On October 27, 1838, Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs issued an executive order designed to put a dramatic and swift end to the Mormon-Missouri War of 1838. Here are five facts about the Extermination Order and how it impacted early Latter-day Saint pioneers.
While Latter-day Saints know it as the “Extermination Order,” it was officially titled “Missouri Executive Order 44.” It gave state authorities, such as the Missouri State Militia, the right to expel Latter-day Saints from the state with violence. Boggs wrote, “The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace—their outrages are beyond all description.”
The Extermination Order represented a culmination of tension and persecution between Church members and the people of Missouri. The main source of these tensions came from the Latter-day Saint belief that they were meant to inherit the land, the economic and political power Latter-day Saints potentially held, and especially the sympathies the Church had to abolitionism.
Approximately three months before the Extermination Order was given, a group of prominent Missouri citizens published a manifesto against Church members in multiple local newspapers. They called the existence of Church members a “crisis” and that if they did not leave “after timely warning and receiving adequate compensation” for their property, Missouri citizens agreed “to use such means as may be sufficient to remove them, and to that we each pledge to each other our bodily powers, our lives, fortunes and sacred honors.”
The Battle of Crooked River took place on October 24, 1838, and led to Governor Boggs signing the Extermination Order. It occurred when a company of Church members came upon a unit of the Missouri militia, who believed the Church members were coming to invade the area. A skirmish resulted and it left three Latter-day Saints and 1 Missouri soldier dead. The reports of the “battle” were exaggerated to Governor Boggs, who now believed the Latter-day Saints were in open rebellion and attacking Missouri citizens. In the Extermination Order, Governor Boggs mentions that he has received “information of the most appalling character, which entirely changes the face of things.”
Though it is a topic still up for much debate, no deaths are directly attributed to the Extermination Order. The massacre at Haun’s Mill, which resulted in the death of 17 men and boys, is the most hotly contested event linked to the Exterminator Order. Some state the militiamen knew about Governor Boggs’ order while others say there is no evidence they knew about it. While we’ll never know the truth, no Missouri citizens ever used the Extermination Order to justify the killing of Latter-day Saints. However, by the end of the year, the Latter-day Saints had been forcibly removed from Missouri with countless atrocities committed against them.
The Extermination Order was all but forgotten from the public consciousness until nearly 140 years later during the United States Bicentennial. Governor Kit Bond was invited by the Community of Christ (formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) to speak at an annual conference. There, Governor Bond rescinded the order and declared it unconstitutional on June 25, 1976. He said, “Expressing on behalf of all Missourians our deep regret for the injustice and undue suffering which was caused by the 1838 order, I hereby rescind Executive Order Number 44, dated October 27, 1838, issued by Governor W. Boggs.”