June 17, 2024

Alexander Doniphan

This map below was created to help find other Church Sites and Articles. Each point will have articles in the description about that point

(below the map is the rest of the article)

Alexander Doniphan was a Missourian, a lawyer, and a military man. Alexander was a complex man, it is hard to put Alexander in a little box of good or bad. Through his heroic acts in Church History, it is easy to classify him as a hero, but with a more complete view it is easier to see the Alexander Doniphan was not a hero, but like most people he was complicated. With the new book out by Susan Easton Black, called "Alexander Doniphan, courageous defender and friend of the Saints", there is a bit more understanding of Alexander Doniphan and his actions in Church History.

Some have never heard of Alexander Doniphan and do not know where he fits into Church History. There are a couple times in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when Alexander Doniphan was prominent. The most famous and influential experience in Church History involving Alexander Doniphan was when Alexander he took a courageous stand and he refused to kill the prophet Joseph Smith. This happened during the terrible days of Missouri. This experience is why member of The Church love and value Alexander Doniphan, he risked his life to save the Prophet Joseph Smith from execution. Alexander Doniphan was also a lawyer for the prophet and other members of The Church, when nobody else would represent the Saints. The last main even of Doniphan showing up in Church History is during the Mexican-American War, and the "Mormon Battalion" marched into his camp. Doniphan threw a party to welcome the "Mormon Battalion" knowing they had been kicked out of the country they were fighting to protect. Doniphan was not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but his actions endeared him in the hearts of many Latter-day Saints forever.

Alexander Doniphan was born in 1808 to Joseph Doniphan and Anne Fowke Smith, both parents had a very Southern upbringing. The family moved to Kentucky where Alexander's father died, when Alexander was only four years old. Joseph Doniphan bequeathed a slave named Stephen to Alexander, along with some farm land at his passing. Although, this seems generous for a four year old, the land in Kentucky was basically free at the time, and one slave did not do much to help them financially.

Alexander Doniphan grew up and chose to pursue law. Alexander worked hard to make a name for himself, and people were starting to notice the young up and coming lawher. Before Alexander was 21 years old, he was welcomed to practice law in two states, Kentucky and Ohio.

It would have made sense for Alexander to live in Kentucky with the land he owned, but Missouri beckoned to him. At the age of 21 Alexander petitioned the state of Missouri to allow him to practice law, it was granted to him, based on his earlier acceptance in Kentucky and Ohio. Doniphan set up office in Lexington Missouri, in Lafayette County Missouri, is where Doniphan called home in 1830. Missouri had only been a state for nine years in 1830.

While Doniphan was building a reputation for himself in Missouri, he met the newly traveling missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He met Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer Jr., Ziba Peterson, and Parley P. Pratt. This group of missionaries were traveling to Independence, Missouri to teach the Native American on the border of the United States. At the time, Independence was the furthest westward settlement in the United States.

Meeting this group of early missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints influenced Alexander Doniphan decisions in many of the Missouri conflicts. Soon after meeting the missionary group, Alexander Doniphan employed Peter Whitmer to make a suit for him. This relationship with the Latter-day Saints brought Doniphan the most attention, more than all his other cases.

When the Latter-day Saints started moving to Missouri the clash between the Missourians and the Latter-day Saints happened quickly. The Latter-day Saints were vocal about building a Zions society and believed Missouri to be the land of Zion, this worried the Missourians. The Latter-day Saints were also vocal about their opposition to slavery and this did not sit well with the Missourians. Contention between the two groups grew and the problems began. Doniphan believed the problems were more from the North vs South than religious persecution.

With the escalations of conflict came stolen and vandalized properties. The Saints were sometimes run out of their homes. In some cases the conflict escalated to rape and murder. The members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sought help from the persecution they faced. They went to the Government first and were directed to private courts. The Saints contacted four lawyers, Alexander Doniphan, David Rice Atchison, William T. Wood and Amos Reese, who were willing to take their cases. These four lawyers were willing to take the case only because they saw dollar signs coming from the persecuted Saints. The lawyers charged them 250$ each for a total of 1,000$. This is the amount of almost 27,000$ today in 2024. The desperate Saints agreed.

Alexander Doniphan was a young newlywed at the time, he had married Elizabeth Jane Thornton, when she was seventeen years old in 1837. The two were only married a year when conflict broke out between the Latter-day Saints and the Missourians.

On October 31, 1838 Joseph Smith was betrayed by the fellow Latter-day Saint, George Hinkle. Hinkle was a leader of the Caldwell County Mormon Militia. He has since become known at the "Benedict Arnold" of Church History. From this betrayal Joseph Smith and his friends were condemned to death. Alexander Doniphan was given the orders to kill Joseph and his friends and Doniphan refused. Joseph and his friends were sent to Liberty Jail.

Joseph Smith felt that Doniphan, and the other lawyers were working for the mob, and his theory was reinforced when Doniphan billed Joseph 5,000$ for his representation, which is the equivalent of 170,000$ today in 2024. The Saints deeded their land over to Doniphan to pay the bill, and Joseph told him the land of Jackson county is under condemnation from God.

Years later, Doniphan went on to defend Porter Rockwell, the bodyguard of Joseph Smith. Porter was accused of attempted murder of Governor Boggs in Missouri. Porter Rockwell was also confined to the same Liberty Jail where Joseph and his friends were imprisoned years earlier. Rockwell served nine months in Liberty Jail. Porter Rockwell asked for Alexander Doniphan to be his lawyer, Doniphan tried to refuse, but the Judge insisted Doniphan would represent Rockwell. Rockwell did an excellent job defending Rockwell, and charges were dropped for the attempted murder, and only required to serve five minutes for the attempted jailbreak. Doniphan did an excellent job defending Porter Rockwell and it was through his skills that Rockwell was released.

In 1846, years after the Saints had left Missouri, Doniphan was requested to help in the the Mexican-American war. Doniphan, again, met up with Latter-day Saints, when the group known as the "Mormon Battalion" marched into his area. Doniphan celebrated the "Mormon Battallion" when they marched into camp, showing the group appreciation for their efforts to fight for the United States while the Saints were being run out of Nauvoo. From Doniphans efforts in the war he was named a hero, many attribute it to the effortts of Doniphans negotiating skills that New Mexico and Arizona are in the United States today.

In 1860, Doniphan was known as one of the richest men in Missouri. He was worth 40,000 in real estate wealth and 6,000 in personal wealth.

Doniphan went on to fight for the South in the Civil War. Doniphan thought Abraham Lincoln was a man of "no intelligence". The war ruined Doniphan financially.

The Civil War left Doniphans land, deeded to him by the Saints, worthless. He had to borrow money from friends to pay off creditors He believed this was predicted by the Prophet Joseph Smith.

In his last years of life Doniphan moved from Liberty to Richmond. There he founded a bank and served as president of that bank.

Doniphan defended David Whitmer when rumors circulated that he had denied his testimony of the gold plates.

Doniphan died at age 79, in 1887. He is buried in Liberty Missouri, next to his wife and sons.


"Alexander Doniphan, courageous defender and friend of the Saints" by Susan Easton Black

Alexander Doniphan Historical Marker

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram