Where is the Garden of Eden? Why the LDS owns over 3,000 acres in Missouri

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The handpainted ceramic tiles show Adam and Even in Garden Eden and dates back to 1761. It was created by Leonardo Chiaiese.

DAVIESS COUNTY, Mo. – Religions around the world have their holy sites and their practitioners hold these places in high esteem. For some faiths, it is not uncommon for adherents to participate in pilgrimages to a holy city or site.

For Christians and Jews, it’s Jerusalem; for Muslims, it’s Mecca. The Buddhists have four revered places: Bodh Gaya, Lumbini, Sarnath, and Kushinagar. The holy city of the Hindu faith is Varanasi, located along the banks of the Ganges River in India.

Each holy site or city carries important historical or spiritual significance. Where did this prophet go? Was there a vision of God or a higher authority at this location?

The Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) share belief in the existence of Eden (also called Jannah by Muslims), the garden of paradise where Adam and Eve lived with God before their expulsion. The location of a historical Eden is a matter of debate among religious scholars.

One religion contends the Show Me State is home not only to the Garden of Eden but the site where Adam and Eve spent the rest of their days after being cast out of paradise.

Joseph Smith Jr., the founder of Mormonism and the Latter Day Saints, believed and taught that the Garden of Eden was located in or near Independence, Missouri, and that Adam and Eve ultimately came to reside in Daviess County some 70 miles away.

Missouri carries a bloody bullet point in the history of Mormonism. After founding the religion in New York in the 1820s, Joseph Smith Jr. spent time in Pennsylvania and Ohio before moving to the frontier in western Missouri in 1838.

Smith had visited Missouri in the early 1830s and became convinced of Eden’s location in Jackson County. However, the modern Church of Latter Day Saints acknowledges there is no “primary source documentation for all of Joseph Smith’s revelations or doctrinally related declarations” regarding this claim. Mormons migrated to Jackson County, Missouri to be around this proclaimed holy site.

Over the years, tensions between the growing Mormon population and older settlers resulted in the Latter Day Saints being driven from the area. They relocated to an area south of Jameson, Missouri in Daviess County. One of Smith’s early apostles, Lyman Wight, had settled in Daviess near the Grand River and built a home and ferry. Smith visited Wight’s land and claimed to have received a vision of Adam and Eve living there after being expelled from Eden.

Smith renamed the land Adam-ondi-Ahman and declared it would be the future gathering place of the righteous before the end times. He proclaimed the site would be a Mormon settlement. By the summer of 1838, the population of the community grew to 1,500 Mormons and there was discussion of building a temple as well. Those plans would not come to fruition.

As had happened before in Jackson County, the non-Mormon residents in Daviess County came to resent the LDS migrants, fearing they would take political office and seize power. This time, some Mormons had formed their own group to stand up to any militia assembled against the LDS.

The tensions built to a head at the local elections on Aug. 6, 1838. Anti-Mormons in Gallatin attempted to prevent the Mormons from voting and claimed they didn’t have the right to cast a ballot, spurring fights that ignited the 1838 Mormon War.

Over the next three months, Mormons and anti-Mormons would raid and pillage one another’s property.

In October, Joseph Smith and other leaders gathered on a bluff at Adam-ondi-Ahman to dedicate the site of the future temple. On Oct. 24, armed LDS members attacked a unit of the Missouri state militia. Though the Mormons declared victory that day, the fighting claimed the lives of 3 Mormons and one member of the militia.

Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs, incensed after learning of the Mormon incursion and the battle, issued Executive Order 44 on Oct. 27, ordering all Mormons to leave the state within 10 days or be killed.

“The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace—their outrages are beyond all description,” Boggs wrote to Gen. John B. Clark. “If you can increase your force, you are authorized to do so to any extent you may consider necessary.”

On Oct. 30, a mob and militia attacked a Mormon settlement in Caldwell County, trapping several settlers inside a shop and firing into the building. Seventeen Mormons, including three children, were killed and 15 others injured. Four militiamen were wounded as well. The incident came to be known as the Hawn’s Mill Massacre.

It’s unclear if Gov. Boggs’ executive order played a direct role in the massacre. Some historians contend the militia hadn’t received word of the order and were operating on disdain for the Mormons.

However, as a result of the order, Mormon leaders surrendered to state authorities and between 14,000 and 15,000 Mormons fled to Illinois and eastern Iowa. Joseph Smith was among those who surrendered. He was accused of treason and initially sentenced to be executed. However, he was transferred to a jail in Liberty, Missouri to await trial. Smith and his compatriots escaped in spring 1839 and made their way to Illinois to rejoin the flock of Mormons. The reasons for Smith’s escape were never explained. Smith and the Mormons resettled in Nauvoo, Illinois.

Shockingly, Boggs’ “extermination order” remained in place until it was rescinded on June 25, 1976, by Gov. Kit Bond.

But what of Adam-ondi-Ahman and Joseph Smith’s Garden of Eden site in Jackson County? Because there is no official documentation on Eden’s exact whereabouts, the LDS Church’s position is that the Garden of Eden is located somewhere in Jackson County. Temple Lot in Independence is now the headquarters for several sects of the Mormon faith.

Meanwhile, Adam-ondi-Ahman was renamed Cravensville but over the next few decades, the town dwindled and disappeared off the map. Beginning in 1947, members of the LDS Church began purchasing land at the Adam-ondi-Ahman site. As of today, the LDS Church owns and maintains approximately 3,000 acres at the site. Mormons believe Adam blessed his children at the site and former church president Joseph Fielding Smith previously stated Jesus Christ would appear at Adam-ondi-Ahman before the end of the world.

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