Far West

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Far West Temple Site © Intellectual Reserve

Far West is located about 30 miles north of Liberty, Missouri. In 1835, when there began to be tension between the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and non–Latter-day Saints in Independence, Missouri, the Church started looking for a place in the state where there were few settlers. They found some land in Ray County. It was very sparsely populated because it was prairie land, which was considered unfit for settling by most settlers at that time. The Church purchased 1600 acres of this land. Shortly after the purchase, a large meeting was held by the old settlers of Missouri. During that meeting those antagonistic to the Church members (often called anti-Mormons) gave five reasons why they disliked the Saints. The reasons were:

  1. They are poor
  2. Their religious differences stir up prejudice
  3. Their Eastern customs and dialects are alien to the Missourians
  4. They oppose slavery
  5. They believe that the Indians are God’s chosen people destined to inherit the land of Missouri with them.

After stating their reasons, it was then decided that the Saints must live somewhere away from other Missouri settlements. Because the Church had already bought the land in Ray County, they agreed that this was the best solution.

The Church leaders told the Missourians that they would settle away from other Missourians, ask the State government to make their area a new county, and even have a six mile buffer—three miles on each side of the dividing line between the two counties, and that neither Latter-day Saints or non–Latter-day Saints would settle in that land. On December 29, 1836, Governor Lilburn Boggs signed a bill that made Ray County two counties: Caldwell and Daviess. Caldwell was the Saints' county.

A site was chosen for a city, and it was named Far West. In August 1836, Latter-day Saints began to establish a stake of Zion at Far West. By 1838, Far West was home to 4,900 Saints. In March 1838, Joseph Smith, the Church’s prophet, officially moved to Far West from Kirtland, Ohio, because of persecution in Kirtland. That April, Joseph Smith received a number of important revelations that are recorded in Doctrine and Covenants sections 113–15; 117–20. These revelations included the law of tithing and the correct name of the Church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. God revealed to the Prophet that Far West was located on holy ground, and the Saints were commanded to build a temple there. Cornerstones for the temple were laid during a celebration in early July. (See photo of Far West, here.) And from Far West, the Lord called the Twelve Apostles on an important mission to England.

By the summer of 1838, the Saints had built many homes and a thriving town. However, tension had begun to increase again between the Latter-day Saints and their Missouri neighbors. Parley P. Pratt a resident of Far West said,

War clouds began again to lower with dark and threatening aspect. Those who had combined against the laws in the adjoining counties had long watched our increasing power and prosperity with jealousy and with greedy and avaricious eyes. It was a common boast that, as soon as we had completed our extensive improvements, and made a plentiful crop, they would drive us from the State, and once more enrich themselves with the spoils (Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, edited by his son Parley P. Pratt, 1938, p. 150).

By October, the tension erupted. Governor Boggs signed an order that stated, “the Mormons must be exterminated or driven from the State.” He based his order solely on rumors that the Latter-day Saints were planning an insurrection, but he never visited Caldwell County. That same day, a Missouri army laid siege on Far West. For weeks before this, mobs had been attacking smaller outlying communities, forcing the Saints to try and take refuge in Far West. By October 31, the Missouri army outnumbered the Saints 5 to 1. Leaders of the Church agreed to talk with militia leaders to end the siege, but instead of talking, the militia leaders arrested them and held an illegal court-martial that sentenced the men to death in the morning. The sentence was never carried out, but Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, Parley P. Pratt, Amasa M. Lyman, George W. Robinson, and others were held as prisoners in Richmond, Missouri and then Joseph, Hyrum, Sidney, Lyman, Alexander McRae, and Caleb Baldwin were held in Liberty Jail for five months. After the leaders were taken as prisoners, the militia entered Far West and took arms, robbed, raped, and arrested others. The Saints were harassed so much that they eventually left Missouri and took refuge in Illinois, even though it was the middle of winter.

Members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a few others returned to Far West on April 26, 1839, and dedicated a temple site there, in obedience to a commandment from the Lord. They also officially commenced their mission to England.

In 1908, the Church purchased 80 acres in Far West, including the temple lot. President David O. McKay dedicated monuments at the temple site in 1968.