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Haun's Mill Massacre Site

Location Information

Date: 27th May 2011     Type: Cemetery

Location Title: Haun's Mill Massacre Site     City/State: Fairview Township, MO

Investigation Times:09:30 PM - 11:45 PM     Status:Analysis


Weather Information

Sunrise:05:56 AM   Sunset:08:37 PM

High Temperature:62 °F   Low Temperature:53 °F

Sky Condition: Hazy   Wind: SSE at 10 mph

Humidity:88%   Precipitation:0%

Lunar Phase: Waning Crescent   % disk visible:25%

Solar X-Rays: Active   Geomagnetic Field: Unsettled

Pressure:29.84 mmHg  


Investigators Present

Christina Anderson

James Henderson

Angela Hodge

Becky Ray

Kevin Simpson

Location History

Located on the north bank of Shoal Creek, Jacob Hawn (Haun) settled in the area in 1832. He established a mill at the location in 1834. While Jacob moved to Missouri and founded the mill around the same time as the Mormon migration to Missouri, he was not a Mormon.

It became a location of a branch of the church in 1838. By October 1838, approximately 75 Mormon families were living along the banks of Shoal Creek, about 30 of them near Hawn's Mill and the James Houston blacksmith shop.

The unauthorized militia was led overall by Colonel Thomas Jennings of Livingston County, with William O. Jennings (Sheriff of Livingston County), Nehemiah Comstock, and William Gee as captains of the three companies. At the time of the attack, the militia consisted of 240 men from Daviess, Livingston, Ray, Carroll, and Chariton counties. It included prominent men such as Major Daniel Ashby of the Missouri state legislature and Thomas R. Bryan, Clerk of Livingston County.

On October 30, at approximately 4 p.m., the militia rode into the community. David Evans, a leader in the community, ran towards the militia, waving his hat and calling for peace. Alerted to the militia's approach, most of the Latter-day Saint women and children fled into the woods to the south, while most men headed to the blacksmith shop. The building was a particularly vulnerable structure as the widely spaced logs made it easy for the attackers to fire inside. The shop became a deathtrap since the militia gave no quarter, discharging about 100 rifles into the building. 

Grand River Township Justice of the Peace Thomas McBride, wounded while escaping the blacksmith shop, surrendered his gun to Jacob S Rogers Jr., who shot him, then hacked his body with a corn knife (scythe blade). According to their account, they fired seven rounds, making upwards of 1,600 shots during the attack of Hawn's Mill. The attack lasted 30 to 60 minutes.

After the initial attack, several of those wounded or surrendered were shot dead. Members of the militia entered the shop and found 10-year-old Sardius Smith, 7-year-old Alma Smith (sons of Amanda Barnes Smith), and 9-year-old Charles Merrick hiding under the blacksmith's bellows. Alma and Charles were shot (Charles later died), and a militiaman who was known as "Glaze, of Carroll county" killed Sardius when he "put his musket against Sardius's skull and blew off the top of his head."

Later, William Reynolds would justify the killing by saying, "Nits will make lice, and if he had lived, he would have become a Mormon." William Champlin, who was "playing possum," heard the conversations, was discovered, held captive for a few days, then released.

Several other bodies were mutilated, while many women were assaulted. Houses were robbed, wagons, tents, and clothing were stolen, and horses and livestock were driven off, leaving the surviving women and children destitute.

As a result of the massacre, 17 Mormons died: Hiram Abbott, Elias Benner, John Byers, Alexander Campbell, Simon Cox, Josiah Fuller, Austin Hammer, John Lee, Benjamin Lewis, Thomas McBride, Charles Merrick, Levi Merrick, William Napier, George S. Richards, Sardius Smith, Warren Smith, and John York.

Fifteen more had been injured: Jacob Foutz, Jacob Hawn, Charles Jameson, Nathan K. Knight, Isaac Leany, Tarlton Lewis, Gilmon Merrill, George Myers, Jacob Myers Jr., Jacob Potts, Hiram Rathbun, Alma Smith, Mary Stedwell, John Walker, and William Yokum. A few uninjured men were William Champlin, Ellis Eames, Rial Eames, David Lewis, and David Evans.

The next morning, fourteen of the dead were slid from a plank into a large unfinished dry well and covered with straw and a thin layer of dirt. Originally buried on the David Lewis farm, Benjamin Lewis was later exhumed and moved to a local cemetery; Charles Merrick died later and was buried elsewhere, and Hiram Abbott was later removed to his father's place where he died.

Four of the 240 militiamen were wounded, but none fatally. John Hart, a Livingston resident, was injured in the arm. John Renfrow had his thumb shot off. Allen England, a citizen of Daviess, was severely wounded in the thigh. Jacob S. Rogers Jr., a Daviess resident, was shot in the hip by Nathan Kinsman Knight.

Although the massacre occurred a few days after Missouri's governor, Lilburn Boggs, issued his infamous Missouri Executive Order 44 ("Extermination Order" of 1838), there is debate about whether the participants knew of it. In the church's archives, Hyrum Smith reported that Captain Comstock, who previously had assured the Mormons at the mill of their safety, had returned the next day attacking them, saying he had received an order from Governor Boggs via Coronal Ashley. However, historian William G. Hartley opined that the local militia likely had not yet received news of this specific executive order, but rather the militia responded to the open hostility to Mormons that was already prevalent in Missouri, even before the order was published.

Militia member and state legislator Major Daniel Ashby stated in the Missouri House of Representatives that reports from Mormon dissenters led to the attack of Hawn's Mill. Those Hawn's Mill settlement dissenters were Robert White, George Miller, and Sardis Smith.

Shortly before the massacre, anti-Mormon raiders confiscated guns and weapons from Mormon settlers and immigrants. Some of those living in the surrounding area gathered at Hawn's Mill for safety.

​After the massacre, Philo Dibble stated that "Brother Joseph had sent word by Hawn, who owned the mill, to inform the brethren living there to leave and come to Far West, but Mr. Hawn did not deliver the message."

It appears that Hawn had received Joseph Smith's direction to relocate to Far West but did not convey this directly to any of the others at Hawn's Mill. Of the matter, Smith recorded, "Up to this day, God had given me wisdom to save the people who took counsel. 

Captain Nehemiah Comstock's contingent of Livingston militia occupied the mill for nearly three weeks harassing and plundering the Mormons. Life during the winter of 1838-1839 became essentially that of day-to-day survival. Most of the families banded together until they could make arrangements to move along with the rest of the Saints to Illinois. Non-Mormon Harrison Severe, who had refused to join the mob, left with the Mormons. By the end of February 1839, all of the Mormons had left. Jacob Hawn moved to Oregon and became a pioneer settler of Yamhill County.

The settlement was largely abandoned by Feb. 1839. The Mill was torn down in 1845.

In 1887, Josiah Fuller's son visited the site of Haun’s Mill to locate his father's resting place. With Charles Ross' assistance, Fuller moved a red millstone fragment from the old mill onto the site of the well to commemorate those who died, and it was inscribed with the words "In memory of victims of Haun's Mill massacre, Oct. 30th, 1838." The stone was partially buried edgeways.

In 1888, LDS members Andrew Jenson, Edward Stevenson, and Joseph Smith Black visited the site from Utah. They readily located the well by means of the red stone.

In 1941, Mr. P.E. Gastineau of Cowgill, Missouri, owner of the land, permitted Mr. Glenn Setzer, an ex-county official, to place a commemorative marker and hold a program on July 13. At that time, he moved the millstone a short distance to this spot, unaware that he had moved the marker from over the burial point. The exact location of the well is now not known.

Between March 8-18th, 1999, Mormon Historic Sites Foundation funded a scientific archaeological study of the Hawn’s Mill Massacre Site by Dr. Richard Hauck of the Archaeological Research Institute (ARI) of Bountiful, Utah, and two staff archaeologists, Brian Mueller and Alan Hutchinson. The main objective was to locate the well where the bodies of fourteen of the seventeen Mormon men and boys killed on October 30, 1838, were interred.

However, at the same time, it was hoped that the ground-penetrating radar might also reveal the position of some community structures, such as the blacksmith shop.

Another archeological dig was conducted between October 9 and 11, 2000, funded by the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation. Dr. Hauck was joined by Dr. Mark A. Scherer, World Church Historian for the Community of Christ, Alan Hutchinson, a research assistant, and Kim R. Wilson and Johnathan W. Bullen, both of whom serve on the board of the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation.

In 2003 the Community of Christ (formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) placed a new metal marker at the site explaining the historical facts in more detail.

Investigators Notes

Christina Anderson: This investigation was like nothing I have been involved in up until now. Haun's Mill is a very remote, quiet place, seemingly apart from civilization. It has been kept in a very primitive state, only accessible by gravel roads. The evening started with more detours than I had ever seen! It was like every route we could have taken to get there ended in a detour. Eventually, our tenacity won out, and we got there! This site is next to Shoal Creek, which floods frequently, and the ground was very muddy. We also had to contend with the loudest frogs on the face of the earth.

To begin with, Kevin, James, and Angela headed across the field while Becky and I stayed closer to the road. We both had the overwhelming and unnerving feeling of being completely surrounded and watched. Every so often, the movement was visible in the treeline nearby, but when we would shine our flashlights in that direction, there was nothing there. While wildlife was out in full force, none of the movements we saw matched up with what furry woodland creatures do. We also, at one point, heard a loud slamming noise toward the creek and a few gunshots. Granted, the gunshots could very well have been a farmer half a mile away taking a potshot at a coyote or something, but the slamming noise was not something I could account for. We also heard twigs breaking, loud thuds, and rocks clacking against each other. The possibility of it being deer was explored, but they were too far away to make the noises we heard. Usually, they occurred right behind us, and when we would shine our flashlights, there was, again, nothing there. Another odd thing continued to occur throughout the night. We kept seeing flashes of white, like the reflection off of a t-shirt, moving very quickly through the field. These occurred very randomly, in different patterns, going in different directions, but they all seemed to happen in roughly the same general area. Later, it was discovered that this area was where the blacksmith shop was thought to have been. We did explore the idea of it being an animal of some kind, but the insanely loud frogs never stopped croaking, which would have happened if a person or animal had come close to them. Although we refer to it as "swamp gas," we cannot account for it, and it remains a mystery. I will be analyzing audio this week. Although I do not anticipate finding anything useable on it due to the amphibian orchestra that was out there, I will post anything I find of interest. I hope to return to this location for a more in-depth investigation in the following months.


Becky Ray: Weather was almost not our friend for this investigation, but the flooding had stopped, and even though numerous detours seemed to be trying to keep us away, we finally made it!
Due to the storms, the entire area was muddy and slick, but some strange things began happening within a few minutes of getting there. When Kevin, James, and Angela walked closer to the river, Christina and I kept hearing sounds like people moving around us. There were deer and other animals such as raccoons, but this wasn't like that. At times both of us saw what appeared to be people moving in the trees. At one point, I was so confident there were other people out there with us that I tried to signal for Kevin, James, and Angela to come back to where we were. 
Most of us saw what I'm calling "swamp gas." I've spent a lot of time out in the woods at night, and I've never seen anything like what we saw. It's difficult to describe, but the best I can come up with is a faint glow about the size of a human torso that would move swiftly across the open area in front of the trees. I know that wasn't real people because it was only visible for like 15 seconds at a time, and the frogs (which were AMAZINGLY loud) never stopped making noise. We watched this for quite a while and saw it numerous times at different locations. I told myself I wouldn't leave until we figured out what it was, so that's why I'm calling it swamp gas.
Since it was very dark out, I did not reference the map of the area while we were there. However, upon returning home, I discovered that the area in which Christina and I both kept thinking we saw actual people back in the woods is where they believed Haun's House was. Behind that is what they call "Escape Hill." Several women and children tried to take cover there.
And yes, they were completely surrounded in that area during the massacre, which is how Christina and I kept feeling all night.
The area in which we kept seeing the "swamp gas" was where they believed Houston's Blacksmith Shop was. In the days leading up to the massacre, as the Mormons started to feel threatened, they had planned to use the Blacksmith Shop as a blockhouse and had a cache of weapons stored there. About 35 of the men in town ran to the Blacksmith Shop as planned when the attack started. Unfortunately, this was a bad plan, and the shop became a deathtrap.
The unfinished well where at least 14 of the dead were quickly interred is believed to have been next to the Blacksmith shop.
I want to return during daylight hours and try to get some photos as nothing I took that night came out well due to the extreme darkness.

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