Jacob Hawn was one of the first settlers along Shoal Creek in northwestern Missouri. He built a mill and called the settlement Hawn’s Mill; it was about a day’s walk from the large Latter-day Saint center in Far West. Hawn was not a member of the Church, but he was friendly with the group of Latter-day Saints who settled near his mill in the late 1830s.
On October 30, 1838, as part of the escalating violence that drove early Saints out of the state of Missouri, a company of rogue militiamen attacked the Saints at Hawn’s Mill. While women and most children from the settlement hid in the woods, a group of Latter-day Saint men and boys sought shelter in the blacksmith’s shop. The attackers surrounded the shop and shot repeatedly through the gaps between the roughly hewn log walls, killing both those inside the shop and those who attempted to surrender. After the initial attack, they dragged out several young boys who had hidden under the blacksmith’s bellows and shot them execution style. Seventeen Latter-day Saints were killed and another 12 to 15 were wounded.
Willard G. Smith, a 12-year-old who tried to enter the blacksmith shop for safety with his father and two younger brothers but who was miraculously prevented from doing so when both of his arms flew up and braced themselves against the entrance. Those who entered the shop perished.
Later, Willard gave aid to an old man who had been wounded and who later died. Willard helped six little girls escape into the woods.