Alexander W. Doniphan

Alexander William Doniphan

Alexander William Doniphan (July 9, 1808August 8, 1887) was a noted 19th century American politician and soldier.

Early life

Doniphan was born in Mason County, Kentucky to Joseph and Anne (Smith) Doniphan, natives of Virginia. He graduated from Augusta College in 1824, and was admitted to the bar in 1830. He began his law practice in Lexington, Missouri. Doniphan soon moved to Liberty, Missouri, where he was a successful lawyer. He served in the state legislature in 1836, 1840, and 1854, representing the Whig Party.

Military career

By 1838, Doniphan had been elected to the rank of brigadier general in the Missouri state militia. Leading a force of state troops, he arrested Joseph Smith, the prophet and founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, and other church leaders and ordered them to leave Missouri. However, he disobeyed his orders to execute Smith and prevented vigilante forces from harming any of the Mormon leaders.

In 1846, at the beginning of the Mexican-American War Doniphan became colonel of the 1st Regiment of Missouri Mounted Volunteers, and served in several campaigns, including Stephen W. Kearny's capture of Santa Fe and an invasion of northern Mexico. His men won the Battle of El Brazito (outside modern day El Paso, Texas) and again at the Battle of the Sacramento, enabling the capture of the city of Chihuahua.

Return to civilian life

After the Mexican-American War, Doniphan was appointed by General Kearny to write a code of civil laws (known as the “Kearny code”) in both English and Spanish. It was to be used in the lands annexed from Mexico.

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. This was in response to proposals of the Republican Party to make emancipation immediate, without compensation to the slaveowners or any preparation of the slaves for life as free men.

Doniphan attended a Peace Conference at Washington D. C. in February 1861, but returned home frustrated at its inability to solve the crisis. He was offered a colonel's commission in the Missouri State Guard, but turned it down. He was also offered high rank in the Union Army, but refused to fight against the South. In 1863 he moved to St. Louis and remained there for the rest of the war.

In the late 1860s, Doniphan re-opened his law office in Richmond, Missouri, where he died at the age of 79. He is buried in Fairview Cemetery in Liberty under an obelisk.

Doniphan had married Elizabeth Jane Thornton in 1838 and fathered two sons, neither of whom lived past age 18.


  • Doniphan County, Kansas was created and named for him in 1855. So is the town of Doniphan, Missouri.
  • Alexander Doniphan is honored by the Mormons for saving the life of Joseph Smith and other early church leaders.
  • The American Legion Boys State of Missouri named Doniphan City one of their divisions in his honor.
  • Doniphan Drive, in El Paso, is named for Doniphan, from the Battle of El Brazito fought near the city.
  • Missouri Highway 152 is named in his honor, Alexander Doniphan Hwy.
  • Camp Doniphan was a set up during the buildup of the Army for World War I next to Fort Sill, outside of Lawton, Oklahoma.

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