Review: Massacre at Mountain Meadows

On September 11, 1857 a band of Mormons in Southern Utah lured a large group of California-bound emigrants from their defensive coral under a white flagged pretense of protection. With local Piutes under their direction, they then slaughtered all but the youngest children. The story of this bitter event has fascinated generations.

June_2008_mmmRonald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley, and Glen M. Leonard, Massacre at Mountain Meadows (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 448 pages. ISBN: 0195160347.

Brad: This, in some ways, is just the latest in a long line of books (many of them quite recent) written on the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857. Historians, journalists, and others have told this story and furnished analysis from a wide variety of angles and perspectives, suggesting a multiplicity of explanations and implications of this devastating tragedy. There is a sense, however, in which this is not just one new take on what we’ve already seen so much of. This is a collaboratively authored work that took the better part of a decade to write. The three authors also relied heavily on collaboration with independent readers, researchers, and editors, so there is a sense in which the finished product is the work of literally hundreds of people. What’s more, all three main authors are practicing LDS who describe themselves as faithful Church members. One of them, Richard Turley, is even the Assistant Church Historian and has worked in various capacities for the Church History department for more than a decade.

According to the many statements and conference presentations the authors have made over the past few years as well as the preface to this volume, the Church has supported this project by providing what they call “full and open disclosure.” Because “[t]horoughness and candor” were governing priorities, the Church granted the authors unfettered access to all relevant documents in its history library and archives, including (wait for it) the archives of the First Presidency. These facts are important and make this book unique for two overarching reasons. First, the authors had unprecedented access to relevant historical materials, as well as the resources to conduct unusually thorough research, a process that extended well beyond the walls of the Church history library. Second, and perhaps more significant (or, at least, more attention grabbing), this work has enormous implications for what the future of Mormon scholarship will entail. Just how free and open is the Church prepared to be when it comes to granting access to sensitive materials to professional, scholarly historians? How candid will a Church-condoned history of Mormonism’s most disturbing, embarassing historical moments actually be? These authors set a task to answer the question: “How could basically good people commit such a terrible atrocity?” How sufficient is their answer? Do they offer more than transparent apologia for the perpetrators of this unthinkably vicious crime or sweeping, knee-jerk indictments of any and all involved and of Mormonism (and, perhaps, religion) itself?

What follows is our take on the issues outlined above, from methodology and source material, to analysis and historical reconstruction, to the larger questions of meaning, culpability, uncritical obedience, and honesty. But before we delve in, I’d just like to say something about the actual writing. This is a surprisingly short and very readable book, especially considering the scope of the project. The authors (no doubt with the help of good readers and ambitious, heavy editing) have put together a gripping narrative, complex yet comprehensible, and brevity has served them well. Last time there was this much anticipation for a Mormon History book, Richard Bushman delievered us just shy of 600 pages. Massacre at Mountain Meadows chimes in at a refreshing 231, plus 4 appendices and endnotes. Very nice.

J. Stapley: Upon receiving the volume, I flipped to the end to find the bibliography. While the proofs that we reviewed did not include one (something that is hopefully rectified in the formal printing), it did have an interesting table of abbreviations for the most common references that is helpful for a review of commonly cited materials. As the introduction indicates, the researchers found or gained access to some very crucial and previously untapped sources: “Among the most significant discoveries in the church’s collections were the field notes of assistant church historian Andrew Jenson, who collected several reminiscent accounts of the massacre in 1892. This discovery, in turn, led to the full collection of Jenson materials in the First Presidency’s archive.” I felt like a prospector who just struck gold. I can’t imagine how the guy in the vault felt. Further, Ron Walker and Richard Turley are preparing the Jenson papers for publication – a hugely important movement for Mormon historiography. A couple of other important sources that I found novel to this volume were Extracts from Jacob Hamblin’s journal, in Jacob Hamblin to Brigham Young, November 13, 1871 in the Young Office Files as well as Jacob Hamblin statement, November 28, 1871, Young Office Files. Hamblin’s journal is available at the Utah State Archives, but it has two sections of pages ripped out. Presumably this communication includes at least some of those missing entries. [UPDATE June 13, 2008 – Brian Reeves at the LDS Church Archives has informed me that Donald R. Moorman with Gene A. Sessions, Camp Floyd and the Mormons: The Utah War (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1992), 137-8 (see also p. 304, notes 65-68) used the Hamblin letter and that, as per the preface of the volume, Moorman likely accessed the material in the 1960’s. The documents were transfered to the Young Office Files in the late seventies or early eighties and were made publicly available in 2000.]

Brad: Yes. I think the Jenson materials are enormously important. The authors clearly rely extensively on them to assemble their narrative. There is another significant source (in addition to the ones you mention) that warrants attention. They revisited all of the minutes from John D. Lee’s trials, and had an expert in the 19th-century shorthands used generate new transcripts. These records also figure prominently in the notes attached to the sections describing the days leading up to the attack on the Fancher party and the massacre itself. Significantly, it seems that all these “new” sources will be made public for other historians and scholars to scrutinize — a major coup for Mormon History nerds like ourselves.

The authors’ reliance on these sources also points up the complicated methodological and analytical problems associated with historical reconstruction of this nature. Observe the following paragraph, a narrative account found on pages 159-60:

Stewart and White backtracked toward Cedar City and eventually found their quarry. The two immigrants were on horseback returning to camp and had paused to let their mounts drink from Little Pinto Creek near Leach’s Spring. Stewart and White approached the unsuspecting men and struck up a conversation. The Mormons learned that one of the immigrants was William Aden, the other the much-talked-of “Dutchman.” Seeing a tin cup attached to Aden’s saddle, Stewart asked to borrow it to get himself a drink. When Aden turned to reach for it, Stewart “shot him through the head, killing him instantly.” The Dutchman “put spurs to his horse and fled,” dodging the bullets fired after him, one of which apparently wounded him. The men at Hamblin’s ranch saw him speed past. So did the besieging Indians, who tried unsuccessfully to bring him down.

The economy of prose here is impressive. Yet the question remains: How did they put together that story? There is one note at the end of the paragraph. The corresponding endnote mentions the following sources: An entry entitled “Ellot Willden” in the Jenson papers from the FP vault (meaning, presumably, a portion of Jenson’s interview with Willden that Jenson did not include in the report he made based on his interviewing); “Lee’s Confession” from an 1877 issue of the Sacramento Daily Record-Union; “Lee’s Last Confession” from an issue of the San Fransisco Daily Bulliten Supplement, also 1877; a repeat mention of the Willden entry in the FP-vault portion of the Jenson papers; an “Ellot Willden” entry in the Jenson’s actual report (not kept in the FP vault); the “Phillip Klingensmith” testimony from the newly recontsructed transcript of Lee’s first trial; and an 1872 interview with John D. Lee by SL Tribune reporter J. H. Beadle.

J. Stapley: More clear are the times when they quote their sources directly. For example, the execution of the Cedar City plan (pg. 140, see also pg. 151-152):

Working through Higbee, Haight first asked Ellott Willden, Josiah Reeves, and possibly Benjamin Arthur to go to the Mountain Meadows, where the emigrants were expected to camp eventually. (64) The three young men were told that the “plan was to…have the Indians ne[a]r to attack on [the] Santa Clara, instead of the civil authorities arresting the offenders in Cedar.” (65) Part of the men’s assignment was “to find occasion or something that would justify the Indians being let loose upon the emigrants.” (66) They were also to get the company “to move on”-and effort to hurry the emigrants into the trap. (67)

64. Ellott Willden, AJ 2; Marry S. Campbell, AJ1; Mary S. Campbell, AJ2; D.W. Tullis, AJ1; Ellott Willden, AJ1; McGlasan; Whitney, 1:699.
65. Ellott Willden, AJ1
66. Ibid.
67. Mary S. Campbell, AJ2; Mary S. Campbell, AJ1.

This excerpt highlights the level of detail that the new sources allow, but also in the absence of bibliographic details, makes me question what the differences in the two Jenson collections actually are. According to an email communication from Richard Turley, “Jenson sometimes expanded from memory on his sometimes cryptic notes in the the subsequent transcripts. He also rearranged information to make it more understandable or omitted details that may have seemed unimportant. Thus to give a complete picture, it is sometimes necessary to cite both the notes and the transcripts.”

Despite the lack of bibliographic clarity, I do not think we could overstate the insight of the new materials. As well as giving the details of the Cedar City plan of attack, the new materials crack open the later decision of the “tan bark council” between Haight and Dame to realize the ultimate slaughter and provide significant evidence for Brigham Young’s contemporary ignorance of the massacre.

Beyond these new sources, the historiography of this volume is quite similar to Brooks (Mountain Meadows Massacre) and Bagley (Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows). Just as Bagley adds to Brooks, this volume tries to fill the quiver. Many times that leads to similar conclusions. Other times, and most obviously in the footnotes, there are large differences. This is especially manifest in the use of Mormonism Unveiled; or The Life and Confessions of the Late Mormon Bishop, John D. Lee (e.g., 71-72, esp. notes 115 and 121). Elsewhere and in an example of the research team’s robust source criticism, the authors show that a critical Haight sermon, which was dated by both Brooks and Bagley to have been given in early September was actually delivered in late July (pg. 131, note 8).

Brad: That Haight sermon is an excellent example. Though we should note, in Bagley’s defense, that the alternate dating is based upon documents to which he did not have access (a letter from William R. Palmeer to Dabney Otis Collins in the “First Presidency, General Administration Files” of the Church History Library).

I’d like to move into another element of what makes this book’s contribution to our understanding of the massacre. The authors engage key theoretical strands in sociological literature on group violence. This is an analytical sphere that closely overlaps portions of my own theoretical training, so I was a bit disappointed in the lack of depth of their engagement. In the end, however, their analysis is not primarily sociological or anthropological. Their most important sources are Roy Baumeister’s Evil: Inside Human Cruelty and Violence, Ervin Staub’s The Roots of Evil: The Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence, and Stanley Tambiah’s Leveling Crowds: Ethnonationalist Conflicts and Collective Violence in South Asia. They also cite Regina Schwartz’s The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy of Monotheism, M. Scott Peck’s People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, as well as a Deseret News article entitled “Killings in Iraq by ‘Bad Apples’? Probably Not,” with analytical perspectives drawn from the work of Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram.

Based upon this literature they develop a heuristic model for answering one of the driving questions of their analysis: how did basically good men end up committing such a horrific atrocity? According to this model, there are three separate social factors that set the stage for enabling atrocities of this kind. 1) Actors allow “the dictates of ‘authorities’ to trump their own moral instincts;” 2) conformity — the unwillingness to act differently from ones peers; 3) the dehumanization of potential (and actual) victims. This approach is critical for getting to the bottom of the questions of How and Why. Earlier authors have either focused on demonstrating blame for the conspirators and actors but not adequately explaining why (Brooks) or fixed inordinate attention on the role of Brigham Young (Bagley), treating his complicity as furnishing the greatest explanatory power for the massacre, and, implicitly, relegating the actual murderers and local leaders to the role of mindless automatons, driven only by their obsession for vengeance-taking and their uncritical obedience to Young’s directives. And while this volume does address the question of Young’s direct complicity, it also frames the question differently, presuming that Young’s orders would not be enough, by themselves, to ensure the bloody outcome and that deeper, more localized and immediate context is required to account for Mormon participation in the slaughter.

But, one step at a time. First, the question of Brigham Young. The authors argue, in a nutshell, that while Young does shoulder a fair share of the responsibility for creating the tinderbox conditions within which the massacre could occur, there is no real historical evidence that he in fact set the spark by ordering, directly or cryptically, the massacre of the Fancher party. Bagley, who has most persuasively argued for Young’s ordering the massacre, lays down a case based primarily on two pieces of documentary evidence. First, John D. Lee – the only massacre participant to be convicted (and executed) for his crimes – penned a series of “confessions” which, after his death, his defense attorney, William Bishop, compiled and edited into a book, Mormonism Unveiled. In this book, Lee pins responsibility on Brigham Young who, he claims, sent George A. Smith to Southern Utah in advance of the Fancher party to cryptically order their destruction at the hands of Mormon settlers in cooperation with local Paiutes. The second piece of textual evidence Bagley cites is an excerpt from Dimick Huntington’s diary in which he describes a September 1 meeting between Young, Huntington, Jacob Hamblin, and several Indian leaders from throughout the territory. Young tells the Southern Utah Indian leaders that they can have all the cattle belonging to California-bound emigrant parties along the southern road.

J. Stapley: I’ll happily concede the sociology of violence terrain to you. However, I did notice that they seemed quite intent on making everything fit into their heuristic model. For example, fairly early in the narrative the authors claim that “for the most part, the men who committed the atrocity at Mountain Meadows were neither fanatics nor sociopaths, but normal and in many respects decent people” (pg. 128). While I’m not sure if they are using a clinical definition of sociopathy (as compared to psychopathy), the authors repeatedly highlight how the actors and circumstances feed the three impetuses you mention. At the same time Lee, who appears to sustain the brunt of the narrative’s causal weight, is portrayed precisely as a fanatic. Lee was a “religious zealot” who viewed the events as “God’s purpose” (pg. 144). He figured himself to be a “modern-day Joseph of Egypt,” an interpreter of dreams – a persona that Lee invoked to affirm the Piute shock troops’ resolution for battle (pg. 157-158). Further, the authors quote Samuel Knight who had intimate knowledge of the massacre as claiming that both Haight and Dame were “fanatics” (pg. 213).

Now, regarding Brigham Young, the new material in this volume does dismantle much of Bagley’s argument. Parshall and Reeve’s review of Blood of the Prophets in Mormon Historical Studies is where you see Bagley’s use of the Huntington diary excerpt shredded, and I didn’t see that the authors of this volume brought it up, though they treat the meeting. Mormonism Unveiled, they argue, was posthumously expanded by Lee’s attorney to implicate Young, a credible assertion considering the attorney’s pecuniary interest in the volume and Lee’s consistent and deathbed claims to the contrary. Still, the lingering question of Young’s involvement could be betrayed by his September 10th response to Cedar City, wherein he wrote, “In regard to emigration trains passing through our settlements we must not interfere with them until they are first notified to keep away” (pg. 184). This sentence absolves Young only with the presupposition that Young knew nothing of the Mormon involvement in the first Fancher attack. Otherwise, it is simply a tactical instruction that has no moral or strategic prohibition on violence against the emigrants and even gives provisions for it. In my estimation, however, the evidence presented by the authors, virtually all of which is previously unpublished, indicates that Young did not know of the Mormon involvement with the immigrants.

The area where I see the authors insufficiently treating the subject material is the ever-popular “blood atonement” rhetoric of the Mormon Reformation (pg. 26). Only one moderate paragraph broaches the subject and no effort is given to contextualize or clarify the ramifications of the sermonizing. This lacuna is perhaps shaded by authors’ quotation of Heber C. Kimball’s words at the July 24 canyon celebration. They ultimately temper Kimball’s comments by not showing that the words immediately preceding those quoted, curse the US President and his staff in the name of Jesus and by the Mormon Priesthood (pg. 44). Is this a systemic perspective in the volume?

Brad: The blood atonement sermonizing was a surprising omission on the part of these authors. My sense is that Bagley and others correctly assess its overall significance, but misread how it actually figured into the social context for the massacre. Researchers, amateur filmmakers, and historians encounter the sermons in question and envision Mormons chomping at the bit to enact blood-letting vengeance on anyone remotely suspected of having been involved with Mormon persecutions or the murders of the prophets (the Smith brothers, Parley Pratt). But blood atonement was more about Mormon apostates than Mormon enemies. It was a rhetorical threat that loomed over those who would disregard the injunctions of Mormon priesthood and the imperatives of Mormon colonizing, a theological dressing-up of religious authority on the frontier, buttressed and enforced by violence – particularly during the Reformation of 1856-57. This radical and disturbing doctrine – preached up and down the Utah Territory by Young and other key Mormon leaders – contributed to the massacre, not by inculcating a murderous obsession for vengeance against imagined enemies in the Fancher party, but by ensuring an unwillingness on the part of the perpetrators to disobey their leaders.

The centrality of intensified authoritarianism in war-ready Utah territory is difficult to overstate. The book provides an illuminating example. The strategy that Young had implemented to put the Mormon kingdom on war footing included (in addition to a prohibition against selling supplies to traveling emigrants and decision to cease mediation between emigrant parties and local Indian tribes) a policy dictating that cattle be sent to Salt Lake for rationing. A group of Mormon settlers in Cedar City brandished guns in defense of their refusal to send their livestock North. They were threatened by local military leadership with execution for sedition in “a time of war” (pg. 63). Significantly, the men who carried out the attack, in addition to being Mormons, were members of the militia, and the conspiring orchestrators of the massacre, in addition to being their ecclesiastical leaders, were also their military commanders.

As far as the Huntington diary goes, it bears mentioning that at precisely the time when Brigham Young was ostensibly sealing the fate of the Fancher party (to paraphrase Bagley) by telling Indian leaders they could have the emigrants’ cattle, Haight and Lee were already conspiring with Indian leaders in and around Cedar City to attack the Fancher party and promising shared spoils. Of course, the fact that no evidence has been discovered directly implicating Young in the conspiracy (or the refutation of existing claims of such evidence) does not in itself constitute evidence that Young was not involved. Yet we should be careful not to ride that logic too far. Part of the appeal of the conspiratorial view of history – in addition to furnishing simple, often satisfying explanations for otherwise complicated and difficult-to-comprehend phenomenon – is that is governed by a circular logic that self-reinforces. When you look for mustache-twisting puppet masters pulling history’s levers, the absence of evidence can be taken as evidence of the hypothesized conspiracy. The logic is not just circular; it entails a reversal of evidentiary standards. The fact that actual evidence cannot be discovered, rather than leading to a revised theory of what happened, actually reinforces the theory for which evidence is elusive.

Part of the problem with focusing so single-mindedly on a very technical, legalistic question of Young’s complicity is that it sidesteps far more interesting and important questions. To what extent, for example, does Young bear responsibility for what happened even if he did not order the attack on the Fancher party or the massacre to cover it up? How do intensely hierarchical social structures become self-reinforcing and to what extent can the effects of panopticism account for what happened? If the massacre was perpetrated by good Mormons, many (if not most) of whom retained their good standing in the Church and their communities despite widespread knowledge of what happened, what does that mean for those of us who claim that religious and historical heritage? By emphasizing the on-the-ground run up to the massacre, the tensions that built between Fancher party members and local leaders, the authors offer a compelling (if not totalizing or comprehensively explanatory) narrative in which violent, escalating frontier conflict mixed with undeviating obedience, religious conviction, in-group/out-group dynamics, and war hysteria leads to a horrible crime that takes on a momentum of its own, leading eventually to a cover-up of staggering proportion and unimaginable wickedness. All of which was carried out by believably human, conflicted actors.

J. Stapley: Agreed. Concluding that Brigham Young did not order the massacre is a nice sound-bite, but authors don’t make much of an effort to detail the degree to which his actions and beliefs contributed to the three factors of violence that they use to explain the massacre. Your evaluation of the blood atonement sermonizing, for example, connects some of those dots.

Brad: I should mention what I consider to be a major weakness of the book. The authors go to great lengths to portray the Mormons involved in the massacre as complex human beings and historical agents, whose actions have explanations that, while defying rational or moral justification, do not defy basic understanding. This is a far more sophisticated reading of history than one in which the murderers figure only as the mindless tools of their insane, bloodthirsty prophet. The problem is that such sophistication is not really extended to the non-Mormon participants – the Paiutes who were convinced by Lee and Haight (among others) to attack the Fancher party to begin with and, after the extended siege, to help clean up the mess by slaughtering them in the most cowardly manner. The Indians in this account feel a little like Mormons in the Blood-Atoning-Brigham readings. That they would agree to what the Mormon leaders propose is taken almost as a given. No effort is made to understand how these basically good men participated in this atrocity. They are pawns in the hands of the insidiously manipulative Cedar City leaders. Subsequent scholarly treatments of the massacre, in my view, must do for the Indians what this volume has done for Mormon settlers: flesh out their motives and their behavior in ways that acknowledge their agency, their humanity, and the inhumanity of their actions.

I’ll end with my most tentative conclusion. As noted above, where some sources end and others begin is, at times, less than clear in this account. But based on my reading of the notes, my provisional conclusion is that the materials heretofore confined to the First Presidency vault dealt primarily with the scheming of Haight and Dame. This means that if the Church leadership deliberately and purposefully withheld documents relevant to the massacre from public scrutiny, it was in an effort to cover up the complicity of the Cedar City High Priesthood. Here it is appropriate to note that this is only volume 1 of 2, the second of which will deal primarily with the cover-up of the massacre. One assumes that volume 2 will be far less exculpatory for Brigham Young.

J. Stapley: I would say that the vault material is further reaching than Haight and Dame, but that there it is most dramatic. With the laborious and definitively not hasty publication of this volume, I do not have any expectations for the proposed second volume.

Never again will scores of researchers dedicate a decade to the massacre at Mountain Meadows. This is a life’s work compressed and the result is clear and exhaustive narrative. With a collection of sources spiked by previously unavailable material, the reader follows new paths in the story that has been walked by historians, antagonists and apologists with vivid and sometimes mistaken zeal. But was it worth it (consider the resources which were diverted from other projects)? Yes, though it is perhaps the Mormon people that will feel the greatest effects, not the academy. I don’t think that Mormons are any more ready now than they were a half a century ago. Juanita Brooks would have little to quibble over this book; but that the Mormon Church feels like it can now stand with her and allow its historians to tell the story the most truthfully they can, even facilitating the process, demonstrates that this is truly a new era. We now can remember the killers and the killed and be confident in the sentiments of the nineteenth-century LDS First Presidency: “We are anxious to learn all that we can upon [the Massacre], not necessarily for publication, but that the Church may have the details in its possession for the vindication of innocent parties, and that the world may know, when the time comes, the true facts connected with it” (xi).

With all future work on the massacre, historians will be required to consult Massacre at Mountain Meadows as the starting point. The volume reads mostly as if it were written in a narrative vacuum. However and fortunately, the authors, whether by their own volition or that of their reviewers, engaged some of the work that is now part of the bibliographic terrain. Bagley, Denton, Krakauer and those that will follow them may very well persist in their interpretations; but they must consider the careful evidence and analysis of Walker, Turley and Leonard.


  1. Thanks for the excellent review.

    It sounds as if this book will leave my central dissatisfaction with the Mountain Meadows literature intact: the failure to really take the social science literature on ethnic conflict seriously. If you really address the literature on the political activation of ethnic cleavages, Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball become the central, necessary condition for the massacre. With their framing of Gentile/Mormon relations in place, something like the massacre becomes a highly probable outcome.

    Divisive rhetoric from leaders seems to be almost essential in turning latent cleavages into salient ones. Young’s and Kimball’s rhetoric was certainly intended to activate and politicize the cleavage, although not necessarily to result in violence. Although even that is problematic, since both leaders were preparing the people for total-war footing. It’s similar to what happened when Smith and a few anti-Mormons did the same thing in Illinois. And obviously individuals are responsible for what they do with the suddenly salient cleavage. But a very high percentage of rank-and-file people respond to such cleavages when framed in existential terms with violence. A friend of mine, Scott Strauss, has written a book about how this happened in Rwanda.

    Next, the historical component of the perspective. These leaders had already lived through two serious basically ethnic wars that resulted from exactly this kind of heightened elite rhetoric: northern Missouri and the Nauvoo war. There seems to be some failure of moral and practical learning involved in Young’s and Kimball’s decision to take the same rhetorical route a third time.

    This doesn’t make the Mormon leadership complicit in Mountain Meadows. But it does make them morally responsible in some ways. It also highlights a strange absence of introspection…

  2. JNS, excellent points. The somewhat superficial engagement with relevant social science literature on genocide and ethnic violence is a shortcoming here. Historians are notoriously theory-allergic, so, on some level, I’m happy with any engagement at all. Certainly, at a minimum, Mormon leaders participated in the creation of a genocidal mentality, if unwittingly. But that (the unwitting part) is also a key feature of the relevant sociological theory. A genocidal mentality need not (and typically does not) entail genocidal intentions. It merely describes the social-psychological conditions within which genocidal acts on the part of ordinary people become possible and/or likely.

  3. Randy B. says:

    Excellent review guys. Very interesting stuff.

    Like J., I don’t have high hopes of ever seeing volume 2. I suspect this is the last we’ll hear from the church on the topic, at least for this generation.

  4. Brad, right; genocidal situations are often created by leaders whose goals are entirely strategic. They try to bluff other elites into a change of course, or to obtain better border settlements, etc. The Mormon situation with respect to the U.S. government at the time seems to very much fit this paradigm. Young created a situation of conflict in order to win a better settlement, with more regional autonomy, vis-a-vis the U.S. federal government. The strategy got away from Young and the Mormon leadership in Mountain Meadows — but these strategies often, and predictably, do.

  5. I’m interested to see how this plays out in the coming months in terms of increasing access to previously restricted documents. I think the Church leadership is trying to be more open and applaud it.

    Incidentally, Benchmark Books was taking preorders at MHA–not sure whether they still are, but I like giving more power to independent booksellers when possible.

    I know one of the authors personally, and he’s a wonderful, thoughtful, faithful guy. I’m looking forward to seeing what he and coauthors were able to generate.

    I personally am glad they didn’t go heavily into the theory of genocide because (with all due affectionate respect to bk/jns) I find that narratives get heavily derailed by theory. I think it’s better to have good, carefully researched and told stories and then have separate monographs for the heavy theory. Have the historians tell their stories and the theoreticians write their theoretical work.

    Again, I really am glad for people to do theory, but I like to have it exist as a separate literature from the history, using the historical narratives as its raw material.

  6. smb, the problem with narratives without theory is that they presume each event to be sui generis. This means that the narratives often end up distorted and missing vital parts of the event. Because the historical narrative is inevitably shaped by either implicit or explicit theory, it’s always better to have some kind of meaningful theory present in history. Otherwise, the history becomes informed by naive theory and lacks the details necessary to support up-to-date theoretical conversation.

  7. Thanks, as always, for the review. Amazon tells me my copy won’t ship till 11 Aug. It’s going to be a long summer.

  8. Thanks for the review. The situations seems similar to the “scenario fulfillment” that resulted in the Vincennes killing the 290 civilians aboard Iran Air Flight 655. It also would have fit right into a Joseph Conrad novel, along with The Rescue, Lord Jim, and Under Western Eyes, where the protaganist proves unable to hold together a delicate, unstable situation, and all ends in ruin.

  9. Just a note that I have updated the review to include some information just received from the authors regarding the Jenson Papers and their slated publication.

  10. david knowlton says:

    Detailed and thought provoking review. Thank you. I cannot wait to read the book, after the years of build up.

    I agree with Brad and JNS on the importance of theory. Even a straight forward text that seeming just tells a story relies on some sort of theory to connect the pieces of data into a story. It is a problem when that theory remains unexpressed and implicit, since it creates a shadow that is best handled through explicit discussion. Datoids do not connect themselves with out some kind of theory to make their encounter possible.

    Having said that, I think good works can be written where the theory builds a foundation and stands to the side of a narrative.

    It is good for Mormon history to begin a conversation with philosophers and social scientists through engagement with theory.

    The social scientists cited on violence do not simply create theory, I imagine. Tambiah, and others, engage data to create their situations. Perhaps the issue here is both theory and comparison. It is good to bring the frame of Mormon history into comparison with other circumstances, such as those in South Asia that Tambiah relies on.

  11. Is genocide the right term here?

  12. As one who is not usually interested in Utah history, I thoroughly enjoyed this review.

    Thank you.

  13. sister blah 2 says:

    Very much enjoyed this, Brad & J. The above comments have also been fascinating.

  14. Yes, john f., it is genocide. Brigham Young intended to kill all the Gentiles in America. And he cleverly concealed his intentions by sending the message in code (“you get Gentle cattle, wink, wink”) to those bloodthirsty killers of the West, the Paiutes. Young’s restrained approach to the campaign against the US Army in the north was just more clever concealment of the heretofore unrecognized Genocide Strategy. No doubt that’s what was in the missing Hamblin pages — yet more proof for you stubborn doubters.

    Brad and J., nice review.

  15. Thank you for the helpful and interesting review, Kramer & Stapley. A question remains in my mind: Ten years of work, the input of hundreds of readers and researchers, millions of dollars spent–why is the book so short (231 pages)? I don’t see how a book of that length can do the subject justice.

    The terse prose, the cursory review of blood atonement rhetoric, the limited attention to social science, the modest engagement with previous scholarship–were the authors working within severe length constraints imposed by Oxford?

  16. Dave, that’s a funny comment but what would your serious answer be?

  17. Genocide is probably not the right word. Mass murder is.

    To put this in Laymans terms BY is not directly responsible for the massacre unlike Lee, Haight and individual gunmen both white and Indian.

    BY bears some I think limited responsibility in helping create an environment where local leaders like H & L felt it was OK to attack a perceived enemy like this.

  18. Kramer,
    I’m interested in the Paiute motivations. Other than Brigham Young telling them that they can have the Fancher cattle and horses, is there any source material that might shed light on this?

  19. Thanks for the thorough review, guys. I look forward to reading the book.

  20. Maybe massacre is the right word, not genocide or mass murder, although the latter might be a plausible alternative.

  21. PS–Nice job, guys.

  22. Thank you for the thoughtful review.

    Some commenters need to write their own books to expand the research and conclusions of the authors. Had those authors been writing to the narrow slice of hopelessly academic audience represented here with your in-group vocabulary and specialized requirements, Oxford would have sold 142 copies, and the rest of the audience — the slack-jawed droolers like me — would be left with glazed eyes and at the mercy of Bagley and Krakauer.

    (I would insert smileys to soften that but it irritates Steve. So please have the charity to read with the image of your kindly but hopelessly clueless sweet auntie before your eyes — the one who offers you homemade chocolate chip cookies along with the scolding.)

  23. blt, note that Young’s indian policy wasn’t that clear-cut and it was Lee (with Haight’s backing) that incited the Piutes to violence.

    Justin, fortunately I think this book is but one of the fruits of the MMM research. We have more publications to look forward to. Though I agree that having the George Q. Cannon diaries out would be a tempting alternative.

    RE: genocide. I am no theoretician, but there does seem to be an ethnic character to the violence that isn’t captured by “murder.”

  24. Ardis as a “slack-jawed drooler.” I’m not sure what that would make me…but it would not a pretty sight.

  25. This radical and disturbing doctrine – preached up and down the Utah Territory by Young and other key Mormon leaders – contributed to the massacre, not by inculcating a murderous obsession for vengeance against imagined enemies in the Fancher party, but by ensuring an unwillingness on the part of the perpetrators to disobey their leaders.

    That’s a very good insight, Brad.

    Thanks for the review, you two. This sounds like an invaluable addition to the literature. Though I’m with Justin, really — it sounds like there were also some surprising oversights, in a book that could have been even more.

  26. Great review!

    I hope that this book represents the ascension of Brooks’ approach to Mormon history to near official policy. Hopefully, we will never again hear leaders say that all history must be faith promoting or that some truths are unimportant.

  27. J.
    You’re right. Young’s policy was not that clear-cut. I’m just trying to get a handle on why–at least in Kramer’s estimation–the Paiutes are portrayed so two-dimensionally. I’m wondering if there is source material that could flesh them out. If so, are these authors neglecting it?

  28. J., although I believe that it is a stretch to say that there was an ethnic characteristic to the violence, accepting that point for the sake of argument, an ethnic characteristic does not make something genocide, or at least I don’t think it does.

  29. Stapley: I don’t think the GQC journals has to be either/or. I met the guy doing those the other day, and he is not taking part in any of the MMM stuff anymore. Turley is doing volume 2 on his own.

  30. Where did we get the 231 page count? The bibliographic cite J. and B. dropped into the post says 448 pages, which may mean that, like with RSR, a lot of the good stuff is in the endnotes, not the text.

  31. John Turner says:

    Agree with Ardis’s comment on the appropriateness of the book for a general audience. However, I think continuing the story to Lee’s execution (or some endpoint) in another 100 pages or so would have been far preferable to saving it for another volume. I can’t imagine there will be an appreciable non-scholarly audience for volume 2.

  32. Great review, guys. I was especially surprised that the book is as concise as it is. The number of researchers and the wealth of sources had left me imagining this would be another 800+ page, dense megatome, of the type Mormon Studies seems to frequently produce.

  33. Dave, in the proofs that we received, there were four appendices and the notes covered pgs. 271-383. The 448 pages came from Amazon.

  34. BTD Greg says:

    Great review. Thanks.

    Brad: I should mention what I consider to be a major weakness of the book. The authors go to great lengths to portray the Mormons involved in the massacre as complex human beings and historical agents, whose actions have explanations that, while defying rational or moral justification, do not defy basic understanding. This is a far more sophisticated reading of history than one in which the murderers figure only as the mindless tools of their insane, bloodthirsty prophet. The problem is that such sophistication is not really extended to the non-Mormon participants – the Paiutes … That they would agree to what the Mormon leaders propose is taken almost as a given. No effort is made to understand how these basically good men participated in this atrocity.

    Perhaps the problem here is similar to the one that plagued earlier accounts of the MMM–lack of important source material. I’m willing to bet that there’s a lot more primary material on the Mormon settlers (journals, letters, interview notes, etc.) than there is of the Piute participants. There may never been enough direct historical data to really do the kind of treatment you’d like to see.

  35. Thanks guys. This is a good sampler to prime us for August.

    I too am disappointed that the authors did not deal more adequately with the issues of vengeance and blood atonement. I think I know part of the reason why. At a lecture at BYU, I asked Ron W. how he would deal with the question of how being victims of religious violence contributed to becoming perpetrators of religious violence. Ron responded that while the authors did try to answer that question, they did not want to give the appearance of making excuses for the Mormon perpetrators. I understood that to mean that Mormons have been “blaming” the massacre for so long on the early persecutions and ultimately not taking responsibility for the horrible atrocity that they themselves committed in 1857.

    I understand the authors’ reasoning, but I ultimately think that it ends up dodging a major contributing factor in the massacre. Although Brad is right that blood atonement was for the most part about apostates, there is also evidence that the imagery and language of blood atonement was also applied to discussions of the murderers of JS and the prophets.

    I will take the Government of the United States, and the laws of Missouri and Illinois, from the year 1833 to 1845, and if they had been carried out according to their letter and spirit, they would have strung up the murderers and mobocrats who illegally and unrighteously killed, plundered, harassed, and expelled us. I will tell you how much I love those characters. If they had any respect to their own welfare, they would come forth and say, whether Joseph Smith was a Prophet or not, “We shed his blood, and now let us atone for it;” and they would be willing to have their heads chopped off, that their blood might run upon the ground, and the smoke of it rise before the Lord as an incense for their sins. I love them that much. But if the Lord wishes them to live and foam out their sins before all men and women, it is all right, I care not where they go, or what they do. (Brigham Young, “The Priesthood and Satan—The Constitution and Government of the United States—Rights and Policy of the Latter-Day Saints,” February 15, 1855, Journal of Discourses 2:186-87; see also Brigham Young, “Necessity of Building Temples—The Endowment,” April 6, 1853. Journal of Discourses 2:32)

    In 1861, JDL recorded BY saying that the Fancher party was related to JS’s killers, so at least retroactively BY believed that the massacre was God bringing vengeance and “atoning” for JS’s death. I think it’s also important to point to the abundance of statements made by LDS leaders in the years after 1838 and 1844 that admonished forebearance and patience, and enjoining the people not to seek vengeance on their own, but to let God do so. There were two competing vengeance strains in Mormon thought at the time that need to be further explored by historians.

  36. David G., the authors actually do a good job of treating the forbearance and patience.

  37. david knowlton says:

    Whether there are reams of documentary sources on Piutes or not, their participation in the massacre needs to be carefully studied in terms of their oral traditions about the massacre (One can look at Forrest Cuch’s book–A History of Utah’s American Indians– as a beginning here. One also needs to carefully assess the ways in which Piute life was reworked with the coming of the Mormons and their understanding of the Indian agent’s activities. There is important work among American Indian and non-Indian historians on relevant matters outside of Utah that provide a framework to begin such a work. From my perspective the Piute story is a huge gap in the MMM narrative.

  38. Good to know, J.

  39. DK, it looks like you have your next project. Keep us updated as you proceed.

  40. Neal Kramer says:

    This is a fine review. I think it gives us all good reason to read the book ourselves, comparing with the others already out there, and working to come to some tentative conclusions about the massacre.

    I was surprised our reviewers said nothing about how this book corrects or may help to correct impressions about the massacre and Mormonism’s relationship to violence raised by Helen Whitney in what with hindsight now looks like a pretty sloppy documentary.

    I believe that taking a step back from the massacre might help us understand the paradox of otherwise good people engaging in acts of unspeakable violence. If we go back to Carthage, Illinois and the conspiracy that resulted in the murders of Joseph and Hyrum Smith and the subsequent expulsion of Mormons from Nauvoo we have an interesting parallel.

    In this case, leaders of local communities, perceiving a terrible threat to their well-being, determined to get rid of Joseph Smith. They wrote inflammatory articles in the local papers, called for violence against Mormons, included the Governor of the State, however unwittingly, in their plan, got help, again unwittingly from William Law and the Nauvoo Expositor, and then got the Carthage Grays to finish the job.

    After the dust settled, the major conspirators were brought to trial and by a kind of jury nullification, found innocent of the murders. The conspirators went on to become very important members of a community that went on the flourish. The men were respectable and effective leaders. There was nothing about their later lives to suggest that they were evil through and through.

    I suspect that the American West has more stories of this sort.

    My point is that Brad has just scratched the surface of the complex sociology and psychology of violence along the American frontier. Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry films have all just come out on DVD in a set. Eastwood very effectively explores America’s need for sudden outbursts of violence to cleanse and protect civilization threatened by unknown or not entirely understandable outside forces. Were Haight and Lee Dirty Harry? Were they the Zodiac Killer? What about Thomas Sharp? Wyatt Earp? Jesse James? The citizens of Northfield, Minnesota?

  41. Superb review, gentlemen. I am very disappointed that the aftermath is in a separate volume. Who agrees with Randy B. that we’ll never see it?

  42. John F., RE genocide, here’s a legal definition from Article 2 of the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide:

    …any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

    Mountain Meadows may certainly be a less-than-perfect example of genocide; there was clearly no intention to destroy the entire ethnic group of Gentiles. But there was equally clearly intention to destroy a specific group of Gentiles for reasons of ethnic conflict. Furthermore, the forcible transfer of children that followed the massacre heightens the genocidal aspect of Mountain Meadows.

    Even if we don’t regard Mountain Meadows as an instance of genocide (a position that I think is sensible; it’s a difficult definitional debate and there are sound arguments in both directions), the theory of genocide is relevant. That theory, along with the broader literature on ethnic violence, represents an impressive body of work on the conditions under which normal people do killings like this. Since that was a stated, central question in this volume, at least some serious interaction with this literature would have been beneficial.

  43. Neal, I can’t help but notice that your account of inflammatory rhetoric in the Nauvoo conflict is really one-sided. Mormons did give as well as take in the rhetorical escalation game there.

  44. JNS, thanks, that’s the exact definition I had in mind and with which I am very familiar. MMM simply was not genocide by that definition. That’s why I asked it perhaps “massacre” was a better term than “genocide”. Turning it into genocide seems to take an unnecessary step in accepting blame. Mormons can be ashamed that some of their people committed a massacre 151 years ago without having to sign up to genocide as well.

  45. Excellent review and I loved the format. What a great way to treat books like this.

    The point about the Indians not being treated robustly is an interesting one. I know there have only recently started to be better studies on the interactions of native Americans and Mormons with the Indians fleshed out. I hope to see more of those sorts of studies especially in the context of the Utah war.

  46. Ethnic conflict, JNS? This is interesting. If Mormons are an ethnicity then disparaging criticism of Mormons leaves the realm of protected speech and enters the uncertain area of law and public opinion relating to smearing people based on immutable characteristics — such as ethnicity.

    Perhaps the Mormon settlers’ conflict with non-Mormon settlers wasn’t an ethnic conflict but rather was simply bad blood between religions gone seriously wrong, informed by misconceptions about past wrongs (i.e. believing that members of the Francher party were boastful about having been party to the past persecutions of Mormons back in the United States).

  47. Great review. Thanks.

  48. Thanks, as always, for the review. Amazon tells me my copy won’t ship till 11 Aug. It’s going to be a long summer.

    Beware ordering from Amazon. For whatever reason a lot of LDS booksellers aren’t getting product to Amazon. I ordered volume 3 of Blake’s theology series way back in April and Kofford still hasn’t gotten supplies to Amazon. I’m still waiting. Ditto At Sword’s Point, Part 1: A Documentary History of the Utah War to 1858.

  49. JNS, I actually agree a lot with what you say (#1) however it would seem logically to follow that the group with even more responsibility than Young and Kimball would be newspaper editors and the Republican leadership in Washington who were doing all they could to demonize Mormons.

  50. Randy B. says:

    Not to get too far off on a tangent, but to Clark’s comment in #47, is volume 3 from Blake available anywhere yet? I had just assumed Kofford was behind schedule. Also, I got my copy of At Swords Point from Amazon several weeks ago.

  51. Randy B. says:

    Whoops. Should be Clark’s comment in #48.

  52. Brad, someone else mentioned this comment of your and I am curious as to how you would contextualize it in larger contexts.

    This radical and disturbing doctrine – preached up and down the Utah Territory by Young and other key Mormon leaders – contributed to the massacre, not by inculcating a murderous obsession for vengeance against imagined enemies in the Fancher party, but by ensuring an unwillingness on the part of the perpetrators to disobey their leaders.

    If Young was preparing for a war (and I think it amazing that full on hostilities never really occurred) then shouldn’t we contextualize his approach to a larger military context? That is can one look at Mormon authority and rhetoric encouraging obedience in a way separate from how rhetoric to Federal troops was organized?

    It seems to me that the comments of Mormon leaders in the 1850’s are taken in the context of peaceful religion without conflict whereas a more reasonable context is war.

    Now what is the rhetoric in the 19th century (or heck contemporary Iraq) during wartime of troops?

    I’m not saying this recontextualizing is entirely fair. There are some differences. But I think that military context is unfairly neglected in the sociology of the history. (This is one reason why I think a military history of 19th century Mormonism is long, long overdue and a much needed component to understand our history)

  53. John F., I’m far from the first to suggest that 19th-century Mormonism was an ethnic community as well as a religious one. Among others, Jan Shipps has argued this. Indeed, Mormon leaders themselves described Mormons as a “people,” language that is fundamentally ethnic in character. By the 20th century, when the laws you’re referring to came into existence, Mormonism probably had lost much of its ethnic character.

    Regarding the definition of genocide, I think you’re wrong to say that Mountain Meadows flatly does not meet the definition. Given the legal definition of “in part,” which requires attention to the scope of plausible action of the participants, a plausible argument could be made that Mountain Meadows meets the definition. It’s clearly a contested argument, but a one-sided answer like yours strikes me as a bit more defense attorneyish than reflective.

    In any case, Brad’s usage of this term in this context is standard among students of violence. Whether you find it helpful or not, normal analytic usage of the term “genocide” regularly includes acts like Mountain Meadows.

    Clark, I agree that the newspaper editors and so forth are at least as much to blame for the overall situation of conflict. However, it’s dubious that those editors did as much to shape the worldview of the killers as did Young and other Mormon leaders. Here’s the thought experiment: if the Mormon-Gentile cleavage

  54. Randy, Blake told me that the initial run sold out the first week and that they are awaiting a reprinting from Kofford. It sounds like they did a very surprisingly small run (500 books) given the popularity of Blake’s series. As to why they still haven’t completed the second run I don’t know.

    As to why MacKinnon’s Utah War book isn’t available I don’t know. In the same thread as the above he said it should have been available from University of Illinois Press and wasn’t sure why it wasn’t. I just checked Amazon for both books and they still aren’t available.

  55. (continued from #53) hadn’t been in the forefront of Cedar City Mormons’ minds, and the interactions in question had been framed as relationships among American citizens, would the Cedar City folks have wanted to kill? I find that hard to imagine.

  56. JNS – what’s more interesting is that they sometimes described themselves as a race. (I can try and find the quote if desired)

  57. JNS, the reason I think newspaper editors and more prominently those Federal leaders setting up the Utah War created the problem is that they created the situation leading Young to create the Mormon/Gentile divide in the terms they did. It’s quite analogous to how many blame Bush for the ethnic cleansing in Bagdad by creating the environment.

    You ask if “the interactions in question had been framed as relationships among American citizens” would they have wanted to kill? But who was it who was saying the Mormons weren’t just American citizens. It was the Federal authorities and newspaper editors who saw the Mormons as treasonous.

    Note that I’m not absolving Young of blame here. And certainly his words were heard more by the conspirators than the eastern newspapers. But Young’s actions can only be understood in the larger context and it was that larger context that creates the particular divide that Young uses.

  58. Kevin Barney says:

    Randy B., I have Blake’s volume 3 on my bookshelf. I got it through the FAIR bookstore (; the bookstore link will be on the left).

    Thanks for the great review, guys. I too am curious about the brevity of treatment; like Justin, I had been under the impression that this was going to be an 800-page beast.

    I’m looking forward to reading it (I signed up on Benchmark’s list at MHA).

  59. Thanks for that info Kevin. I’ll give them a call this afternoon and see if they have any remaining in stock.

  60. Clark, I think that makes sense, and I agree that the broader U.S.-Mormon conflict needs to be considered here. That said, I remain interested in the lack of learning by Young, who as I mentioned earlier lived through two similar conflicts and twice experienced the negative results of playing along in the escalation game.

    I would certainly agree with any assessment that characterizes the Utah War as a horrible failure of leadership by both Mormon and U.S. elites. I would equally agree that both sets of elites are responsible for Mountain Meadows, in a way that is obviously different from the responsibility of the direct participants but nonetheless very real.

  61. John,
    It’s also worth pointing out our review and my subsequent comments did not describe the massacre as genocide. Instead, I used the term “genocidal mentality” — a technical term from the social theory that undergirds genocide studies — as a possible way to describe the mindset that enabled the mass killings:

    …violent, escalating frontier conflict mixed with undeviating obedience, religious conviction, in-group/out-group dynamics, and war hysteria leads to a horrible crime that takes on a momentum of its own, leading eventually to a cover-up of staggering proportion and unimaginable wickedness.

    I should clarify here what I meant by “cover-up of staggering proportion and unimaginable wickedness.” The cover up is the massacre itself. They massacred everyone (except those too young to tell tales) because Fancher party members had seen that Mormons were in fact participating in what was supposed to be an Indian attack (the initial attack on the party that led to the siege).

  62. I ordered At Sword’s Point from and received my copy on April 22.

  63. Clark,
    Not to get off topic, but Bush hired Rumsfeld, who hired Bremmer, who ordered de-Ba’athification.

  64. I take the point of these commenters complaining that some of the characters still remain one-dimensional. But I think the problem in fact goes deeper, to the problem of explaining evil. What happened here was evil, but why?

    I don’t think any historian has provided a satisfactory answer to that question, no matter the particular historical canvas they are working on, be it My Lai, Eichmann in Israel, Gulags, and so on, it seems that the closer you look the more ordinary and unexceptional evil seems.

    And yet simple human decency revolts at the “banality of evil.” Anything but that! If evil is ordinary, then it might be possible that I could be evil. That possibility is too painful to admit. Much more comfortable to point and apportion assiduously argued convictions of evil people.

    In other words, the more comfortable explanation of evil is that evil is done by evil people. If we can show that the people who commit atrocities were themselves evil, then we have a nice, pat explanation. Whether it be JD Lee, or Brigham Young, or the Indians, or the Fancher party who “had it coming,” it doesn’t matter. But if any of these “guilty” parties were in fact ordinary people, and otherwise decent folks… well, the implications are too horrifying to consider.

    So we get a nuanced book like this one, or like Kramer and Stapely provide in their review of this book, and then you see in the comments many people instantly revert to mining these narratives for how to assign blame and prove who was evil and who was innocent.

    Solzhenitsyn says it best:

    It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, [or between true and false religions, I would add-JSB] but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhlemed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.

  65. Jeff Bennion, I can’t speak for anyone else in these comments, but I’m not sure how easy it is to identify anyone who is innocent in relation to Mountain Meadows.

  66. BLT, I wasn’t referring to deBaathification but rather the move the past two years to make communities in Bagdad ‘ethnically’ uniform. Although there does appear some involvement by military leaders to accept such ethnic cleansing – although the evidence on that is still somewhat controversial. It offers a lot of parallels though to the Utah situation (including the question of what an ethnic group is)

    Anyway my plea for history done in terms of larger military understanding remains. The question is whether there are any Mormon historians versed in such fields that could write such a tome.

  67. Clark #53,
    Part of what the authors show here is that Mormons and Indians viewed Mormons and Americans as very different. Emigrants grazed their cattle in Mormon fields. Mormons claimed the pasture belonged to them, emigrants claimed ownership as Americans. Indians called emigrants Americans and Mormons Mormons. Mormons played on this distinction as a way to shore up Mormon-Indian alliances in preparation for the war. The discourse that divided Mormons from Americans came from all sides.

  68. Great review guys. I really enjoyed this report.

  69. Oh, and as for two dimensional indians, are there any journals available from indians of the time we can use to honestly flesh out the indians. I think the best we can do is acknowledge that the mormons of the time viewed the indians as two dimensional beings and that is all the source data we have…?

    (please correct me if I am wrong here)

  70. That’s a fair point, Matt. Due to the nature of textually based historical reconstruction, no portrayal of the Indians in this case can ever be as fleshed out or multi dimensional as the Mormon actors. But there are still improvements to be made. I believe that Tom Alexander is doing some groundbreaking research in this vein.

  71. We have some good examples in various disciplines of creative ways to give voice to traditionally voiceless groups like the Indians in Utah history. David Knowlton mentioned some of this research above. I’d also point, in Mormon circles, to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s work with “ordinary” women in American history. Each traditionally silenced group gives rise to its own set of challenges in doing research, but the fact that there are challenges is no excuse for failing to try.

  72. Clark, I need to read this book when it becomes available, but I agree with you that the military aspect needs to be considered. Here’s a description of the Small Wars Journal blog about current naval conflict in the Strait of Hormuz that sounds pretty familiar:

    The transit through the narrow straits puts US warships close to Iranian waters, particularly the Iranian naval base at Bandar Abbas. [. . .] US Navy commanders have a daunting challenge to ensure that their ships remain safe from state and non-state terrorists while conducting their freedom to operate in international waters. On the other hand, the IRGC have the mission of pressuring that freedom and asserting their nation’s ability to operate as they please in a manner, which could appear to be an asymmetric threat. This thin line between the need for defense against a terrorist threat and allowing the Iranians to operate in international waters lends friction to any close encounters in the Strait of Hormuz.

    The risk here is that the White House and Pentagon staffers may have a political scenario in their head that will always explains routine incidents such as these in a hostile, dangerous light. As tensions and rhetoric escalates they may fall victim to “scenario fulfillment” (the same group think that the crew of the USS Vincennes experienced in their tragic gunbattle) where the desire to attack the Iranians, who are acting out their role as “evil”, is aided by the ease of which Iranian activities, however mundane can be seen as belligerent. To the hawks in the administration, the Iranians want to start a war because they are “Islamofacists” who seek nuclear weapons and the destruction of Israel – so of course they are trying to provoke us.

  73. this may be a lame, uninformed question but what was the purpose of the authors of the book? was it to tell the story, having access to these documents that weren’t available to historians previously? Is it to act as semi-official Church stance on MMM? is it just their own academic research? What’s their motivation?

  74. Amri,
    My sense is that it was twofold: 1) to deal with the question of how basically decent Mormons could perpetrate such an atrocity based on access to new and highly relevant sources, and 2) to put together something like a semi-official Church position on what happened and who was responsible (in spite of the fact that their conclusions are far from definitive).

  75. Brad, is #1 because they think none of the other research does that?

  76. #1 has more to do with the new sources, unfettered access, etc. than anything. Brooks took a similar approach, but had much less to work with, both in terms of relevant documents and support from the Church.

  77. Bill MacKinnon says:

    When you get and read “Massacre at Mountain Meadows,” I suggest that you think about it alongside Ardis Parshall’s earlier “UHQ” article ” ‘Pursue, Retake & Punish’: The 1857 Santa Clara Ambush” and Chapter 12 (“Lonely Bones”: Violence and Leadership)of “At Sword’s Point, Part 1.” MMM was not an isolated act confined to a single part of Utah; there were other murders or attempted murders in other parts of the territory just before and just after MMM, involving in some cases an overlapping cast of characters.

  78. Thanks for dropping by Bill; I agree that that is very important context. I would also add your JMH article from last spring (correct me if I am wrong on that date). In the interest of space, we didn’t get to all the details that we might have. For example, the authors discuss Ardis’s UHQ article but ultimately equivocate. I think Ardis’s research stands up quite excellently to the recent critical readings of it.

  79. I agree; thanks for the citations, Bill. The broader context of Mormon violence in Utah at the time underscores the point that Brad and I were drawing from theory: the framing of the Utah War situation by Mormon leadership made acts of violence by Mormons highly likely.

  80. Bill, since you dropped by, any word on when your book is making it to Amazon? See my #54.

  81. StillConfused says:

    Were a bunch killed or just one? Sorry, I have never heard this story before.

  82. Will Bagely says:


    “That Haight sermon [Brooks, 52] is an excellent example. Though we should note, in Bagley’s defense, that the alternate dating is based upon documents to which he did not have access (a letter from William R. Palmeer [sic] to Dabney Otis Collins in the “First Presidency, General Administration Files” of the Church History Library)”

    I did in fact find Palmer’s argument for an earlier date in his papers at SUU–in the document I saw, he said it was a July 24th homily. While I trust President Palmer as implicitly as I do murderers’ statements given 35 years after the event to a church official, his date doesn’t make sense, given that Haight talks about Gentiles “asking us to trade with them”: there weren’t any Gentiles around on the 24th, nor would he have known about an “army to exterminate us.” So I stuck with Brooks.

    And as for Paiutes, what Paiutes? How do the Brethren handle Carleton’s 1859 report that Mormons, not Paiutes, attacked the train?

    “It was currently reported the Mormons at Cedar City, in talking among themselves, before the troops ever came down south (when all felt secure of arrest or prosecution), and nobody seemed to question the truth of—that a train of emigrants of fifty or upward of men—mostly with families—came and encamped at this spring at Mountain Meadows, in September, 1857. It was reported in Cedar City, and was not, and is not doubted—even by the Mormons—that John D. Lee Isaac C. Haight, John M. Higby (the first resides in Harmony, the last two at Cedar City), were the leaders who organized a party of fifty or sixty Mormons to attack this train.”

  83. 1. A comparative view that is theoretically informed is appropriate. Heavy theory though ends up in my experience being a cart before the horse problem. Potentially brilliant work has frequently been derailed by excessive attention to theory. The other issue is that when theory is used to write the initial story, it becomes a circular self-perpetuating system. You need the good initial account before applying the theory.
    2. I remember earlier that all the buzz was that the authors were being forced to whittle an absolutely sprawling book into something salable. I have a memory of >800 pages about a year ago. I personally prefer shorter, better written books to the sprawl-fest of the longer ones. Save the very long work for the anthologies and publications of primary documents.
    3. Ethnic cleansing and genocide, it’s tricky. A lot of people are glad to write about ethnicity for Mormons, mostly as a way to explain how odd it is that Protestant-seeming people are so different from Protestants. What’s different about the Mormons was that the ethnic border was exceedingly dynamic. Thomas Kane was ethnically included but not Mormon, while apostates lost their ethnic status promptly, and miners could be brought into the fold.
    4. Paul Reeve is the scholar to watch for Mormons and Indians. Try his first book for an initial glimpse at how to start to work on these issues (it’s reviewed in the forthcoming JMH).

  84. SMB, I’ve had his Making Space on my “to buy” list for a while now.

  85. smb, I’m not sure the cart and the horse are separable here. If theory isn’t used carefully in constructing a narrative, the narrative is likely to attribute causal significance to factors that are not causal. In addressing a fundamentally causal question, as this book sets itself the task of doing, theory is of the essence; facts just don’t generate good causal inference on their own. You need theory to help decide which aspects of reality belong in the initial account. This is circular to some extent, but that’s inevitable. All data are always theory-laden, as the philosophers of science remind us. If we ignore theory in building our narratives, that just means we end up using slap-dash implicit theory, not that we get away from theory…

    I agree on the length. It’s a relief to see someone leave something on the cutting-room floor.

  86. I’ve just read too much theory that is impossibly separated from facts, relies heavily on the appearance of scientism without similar experimental reproducibility and reads like someone parroting a 1960s linguistics textbook after having too many drinks with an edition of Freud. Some theory is certainly required, but I’m not persuaded that academic “engagement” with theory is required for writing history.

    I do agree that there are people who do theory wonderfully, and I don’t mean a blanket statement here (I sound more strident than I am), but I do urge significant circumspection.

  87. Clark, the book’s a great read for buffs of Mormon and American and Indian history.

  88. Thanks for stopping by Will. I don’t see anything in that excerpt of the Carleton report that contradicts Walker, Turley and Leonard’s evidence and analysis.

    Regarding the Haight sermon, the authors’ explanation in 131n8 is that Brooks’s source for the sermon was Palmer (her citation was for a record in the LDS Archives, which was never there). Palmer claimed that Brooks got the material from him, and that she had “her meetings mixed” and that the sermon “was not aimed at any traveling party but rather at the coming Johnston’s Army.”

  89. Stillconfused (#81), if you mean the actual massacre, the death toll was well over 100.

  90. Catching up, but I still am trying to figure out #93’s “Mormon-Gentile cleavage”.

  91. Meant to type #53 – not #93.

  92. All sorts of images spring to mind Ray, but I’m not going there.

    Great review. I’m looking forward to the release.

  93. Will Bagley says:

    “I don’t see anything in that excerpt of the Carleton report that contradicts Walker, Turley and Leonard’s evidence and analysis.”

    Look harder.

    Did a “party of fifty or sixty Mormons” attack the Fancher train? Or did they disappear? Or were they magically transformed into Paiutes?


  94. A comparative view that is theoretically informed is appropriate. Heavy theory though ends up in my experience being a cart before the horse problem. Potentially brilliant work has frequently been derailed by excessive attention to theory. The other issue is that when theory is used to write the initial story, it becomes a circular self-perpetuating system. You need the good initial account before applying the theory.

    SMB, I think philosophers call this the hermeneutic circle. They’d argue that you can never escape from it you can just delude yourself that you have.

    Put simply you always are already in theory. The point of the circle is to use theory to understand data and then use that new understanding to critique theory. As you do this ideally you’ll know more. Of course there’s a debate whether this proceeds like a spiral or more like a pinball in a pinball machine (which arguably isn’t a real circle at all).

  95. Will, are you really wanting to get into proof-texting? Do you want me to respond with an interpretation and then raise you a Jimmie Pete oral history? It is just that I am not particularly interested in the game.

  96. Will, it is interesting that Palmer dates Haight’s sermon as July 24th. If he’s right, that does rule out the approaching Army as its object. On the other hand, I don’t see why it could not apply to other emigrant parties, since I presume the Fanchers were not the first to take the Southern road that summer.

    As far as the question of Paiute involvement, I think you’re tilting at windmills here. You seem to assume that arguing for Indian involvement somehow, in the minds of “the Brethren” or Mormon readers, lessens the criminality of Mormon actions. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, at least in the case of this book. Indeed, my chief complaint about the book was that it made those few Indians who did participate into mindless tools in the hands of evil and conspiring Mormons. The authors here treat Indian involvement as axiomatic, but this in no way shields the Mormon conspirators or militiamen from culpability. From Appendix D:

    Though…historians place these Paiute leaders in the vicinity of the Meadows in the weeks after the massacre, there is no conclusive evidence that most participated in or witnessed the killings.

    The Appendix goes on to list 25 Indians who “may have been associated with the massacre” and 5 who were “not involved.” Appendix C lists 68 militamen who can be fairly definitively said to have participated in or witnessed the massacre.

    I’m having a hard time figuring out how someone who considers the Huntington diary (Brigham ordering Indian leaders to massacre the Fanchers) a smoking gun can simultaneously consider the Carleton report to be definitive evidence of Indian non-participation. These conspiring Brethren have no possible motive for implicating Indians in participation in the massacre.

  97. Again, from Appendix D (where they cite Carleton):

    Two major lines of Paiute oral history have developed about participation in the massacre. One line says that no Paiutes participated in the massacre. Although this line may in part be a reaction to white efforts to pin all blame for the massacre on Indians, it also reflects the fact that the vast majority of Paiutes had nothing whatsoever to do with the killings. The second line of Paiute oral history recognizes some Paiute participation.

  98. If he’s right, that does rule out the approaching Army as its object.

    Not absolutely. Mormons in Utah were well aware of the formation and plans of the army long before it took up its march. The army plans had been talked about in the newspapers for weeks, and those papers, along with plains gossip about the army assembling at Leavenworth, had been brought to Utah by lots of travelers early in the summer. BY refers to the expectation of the army’s coming in his outgoing letters before this time. The July 24th news was only significant because it announced that the army had in fact left the frontier and would reach Utah that year instead of wintering over in Leavenworth as had been the hope.

  99. #90: Ray, are you serious or making an anatomy joke? Just in case you’re serious, what I have in mind here is a social cleavage; Lipset and Rokkan offer a nice definition, but the basic idea is a fundamental division in how people within a society think about themselves. An ethnic cleavage, arguably like the Mormon-Gentile cleavage of the 19th century, is just an abiding division in social identities related to people’s subjective lineage, culture, and religion.

    These cleavages appear as objective reality when they are socially and politically activated. However, that they are really basically socially constructed is evident from the fact that a near-infinite number of possible cleavages exist in any society, and the vast majority are not remarked on. For instance, note the profound lack of social enmity in America between tall people and short people…

  100. Steve Evans says:

    Jay, he was making an anatomy joke.

  101. Left Field says:

    Well, it could be an embryology joke.

    Actually, since cleave is one of those words that is its own antonym, it’s possible that ethnic cleavage could be the process of ethic groups joining tightly together.

  102. Thank you for the clarification, Ardis. Your perspective here sheds considerable light.

  103. JNS, It was an anatomical joke, but I also recognized the conflicting meaning the term could have had. I knew you meant division, but the phrase could have meant cooperation – taken in isolation out of context.

    Given the possibilities, I couldn’t resist.

  104. Randall says:


    What a great discussion of fascinating history from leaders in the field. MMM truly is a topic where even the professionally and intentionally dispassionate get excited. It has been a thrill to watch this thread develop.

  105. Nice review. I agree with most of what Brad wrote about blood atonement, but I am having a hard time with this statement:

    “but by ensuring an unwillingness on the part of the perpetrators to disobey their leaders.”

    My understanding is that blood atonement would only apply if several conditions were met. 1) The wrong-doer had to commit a unforgiveable sin like murder innocent blood which would require punishment in this life or the next life, punishment that couldn’t be circumvented merely through repentance and drawing on the Saviour’s atonement. 2) The wrong-doer had to have a high level of accountability, say have his calling and election apparently made sure prior to the wrong. (ordinary apostasy and disobeying orders is not sufficient here) 3) The wrong doer had to voluntarily submit to capitol punishment with the idea that punishment now was better than punishment later. (What apostate would want to volunteer? If blood atonement is voluntary, how can it pressure involuntary order following? As per requirement #1, disobeying would be the safer route to take.) 4) A Millennial government would have to be established first. No GA endorsed occurence of blood atonement ever occurred in practice, so how fear inducing could it really be?

  106. Keller, your outline sounds as though formal procedures, clearly taught and fully understood, were in place. Nothing so formal existed.

    Blood atonement was preached over the pulpit for a few months during the fall and winter of 1856-57, in a few sentences within longer sermons on many other subjects. It was not written down except as transcription of talks — there were no formal written articles explaining details that had been left out of the verbal sermons, nor anything for members to read and study. None of the sermons that I’ve seen mentioned anything at all about a millennial government (which the Saints of 1856-57 thought they were establishing anyway), or about any particular authority needed by someone to implement blood atonement — some of the remarks even spoke about husbands “atoning” their wives. Most of those at a distance from Davis/Salt Lake/Utah counties didn’t hear sermons directly from any general authority — they heard it from “home missionaries” who had no better understanding than the general population, or they heard it second or third hand from their settlement leaders who had heard it in Salt Lake and brought it back to, say, Parowan and preached their understanding, not necessarily what had really been taught in Salt Lake.

    Under those conditions, if you were guilty or even suspected of just about anything at all, can you be sure you wouldn’t be a little bit afraid of that wacky neighbor of yours, the one who is a little more fanatical than usual, who has a gospel hobby of calling down damnation on the unrighteous and who yells at your kids for walking on his lawn? If you really were an apostate, or a non-Mormon traveler who only heard rumors of that new and outrageous Mormon doctrine, would you be sure you were safe?

  107. Ardis, are there any internal primary sources suggesting how your argument may have played out for Latter-day Saints? Or is it mostly stuff in the spirit of JCB, who in Nauvoo claimed the Danites or Danite-remnants were actively attempting to assassinate him?

    Clark, I’ll have to post on critical theory sometime. What you’re saying is formally but in some sense I think merely trivially true. I hew to something of a religious phenomenology in getting the “story” out, emphasizing to the extent I can an attempt to communicate what I think participants would have believed to be true in language comprehensible to a current audience. Once that attempt has been made, I think then a theoretician can come in to weave a broader narrative, pursue a specific agenda. Because so little is reproducible in anything resembling an experimental mode, theory heavily determines outcome, particularly when it is specifically the goal of an endeavor.

  108. smb, I haven’t seen anything like what I think you are asking about. There is plenty of evidence that suspicious people were watched, but no internal discussion, to my knowledge, about sending anybody to do what could remotely be considered a “Danite operation.” With a couple of hours to search my files, I could offer a dozen or more examples of letters between people who were congratulating themselves, or diaries of people who were commenting on the otherwise inexplicable behavior of others, by quoting the line “the wicked flee when none pursueth.”

    I really do think there was a more or less deliberate plan to rid the territory of undesirables of all kinds by blood and thunder sermons, or by jumping around a corner and yelling “Boo!” if such people showed signs of being fearful. I do not believe there was a deliberate plan in SLC to commit even a single murder — but that doesn’t mean that a few, some, or many people didn’t go away from some of the sermons believing they had a license to “purify Zion” by any action they chose to take.

  109. any people expressing secret doubts but afraid to voice them over fear of retribution?

    thanks for indulging my ignorance of the Utah period.

  110. Mark IV says:

    the one who is a little more fanatical than usual,

    LOL! Thanks, Ardis.

  111. Concerning other blood atonement murders, or Danite operations, if you prefer, I’m a direct descendent of Polly Bullock, whose second husband, Jesse Hartly, was killed by Wild Bill Hickman on orders of Brigham Young. He was taken up a canyon and shot. This has always been known by the (incredibly staunchly Mormon) family; the story continues that Polly never got over it. A great-uncle spent a good deal of time trying to prove, unsuccessfully, that Jesse ran off.

  112. Mark IV, you caught me!

    smb, there are reminiscent accounts about displeasure with the catechism, and going along to get along. Records like the ones you’re asking about would be more likely, I’m guessing, to have been kept or created by those who left the Territory than by those who stayed, and I can think of a couple of those right off. One was by Frederick Loba, a Swiss emigrant who completely rewrote his history after leaving Utah, and who gave newspaper interviews about how fearful he was, and how the only way to save his neck was to flee Utah rather than to speak up.

    djinn, if I were to claim publicly that my brother had been murdered by someone “on orders of Mr. Djinn,” you would be well within your rights to ask for my evidence for that accusation, and to demand an apology (or more) when I couldn’t produce the evidence. So I’m asking on behalf of Brigham Young — what’s your evidence? (And did you know, Hope Hilton’s book notwithstanding, that there is no instance — none, zero, zilch, nada, not one — of any 19th century use of the sobriquet “Wild Bill” Hickman? One of my personal tests for credibility of an historical claim involving Hickman is the use of that name.) Not that you aren’t repeating your family lore faithfully — but family lore can and often is both wrong and irresponsible.

  113. But I love the name “Wild Bill” Hickman; he confessed to the murder and there is at least one other contemporaneous account–at least of someone reporting that Polly Hartly told her that Jesse was killed on order of Brigham Young.

  114. djinn, you are talking with Ardis Freaking Parshall. Do you really want to offer that evidence to HER? :)

  115. smb, I think your religious-phenomenology work is excellent. But like any other mode of research, it has its limits. Some questions just can’t be successfully answered by reproducing some best guess of how participants understood events. In particular, causal “why” questions as opposed to interpretive/motive “why” questions can’t be answered by a phenomenology approach. When a work is motivated by a causal question, as the review above suggests that this work is, phenomenology is the wrong tool for the job.

  116. djinn, we’ll skip over the anonymous “somebody” and her gossip, and jump to this: how would Polly Hartly know that Brigham Young gave such an order? Did he write her a letter telling her so? Invite her to his office to be present when he gave the order? Send her the videotape of his meeting with Hickman?

    That’s all I’m saying — just because gossip is old doesn’t make it true.

    /s/ Ardis Freaking Parshall

  117. Ardis, that’s just your epistemology. Mine is that gossip is truth incarnated in the world. All other evidence is to be evaluated in light of gossip; my eyes may be deceived, but never my chatty neighbor…

  118. What is history? If the murder occurred, it was in 1854. She (Mary Ann Polly Bullock Hartly Roberts) wrote an account (or at least told someone who actually wrote down her words) accusing Hickman of killing her husband on orders of the prophet in 1858; William Hickman’s account was written in 1871. The two accounts dovetail, but reasons for the murder are different, indicating to me, at least that it is not a matter of one person repeating a story heard from another. The missing he (Jesse Hartly) went missing at the right time, never to again appear. Doesn’t some of this count as something close to evidence?

  119. jns, we both have a point.
    my initial point is that MMM primary documents haven’t been analyzed yet at a phenomenological level, and until they are, I think it’s premature to start the heavily theoretical approach. (I will confess that my distaste for critical theory does affect my broader views about applications of theory too aggressively; there is room at the table of understanding for several approaches. on a practical note most theory I encounter has a very limited probability of being read and understood by most readers.)

  120. The “Told someone who wrote down her words” could be interpreted as someone passing on gossip, but it’s a first person account transcribed by someone else; uh, you know, not holographic (is that the right word?).

  121. Nate Oman says:

    djinn: the question is not the veracity of the documentation of her account, but the veracity of her account itself. You’re confusing the issues.

  122. Keller, I just wanted to concur with Ardis’s evaluation of your systematic blood atonement theology. I just don’t see the evidence for it.

  123. Umm, no; her account corroborates Bill Hickman’s account by telling her husband’s side, plus there’s this:

    “In the early days of my experience in Utah, I frequently had cases which required me to go to the city of Provo, and when attending court there I lodged at Mr. Bullock’s hotel. Having heard of the murder of Hartley, and that his wife was a sister of Mr. Bullock, I asked him on one occasion, while stopping at his hotel, whether what I had heard respecting the murder of Hartley was true. He stated that Hartley had incurred the displeasure of Brigham Young, who at a public meeting had used strong language against Hartley, and had ordered him to leave the speakers stand; that on account of the charges made by Brigham, which Bullock said were not true, Hartley was put under the ban of the church, and decided to change his residence. He joined the company of Judge Appleby, and while leaving the Territory was murdered by Hickman. I asked Mr. Bullock if the matter had ever been investigated by the executive authorities, and he said it had not been, although it was generally known that Hickman had committed the crime. I also asked him why he had not instituted proceedings against Hickman. He shook his head significantly and replied, ‘Don’t press me for an answer to that question.’
    RN Baskin, Former Mayor of Salt Lake, Reminiscences of Early Utah.

    I had no idea this was such a well-known case, and now understand more about my great-uncles’ feelings towards it. I guess your point is that this is all after-the-fact gossip.

  124. djinn, in terms of establishing that BY ordered Hickman too commit murder, your evidence thus far is pretty weak sauce…

  125. The original argument was about whether blood atonement had ever actually happened. Jesse Hartly told his wife that he had been told that he had committed crimes that required blood atonement. Brigham Young denounced him publicly; Jesse lit off for the territories; he ended up dead. Bill Hickman confessed to the killing; Prior to the confession, everyone seems to have known that Bill Hickman did it. I’m pretty sure you believed Claude Raines when he expressed amazement that gambling was going on in his innocent establishment. Wow. Family lore somehow implicated her brothers in ways that was never made clear. I guess it’s because they did nothing.

    As the original posting mentioned, the doctrine of Blood Atonement was used to keep people in line. Here’s a case of it that everyone seems to have known about; whether or not there is a smoking gun directly implicating Brigham Young, the public denouciation and later murder let everyone know what the deal was. It’s an interesting event, that parallels, in a small way, the much larger horrors perpetrated at Mountain Meadows a few years later.

  126. Umm, yes. djinn, we all believe you are reproducing your family lore and quoted documents absolutely accurately. The point is this: Neither the wife, nor Baskin, was in any position to know whether or not Brigham Young had ordered Bill Hickman to kill your ancestor. That may be what they *believed,* that may be what they *told* people, that may be what they *wrote* in their records.

    But how did they know it? Were any of them witnesses to the order? No. They have their reasons for believing that BY issued such an order, but those are suspicions only, not evidence. If I said I suspected you of being the guy who stole my rake and killed my cat, would that have any weight in history or in court? If not, why would you give weight to Polly’s statements about her suspicions?

    Bill Hickman’s confession is another matter. If he were a credible witness (one not being rewarded by investigators for pinning every possible crime on BY) and had any corroborating evidence to link BY to the murder, his testimony would carry weight. He would know, without a doubt, whether he had been ordered by BY to kill anyone.

    The fact that Bobby Baskin and the others who were so anxious to prosecute BY for capital crimes could not put together even an indictment for this murder, even with Hickman’s testimony, tells us exactly how credible he was not.

  127. But although I disagree with you in the specific case, I very much agree with part of what you write in 125: the *perception* of blood atonement, even absent evidence of it, could have a powerful influence on people’s behavior.

  128. I’m not related to Jesse Hartley. I’m the GGGdaughter of Polly Bullock.

  129. Researcher says:

    Wow. If you’re trying to figure out “whodunnit” here’s a plot line: Polly shot him and Hickman and Baskin helped hide the body. Since they handled the corpse, they knew that Hartley wouldn’t show up and discredit their story so the “disappearance” was fair game to smear Brigham Young. Wow again. It’s historical fiction just waiting to be written.

  130. Clark, I’ll have to post on critical theory sometime. What you’re saying is formally but in some sense I think merely trivially true. I hew to something of a religious phenomenology in getting the “story” out, emphasizing to the extent I can an attempt to communicate what I think participants would have believed to be true in language comprehensible to a current audience. Once that attempt has been made, I think then a theoretician can come in to weave a broader narrative, pursue a specific agenda. Because so little is reproducible in anything resembling an experimental mode, theory heavily determines outcome, particularly when it is specifically the goal of an endeavor.

    I can but say that sometimes the trivially true is what is most important not to overlook.

    I’d say the process you outline is fine but should be the first step. I think one should then take the work of ‘theoreticians’ and the reinvestigate what you’re calling the phenomenology. And repeat again.

  131. Bill MacKinnon says:

    Sorry for the late catch-up:
    **Re J. Nelson-Seawright’s #65 comment about doubting whether there was “anyone innocent” re MMM, I’m intrigued by a brief reference or two that I read in a draft of the Walker-Turley-Leonard ms. last year to the effect that in southern UT several men “opted out” (my language) of participation in MMM by, in one case, hiding, and in another arranging a self-inflicted wound. I don’t know if these incidents made it into the published ms., but when I read of them in draft form they sent up a huge flag for me. If such incidents occurred, the men involved were unbelievably inner-directed to buck colossal peer-church-military pressure to avoid taking part in what so many others went along with. I’d like to know more about these cases of what in Vietnam was called “combat refusal.” A VERY difficult act to pull off when in an isolated situation and under military authority, among others.
    **Re J. Stapley’s reference to my “Lonely Bones” article, yes it was in the Spring 2007 issue of “Journal of Mormon History.” The article is very similar to the Chapter 12 of similar title in “At Sword’s Point,” although in some cases there is more info. in the article because of the [long] book’s space limitations, but some of the data in the book chapter is more complete/current because of the timing gap between the publication dates of the two. I agree with Jay that Ardis Parshall’s research in “Pursue, Retake & Punish” has held up very well, and I cannot emphasize too strongly the value of what she published (with the help of Editor Kent Powell at “UHQ”)and the tenacity/fortitude that was involved in her work. I view Ardis’s article as what I’ve termed “a lodestone” for navigating one’s way through the complexities of the MMM, which soon followed in the same locale and involving an overlapping cast.
    **In #79 J. Nelson-Seawright emphasized the importance of the Utah War as “framing” for the related violence, and I couldn’t agree more. Much of the violence wouldn’t have occurred without the war, or at least it would have unfolded differently.
    **Re Clark’s #80 question about the delay in delivery of copies of “At Sword’s Point” ordered from Amazon, I have queried my publisher, Bob Clark, who, in turn, pursued this with the University of Oklahoma (not Illinois, Clark) Press’s Director of Marketing, who has queried Amazon. No answer yet, but I hope to have one soon.
    **Re #81, “StillConfused”s question about whether a “bunch” were killed, if you meant the body count from MMM this was answered earlier. If you meant the fatalities related to the other acts of violence to which I referred, I’d note that the scale of killings was substantially smaller than with the unimaginable toll at MM. Most came in “ones” as with the October 1857 murder of ammunition-trader Richard E. Yates and lynching of U.S. Army Pvt. G.W. Clarke, and the November 1857 assassination of civilian-traveller Henry Forbes. But in the case of the attack on the Aiken party in November, there were five and perhaps six fatalities and in the case of the massacre at Fort Limhi (Salmon River Mission) there were two killed and five wounded. The point that I’ve made elsewhere in attacking the myth of the Utah war as “bloodless” is that the total number of fatalities (and intended fatalities) came pretty close to the 154 that occurred in Kansas Territory during a much longer period (1854-1861) that earned it the enduring label “Bleeding Kansas.” So much for “bloodless.”

  132. As always Bill, your comments are valuable. I don’t have the book with me right now (and will try to dig up the references when I do), but the authors do include the stories of a couple (three maybe) individuals that refused to participate under similar circumstances to that which you describe.

  133. #104 and 122

    I will have to do a post on the evidence I recall seeing on all 4 of my requirements I list. But I will concede the point that Ardis makes up front, that even if I understand blood atonement correctly, it is unlikely that people all over the territory who were at different levels of temple participation and opportunities to hear sermons would understand things the way I do.

    I distinguish blood atonement from retribution, legal justice, frontier justice, family chastisements, oath breaking penalties, jokes and threats about Danites, and prayers for God’s vengeance; but I suspect that these were and still are easily conflated.

  134. Bill MacKinnon says:

    J. Stapley (#132), thanks for your willingness to look these cases up. If my recollection is correct, they represent several enormously important instances in which LDS men, under pressures nearly-identical to those experienced by their peers, chose at their peril to do what from today’s perspective would be “the right thing.” Why did they buck the current and others did not? It was the same dilemma facing the several LDS infantrymen in Capt. Medina’s “C” Company at Mylai 4 in 1968 (along with their Catholic, Protestant, and non-affiliated comrades).

  135. in southern UT several men “opted out” (my language) of participation in MMM by, in one case, hiding, and in another arranging a self-inflicted wound. I don’t know if these incidents made it into the published ms., but when I read of them in draft form they sent up a huge flag for me. If such incidents occurred, the men involved were unbelievably inner-directed to buck colossal peer-church-military pressure to avoid taking part in what so many others went along with.

    Yes, Bill — as J. notes there are references in the book to a few who courageously opted out of the killings. As for those who chose to participate in spite of being conflicted as to the moral justification of what they were being told to do — and especially in light of recent discussions about deference to higher authority — I offer the following snippet from the book, a quotation from John D. Lee, describing the moment when militia members were invited (not without pressure) to withdraw from the bloody plan hatched by their priesthood leaders:

    All said they were willing to carry out the council of their leaders; that the leaders had the Spirit of God and knew better what was right than they did (pg. 189).

  136. Bill, the authors describe a genre of family-lore describing conscientious objectors. They give four examples (pg. 181): 1) a quote describing “Old Joseph Walker” where the man “put his fist in Haights face and told him to go to hell and do his own dirty work” 2) some folks hid in the furrows of the potato patch 3) Peter Nelson reportedly concealed himself in a bin of grain, breathing through a straw and 4) someone claimed to be ill and laid on hot bricks to fake a fever.

    1) [Josiah Rogerson], “Excerpts-From Bishop’s Confessions of John D. Lee.
    2) Hamilton Wallace, “Historical Sketch of the Life of Hamilton Wallace,”
    3) Jerrold J. Myrup to Brian Reeves, [June 2002]
    4) Verda Tullis, “David Wilson Tullis,” ca. 1953. They also cite a handful of other sources then also cite sources to the effect that he was actually at the massacre.

  137. Mark IV says:

    Old Joseph Walker is a hero who deserves to be quoted in general conference. He is important to us, and needs to be respected the same way we respect Alexander Doniphan.

  138. Bill MacKinnon says:

    J. Stapley (#136), yes, those are the types of incidents that I recalled. I’m glad that they remained in the published version. Re Mark IV’s assessment (#137) of Old Joseph Walker, I don’t know a thing about him except for this incident, but I join Mark in his admiration for such behavior. I hope that reviews of the book will give him visability along with the others who acted differently. Admittedly, like many bits of folklore and second-guessing, there may be some hyperbole mixed in with these accounts, but in them nonetheless is the nub of behavior from which some small bit of the positive may emerge in the midst of otherwise unremitting disaster and sordidness. At Mylai 4 there was a vaguely similar tableau when, near the end of the killing, an army warrant officer landed his helicopter, ordered his gunner to cover him, and waded into the fray, defying the troops engaged in the killing to rescue several people whom he flew away under his protection. I think that this pilot subsequently had a rough time of it and may even have been hounded out of the service, but about five or so years ago the army did the right thing and belatedly awarded him the Distinguished Service Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor. The reference to Alexander Doniphan is, I assume, rooted in his refusal to execute Joseph Smith, Jr. and other Mormon prisoners when so ordered by his Illinois militia commander, a refusal for which he put his own reputation, if not life, on the line.

  139. Hugh Thompson’s, Glenn Andreotta’s, and Lawrence Colburn’s actions at My Lai are summarized here.

  140. Mark IV (137) – Maybe “Old Joseph Walker” was a hero. I don’t know his whole story, but his courage sounds admirable. But if this story was told in general conference, even (and especially) if it is given proper context, within a month at least 10 different people will have “put his fist in [his bishop’s] face and told him to go to hell and do his own dirty work” after being asked to set up chairs.

  141. Thanks for the link, Justin. Brought tears to my eyes.

  142. It’s an interesting situation when both #137 and #140 are so true.

  143. Eric Russell says:

    JT – Awesome. Especially if you get a situation where 2nd Ward has been asked twice in a row now and 3rd Ward hasn’t done it for heaven knows how long. Someone needs to be put in their place. Righteous fury unleashed.

  144. My father has a confession written by one of my direct ancestors involved in the massacre. He was unrepentant and spoke stated specifically that the victims had bragged to have participated in the killing of Joseph Smith and had to pay for that sin.

    The Mormon temple ceremony around that time included very specific vows to avenge the death of Joseph Smith. Avoiding this very basic fact makes any book on the Mountain Meadows massacre rubbish.

  145. I have just added the following text to the post in the section where I discussed the Hamblin Documents: UPDATE June 13, 2008 – Brian Reeves at the LDS Church Archives has informed me that Donald R. Moorman with Gene A. Sessions, Camp Floyd and the Mormons: The Utah War (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1992), 137-8 (see also p. 304, notes 65-68) used the Hamblin letter and that, as per the preface of the volume, Moorman likely accessed the material in the 1960’s. The documents were transfered to the Young Office Files in the late seventies or early eighties and were made publicly available in 2000.

  146. Joe, the authors do cite material that covers the “oath of vengence.” They also deal with the supposed Joseph Smith connection. I would save your indignation lest your comment appear to be…rubbish.

  147. A new genre invented right here: massacre rubbish!

  148. Bill MacKinnon says:

    Joe (#144), has the document in your father’s possession been discussed in the MMM books by Juanita Brooks, Will Bagley, or Sally Denton? Do you have reason to think that it was used for the new Walker, Turley, and Leonard book? The perception that one or more members of the Fancher party indulged in such bragging and the belief that the “oath of vengeance” then came into play tragically on September 11, 1857 have been discussed by historians for years. The crucial issue is the authenticity and reliability of the available sources bearing on these issues. You’ve raised an intriguing document depending when and how it was written and by whom and what it says, specifically.

  149. Jami, unfortunately, massacre rubbish is a very old genre indeed…

  150. Curses, I thought I had witnessed a historic event.

  151. Bill #131, with the “framing” language, I actually had something a bit more specific than the general context of the Utah War in mind. “Framing” in psychology research has to do with the way an objective situation is verbally presented to a decision-maker; in the Utah War context, the framing I was discussing above isn’t the empirical fact of a large army marching to Utah, but rather the way political leaders and the media on both sides of the conflict conceptualized the army and presented that conceptualization to actors on the ground. In particular, I think it’s a useful historical counterfactual/thought experiment to ask what would have happened in terms of violence if Brigham Young and other top Mormon leaders had not publicly conceptualized the situation as one of existential war. What if those leaders had instead adopted a “misunderstanding” frame from the beginning, telling their followers that they were confident the threatened invasion could be managed by a simple good-faith discussion? (This seems to be perhaps a reasonable opposite to the public conceptualization actually offered.) How many acts of Mormon-instigated violence would the Utah War period have featured in this hypothetical? It’s certainly impossible to know, but most of the plausible scenarios would have Mormons killing fewer people.

  152. Thank you for the compelling review, gentlemen. I just pre-ordered my copy on Amazon.

  153. It’s also worth noting, RE: # 144, 146, 148, that Mormons need not have actually believed that some of the more audacious trash-talking about killing Joe Smith reflected reality — they need not have believed that members of the party actually killed their prophet — in order for such brazen statements to have been viewed as signs of aggression or to have been catalysts for violence. A black person does not need to believe that a white speaker is a hard-core segretationist or nostalgic about slavery in order for the N-word to have a violent psycho-social effect.

  154. Will Bagely says:

    Brad & J. Stapley,

    Per comments 95 and 96, you missed my point: my intent was not to “proof-text” Paiutes but to point to a key issue: the quality of evidence, which as promising historians I’m sure you find interesting. And as anyone who was on the MHA MMM field trip in 2007 observed first hand, I’m no fan of the tale that only Lee and the Paiutes were involved in the initial attack (or, to quote the variant approach Orson Scott Card defined in Saintspeak, the Mountain Meadows Massacre was “An unfortunate incident in which John D. Lee, a master of disguise, dressed up as dozens of Indians and single-handedly wiped out all the men, women, and children in a wagon train of Missourians passing through southern Utah.”)

    This is a particularly interesting question because the version of the initial assault you see in the church’s book was hotly contested: a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor told me that Richard Turley had conceded to him that there were other whites involved in the initial assault, and people involved in the project have even told me who some of them were. However this conflict played out, the best historians obviously lost the battle. The story the book presents about how the “the double handful of blood” inspired the “savages” to drop their corn and potatoes and rush to the meadows to attack the emigrants all by themselves is silly. It is easy to understand why everybody connected with the massacre tried to shift all the blame possible onto the Paiutes, and it is hardly surprising that nobody ever admitted that whites organized and executed the initial attack, probably with very limited Indian support.

    My point was that you can’t simply dismiss the earliest accounts – Carleton, Cradlebaugh, and Rogers – by branding them as “anti-Mormon.” All three report substantial Mormon involvement in the initial assault. They were based on confessions from at least two participants in the massacre, and also happen to be much, much, much closer to the truth than anything coming from Mormon sources up to Brooks. In a similar comparison, even Davis Bitton and Leonard Arrington gave Robert Baskin (whose description of his interviews with Bill Hickman is fascinating) credit for being more credible than Mormon spinmeister Apostle Orson F. Whitney: “Current scholarship on almost all if not all of the topics he mentions would come closer to his interpretation than to Whitney’s.”

    But I forgot to commend you on the quality of your review: you raised most of what I believe will be the hard questions about the Oxford book. The book itself is a remarkable piece of work: undertaking the project was completely daft, but the finished produce meets most of the purposes outlined in its preface. (And the unstated purpose: to reassure the faithful.). It does a better job than anyone outside the faith could hope to expect, especially in placing much of the old rubbish about the Paiutes on the junkpile.

    And for Joseph Walker fans, here’s an earlier recognition of this hero:

    In the midst of this fervor, Mormons of conscience resisted the hysteria. Undisguised hostility usually greeted the Arkansans on their trek through Utah, but in Cedar City the emigrants found a friend in miller Joseph Walker, a “sturdy and bluff old Englishman,” who milled the grain they had bought at Corn Creek. Bishop Philip Klingensmith sent an elder to order the miller not to grind the wheat, but the independent-minded Walker refused to be intimidated. “Tell the bishop,” he said, “I have six grown sons, and that we will sell our lives at the price of death to others before I will obey his order.” [Gibbs, The Mountain Meadows Massacre, 18. Bishop Philip Klingensmith saw “three or four [emigrants] at the mill getting grist done with some wheat that they had bought from Mr. Jackson.” He apparently excommunicated Walker. See Backus, Mountain Meadows Witness, 112.]

    Finally, did the ARC you reviewed say anything about publishing reviews before the appearance of the final book? I learned last weekend that Oxford did not inform the authors it was issuing an ARC, and the book has been through two additional rewrites since the ARC appeared. (Bill MacKinnon should be especially pleased to learn that they’ve scrapped the theory that the whole Utah War was the fault of those scoundrels Drummond and Magraw, which apparently dates from the Pliocene era of Utah history. Bill pointed out way back in 1963 the “strong possibility that neither [Sec. of State] Cass nor Buchanan saw” Magraw’s letter, and his justly praised “At Sword’s Point” pretty much disposed of Drummond, too.)

    Finally, a question: what did you learn about publication plans for the Jenson affidavits? Who is publishing it, and how much material is there?

  155. Will, though it is apparent that you are pessimistic about the degree to which the authors, as employees of the Mormon Church, can write fairly about this topic, I appreciate that you have dialed down the sarcasm in your recent comment.

    Regarding the ARC, Oxford was aware that we were preparing a review and I know that others are currently preparing reviews with the same ARC.

    First, it is important to note that the authors in no way try to minimize Mormon participation in the first attack. The Mormons are the culpable party according to the narrative. Now, Lee deviates somewhat from the plan, but I think there is more than sufficient evidence to also show Piute participation in the attacks.

    I don’t think it is appropriate to discount those early accounts, however a modern historiography must consider all the evidence, including materials to which those early authors did not have access. Regarding Arrington and Bitton’s claim, I must confess to not having read Whitney. The authors of the new volume state, however, that Whitney had access to the Jenson papers, even though he didn’t cite them. I don’t believe that Arrinton or Bitton would have known that.

    I’d have to look it up, but the authors do talk about someone who ground wheat for the settlers. I can’t remember off the top of my head if it was Walker or not, but that sounds right.

    I’ll see what I can find regarding the publication information for the Jenson papers. Thank you for your positive assessment of our review. I appreciate it.

  156. Also, Will, I was under the impression that your argument for Young’s culpability goes back to the idea that he “encouraged his Indian allies to attack the Fancher party.” Are you saying that he did do that (something the authors of the new volume controvert) but that he was ultimately unsuccessful in his encouragement?

  157. Will,
    I’ll basically agree with my colleague here. The authors implicate multiple Mormons in the initial attack. Lee’s only major deviation was to lead the initial charge (the first of as many as four) ahead of schedule, i.e. before the time that he and Haight had agreed upon. My sense was that the specific details regarding the whos and whats of Mormon participation in the first attack were a bit more difficult to pin down (as opposed to the final slaughter, where Mormon participation on all levels is amply documented).

    It doesn’t make sense for Mormon authors (even those writing with the imprimatur of the LDS Church) with an exculpatory agenda to minimize Mormon participation in the first attack but take a wholly different tack with the actual massacre. The whole-scale slaughter to cover up Mormon involvement in the initial attack was far, far more atrocious and insidious than what they were attempting to cover up. If Mormon militiamen had made good on the false promises made under a flag of truce and actually led the Fancher party to safety and on to California, the first attack would scarcely register on our historiographical radar screen.

    On another note, speaking as one of the “faithful,” Young’s direct involvement (i.e. whether or not he, in fact, issued a direct order) in the massacre (really the only major interpretive point on which their work departs from yours) barely factors into my sense of how “reassuring” any account of this terrible, wicked tragedy might be. Put differently, this book was far from reassuring…

  158. Bill MacKinnon says:

    J. Nelson-Seawright (#151), thanks for your further explanation of “framing.” What you say makes a whole lot of sense to me; you’ve explained it better than I could. I really think a lot more work needs to be done on the rhetoric of Mormon leaders and its impact on Utah at key junctures as well as on the rest of the country. Some historians have blown off the rhetoric as more or less harmless hyperbole by a leader known for his overstatements, but as I tried to say in my “Lonely Bones” article and chapter it had incredible power when coming from a leader holding a vast series of overlapping church, civil, and military roles that were, in effect, responsible for the well-being of every human in UT, including Indians as well as Caucasians and non-Mormons as well as LDS Church members.

  159. Bill MacKinnon says:

    Re the dialogue (#154-#157) between Will, Brad, and J., I second the motion that the tone and arguments of this string have been positive and helpful. Thanks to the three of you.

  160. Bill, while I’m pretty skeptical of the whole notion of “framing” (a Lakoff innovation as I recall) I think used in more vague and broad senses there’s something to it.

    However if we are talking about ‘guilt’ and so forth rather than merely causes then intents and knowledge has to be considered. Not having read the volume in question yet I can’t speak to whether they address that. It seems a more technical matter to get into.

    I’d agree that Brigham’s rhetoric was a partial yet significant contribution to the tragedy. Did he realize that his rhetoric and war planning could result in such an atrocity? That seems a much more problematic statement. I hope the second volume comes out sooner rather than later (and certainly much sooner than 10 years!!). I suspect that will throw light on this issue. (Not to disparage in the least Bagley’s views here – I’ve simply not read his book yet and have instead been waiting for this volume so as to read both views close together).

    Anyway my ultimate point is that we understand human psychology and especially mob violence much better now than 150 years ago. We should be careful not to read back into life on the frontier our current understanding.

    I will say that the question of whether Brigham should have learned from the incidents of violence in the Missouri war and conflicts in Illinois is a very interesting question. As I’ve oft said I’d love a book that treats the early Mormon experience in light of military history and theory. It’s a volume crying out to be written.

    Many have said that Brigham learned his leadership abilities from Joseph Smith and especially Zion’s March. However that may well have included bad lessons. Since, to me, Joseph’s military actions often seem to have gone against fairly explicit warnings from God. (Or, if one buys the more naturalistic reading, from Joseph’s subconscious)

    Getting back to the framing issue one thing we have to ask is whether the very texts Brigham made use of with Old Testament apocalyptic writing and prophetic style doesn’t color the way Brigham framed. That is to what degree is the very text of the Bible culpable? (A point I suspect some atheists like Dawkins would be eager to make)

  161. Clark, be as skeptical of framing as you like, but there’s substantial experimental evidence behind it. Kahneman and Tversky’s Nobel-winning research into the psychology of economic decision-making is probably the current paradigmatic case of framing research; it involved randomized laboratory experiments in which identical wagers were framed in different ways. Participants in different treatment conditions treated the wagers quite divergently.

    Lakoff has appropriated the idea of framing and used it in ways that I’m dubious about to discuss American politics. But the concept is older; it’s usually attributed to Erving Goffman. Being a framing skeptic isn’t quite equivalent to being skeptical of evolution in terms of the amount of high-quality scientific evidence that needs to be dismissed, but it’s a lot more empirical trouble than being skeptical of the claim, e.g., that Brigham Young didn’t order the Mountain Meadows Massacre. That latter claim only has to explain away the existence or lack thereof of a handful of primary sources; rejecting framing requires explaining away hundreds of randomized experiments — some of which are simple and yet strong enough in their effects that I’ve successfully replicated them in political science classrooms.

    It’s worth remembering that the Bible and Mormon tradition offer peace passages as well as language regarding warfare and vengeance. It’s unfair to let someone off the hook for which kinds of Bible passages they choose to emphasize.

  162. I’m not familiar with Kahneman and Tversky’s work, but I’ve read lots of Goffman. Possibly the coolest, and definitely some of the most compelling theoretical work on human behavior I’ve ever encountered.

  163. Bill MacKinnon says:

    The discussion of “framing” in #160 and #161 is rapidly getting too technical for me. I’m stuck in the more traditional/comfortable morass of such notions as “context” and the impact of “negative leadership by example.” Clark, to address your question about whether B.Y. understood the impact of his rhetoric, I’d say — after thinking about it long and hard and reading the text of a lot of what he said and wrote (but not as much as Ardis has read)– that, yes, he did understand what he was doing and what it’s impact would be, but probably not the full extent of the damage that resulted to the reputation of the church as well as to his own. (In this sense, I am reminded of Upton Sinclair’s comment re the uproar following the 1909 publication of his book about the transgressions of the Chicago meat packing industry [“The Jungle”]: “With this book I was aiming at the nation’s heart and instead hit in the pit of the stomach”)Occasionally B.Y. would pause in the middle of a discourse and comment that he knew what he was saying was controversial but so what, and occasionally he would even bait the non-Mormons in attendance by daring them to report what he was saying, which they indeed did with the result being subsequent quoting cross-country as well as in Europe. Occasionally in letters to distant Mormon leaders (like Horace S. Eldredge in St. Louis) he would dictate an aside to the effect that the latest published B.Y. discourse in the “Deseret News” had been editorially scrubbed to remove the “pepper.” I think that B.Y. was so confident of the rightness of what he was doing (in what he strongly believed to be “the final days”) and he was so confident of his power and isolation, that he lost sight of the very real consequences of his rhetoric. (The absence of counselors in SLC who really argued with him as George Ball did with LBJ during the Vietnam War also meant the removal of badly needed inhibitions and care. Unfortunately the strong-backboned John Taylor, then an apostle and not part of The First Presidency, was absent in NYC at crucial times.) In my “Lonely Bones” article and book chapter I’ve labeled this aspect of B.Y.’s leadership “ineffective.” In a discourse that B.Y. gave in April 1853 (at general conference) he counseled the thousands of people in attendance to deal with thieves they caught through summary execution, remarkable advice coming from a man who was also the sworn/paid governor of an American territory as well as its superintendent of Indian Affairs and militia commander. In that discourse B.Y. paused to acknowledge that such advice might shock some in the congregation because of their upbringing and family teachings, but then forged on and commented that heretofore the only part of his body with which he had harmed someone was indisciplined use of his tongue, which he dubbed “an unruly member.” I think he was quite right. Ultimately, it was the church’s reputation that took the greatest hit, and such talk — negative leadership by example — played a fascinating, little-studied part in the federal government’s descent on Utah and Mormonism with the full force of its power. Talk that seemed funny and gratifying in the apparent isolation of Utah proved to have real consequences that did tremendous damage when it came home to roost. Years ago a lady named Ruth Greenwood wrote a doctoral dissertation for one of the Utah universities that delved into the impact of B.Y.’s rhetoric during the 1850s/60s with specific examples — probably the best thing done thus far on this subject, but, alas, still unpublished.

  164. Thank you for your analysis here, Bill (and for the Greenwood reference).

  165. #163 – There’s a reason, Bill, you are so highly respected. Thank you for your excellent insight.

  166. Researcher says:

    My dad used to go on about the Law of Unintended Consequences. Looking it up, it looks like it wasn’t original to him (not even close; it can be traced back to people like Adam Smith). A sociologist, Robert Merton, reportedly listed five potential causes of unintended consequences, including error, ignorance, immediate interest, basic values interfering with long term planning, and self-defeating prophecy (not self-fulfilling!). Sounds like a paradigm that could apply to Bill McKinnon’s comments in 163.

    I know that’s outside the scope of this thread, but it might be worth mentioning that perhaps from time to time some of the things that Brigham Young did may have had positive unintended consequences and that his life did not begin and end with the events of the Mountain Meadow Massacre and the Utah War. I could be mistaken, however.

    Personal note: I mentioned some of the recent scholarship and events to my husband (a scientist with – gasp – little interest in history) a few weeks ago and he was flabbergasted that the Mountain Meadows Massacre is discussed every single year at the Mormon History Association meetings.

  167. Bill MacKinnon says:

    Ray (#165), your kind comment is a nice Father’s Day surprise, for which I’m grateful. Since this whole thread is about MMM, a decidedly unhappy event, many of the comments, including mine, about B.Y. and others have tended to run to blame-assessing. I try to remember that there was also at least one other side to Pres. Young, a compassionate, pastoral side. In my May 27, 2007 comments in Temple Square’s Assembly Hall (at the Devotional session closing out MHA-Salt Lake City) I gave a few examples from the Utah War in which B.Y. comforted General Wells (then absent in Echo Canyon) in November 1857 about the death of his one-year-old daughter Luna and the next month granted a Lincolnesque pardon to Pvt. James Drake, a condemned Nauvoo Legionnaire sentenced by court-martial to be shot. Anyone who wants a copy of these unpublished remarks about the compassionate side of B.Y. can get my address from this blog’s Janitors. For more on B.Y.’s compassionate side, see also my post to Times & Seasons in April about the noctural “P.S.” that B.Y. added to a letter written to his son, Willard Young, while he was a distant cadet at West Point during the 1870s. The next (Summer 2008) issue of “Utah Historical Quarterly” will also contain an article that mentions B.Y.’s pastoral handling of the plight of a Utah girl who ran off to San Francisco in the spring of 1855 with the U.S. Army’s departing Steptoe Expedition, an event about which B.Y. was very angry, although in the case of Miss Stayner his anger was overridden by his desire to help her to return to her distraught parents in Utah. Here was fatherly behavior on the part of Brigham Young appropriate to contemplate on a day such as this.

  168. Bill MacKinnon says:

    Researcher, my comments in #167 were sent before I saw your #166, but I guess they address your musing about the positive side of B.Y. as much as anyone’s. Interesting that you should mention the Law of Unintended Consequences, a label that I’ve used to describe the 1857 Santa Clara ambush, about which Ardis Parshall has written,wherein an attempt to deal with two felons newly-released from the Utah territorial pen careened out of control with the unintended and unforeseen consequence being an attempt to assassinate four other (uninvolved) people along the Santa Clara River as well the assassination of three other people in Springville a few weeks later. Meanwhile, the two original targets of the intended ambush gone awry ambled off to the oblivion of the California goldfields unscathed and probably unconscious of all the mayhem that occurred in their wake. As for the presence of MMM as a perennial topic on the agenda of MHA conferences, this is a relatively recent phenomenon of only about ten years standing. I think it runs to the approach of the sesquicentennial of MMM and the Utah War that spawned it, interest in books-in-progress about it, and the desire of the late President Hinckley and other church leaders to address the lingering legacy of this seminal event in a quite different way than during earlier generations. Tell your scientist-husband to fasten his non-history-oriented seat belt for the coming seige of Civil War sesquicentennial books, magazine articles, films, conferences, reenactments, and TV shows. The planning for this tsunami– to be preceded by the festivities for the Lincoln bicentennial in 2009 — is well under way and will soon be upon us. MHA’s annual conference in 2009 will be in Sprinfield-Nauvoo, so I think there’ll likely be a respite from MMM.

  169. Clark, be as skeptical of framing as you like, but there’s substantial experimental evidence behind it.

    It’s the experimental evidence that makes me skeptical. But I don’t want to draw the discussion down into a discussion of differing approaches within cognitive science and the critiques of Lakoff and company. Some elements of framing seem solid but a lot of claims go well beyond the empirical data.

    Maybe a post at my blog when I have some time.

    Bill, regarding your comments on BY’s awareness of his rhetoric I can but say I’m that much more eager to read your book.

  170. Researcher says:

    I am out of my depth commenting among all these professional historians, so thank you for your kind response, Bill. And as big a fan as I am of everything Ardis writes, I’ve not yet read her Santa Clara paper. (But don’t tell her that.)

  171. You’re busted, Researcher.

  172. Researcher says:

    I must confess that I’m beat. After a couple of hours I can’t think of a funny or snappy response to that. :-(

    So, where do I find the Santa Clara article?

  173. Bill MacKinnon says:

    Researcher, my experience has been that when Auntie Ardis busts someone (#171), they may stay in the dog house for an extended stay, although abject groveling and apologies tend to work wonders in getting back into her good graces. When you DO read her “Pursue, Retake & Punish” article, keep in mind that not only was the time of the Santa Clara imbroglio in fairly close proximity to MMM (Feb. 17 vs. Sept. 11, 1857)and the cast overlapping (B.Y., Isaac Haight, William Dame, and Aaron Johnson), but so too was the location in a sense. Santa Clara Canyon (site of the Feb. 1857 ambush) rather than MM, is now believed to have been the originally intended locale planned for the initial attack on the Fancher party. Within that context, it’s fascinating too that Apostle (and former NL Colonel)George A. Smith visited Santa Clara Canyon in August 1857 (during his famous trip south) and commented on its value as a site for defensive/offensive military operations.
    Clark, consider this little throwaway comment from B.Y.’s extraordinarily long February 1855 discourse titled “The Constitution and Government of the United States — Rights and policy of the Latter-day Saints”: “In my conversation, I shall talk and act as I please….[S]poken words are but wind, and when they are spoken are gone; consequently I take liberties in speaking which I do not allow when I commit my sentiments to writing.” The only problem was that on that date B.Y.’s congregation almost certainly included several officers from the U.S. Army’s Steptoe Expedition wintering over in Salt Lake City en route to California. In 1859, a year after the active phase of the subsequent Utah War had ended, Utah’s territorial delegate in Congress (John M. Bernhisel) returned home from D.C. Either on his own hook or at B.Y.’s insistance, Bernhisel compiled a memo summarizing all of his White House conversations with President Buchanan. In this document Bernhisel reported that at one point the president pointed to the language of B.Y.’s [edited] comments as reported in the “Deseret News” and characterized them as “terrible.” Not a good position to be in for a federally sworn/paid territorial governor seeking to obtain a continuance in gubernatorial office from the president at whose pleasure he served.

  174. Bill MacKinnon says:

    Researcher, it’s cited as Ardis E. Parshall, ” ‘Pursue, Retake & Punish’: The 1857 Santa Clara Ambush” “Utah Historical Quarterly” 73 (Winter 2005): 64-86.

  175. That issue of the Quarterly is online here:

    /shameless plug

  176. Ardis, shameless plugs are fine as long as they are true service. Isn’t that in our canon somewhere?

  177. Researcher says:

    Thanks. It seems like I knew at some point that the Utah Historical Quarterly was online, but evidently I forgot. I’ll take a look at it.

  178. I got a couple emails about my framing comment. Just to clarify I’m not saying all use of framing is bad. Clearly the words one uses in a sentence triggers different mental schemas. That seems undeniable. So the words and phrases you use can have very different effects. (Which seems a trivial point and something that is obvious from regular language use)

    My criticism of framing analysis is that a lot of it goes beyond the science. The very term framing analysis can mean quite different things as even a quick scan of say JSTOR shows. (Even though often folks point to the same initial papers) I mentioned Lakoff but just because he’s an easy target with his view that it is a particular theory of metaphor that are these schemas. But there are plenty of other theorists one could point to with their own theory of what framing analysis is.

    Anyway, relative to the MMM I certainly agree that rhetoric has a different effect depending upon the chosen words. I thought I made it clear that I agree Brigham Young’s word choices during the fire and brimstone period were unfortunate. The only question I had was how much Young was aware of that and Bill appears to have cleared that up quite well. (And, as I said, I’m eager to read his book)

  179. After Readings Ardis’s article; it seems to me that the, and her, point is that it’s all in the cover-up. If Brigham Young signalled to his followers that certain actions should be taken, even if in just-barely-veiled terms (#163–the counsel to summarily execute thieves) and then did nothing in response to those who seemingly did so; then no direct order would be needed. “Who will rid me of this troublesome lawyer/wagon train?”

    Occasional kind acts to favored members also reinforce this Capo-a-capo mentality; not to mention that irregular positive reinforcement works best to train both pets and humans.

    So, what about that cover-up?

  180. If you feel a perhaps a bit of heat from my comments, I managed to marry into a mmm (if just barely peripheral) family–the past is never dead, it’s not even past.

  181. So you have an ancestor your family believes was murdered on orders of Brigham Young, and you married into a MMM family. That’s a high hurdle to jump in his type of discussion.

  182. I’m the only one in this generation of the family who is seemingly aware of these non-faith-affirming aspects of our history. It’s not really fair to say that “my family” believes this, as most, if, not all, of those who did (who lived their lives out in Utah County) have passed on. The story lives with me, however. My family history is intensely tangled up with pretty much every possible aspect of early Mormonism, from the point of view of the average, workaday member. No one is particularly interested in the history in this Generation, but me, as far as I can tell. But what a history it is! Pony Express riders, Abandoned wives, plural wives pregnant before the official announcement of Plural Marriage living as unmarried mothers, Indian slaves; Orphans reunited years later with siblings who’d separately been baptized and crossed the plains (heard that one repeated in Sunday School, another unknown relative no doubt.) Way too long of a comment. People behaving as best they can in extreme times.

  183. Kent Huff says:

    I think Clark #52 is asking the right question. Here is my belated answer:

    An abstract for an article I am working on
    Mormons End Slavery at Mountain Meadows.

    No one has put the Mountain Meadows massacre into its correct national historical context. It occurred in the highly charged atmosphere of the last desperate attempt by the South to use political means short of full-scale war to make slavery legal in the entire United States. The army sent to Utah was there with the mission to make Utah a slave state, finally giving the South a decisive congressional political advantage over the North, enabling a change in legislation to allow universal slavery. If successful in Utah, California would be next, offering a more effective congressional advantage to the South. The contemporary and parallel situation in “Bleeding Kansas” is very instructive about the issues and methods in the Utah case, including the use of federal troops to scatter/kill/intimidate the free-soil people.

    The army was stopped cold in its mission by the Mormons, leaving only full-scale civil war as the last option. The efficient elimination of the hostile Fancher party, with no Mormon casualties, demonstrated the likely fate of Johnston’s army, should it begin a shooting war in Utah. It convinced the army its original mission was doomed to certain failure regardless of its actions, making any further loss of life pointless. The Fancher party would have helped the army if the shooting war started, and intended to be there to vote for slavery after the Mormons were conquered and disenfranchised. The Fancher party’s threat to stay there near Cedar City long-term with its 900 cattle, take over Mormon lands and homes, kill or drive out the Mormons again, was taken seriously. Other, friendly wagon trains were let through and even helped on their way by the Mormons, including help with negotiations with the threatening Indians. Recall that no one was allowed to own property in Utah until 1869, so there was no legal way to protect land use. Only the threat of direct violence against intruders had any chance of success. Letting a few stay (even less threatening parties) would have quickly invited an overwhelming flood.

    Iraq parallels: Regime change was the US goal in Iraq, as was the US army’s goal in Utah. The only question is who were the good guys and the bad guys in each situation.
    All the left-wing types in the US today are willing to say they, and the president, knew all along that Saddam was bluffing about WMD. However, if Saddam’s own generals believed him, what intel guy is going to claim that he, the said intel guy, knows better than the generals? That would require direct revelation.

    By this I mean to say that the Fancher party would be taken at their word on their intent to kill or scatter the Mormons and take their property. This makes the removal of that mortal threat a high priority for the Mormons. No need for esoteric sociological/psychological violence models. No need for psycho-fanatics. This is primitive self-defense. The Fancher party was similar in combat power to the entire Cedar City area Mormons, and they were compact while the Mormons were widely scattered. The Mormons could make an assault and take casualties or use strategy to save their own people. The Fancher party was very foolish to think that a few threats plus a little violence would make the Mormon run as they always had before. The Mormons were very determined and very able to stop their enemies this time. The Mormons were left with the very unpleasant choice of letting the Fancher party take over their lands, or removing them forcibly, possibly killing some or all of them in the process. I believe in the end there was much more killing than intended, the Indians involved not being very sensible or disciplined, but the Fancher party had to go, one way or another. Trying to escort them as prisoners all the way to California held many perils for the small band of Mormons. There were only bad solutions to the stubborn intruders. The leaders were violent, slave-owning people: those terms were necessarily synonymous. Slavery can only be maintained by threat of violence. Utah Indians had already been made slaves, and the Mormons could expect to be next. The Southerners thought Northern factory workers should be made into slaves, so adding Mormons to the list would be nothing new. We have papered over the ghastly pre-Civil War issues until we have no idea what was at stake.

  184. Brad or J.S., could either of you tell me whether this treatment of MMM relies in any way on the biocultural analyses Shannon Novak published following the 1999 excavation of the mass grave on the MMM site?

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