Saturday, September 19, 2009

Gallatin, Missouri, Part 3

Gallatin, Missouri, has some serious history. For one thing, Gallatin is where Frank James (brother of Jesse) was put on trial for an 1881 train robbery during which two individuals were killed. Former Confederate General Joseph Shelby testified on his behalf, and in this trial James was acquitted. Which was no big shocker, given the Civil War politics of this part of the state.

Gallatin is also famous for having one of the few remaining, operational rotary jails—called “squirrel cage jails”—a rotating cylinder with a pie-shaped cell for each inmate. National Register of Historic Places.

But the biggest historical significance attached to Gallatin is that it is the second official address for the human race! It turns out the Garden of Eden, the very birthplace of our species, wasn’t far from here (it was in present-day Independence, in Jackson County); and in fact an area just north of Gallatin, called Adam-ondi-Ahman, is where Adam and Eve resided after their expulsion from the Garden.

Well, that is what the Mormons believe. With their prophet Joseph Smith’s direction, they settled in the area in 1838, and their numbers grew rapidly. On August 6, they attempted to vote in the town of Gallatin but were confronted by about 200 non-Mormons. The ensuing brawl and skirmish is seen as the event that started the Mormon War in Missouri.

I think we can all agree that this was not exactly one of Missouri’s proudest moments. But I guess you can see why the non-Mormons were worried: The Mormons were starting to outnumber them, and they were wanting to vote. They kept to themselves and didn’t mix very well with the non-Mormons. They had different political ideas, came from a different part of the country. Not to mention how downright weird their religious beliefs must have seemed. Frankly, they were viewed as a cult.

So the Latter-Day Saints were driven out of the state and ultimately found their homeland out West, in Utah. But they still believe that Adam-ondi-Ahman is where Adam, the first human, lived and died and where he will appear again to meet with humanity at the end of time.

So it’s a big deal, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints owns the land in this area. It is clear that bus tours come here. And there are fences preventing you from traipsing through this sacred ground, but well-marked gravel roads lead to clean picnic areas, parking spots, and viewpoints that have interpretive signs telling about the history of the area and the Mormon settlement.

It’s an incredibly peaceful place, and there is very little trash about. I suspect someone from the church comes out regularly and picks up litter, just like you would pick up trash from the grounds of a church. It’s that clean.

And yeah, when you see a place, and you know that it is holy ground to somebody, you can’t help but be awed by it. It is a large, beautiful valley bordered by the Grand River and by hills sacred to the Mormons.

Once the Mormons were expelled, the Missourians who disliked them renamed the area “Cravensville.” And certainly the Mormons do take a lot of ribbing about their beliefs. Even Robert Ramsay, in his scholarly, neutral-toned book Our Storehouse of Missouri Place Names, writes amusedly about it, recalling Mark Twain’s quest throughout the Holy Land in Innocents Abroad to locate the tomb of Adam: “Had he known all the treasures of his native State, he might have spared himself the labor of journeying so far to weep over the sepulchre of his earliest ancestor. Apparently he was quite unaware that the historic spot had already been identified and located in his own Missouri.”

One of the people I spoke to in Gallatin (a non-Mormon) had told us that the Mormons who take care of the Adam-ondi-Ahman property might make us feel “watched,” and we got the idea that we might be made to feel like undesirables—but we didn’t experience anything that made us feel uncomfortable.

I’m sure that the Mormons do keep a close eye on people who look like they might be visiting the site to make fun of it (or worse). I mean, if you had the history that they do in this area, wouldn’t you keep watch, too?

But if you’re in the area, I encourage you to visit Adam-ondi-Ahman and reflect on its history; among the many themes to contemplate here are the expulsion of Adam and Eve from their Garden, and the expulsion of Latter-Day Saints from the many settlements they built, and from the state, here in this nation where we cherish our Freedom of Religion.

1 comment:

Historic Gallatin said...

This is a well written and sensitive post -- and great pictures too. Adam-ondi-Ahman is a beautiful spot in a beautiful state. Definitely worth a visit. Thanks for telling people about it.