Alexander Doniphan returned to Ray County for an evening
Alexander Doniphan provided some insight into his life and times during the Annual Meeting of the Ray County Historic Society on January 27, 2011.
Troy Millsap portrayed one of Ray County's greatest historical figures, General Alexander Doniphan.
Doniphan was a founder/trustee of William Jewell College in 1849 and served three separate terms representing Clay County in the legislature during the years of 1836, 1840 and 1854.
Millsap, an actor with the Corbin Theater in Liberty, has spent two years preparing to portray Alexander Doniphan.
He became interested in Doniphan through Juarenne Hester, the president of the Corbin Theater group.
Hester loves Alexander Doniphan and is very disturbed by the fact that Liberty promotes Frank and Jesse James and not Doniphan.
He said she's disturbed by the fact that people drive down 152 Hwy. and see Alexander Doniphan Highway and not have an inkling why that is or go by Lake Doniphan and not know why it bears that name.
She asked him to consider portraying Alexander Doniphan and Millsap is glad he took on the role.
"He has become a hero of mine just for what he's done," Millsap said.
In presenting himself as Alexander William Doniphan, Millsap notes Doniphan's influence in history as a lawyer, soldier, and statesman.
"It's wonderful to return to Richmond," Doniphan said to his audience. "I was able to spend the last two decades or so of my life here and I will talk about that a little bit.
"Believe this or not, since the 1800's this town has changed just a little bit.
"It is humbling to be before you this evening to speak on my life. And the fact that you may be interested is humbling and instills in me a deep sense of gratification that perhaps something that I've done is being remembered in this day and age."
Doniphan was born in Mason County, Kentucky to Joseph and Anne (Smith) Doniphan, natives of Virginia, who later relocated to Kentucky.
"My father was a member of Mr. Daniel Boone's party as he explored Kentucky," Doniphan said.
He entered Augusta College at age 14 and was graduated in 1824. He was admitted to the bar in 1830.
"It is my understanding that my views are of interest to some around. Politics. Political views are shaped by our experiences with our family and by our education.
I was raised to believe that the power and strength of our country was in our Constitution. A Constitution that guaranteed the supremacy of the people over the power of the privileged elite.
"That belief was, to the minds of my family, my teachers and myself, the cornerstone of our American society. The views of those early and persistent teachers influenced me in many ways.
"I believe it is true as said by Harry Brome, that education of the people makes them easy to lead, but difficult to drive. Easy to govern, but impossible to enslave."
When he was 21 years old, the new lawyer made his way up the Missouri River to Lexington where he began his law practice in 1829. In 1833, he moved to Liberty, and began a 30 year practice of law. Doniphan was always a defense lawyer.
"Through my law practice, I was elected to the state legislature. It was during my first term in office that I became acquainted with a fellow legislator by the name of Col. John Thornton.
"Through meeting Col. John Thornton I met his eldest daughter, who would soon become the love of my life. The beautiful Elizabeth Jane Thornton."
Doniphan married Elizabeth Jane Thornton in 1838 and fathered two sons.
"It is with a heavy heart that I give you a glimpse into both the greatest joys and the greatest tragedies of my life. The fullest expression of the love between Elizabeth and I was the birth of our sons. Our first son John Thornton was born on September 18, 1838. A second son Alexander William Junior was born September 10, 1840. Both boys grew up strong, intelligent, and possessed an intelligence that surprised even me, their proud father."
Both boys died before their 18th birthdays.
During John Thorton's funeral, Elizabeth suffered a stroke and never fully recovered. She became an invalid and Doniphan made the heart-wrenching decision to send her to New York where doctors could care for her.
Without his family, Doniphan focused on becoming a defense lawyer.
"Always a defense lawyer," he said." Remember the Constitution is always there to protect us. That's why I fought for the defense . . . always.
"This sometimes led me into difficult situations."
"I am perhaps best known, perhaps most disliked, perhaps most liked, depending on who you ask, for my dealings with the Mormons. Let me say from the beginning, I did not deal with the Mormons because I believed as they did. I did not deal with the Mormons because I believed they were right. No, they had their rights, the Constitution that guarantees each of us the rights had to be applied to all. The law does not apply just to those we like, if we are to succeed at all, if the system is to work just for us it has to apply to all mankind."
By 1838, Doniphan had been elected to the rank of brigadier general in the Missouri state militia.
The group of Mormons had gotten into a fight with a small group of militia and one member of the militia was killed. By the time the story got back to Missouri Gov. Boggs, the entire regiment had been wiped out. So Gov. Boggs issued an order to go forth and exterminate the Mormons.
"I managed to arrive with my militia and I had a meeting with Joseph Smith. I convinced him not to fight the increasingly violent battle, but to give himself up, to get a trial, and to trust as I did in our system that demanded that all rights be respected.
So Joseph Smith surrendered and was arrested. Tensions died down a little while.
"This is where most people remember me. Gen. Samuel D. Lucas wanted to make an example. He asked me to - that's parlay for ordered me to - escort Joseph Smith and six other men who were prisoners to take them to Far West, the Mormon settlement, and at 9 a.m. in the morning executed.
"He said they had been court-martialed for treason. They had not been in the Army. How can you court-martial a man who had not been in the Army?
"No, I refused. I replied to him. I said it is cold blooded murder. I will not obey your order. At eight o'clock in the morning my brigade will march for Liberty. If you execute these men, I will hold you responsible before an earthly tribunal. So help me God.
"I think it sounded much better on horseback."
"I took a big risk. I could've been executed myself for refusing to follow that order. I was in the military. But I could not execute a man who had given himself over to our law. Not without fair trial.
"Well, my commanding officer had no stomach for the action either, eventually releasing Smith or arranging for his escape.
"The Mormons however, saw the writing on the wall and left heading west for Utah."
In 1846, at the beginning of the Mexican-American War, Doniphan enlisted in the 1st Missouri Mounted Volunteers. He was elected colonel.
"I had no training in warfare.
Gen. Stephen Kearny gave him books which he read on horseback over miles and miles of Kansas and miles and miles of Colorado.
Doniphan lead his men on the march to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
"Every one wants to know about the action, so let me tell you about the action.
"Our first fight was fought just north of El Paso, Texas. This came to be known as the Battle of the Brazito. Since it was Christmas, I had given the men the day off.
"We had not seen Mexicans this whole time but on Christmas, we saw a scouting party of Mexicans and I ordered all 850 of my men to prepare for battle."
The Mexican army totaled about 1100 men.
"I told my men to hold their fire," Doniphan said. "The Mexicans were about 400 yards out and they began firing at us with old British guns. Those old British guns weren't effective until about 40 yards.
"At 400 yards we see the powder smoke flare and I yell out, 'fall down' - ordering my men to fall as each volley is fired. One or two here and one or two there.
"At 300 yards, again the Mexicans stopped and fired. I yelled, 'fall down some more'. A few more men fell down.
"At 200 yards, the Mexicans fired again. This time I could hear the balls flying over our heads. Again, I yelled and more fall down. By the time the Mexicans get to within 60 yards, they think they've done a very fine job.
"Suddenly my men resurrected. Jumping up, taking aim and with that Missouri pride and ability with our guns, raised havoc with the Mexican army. You can imagine how the Mexicans felt: "we're winning, we're winning. No we're not.
"They ran. We defeated them at Brazitos. They abandoned their howitzers and their cannons. Which we took."
After this battle, Doniphan's men set out on a long March, over 300 miles to reinforce General Cook to defend the state of Texas.
The Battle of the Sacramento River was fought in February 1847. Doniphan's forces overcame about 5,000 Mexican Soldiers and captured the city.
"We were able to take that entire area in about an hour. Nine hundred Missouri men to 4,000 Mexican soldiers and militiamen.
"They lost hundreds of dead. We captured 40 that didn't run away.
"We lost two," Doniphan said. "I think my boys knew how to fight."
After marching to the Gulf of Mexico and returning through New Orleans and back home by boat, the famous Doniphan Expedition came to an end one year after it began.
They had marched or traveled by boat about 5000 miles. It is said that Doniphan's march was the longest march in military history since Alexander the Great.
"Upon our arrival in New Orleans we were able to buy our clothes on credit. We had not been paid in a year. Word of our victory and our accomplishments and spread through New Orleans and the clothiers and shop owners were willing to advance us credit.
"Once we had mustered out officially and received of our pay, I went back to check with all the shopkeepers before we left. Do you know that not one member of the Missouri First Mounted Volunteers left a debt in New Orleans. Regardless of how much they spent, regardless of how much they bought, and perhaps a few stops along the way at Tavern, each man made it back to the businesses and paid the debts. Not a small thing to be proud of with any man after that long march.
"Victory is always met with celebration. Upon our arrival word had already reached everyone of what we had done and what we'd accomplished. We were greeted with parties every night in New Orleans. We were invited to dinners, dances, galas, celebratory moments. Then we get on the steamboats and sailed up that beautiful, glorious, Mississippi River. And every stop along the way there's another party, another celebration.
"And then we get to St. Louis. In St. Louis it became, 'the boys are home'.
"While we were there they introduced us to grand dinners, to picnics with barbecue. They introduced us to something else that I have to say I'm very proud of. This rag tag group of men were honored with a song that has been written for them. It was a march. They played it for us. It was a stirring, grand piece of music. It was in honor of these men who performed so unflinchingly.
"I was truly honored and touched to have a piece named, Doniphan's March.
"My affection for these gallant men would influence my decisions in the future. I might add that is no small bit of pride that fills my heart with, what at that time, was the longest military expedition not done by regular army units. It was done by the men of the First Missouri Mounted. They don't like to mention that part in the history books often enough."
In 1849 Doniphan and others from Clay County, managed to secure the establishment of a new college in Liberty, named William Jewell College, begun by the Baptists in Missouri.
The Baptists were looking to build the college and they were arguing to locate this college in Boonville on already developed land.
"We were able to convince Dr. Jewell that his $10,000 investment might be better served in Liberty and by selling subscriptions to supporters of the school."
It was the first four-year college west of the Mississippi River.
Doniphan was a moderate in the events leading up to the American Civil War. He opposed secession and favored neutrality for Missouri. Although a slaveholder, Doniphan advocated the gradual elimination of slavery.
"I was offered the generalship by a group of Missourians who were for the Confederacy. They asked me to serve and take Missourians into the war.
"I couldn't do that. I believed in the union. I believed in our Constitution. We must stay together. I would not lead Missourians into battle. I would not fire upon Missourians either.
"I met President Lincoln and he offered me the Generalship of the entire Army of the Potomac. I told him I would not accept that honor either. It wound up going to some general by the name of Grant. I think it turned out all right for them.
"It was a bloody period. This period most everybody knows. I lived in St. Louis during that war, working continually to keep Missouri safe. We never did secede though many of our people did fight on both sides.
"After the war I retired here, back in western Missouri, here in Richmond.
"I set up my practice of law in Richmond, I began banking here in Richmond, I live here in Richmond, eventually settling into a hotel.
"And I did what most elder statesmen do. I wrote letters to my family. I traveled and visited old friends.
"As you know, eventually all good things come to an end and it was so it with me.
"I thank you for the opportunity to come tell you a little bit about the life I was able to live and I am so humbly yours, Alexander Doniphan."