I donâ€™t want to debate the ins and outs of the tragedy at Mountain Meadows. It was horrific no matter how you cut it. My more immediate problem is personalâ€”namely, how Iâ€™ve now spent a number of years trying to come to terms with the fact that â€œweâ€ did it.
The few times Iâ€™ve brought up the topic, most LDS members bristle and let me know in no uncertain terms that they were not there, that they personally (and their ancestors) had nothing to do with it, and that they certainly would not have had anything to do with murdering people at Mountain Meadows even if they had been there. Okay. None of my people were there that I know of, either.
But my problem is that I feel linked to our â€œcommonâ€ LDS history. We here in Utah have a state holiday celebrating the day the Mormons came, and I know of several non-Utah wards and stakes that celebrate July 24th as well (dressing up like pioneers and the whole bit). It seems to me that the Church has pushed to build and maintain historic sites and museums in dozens of places, so Latter-day Saints can know and feel connected to our history.
In my case it worked well. I feel a connection to the pioneers. I tear up when I think about the deaths at Haunâ€™s Mill or on the Plains or at Martin’s Cove, and I wept the day it finally dawned on me that â€œrapes and pillagesâ€ in Far West and other places probably were not rhetorical flourish, but actual descriptions of horrors suffered by some stalwart LDS ancestors. I cannot turn off the ancestor connection just because some of the LDS settlers committed atrocities.
Thus, I felt betrayed when I stumbled onto Juanita Brooksâ€™s book in my mid-twenties but perhaps not for the reasons most would expect. I was upset because, to the best of my remembrance, I had never heard about the event before. I grew up in Utahâ€™s neighboring state of Wyoming, Iâ€™ve been LDS all my life, and I graduated from BYU(granted, it was in Political Science)â€”all without ever hearing of Mountain Meadows. As a young, stay-at-home mom, I decided I should invigorate my mind and chose to read Brooksâ€™s book off BYU Honorâ€™s â€œGreat Worksâ€ list.
I felt like I was shaking internally for weeks. I had no idea how to make sense of the Mountain Meadows bombshell that Iâ€™d found in my history and no idea why I had never heard about it before. There was no one to talk to and, since this was a number of years ago, no blog discussions to jump in on. I suppose I could have set up an appointment with an unknown BYU history (or perhaps psychology?) professor to â€œtalk,â€ but that seemed more intimidating than it was worth. I was left to muddle through Mountain Meadows all alone because no one had the . . . nerve? . . . knowledge? . . . skill? . . . to tell me about it sooner. It took me quite awhile to work through everything, and, even then, I only began to feel a bit grounded again after I tricked my book club into reading it and talking it through with me.
What I am wondering is when, where, and how we talk about Mountain Meadows. After the semester I chose to teach Brooksâ€™s book in my freshman Honors writing class, it was removed from the approved Great Works list (and soon thereafter, the entire â€œMormonâ€ section was removedâ€”donâ€™t worry, I donâ€™t take it too personally). Is 18 years old too young? Is BYU the wrong place? Sunday School? Is this even an issue for anyone else? Perhaps all of you had a different experience. Perhaps it is so out in the open that none of this matters now. But I still donâ€™t know what to tell my kids. And when. And how.