Wednesday, October 30, 2013
This small Mormon community goes about it's daily chores and work while the children play, running around the community and along the banks of Shoal Creek. Slowly, men on horseback start to pour through the trees from the north, east and west, all but surrounding the settlement. Led by William O. Jennings, Nathaniel Comstock and William Gee, these Missouri men listen to the pleas of peace and quarter for the Mormons. Jennings raises his gun and one airborne shot unleashes hell. Among Jennings' men is a captain named John Baker Comer (Lone Elm Cemetery, Siloam Springs, Benton County, Arkansas). Comer had already had his sights set in participation of these hostilities as he was once arrested by Mormon authorities for transporting guns and rifles across northwest Missouri. This ammunition was to be spread out among the Missouri citizens to arm themselves against the Mormon attacks. Once news of the arrest reached David Rice Atchison, he sent Alexander Doniphan to retrieve Comer, along with two other men that were accomplices, and all of the firearms. Upon Comer's rescue, he was sent back to Atchison's camp, not far from Far West, a Mormon city just north of Haun's Mill.
Meanwhile....the two hundred men, including Comer, sprayed fire in every direction shooting at pretty much anything that moved. Many of the Mormon men and boys headed for a blacksmith shop that was quickly surrounded. As there was no spackle yet placed between the logs that made up the shop, the Missouri men had open, clear shots at the men and children inside. The Mormon men knew they were cornered in a death trap. Several were killed in the shop and some that tried to make a break through the front door and head for the milldam were gunned down in the process. Of these blacksmith shop killings, one stands alone. Hiding inside was nine year old Sardius Smith. One Missourian had seen Sardius and come upon him. Sardius pleaded for his life exclaiming he was an American. The Missourian put his gun point blank to Sardius' head and pulled the trigger. Literally, half of his head was blown off and his brains scattered. When somewhat questioned by one of the mob as to why he did this, the killer replied "Nits make lice!"
Another atrocious killing was that of an elderly man named Thomas McBride who was making his way easterly across the settlement until he was caught by a Jacob Rogers (a close neighbor of Comer's). Rogers forced McBride to give up his weapon. McBride surrendered and Rogers gunned him down where he stood. He then proceeded to hack at the old man with a corn knife.
Fifteen men and two boys would die and fourteen (including one woman and one child) would suffer. After the killing had ceased, the Missourians plundered and ransacked the homes until they had their fill before finally leaving.
Those who survived were not enough men to dig the many graves and they feared their would be a second round coming. In haste, the fourteen who died instantly were carried to an unfinished well that was approximately twelve feet deep. Each body was placed upon a wooden door or plank and slid into the well including little Sardius Smith (pictured at well burial above). Those fourteen victims remain there to this day.
Over the next two to four months, the remaining Mormons at Haun's Mill gathered up and went to Nauvoo, Illinois. The massacre site would change hands through the last one hundred and seventy five years being used for crops and farm land. But the Haun's Mill massacre was the last major event and settlement that was there. The site is now in possession of the LDS church who have claimed it as an historic spot complete with signs to point the way to it's location.
But that wasn't the end of John Comer's place in this history. In April 1839, Joseph Smith, his brother, Hirum and several other Mormon leaders were charged with treason, murder and other crimes. Comer was face to face with Smith as he was a witness against. John is found today in several books about the Mormons and their time in Missouri. He's also on the official site of Joseph Smith's personal papers. AND he was named by Smith himself in his personal journal. He was also fingered by a massacre survivor named Ellis Eames. John was the feature piece in a magazine called the Talbot Library and Museum Genealogy magazine printed by the TL&M in Colcord, Oklahoma. In the piece, it mentioned Comer's arrest and rescue and that he served to "quell" the Mormons. However, it says nothing about Haun's Mill!
Later in Comer's life, he would go on to become a respected Major under Sterling Price during the Civil War before settling down in Siloam Springs.
Some say that this was the precursor to the Mountain Meadows Massacre and that the phrase "Nits make lice! Nits make lice!" was shouted during the killings. This is speculation and debate.
Addendum: Daniel Henry Netherton (Wann Cemetery, Benton County, Arkansas) went through his trials and tribulations in the Missouri Mormon wars as well. His brothers, James and John were both under John Comer's company during the Mormon wars. However, it is unclear whether they were at Haun's Mill. Daniel's father, brothers and himself were burned out of their homes and had their possessions plundered.
In the near future, I will be launching a new site specifically for this event. Here is the Wikipedia site for the massacre in case you are interested in further research about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haun's_Mill_massacre
Thanks for reading and I'll see you next month with more of the great and historic stories to close out 2013!
"Buried in the Well" painting by Julie Rogers seen at the mormonhistoricsites.org
Posted by Richard L. Stewart at 8:39 AM