Mountain Meadows Massacre

Mountain Meadows Massacre

I was at the library looking for the newest book about this event and wouldn’t you know it, they were all checked out.  New books on controversial subjects sometimes have that effect.

I have read this book before and chose to read it again to refresh my memory of some of what has been written in preparation for reading the new book.

This is a difficult subject, mostly because it illuminates the darker sides of human behavior, mob mentality, and a war time footing that can excite people to action when it is not warranted.

Juanita Brooks does a good job of treating the subject even handedly and does not play a lot of the blame game.  Part of the difficulty is the incompleteness of the records available to point fingers and name names.  Out of necessity, much of the work is based on John D. Lee’s account of what happened, who made the decisions and who was at fault.

For those of you not familiar with the story, here is a brief synopsis of the event.  

In 1857, a wagon train hailing from Missourri was headed to California via the Old Spanish Trail through Utah.  The emigrants had some friction with the local people but had managed to move along unscathed down through Cedar City.  The Mormon Church was informed that a detachment of the U.S. Army was on its way to Utah to put down a rebellion.  There were a number of religious revival type meetings for a “rally ’round the flag” effect to unite the people in their religious beliefs, values, and in preparation for the coming war.   At this fever pitch, Brigham Young had a meeting with the indian chiefs in the territory to discuss the need for their help in the coming hostilities.  So the indians were encouraged in a measure to fight against non-mormons.  

These various forces came to a head when the wagon train was attacked by indians south and east of Cedar City, the mormon local authorities were informed of the problem and the emigrants dug in for a seige for the time being.  The local militia was dispatched (many say to help bury, not create the dead) and after some heated discussion, regret, and tears, the settlers were led out of their fortifications by white men on a promise of truce and protection where all but the young children in the group were killed by the militia members and indians.  It is well documented that the impending action was brought to the intention of Brigham Young and that his order to let them go was not received until it was too late.

This synopsis of course does not include all of the details, but it gives a fairly accurate portrayal of the event.

After the event, two people were excommunicated, one was brought back into the church, and the other one was put on trial twice, convicted the second time and then executed.  John D. Lee was the scape goat of the Old Testament variety in Leviticus 16.   He was sent into the wilderness to bear off the sins of the people responsible for the event.

Juanita Brooks portrayal of Lee is sympathetic and shows him to be the final victim of the Massacre.  He was there, he took part, but wept bitterly about it and was following military orders that came from the local priesthood and military authority.  Part of the difficulty at the time was to keep peace with the indians where the settlers where greatly outnumbered and lived there by the grace of the indians.  This issue is explored in some detail and Brooks does a good job of fleshing out many questions, ideas, and reasons for the event.

Another thing the book covers is the cover up.  There is no doubt that Brigham Young was aware of who some of the decision makers were and it was a calculated decision to put the blame on John D. Lee.

As a result of this book, John D. Lee had his priesthood and temple blessings restored (postumously) by the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  

It will be interesting to see if anything new is revealed comes in the new book this year.

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