Question: How were the activities of the Danite band exposed?


Table of Contents

Question: How were the activities of the Danite band exposed?

Sampson Avard was eventually brought to trial, and he blamed Joseph Smith for the Danite's activities

Much of the information that we have about the Danite organization comes from the document describing the criminal court of inquiry held against church leaders in Richmond, Missouri on November 12, 1838. When the group’s activities were exposed and church leaders brought to trial, Avard became a primary witness for the prosecution, and laid the blame for the Danites at the feet of Joseph Smith. Avard claimed that he had been acting under the direction of the First Presidency.[1]:7

Several witnesses indicated that Avard indicated that he would lie in order to incriminate the Church, and it is apparent that he testified in order to save himself.[2][3] Avard even produced a “Danite Constitution” for the court, despite the fact that nobody else in the organization had ever heard of it or seen it until that time.[1]:11-12

Joseph Smith rejected the Danite band and referred to them as a "secret combination"

Joseph Smith referred to the Danites as a “secret combination.”[4] Referring to Avard’s testimony before the judge, B.H. Roberts states,

This lecture of the doctor's revealed for the first time the true intent of his designs, and the brethren he had duped suddenly had their eyes opened, and they at once revolted and manfully rejected his teachings. Avard saw that he had played and lost, so he said they had better let the matter drop where it was. As soon as Avard's villainy was brought to the knowledge of the president of The Church he was promptly excommunicated, and was afterwards found making an effort to become friends with the mob, and conspiring against The Church. This is the history of the Danite band, "which", says the Prophet Joseph, "died almost before it had an existence."[5]

Sampson Avard had a reputation for not being trustworthy

There is clear consensus among both Mormon and non-Mormon early sources that Sampson Avard was not trustworthy.[1] Additionally, there is a well-documented case of Avard attempting to do what he was eventually accused of doing with the Danites: taking advantage of inefficient and ambiguous lines of communication and authority to establish his own command.

In his biography of John Taylor, B.H. Roberts recorded an incident wherein Avard tried take over the Church in Canada by feigning authority from Joseph Smith, when he in fact did not have any.[6] For many years this account was not supported by any first-hand accounts, but recently this incident has been confirmed by an account in the journal of Joseph Horne, a member of the Church who rode with Avard up to Canada and witnessed the attempt to take over the Church there.[7]

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Gentry, Leland Homer and Todd Compton. Fire and the Sword: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri. Greg Kofford Books, 2013. 245.
  2. Document Containing the Correspondence, Orders &c. in Relation to the Disturbances with the Mormons; And the Evidence Given Before the Hon. Austin A. King, Judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of the State of Missouri, at the Court-House in Richmond, in a Criminal Court of Inquiry, Begun November 12, 1838, on the Trial of Joseph Smith, Jr., and Others, for High Treason and Other Crimes Against the State., (1841) U.S. Government Printing Office.
  3. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 3:209–210. Volume 3 link
  4. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 3:179. Volume 3 link
  5. B.H. Roberts, The Missouri Persecutions, 1900, p. 220
  6. B.H. Roberts, The Life of John Taylor (Salt Lake City, Bookcraft, 1963), 43-44.
  7. The Journal of Joseph Horne, Jr., 1858-1861: Including His Life Summary. LDS archives, 7. Horne’s account is also cited in Corwin L. Nimer, "Treachery and False Swearing in Missouri: The Rise and Fall of Sampson Avard," Mormon Historical Studies 5, no. 2 (Fall 2004): 37-60.