In Missouri, it was legal to kill a Mormon until 1976
Missouri Executive Order 44, also known as the “Mormon Extermination Order” (alt. exterminating order) in Latter Day Saint history, was an executive order issued on October 27, 1838 by the governor of Missouri, Lilburn Boggs. It was issued in the aftermath of the Battle of Crooked River, a clash between Mormons and a unit of the Missouri State Guard in northern Ray County, Missouri, during the Mormon War of 1838. Claiming that the Mormons had committed “open and avowed defiance of the laws”, and had “made war upon the people of this State,” Boggs directed that “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”.
While the order is often referred to as the “Mormon Extermination Order” due to the phrasing used by Boggs, relatively few people lost their lives as a direct result of its issuance. However, the state militia and other authorities used Boggs’ missive as a pretext to expel the Mormons from their lands in the state, and force them to migrate to Illinois. Mormons did not begin to return to Missouri until 25 years later, when they found a more welcoming environment and were able to establish homes there once more. In 1976, citing the unconstitutional nature of Boggs’ directive, Missouri Governor Kit Bond formally rescinded it.
Executive Order 44 was issued by Governor Lilburn Boggs of Missouri during the 1838 Mormon War, which had been caused by friction between the Mormons and their neighbors, largely due to tensions resulting from the growing economic and electoral power of the Mormon community, and the Mormons’ vocal opposition to slavery. The war ended with the expulsion of almost all Mormons from the state of Missouri. The Mormons had been given a county of their own to settle in after their expulsion from Jackson County in 1833, but the increasing influx of new Mormon converts moving to northwestern Missouri led them to begin settling in adjacent counties. This provoked the wrath of other settlers, who had operated under the assumption that the Mormons would remain confined to Caldwell County.
On the fourth of July in 1838, Mormon leader Sidney Rigdon delivered an oration in Far West, the county seat of Caldwell County. While not wishing or intending to start any trouble with his non-Mormon neighbors, Rigdon wanted to make clear that the Mormons would meet any futher attacks on them—such as had occurred in Jackson County during the summer and fall of 1833—with force:
We take God and all the holy angels to witness this day, that we warn all men in the name of Jesus Christ, to come on us no more forever. For from this hour, we will bear it no more, our rights shall no more be trampled on with impunity. The man or the set of men, who attempts it, does it at the expense of their lives. And that mob that comes on us to disturb us; it shall be between us and them a war of extermination; for we will follow them till the last drop of their blood is spilled, or else they will have to exterminate us: for we will carry the seat of war to their own houses, and their own families, and one party or the other shall be utterly destroyed.—Remember it then all MEN.
Far from settling tensions, Rigdon’s oration had the opposite effect: it terrified and inflamed the residents of surrounding counties. By the Fall of that same year these tensions escalated into open conflict, culminating in the looting and burning of several Mormon farms and homes, the sacking and burning of Gallatin by Mormon “Danites”, and the taking of Mormon hostages by a militia unit commanded by Cpt. Samuel Bogart, operating in northern Ray County (to the south of Caldwell). When Mormon militia from the town of Far West moved south to the militia camp on the Crooked River to rescue their co-religionists, the resulting battle aroused considerable terror throughout the western part of the state. Lurid rumors of a planned full-scale Mormon invasion of Missouri had run rampant throughout the summer, and these only increased as reports of this “Battle of Crooked River” reached the capital at Jefferson City, with spurious accounts of Mormons allegedly slaughtering Bogart’s militia company, including those who had surrendered. Further dispatches spoke of an impending Mormon attack on Richmond, county seat of Ray County, though in fact no such attack was ever contemplated. It was in this environment of fear and misinformation that Boggs chose to act.
Boggs issued Executive Order #44 to General John Clark, whom he had appointed to head up the state militia forces being assembled to reinstate citizens of Daviess County (north of Caldwell) who had been allegedly driven from their homes by renegade Mormons. Having heard lurid reports of alleged Mormon depradations on the Crooked River, Boggs directed Clark to change his mission to one of direct military operations against the Mormons themselves.