Which Missourian has the most important and compelling story that people generally just don’t know?
Steve Potter has an idea on that.
Potter, library director and CEO of the Mid-Continent Public Library, suggests it’s Alexander W. Doniphan, the 19th-century attorney, state legislator and military officer who, among other things, played a crucial role in saving the lives of Joseph Smith Jr. and others during the Mormon War in 1838.
“We need more people like Alexander Doniphan,” Potter writes in his “From the Director” blog at the library.
Now the library, which has begun publishing books of local and regional interest, is setting out to compile a book about Doniphan’s life, the times in which he lived and his lasting mark on his country. It will be crowdsourced – send what you have to firstname.lastname@example.org – and then published by the library’s Woodneath Press.
“If all goes to plan, we’ll have a book to share with you” about this time next year, Potter said Tuesday in announcing the project.
He also says there are similar stories out there across the state and that he hopes this serves as a model for similar projects as Missouri gets ready to celebrate its bicentennial in 2021.
Doniphan is notable in many ways. He was a well-known defense attorney in Lexington and then Liberty. Though not a Baptist, he helped establish William Jewell College. Though not a Mormon, he defended them in court and, most famously, as a brigadier general in the State Militia, flatly refused an order to execute Smith and other Mormon leaders during the fevered and violent anger directed at Mormons. He was a driving force behind the Platte Purchase, which added what are today six counties in northwest Missouri. He led men on the march on Santa Fe during the War with Mexico in 1846-47.
Speakers at an event Tuesday night at the Truman Library, with an award in Doniphan’s name, said he could have cashed in on his record in the War with Mexico – as others did – to run for president, but he didn’t. When the Civil War came, both sides wanted him as a general. He said no. He moved to St. Louis and worked with the Missouri Claims Commission to get pensions for people made refugees by the war.
Those are the highlights. Now the library is asking people to help fill out the story. What do they know of Doniphan and his family? Of how things were in those days? Of what Doniphan’s story means today?
“I think,” Potter said, “this is going to be a great, great project.”