smith. They knew that without the help of the state they would not be able to return the driven and persecuted Mormons to their homes.
Meanwhile, Joseph received a revelation informing him that Zion was not yet worthy to be redeemed, and that the only option was to wait.
- Therefore, in consequence of the transgressions of my people, it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion—
- That they themselves may be prepared, and that my people may be taught more perfectly, and have experience, and know more perfectly concerning their duty, and the things which I require at their hands.
- And this cannot be brought to pass until mine elders are endowed with power from on high. (See Temple endowment.)
- For behold, I have prepared a great endowment and blessing to be poured out upon them, inasmuch as they are faithful and continue in humility before me.
- Therefore it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season, for the redemption of Zion.
- For behold, I do not require at their hands to fight the battles of Zion; for, as I said in a former commandment, even so will I fulfil—I will fight your battles.
- Behold, the destroyer I have sent forth to destroy and lay waste mine enemies; and not many years hence they shall not be left to pollute mine heritage, and to blaspheme my name upon the lands which I have consecrated for the gathering together of my saints.
- Behold, I have commanded my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., to say unto the strength of my house, even my warriors, my young men, and middle-aged, to gather together for the redemption of my people, and throw down the towers of mine enemies, and scatter their watchmen;
- But the strength of mine house have not hearkened unto my words.
- But inasmuch as there are those who have hearkened unto my words, I have prepared a blessing and an endowment for them, if they continue faithful.
- I have heard their prayers, and will accept their offering; and it is expedient in me that they should be brought thus far for a trial of their faith (Doctrine and Covenants 105:9-19).
On July 3, in a general meeting for the Missouri Saints and Zion’s Camp, the camp was disbanded, divided into smaller groups, and sent home. Joseph Smith stayed in Missouri until July 12, uplifting and helping the Mormons in Missouri.
The trek was a time of trial and tribulation, including an attack of cholera which proved to be a chastisement from the Lord. Although Zion's Camp was not able to complete its purpose or stop the hostilities and persecutions the Saints were experiencing in Missouri, Zion's Camp was not a failure. While many of the men complained about the poor conditions, those who pressed forward and continued in their faith were strengthened. The trials were for their benefit and learning, nine of the Twelve Apostles called in those days were a part of Zion's Camp, and all of the members of the Quorum of the Seventy had marched with it.
- ↑ Missouri's Civil War began along the Nation's Western Border, in the 1850's, in the conflict known as "Bleeding Kansas." The most Northern state where slavery was permitted by law, it was inevitable that War in Missouri would be especially brutal. And so it was. Missouri witnessed the greatest number of battles and engagements - more than 1,000 - of any place except Virginia and Tennessee. Although guerrilla warfare occurred throughout much of the state, most of the incidents occurred in northern Missouri and were characterized by ambushes of individuals or families in rural areas. These incidents were particularly nefarious because their vigilante nature was outside the command and control of either side and often pitted neighbor against neighbor.