Danites 

Summary

The common name for the “Daughter of Zion,” a military society organized among the Mormons in Missouri in June 1838 to defend the church from both internal and external opposition.1 The official name was apparently derived from Micah 4:13: “Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion: for I will make thine horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass: and thou shalt beat in pieces many people: and I will consecrate their gain unto the Lord, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth.” The more common nickname was derived from the Israelite warrior tribe of Dan.2 JS later indicated that the nickname originated with him.3 The society began in connection with the effort to intimidate dissenters into leaving Far West, Missouri. It promoted political candidates favored by the First Presidency and facilitated the economic program of consecration.4 The Danites were organized into companies of tens and fifties led by captains, modeling the structure of the Israelite armies of the Old Testament.5 Parallel to state militia organization, the hierarchy also included generals, colonels, and other officers.6 According to its constitution, the society sought to protect the God-given rights of the Latter-day Saints and to resist oppression. Its constitution vested executive authority in JS and his counselors in the First Presidency.7 JS attended at least one of the society’s meetings and reportedly expressed approval of its aims, but the precise nature of his involvement with and approval of the organization is unclear.8 The society’s activity in the summer of 1838 is evident by their participation in the Independence Day commemoration at Far West on 4 July, in the election-day brawl in Daviess County on 6 August, and in the party that afterwards demanded a statement of neutrality from local justice of the peace Adam Black.9 As troubles with other Missourians mounted, the Danites were apparently absorbed into the larger Mormon militia that conducted Mormon military operations during September and October 1838.10 Following the surrender of Far West and the ensuing court hearing, JS wrote on 16 December that he had only recently learned that Sampson Avard, one of the Danite generals, had presented “false and pernicious” teachings as having come from the First Presidency.11 While there is no credible evidence that the Danite society outlived the Mormon War in Missouri, its brief existence contributed to widespread and lasting rumors of an enduring secret society of Mormon avengers.12