The years 1838 and 1839 were excruciatingly difficult for members of the Church in Missouri. When the persecution against them mounted, they made pleas to leaders in the civil government to protect them in their civil rights. But the rights guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States were often not protected at the local level in those days before the U.S. Civil War. It was to the political advantage of some state and local leaders to ignore the Saints’ pleas for help when they were being attacked and robbed. On the other hand, when Church members fought back, they were treated with extreme harshness.
For example, when a mob attacked the Latter-day Saint village of Hawn’s Mill, murdered many of its men, and robbed the remaining widows and orphans of supplies, the government did not prosecute a single attacker or try to help the surviving victims. But when Church members battled with an armed group of Missourians at Crooked River, with casualties on both sides (including the death of Elder David W. Patten of the Quorum of the Twelve), Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs issued his infamous extermination order against the Church.
Missouri militia forces marched on Far West, the Church’s headquarters, and Joseph Smith and other leaders went to talk with them, only to be captured, threatened with death, and eventually imprisoned for months in the Liberty Jail. While there, Joseph and his companions wrote letters to the Church, three portions of which were later added to the Doctrine and Covenants as sections 121, 122, and 123.
For more on the history of these sections, click here and here. To see the original letters and read them in their entirety, click here and here.
To learn more about these interesting letters, listen to a conversation between Latter-day Saints experts on the subject here.
Credit for the image at top of the page: C. C. A. Christensen, “Haun’s Mill,” public domain, copied from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/08/Haun%27s_Mill_by_C.C.A._Christensen.png.