Danites..The first American secret society to be called by this name was organized on March 30, 1836, at Kirtland, Ohio, by Joseph Smith of the Mormon church, who claimed to have had a special revelation in Aug., 1833, directing him to take such a step to prevent, or at least to avenge, any further expulsion of Mormons from Missouri by mobs. The society was at first known as the Daughters of Zion. Later it took the name of the Destroying Angels, and still later it was known as the Big Fan, whose duty was to "separate the chaff from the wheat." Every member of the organization took an oath to obey the prophet and first presidency of the Mormon church, though the church subsequently denied the existence of such a society, or if it did exist it was not countenanced by the church. Among the deeds of blood committed by the Mormon Danites or Destroying Angels was the notorious Mountain Meadows massacre. In the Lincoln-Douglas campaign of 1858 the name Danites was given by the Douglas Democrats to the administration or Buchanan Democrats as upholding the Utah rebellion.
Wilder's Annals of Kansas (p. 91) says that in 1855 a free-state secret society was organized at Lawrence, and that this society was known by different names, such as Defenders, Regulators and Danites. Holloway's History of Kansas (p. 203) states that "The invasions of the 30th of March and the continued threatening and armed demonstrations of the Missourians suggested to the free-state men some kind of military organization for self defense. Accordingly a secret order of a military character was introduced (the Kansas Legion), similar to the Blue Lodge of Missouri, with this exceptionits object was solely defensive, while that of the latter was offensive. Its design was to labor by all lawful means to make Kansas a free state, and to protect the ballot box from invasion. There was nothing wrong in the society itself, nor in its object, or means employed to attain that object. It never extended far over the territory. There were, however, several 'encampments' at different places. It was secret in character, and the members took an obligation in accordance with the nature and design of the society. It was found to be too cumbersome and unwieldy, and soon fell into disuse. Many of the members became dissatisfied with its unnecessary obligations to secrecy. Its cumbersome machinery was never put into practical operation."
Gihon, in his Geary and Kansas, says the "largest and most respectable portion of the free-state party condemned the Kansas Legion and took no part in its operations," and Cutler's History of Kansas (p. 474) gives the following account of the Danites: "In 1855 an association was formed by certatin[sic] disaffected parties in Doniphan for the purpose of opposing obnoxious laws. This body was known as the Danites; Patrick Laughlin (q. v.), a tinsmith of the town, joined this society, but on becoming aware of its full purpose became disgusted and openly proclaimed all of its secrets," and then, after describing how the Danites tried to wreak vengeance on the traitor, concludes the account by saying, "This was the end of the Danites."
From the statement in Holloway's History of Kansas, that Laughlin published the ritual of the Kansas Legion in the Squatter Sovereign, it is evident that the Danites mentioned by Cutler and the Kansas Legion were one. When that ritual was published the pro-slavery press of the country devoted columns of space to the injustice and unrighteousness of the organization, and Stephen A. Douglas, on the floor of the United States senate, denounced it as a "monster of iniquity."
All the historians above quoted are in error in the statement that the society did not last long, and that it was of a defensive character only. In the archives of the Kansas Historical Society the writer found several cipher dispatches sent by one "encampment" to another, and letters of complaint to the governor, all dated in 1858. From these documents it is learned that Lodge No. 1 was at Lawrence; No. 4 was at Council City; No. 6 was at Topeka; there were also lodges in Osage and Brown counties, and there was a lodge in Buchanan county, Mo. Officers went by number instead of name, the only despatch signed by any one's real name being one from Lodge No. 4, under date of March 27, 1858, and addressed to "4141." It reads as follows:
"Sir: There is business of the greatest importance now transpiring here and I would like it much if you would come with the utmost dispatch and bring 50 men with you. You will go to the president of the association treasury and draw as much money as you think will pay the expense, but that will not be much, as you will be traveling through thickly settled places. Bring two pieces of artillery and the ammunition and baggage wagons.
"Gen'l. J. H. Lane"
From this communication it may be seen that Gen. Lane was prominent in the society, and the tone of the despatch indicates that the Danites were about to inaugurate an offensive campaign of some kind, as artillery, ammunition and baggage wagons constitute some of the paraphernalia of an aggressive movement. Another despatch, dated May 27, 1858, is somewhat more mysterious in its character. It reads:
"To Capts. 4141, 17923, 769:
"You are hereby requested to take a minute description of your company, the names, numbers and ability, and every [thing] relative thereto, and immediately transmit the same to the undersigned, as it is confidently expected that we will soon commence active operations. You will strictly observe these orders.
One of the despatches in the archives is wholly in figures, incapable of translation, but all are dated some time in the year 1858. None of them throws any light on the subject that tends to show when the Danites were organized or when they were disbanded. Nor do any of the documents bear out Holloway's suggestion that the society was organized purely for defense.
Another evidence that the Danites were still in existence as late as 1858 is found in Gov. Denver's message to the legislature on Jan. 4 of that year, when he said: "I have been informed that an organization exists in this territory, similar to what is said to be the Danite organization among the Mormons. It is asserted that the members are bound, by the most solemn oaths and obligations, to resist the laws, take the lives of their fellow citizens, or commit any other act of violence they may he directed to do by their leaders."
The governor expressed himself as loath to believe that such an order existed, but if so it was a fit subject for legislative investigation. On Feb. 12, 1858, more than a month after this message was delivered, John R. Boyd, a resident of Doniphan, wrote to the governor from St. Joseph, Mo., complaining that he had been assaulted the previous Saturday by "a set of unprincipled rowdies, claiming to be free-state men, but answering more correctly to the secret order alluded to in your excellency's message to the legislative assembly." The despatches now in the hands of the Historical Society were forwarded to the governor on July 12, 1858, by a man named Dougherty, to convince him that an organization such as mentioned in his message really did exist. That is the last authentic information to be gleaned regarding the Danites, and the society no doubt ceased to exist with the ascendancy of the free-state men, because the conditions that led to its establishment had also ceased to exist.Page 491-493 from volume I of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed May 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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