Lilburn W. Boggs

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Missouri Lilburn Boggs

Lilburn W. Boggs was the Governor of Missouri at the time of profound persecution of the Mormons and was implemental in driving them from the state.

Early Life

Lilburn W. Boggs was born in Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky, on December 14, 1796, to John McKinley Boggs and Martha Oliver. Boggs served in the War of 1812. He moved in 1816 from Lexington, Kentucky to Missouri, which was then part of the Louisiana Territory. In Kentucky, in 1817, Boggs married his first wife Julia Ann Bent (1801—1820). She died on September 21, 1820 in St Louis, Missouri. They had two children, Angus and Henry. [1]

In 1823, Boggs married Panthea Grant Boone (1801—1880), a granddaughter of Daniel Boone, in Callaway County, Missouri. They spent most of the following twenty-three years in Jackson County, Missouri, where all but two of their many children were born. Boggs started out as a merchant, then entered politics. He served as a Missouri state senator from 1826 to 1832; as lieutenant governor from 1832 to 1836; governor from 1836 to 1840; and again as state senator from 1842 to 1846. He was a Democrat. [2]

The Extermination Order

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had been gathering in Missouri, following revelations received by Joseph Smith indicating that Zion would be established there. Missouri was infamous for having a large population of ruffians, and disputes were common before and after the Civil War, when mobocracy almost took over. Anti-Mormon sentiments in Missouri ran high. The Saints mostly traded among themselves, their population was quickly growing as the Church gained new converts, and Mormons as a group were anti-slavery.

Skirmishes had already occurred, and reports of the altercations were embellished and exaggerated in reports to Boggs, causing him to issue the infamous "extermination order." This executive order was issued on October 27, 1838, and called for Latter-day Saints ("Mormons") to be driven from the state, by dint of their "open and avowed defiance of the laws, and of having made war upon the people of this State ... 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 resulted in the arrest of Joseph Smith and other leaders of the Church and their imprisonment during a harsh winter; and mass persecution of the Mormons, killings, rapine, and destruction of property and farm animals. The Saints were forced from their homes and driven from Missouri in the middle of freezing winter, adding to the misery of these refugees.

Assassination Attempt

On May 6, 1842, an attempt was made on the life of Governor Boggs. Boggs was shot by an unknown party who fired at him through a window as he read a newspaper in his study. Governor Boggs was seriously wounded by the attempt, in which he was shot in the head and neck. He made a surprising recovery, and it was attributed to his generally strong constitution. The attempt inflamed anti-Mormon sentiment, and many bigoted news articles and unfounded accusations ensued. Meanwhile, an anonymous contributor to The Wasp, a pro-Mormon newspaper in Nauvoo, Illinois, wrote on May 28 that "Boggs is undoubtedly killed according to report; but who did the noble deed remains to be found out."

Two months following the failed attempt, Boggs filed an affidavit, backed by a request by Missouri Governor Reynolds, charging Orrin Porter Rockwell and the Prophet Joseph Smith with attempted murder. The event may have been overlooked and even forgotten had it not been for some serious antimormon sentiment on the American frontier during that time.

John C. Bennett, an apostate and active persecutor of the Saints, published a letter blaming Rockwell for the attempt and claiming that Joseph Smith had prophesied that Gov. Boggs would die a violent death and sent Rockwell to fulfill the prophecy.

Non-Mormon Monte McLaws published one of the most comprehensive articles on the subject of the assassination attempt. Addressing evidence against Rockwell, he makes several statements. While recognizing the fact that Rockwell was and still is the popular suspect, he writes, “there are inconsistencies that cast a definite shadow of a doubt on Rockwell’s guilt.” An integral problem McLaws notes is that “any number of brooding political enemies could have performed the deed.” This comment is especially significant considering 1842 was an election year, and Boggs had been running for his old position in the senate. McLaws writes that even though there is little evidence against anyone in particular, “neither does there exist anything but circumstantial evidence to condemn Rockwell, and much of this can be explained away.” [3]
B. H. Roberts, in A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, writes of a similar problem concerning official affidavits from the time. The original affidavit, as submitted by Boggs, “does not claim that (the Prophet) was a fugitive from justice, or that he had fled from the state of Missouri to Illinois; but . . . that ‘the Mormon Prophet’ was a ‘citizen or resident of the state of Illinois.’” This is in direct contradiction to the requisition made by Governor Reynolds. Nevertheless, Governor Carlin of Illinois responded by issuing arrest warrants for Smith and Rockwell. In his book Orrin Porter Rockwell, Harold Schindler is very pragmatic in how he surveys available evidence. Generally, Schindler considers most accounts given around the time of the incident to be fact, including those by both Mormon and anti-Mormon authors. As are many of his peers, Schindler is hesitant to pin guilt on anyone in particular, especially the prophet. In his opinion, “If Rockwell did fire the shot, it would appear the decision is of his own making.” [4]

Rockwell was arrested, tried, and acquitted of the attempted murder (Bushman, p. 468), although most of Boggs' contemporaries remained convinced of his guilt.

In December of 1842, the state Supreme Court of Illinois found that the writ voiding the governor’s warrant was illegal. However, Joseph Smith went before a federal judge to again challenge the warrant, and this court found that the warrant “lacked foundation” since it went beyond the statements which Boggs had made in his affidavit. [5]

Boggs' Later Life

Boggs traveled overland to California in 1846 and is frequently mentioned among the notable emigrants of that year. His traveling companions widely believed that his move was rooted in his fear of the Mormons. When the train set out in early May, he campaigned to be elected its captain, but lost to William H. Russell; when Russell resigned on June 18, the group was thereafter led by Boggs. Among the Boggs Company were most of the emigrants who later separated from the group to form the Donner Party.

Boggs was accompanied by his second wife Panthea, his son William, William's bride Sonora Hicklin, and his younger children. They arrived in Sonoma, California, in November and were provided refuge by Mariano Vallejo at his Petaluma ranch house. There, on January 4, 1847, Mrs. William Boggs gave birth to a son, who was named Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo Boggs after their benefactor. Lilburn Boggs became alcalde of the Sonoma district in 1847. During the California Gold Rush, Boggs owned a store and did quite well. On November 8, 1849, Boggs resigned as alcalde and became the town's postmaster.

Boggs accepted an appointment as state assemblyman from the Sonoma District in 1852. In 1855 he retired to live on a ranch in Napa County, California, where he died on March 19, 1860. His widow Panthea died in Napa County, California, on September 23, 1880. They are buried in Tulocay Cemetery, Napa, California. [6]


  1. Wikipedia, "Lilburn Boggs"
  2. Ibid.
  3. McLaws, Monte B. “The Attempted Assassination of Missouri’s Ex-Governor, Lilburn W. Boggs." Missouri Historical Review, 60.1 (October 1965).
  4. Schindler, Harold. Orrin Porter Rockwell: Man of God, Son of Thunder, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1966, quoted from the Berg and Frank Family Biographies: Lilburn W. Boggs [1]
  5. Expositer [2]
  6. Wikipedia, "Lilburn Boggs"