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Early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fled mob persecution from Ohio and moved to established settlements in Missouri. But opposition was far from over. By the summer of 1838, leaders of the Church witnessed the rise of similar threats to their communities in Missouri. Some Latter-day Saints in Far West, led by Sampson Avard, organized an oath-bound militia known as the "Daughters of Zion" or the "Danites." The official name was apparently derived from a passage in the book of Micah: “Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion: for I will make thine horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass: and thou shalt beat in pieces many people: and I will consecrate their gain unto the Lord, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth.” The more common nickname “Danites” was derived from the Israelite tribe of Dan.[1]

"According to its constitution, the society sought to protect the God-given rights of the Latter-day Saints and to resist oppression."[2] Following their objective to defend the Saints against "dissident and excommunicated Latter-day Saints as well as other Missourians," Danites operated as vigilantes and threatened individuals and confiscated or destroyed property. Tensions between the Saints and the Missourians escalated into the Mormon-Missouri War and the Danites were absorbed into other militias of Latter-day Saints. The Danites came to the attention of the state government.

Avard was excommunicated after the Saints were expelled from Missouri and Joseph Smith was arrested. According to historian Richard Bushman, Avard had testified that Joseph was the mastermind behind the Danites.[1] Joseph Smith "attended at least one of the society’s meetings and reportedly expressed approval of its aims, but the precise nature of his involvement with the organization is unclear."[3] "Historians generally concur that Joseph Smith approved of the Danites but that he probably was not briefed on all their plans and likely did not sanction the full range of their activities."[4]

Although the Danites existed briefly—five months—and were active in only two counties in northwestern Missouri, the group has lived on as folklore and propaganda through the end of the nineteenth century.[5] [6]

  1. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, Knopf 2005, pp. 350, 352