Mormon History

The Danites Revisited - 1880

The Salt Lake Daily Tribune March 12, 1880


Elder Forscutt Details his Experiences With these Murderers.

(Chicago Tribune, February 23d.)

Mr. Mark H. Forscutt, an Elder of the Reorganized Mormon Church, who holds services every Sunday at No. 213 West Madison street, discoursed yesterday morning upon the Danites. He had no doubt, he said, that the subject would be surprising to many of his audience, and might to some of them seem hardly a fit subject for a religious discourse, yet it would be seen that it was really of great importance. It had been said that the Latter-day Saints had bands of men connected with them called "Danites," and during the past week there had been produced in one of the theatres of this city a play purporting to give an insight of the workings of that body. The speaker had heard a great deal of it, and when he went to see it last week the play bill informed him that the piece was the best lecture on Mormonism that could be heard, a statement with which he could not by any means agree. He had been connected with the Church since boyhood, and had been where, it was said, the Danites ruled. While there he knew something of what the world charged against them, -- knew enough to be able to say that their misdeeds, of whose existence he was fully satisfied, were not chargeable to the Church of Latter-day Saints.

In considering the subject it was necessary to go back in history. The speaker described briefly the successive movements of the Mormons up to their expulsion from Nauvoo, at which time, according to the general belief, the entire Church went to Utah. This was a mistake. The Church then numbered 150,000 to 200,000 souls, of whom not more than 20,000 went to Utah. The rest were, and still are, scattered throughout the States and, though they still followed the doctrines of the Church, yet for fear or policy's sake they kept themselves aloof from it. These all hold that such institutions as exist in Utah were not believed in in Nauvoo. The Utah institutions grew up under the leadership of Brigham Young, and are condemned, their followers being simply apostates from the Church, whose constitution they have violated from the beginning. The speaker knew he was expressing their sentiments when he denounced them as wrong and the church as an illegal one.

The speaker was in Missouri at the time of the persecution of the Saints in that State, in consequence of which a band of Minute-Men was organized. Col. Hinkle was authorized by the military authorities of Missouri to organize the Latter-day Saints in defense of the Church and its [associates?]. This was well in itself, but there not wanting those enthusiasts who wanted to go further, until at last the organization for defense grew into one for offense, and thence came the body known as the Danites, so called after Dan, their secret method of evil doing being patterned after the words of the Bible, "Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse's heels, so that his rider shall fall backward." The Danites had surreptitiously and secretly worked for the destruction of all not in accord with their way of thinking. By the endowment system they were bound by horrible oaths not only to sustain the dynasty of Utah, but also to punish all who held a different opinion, and in carrying out their work they have been guilty of many atrocities and numberless cruel murders. So far, however, from the Latter-day Saints having any complicity in their deeds, they have been the greatest sufferers from them. The speaker himself was, during his residence in Utah, continually in difficulties because he constantly fought the secret band who sought by every means in their power the destruction of himself and family. His house was watched night and day, attempts to poison the family had been made, bullets had buzzed close by him, either the protection of Providence or the poor aim of the assassins alone saving him. After suffering thus he came to the States and continued to declare against the aims and policies of the bands as he had done in Utah.

During the time when Gen. Conner from California was in Utah protecting and anti-Brighamites the latter started a paper called the Vidette. The speaker and Dr. Robinson were connected with its publication and it came to his (the speaker's) ears that they had been doomed to die within a week. He informed Dr. Robinson of the fact, but he refused to take warning. The speaker left for Colorado, and the same evening Dr. Robinson was called from his bed to attend a man who, the visitor said, had a broken limb. The rest of the family begged the doctor not to leave the house, but he insisted that he could not decline to go on such a message. He had got only a few feet from his house when he was knocked down and killed.

In one of the stores of the place, next day some women were heard to engage in conversation upon the Robinson murder, and one of them remarked, "Two more have got to go yet. They other asked, "Is Forscutt one of them?" and when the woman answered in the affirmative she responded, "Thank God, he is out of the way." It was decreed, the speaker said, that he was to go the same way, and assassination was so lightly thought of as to be the subject of every day conversation in the common resorts.

He insisted it was wrong, after they had suffered as they had, that the Latter-day Saints should be charged with the very horrors which they had endured in greater proportion than the rest of the world. The Saints' Church did not teach these evils.

The speaker then referred to the Book of Doctrine and Covenants of Joseph Smith, than which he claimed no book demanded greater purity on the part of those who followed its precepts. The book demands that members should come under the law of the land, and also that they shall deliver unto the law those who have transgressed against it. In proof the the obediencve which the Saints gave to the precept, the speaker cited a case which occured some little time ago in Pittsfield. A man wanted to be baptized in the Saints' Church, and the speaker declined for good reasons. The party succeeded better elsewhere, and shortly afterwards married a well to do widow. It turned out shortly that he was already married, whereupon the Saints gave him up to the law and prosecuted him, and so it has been everywhere, that body invaribly paying that respect and obedience to the law required of them in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants.

The speaker then cited the words of Bishop Lee, the Mormon [---d] and Bill Hickman, both of whom wanted it understood that that they did not believe in Brigham Young, but did believe in Joseph Smith. The latter said with tears in his eyes that if he had never done other than what Smith had taught him he would not have got into his trouble. At Nauvoo Smith might have escaped, and even, if he had chosen, might have vanquished his enemies, but he was prepared to be judged by the law of the land, and [suffered] accordingly.

The speaker then read a letter from William B. Smith, a brother of Joseph stating that there was no resemblance whatever between the doctrine of Joseph Smith and the apostasy of Brigham Young, which he characterized as not only sacrilegious but a libel upon his brother's name.

The Book of Mormon said that no secret oaths or covenants should be allowed to the people, The doctrine was plain, but, notwithstanding this, it is not followed to the letter. People held that the doctrine meant that there should be no secret organization for gain or evil, and in this belief secret bodies were started. The speaker joined one or two covenants when he was in Utah, and, though he had left them, he had never revelaed their secrets. At the same time he felt bound to say that the organizations were not good. They were an outcome of polygamy, and intended to support that evil institution. In contradiction to the theory that Joseph Smith was a polygamist, the speaker stated that Mrs. Smith had herself told him that he was not, and previous to her death had specifically denied that such was the case.

In general defense of the Saints' Church, the speaker stated that the records of the jails and penetentiaries showed that while members of the other congregations had helped to fill them, the Saints had not got a representative there, and this, too, though in point of numbers the Saints fifth among the different denominations. In conclusion, the speaker read the marriage service of the Church, in which contracting parties not only agreed to keep themselves for each other, but from all others, as a proof that the Reorganized Church is opposed to the doctrine and practice of polygamy.

Note 1: The above article gives readers the impression that "the speaker" of the the summarized sermon was Elder Mark Hill Forscutt, and him alone. Forscutt did not emigrate to the United States from England until 1860. He became a Reorganite in 1865, after having spent about four years with the Mormons in Utah. His knowledge of LDS Church history in Missouri, during the 1830s, could have come only from second-hand reports. If he said he was in Missouri, he lied -- but perhaps more than one elder spoke at the meeting and the report was a composite from various accounts. There were many older RLDS members still alive in 1880 who knew perfectly well of the secretive organization and activities of the "Danites" in Missouri -- and their successors at Nauvoo and later in Utah. The RLDS leaders of the nineteenth century were generally reluctant to divulge embarrassing details from the Missouri period in Church history. They evidently preferred that their followers believe the first "Danites" were merely enthusiasts within the Caldwell Co. Militia: saintly "Minute Men" -- who fell into "evil" ways while fighting off the invading Missouri Gentiles. This sanitized view of history ignores altogether the role played by Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith, in organizing the "Danites" as an anti-apostate secret police well before any violence broke out between the Far West Mormons and their non-Mormon neighbors. While it might be argued that the Danites were not an official part of the LDS Church, and that President Joseph Smith, Jr. did not attend and preside over each and every one of their secret meetings, the top Mormon leadership's use of such a paramilitary force before, during, and after the 1838 "Momron War" is are undeniable facts. The RLDS "party line" -- professing that the creation and maintenance of the Danites was the work of "the dynasty of Utah" (that is, the "Twelve") is but a partial truth, designed to shield the vulnerable reputation of the "Lord's Anointed," Joseph Smith, Jr. It may be true that most of the Hosea Stouts and Porter Rockwells did go west to Utah, leaving the RLDS relatively free of Danite influence -- but it is just as true that numerous early RLDS members knew that this Mormon secret police force was the creation of Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith, Jr.

Note 2: The RLDS Elder calls upon the testimony of William B. Smith and Emma Hale Smith, to confirm the purported purity of Joseph Smith's religious system and of Smith's personal family life. He might just as well have called upon the family of Brigham Young, to prove that Young was a true prophet and faithful promoter of Smith's religion as it was practiced at Nauvoo. To a convert, such as Forscutt, the Smith family affirmations might have sounded believable -- however, those in his Chicago audience who actually knew William Smith, could have been forgiven for just then rolling their eyes and hiding their blushes.