Massacre is Just Around the Corner

The Deseret News just ran a lengthy article giving some details on the long-awaited but soon-to-be-released book Massacre at Mountain Meadows, by three LDS historians.

First, some useful information. The book is due out August 19 and can be preordered at Amazon for $19.77. The full clutter-free text of the Deseret News article is available at this link. A detailed review of the book by Kramer & Stapley was posted last month at BCC.

As for the linked review at the Deseret News, it offers a few new hints about the book. It minimizes blame assigned to members of the emigrant party that was attacked. It will not pull any punches when it comes to laying responsibility for the tragic events at the feet of local LDS leaders in Southern Utah. It does not conclude that Brigham Young was directly involved in the events leading up to the massacre, although it does note that the preaching and counsel he and other LDS leaders gave in the months preceding the massacre may have “contributed to the atmosphere of unquestioned authority, conformity, fear and suspicion” that suppressed the usual sense of civilized restraint that generally prevents this sort of thing from happening.

The DN article also notes that the researchers had access to and provide details of “affidavits given to a 19th century church historian by those who participated in the slaughter or learned of it firsthand.” It states that these affidavits have “never before been available to researchers” and came from LDS Church archives.

In addition to quotes from two of the authors, the article offers quotes from Jan Shipps (“the information age and ready access to technology have created permanent changes in the ability of any institution to keep sensitive information under wraps”) and Philip Barlow (“People, including Latter-day Saints, want some substantive, authentic history.”). A closing teaser is offered by author Ron Walker, who states that “a second book is in the works.”

51 comments for “Massacre is Just Around the Corner

  1. July 22, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    The second book follows the post-massacre interactions between the public, Church and government in assigning culpability. It sounds as if it ends with the Brigham Young administration. The 19th century historian was Andrew Jenson and his papers, which had been kept in the FP Vault, are being edited for publication by Walker and Turley. There is no indication when either volume will be published.

    Thanks for the link to our review as well, Dave.

  2. July 22, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    For what it’s worth, Times and Season’s own Ardis Parshall is reviewing the book for Dialogue. Keep an eye out for it.

  3. Ben
    July 22, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    FWIW, the Oxford University Press site has some good info on it, including excerpts of praise from Richard Bushman, Daniel Walker Howe, Robert Remini, and Kathleen Flake.

    They also have it listed as if it is already available. It does not have the “forthcoming” notice that other books have. This could just be a typo, however.

  4. July 22, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    Thanks for the update, Dave. And thanks, J., for filling in those details.

    Russell, I thought Ardis no longer blogged at T&S?

  5. July 22, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    Part of me feels like this book is a few years too late. The MMM renaissance of the 00’s — all of the books, movies, tv documentaries, on-site memorials, statements by GA’s — feels played out, doesn’t it. Futhermore, we’ve heard Walker, Turley, and Leonard talking about this book for years, we know what they think, what their book will say. I’ll probably grab a copy for my bookshelf due to my nefarious “completist” tendency, but I can’t imagine actually reading another book on this subject. But I guess it will be nice for new generations of people interested in MMM.

    As for the editorial decision to split the subject into two volumes, fine; but why not release them simultaneously? The second volume isn’t even a sure thing. As anyone familiar with the church and publishing history knows, the winds of change are capricious.

  6. Randy B.
    July 22, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    I anxiously await the arrival of volume one, but I have no expectation of ever seeing volume two.

  7. July 22, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    Christopher, I’ll always have ties to Times and Seasons, just like you do to your home town and your alma mater. Thanks, Russell.

  8. July 22, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    If volume two does not come out, does it not weaken the status of volume one? How can you only tell half of the story?

    It’s like calling the ’94 Montreal Expos one of the great baseball teams. Yeah, they had one of the best records in baseball, but then the strike happened and they cancelled the World Series. It wasn’t the Expos fault of course, but we’ll never know if they were for real or not.

    Can you not say the same re Volume 1?

  9. July 22, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    Matt, to be fair, volume 1 stands on its own quite well.

  10. July 22, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Ardis, that makes sense. It was a honest and innocent question, nothing more. I look forward to you review in Dialogue.

  11. Randy B.
    July 22, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    I see volume one as significantly motivated by a desire to answer Bagley’s charge that Brigham Young ordered the massacre. I don’t know that there is a similar opportunity for push back when it comes to answering allegations related to the subsequent fallout.

  12. John Mansfield
    July 22, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    What’s up with Oxford University Press? Givens’ By the Hand of Mormon, Bushman’s Very Short Introduction, and now this Mountain Meadows book.

  13. July 22, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    Randy, I think that the second volume will respond to the charges that the Church covered up the massacre with a narrative that they tried (and failed) to bring the perpetrators to justice.

  14. Randy B.
    July 22, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    J, but don’t you think they’ll have a harder row to hoe there? Perhaps there is more to the cover up story than what we have from Brooks and Bagley, but I just don’t see as much potential ground to make up here as there was with volume one. And look how long it took for them to just get that out.

  15. July 22, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    Yeah, I agree that it isn’t as compelling, and that the track record isn’t in favor of expeditious publication.

  16. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    July 22, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    In 1858, Utah had a new governor, and US Army troops were encamped in Utah to maintain Federal authority. Utah continued to be a Federal territory until 1896.

    In light of the way the Federal government in the post-Civil War era pursued polygamists in an unrelenting fashion, it is hard to not think that the Federal government was simply not interested enough in the massacre to commit the resources to running down all the perpetrators with the same enthusiasm that they pursude polygamists. In an era when the Exclusionary Rule and right to counsel during interrogation and the Miranda Warning were only figments of the imagination, and then in a Reconstruction-era regime where the Army acted as a law enforcement authority in the South, it is hard to believe that the Federal government did not have the means to arrest and interrogate many of the killers, and use them as witnesses against the rest. For a time, Mormons were being excluded from serving on juries, so there would have been no religious hurdle to a grand jury indictment or a petit jury conviction.

    As much as we hope that the Church members in general would have wanted to see justice done, it was primarily the job of the lawful authorities to conduct an investigation and a trial. So why didn’t it happen? Why was only John D. Lee tried for the crime of some 60 men, despite almost 40 years of direct Federal rule of the Territory after the crime? Do you historians out there have some insight for me?

  17. July 22, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    Raymond, you may have to wait for volume 2 to get the best answer, but I have heard Thomas Alexander speak on this topic (I think it was the same talk he gave as an Arrington lecture). The Army was ordered not to be the law enforcement and there was something of a fracture between sympathetic and antagonistic non-Mormons in the territorial government. Apparently Brigham made provisions to fully cooperate with the moderates, but the effort to indict massacre participants was “torpedoed” by the antagonistic faction who was intent on bringing down Brigham in the prosecution.

  18. July 22, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    “it is hard to believe that the Federal government did not have the means to arrest and interrogate many of the killers, and use them as witnesses against the rest. For a time, Mormons were being excluded from serving on juries, so there would have been no religious hurdle to a grand jury indictment or a petit jury conviction.”

    Actually, Brigham Young and a host of other church leaders were eventually indited for murder and other crimes by Judge McKean, but the inditement was voided by the Supreme Court’s decision in Clinton v. Englebrect. The control of juries in territorial Utah was a hotly contested issue in the 1860s and the 1870s. The issue was whether the panels were chosen by the federal marshall (a federal appointee) or the territorial marshall (a Mormon official). So long as the territorial marshall controled the selection process, it was widely assumed — correctly no doubt — that no inditmens were possible without church approval. The legal issue turned on the interpretation of the Utah Organic Act and Article III of the Constitution. If I recall the issue correctly, the Organic Act was silent as to control of juries. In the face of congressional silence, the territorial legislature vested control in the territorial marshall. McKean and pro-inditment gentiles like Robert Baskin argued that the Territorial Court was an Article III court under the constitution and therefore territorial grand juries were governed by the federal Judiciary Act. The issue was appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled that territorial courts were not Article III courts but rather were Article I courts. The result of the Englebrecht decision was that all pending criminal prosecutions in Utah — including that against Brigham Young and other church leaders — were rendered void. In the wake of Englebrecht, the territorial legislature revoked funding for grand juries in order to prevent McKean and Baskin from re-iditing BY and associates, in effect shutting down the criminal justice system in Utah. Congress then resonded with the Poland Act, which placed jury selection firmly in the control of the federal marshall. Even after the Poland Act, however, there was uncertainty in the procedure for empanelling grand jurors, which resulted in George Reynolds’s victory on appeal to the territorial supreme court in his first trial for polygamy. Given the success of Mormon lawyers in tying federal lawyers in knots over jury selection procedures, and the widespread doubt that any legally empannelled jury in Utah would indite BY and other high church leaders, by the mid-1870s the let’s try BY for murder strategy had been abandoned. The later inditements of high church leaders for polygamy in the 1880s was only possible after yet another round of litigation in the Supreme Court (Miles and Clawson) and congressional legislation facilitating the exclusion of Mormons from juries. By that time, however, BY was dead and John D. Lee had been executed for MMM.

    As far as I am concerned, the really interesting part of this story is going to come in the second book, where all of these legal machinations are going to be dealt with.

  19. JimD
    July 22, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    The 19th century historian was Andrew Jenson and his papers, which had been kept in the FP Vault, are being edited for publication…

    Has anyone attempted to compile an inventory of items known or supposed to be in the First Presidency vault?

  20. Randy B.
    July 22, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    Nate, here’s hoping that story gets written in our lifetimes, if not by Walker et al., then by someone.

  21. JimD
    July 22, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    Thanks, Randy.

  22. July 22, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    I like the last listed article: Seer Stones. That would be interesting to see and to whom it belonged. I presume JS?

  23. quin
    July 22, 2008 at 6:15 pm


    Just an FYI-Brigham Young was served the indictment papers drawn by Baskin in January of 1872 for the murder of Richard Yates, not for the murders that took place during the MMM, and McKeon was not the judge during the first 2 grand jury MMM hearings that took place in 1859, it was Cradlebaugh.

  24. July 22, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    Randy, do you have a provenance for that list. There are things that are known to not be in the vault on that list, e.g., Nauvoo RS minute book, Joseph’s journals, Robert’s Manuscript for the The Truth, the Way and the Life. And I didn’t see Joseph’s Book of the Law of the Lord, which is most certainly there. I would guess that the list is speculative (if not specious) – written in the nineties after the McLellin diaries were found and released.

    The Seer stones are purportedly Joseph’s and have been noted to be in the FP Vault by several researchers.

  25. Jed
    July 22, 2008 at 6:24 pm

    Why should we believe this list to be authentic if many of the items on the list are actually located in the Church Archives? Joseph Smith’s journals, as well as many (if not most) of the Nauvoo materials, are not at 50 E. North Temple. The Church Archives has microfilm copies (and originals too?) of many more items listed here. The originals of others noted here are in Independence, not SLC. Where does this list originate?

  26. Randy B.
    July 22, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    J., this list comes from a file on Mormon Library. The list was posted in 2006, though it does not mention when it was created or how. You are right that without further information, one shouldn’t place too much confidence in the list.

    If anyone has a more refined or better documented list, I’d be interested to see it.

  27. Randy B.
    July 22, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    Jed, those are good questions. Hopefully someone will chime in who might be able to shed some light on these sorts of things (paging Ardis . . . ).

    That said, it is possible to think of some possible answers (i.e., materials may have been moved, copies of originals may have been provided to archives while the original remains in the vault, a document referenced in the list may be a copy from elsewhere, like the CoC).

  28. July 22, 2008 at 6:54 pm

    ADMIN NOTE: Thanks to everyone for the interesting comments on the purported FP vault list that was posted in reply to Jim’s query (#19), but since reliable sources tell me the list is unverified, with no known provenance, and contains a variety of known errors, I have removed the comment with the purported list.

  29. July 22, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    quin: Thanks for the FYI. I don’t know the twisting story of the MMM trials at all. I have copies of the BY inditment in my files, but I haven’t looked at the issue in about four years, since I was working on my 3L paper in law school.

  30. Mark B.
    July 23, 2008 at 12:07 am


    Perhaps you should remove all the comments that referred to the deleted comment, since otherwise we’ll spend the rest of the night looking for the dog that didn’t bark.

  31. July 23, 2008 at 11:03 am

    Mark, I beefed up the comment I made explaining the removal so readers can figure it out, but I don’t really want to pull 5 or 6 other comments. I’m guessing that the prominent use of the affidavits in the book will prompt further discussion of this topic in some future B’nacle post.

  32. Bill MacKinnon
    July 23, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    With the Walker-Turley-Leonard book not yet [quite] officially published, I’m kind of amazed at a few of the comments carping about the absence of the second volume and cynical about whether one will ever appear. I think the fact is that the three authors have exhausted themselves with the effort over the better part of ten years to produce this much. I think there are two volumes rather than one because: (1) along the way the authors realized that there was so much material and so many new issues that one would not handle it all; (2) their publisher (not the LDS Church) has put the brakes on committing to a second volume until reception for the first can be gauged; or (3) both. The work of dozens of researchers and archivists have gone into producing the stuff from which “Massacre at Mountain Meadows” has been written; many of these people are no doubt chaffing under the long diversion involved from what they see as their life’s work, and I note that two of the authors, Messrs. Walker and Leonard, have in the meantime retired from their long-term roles and have sought a respite from a long bout with a very morbid, grisly subject. Ron Walker has set up shop in Salt Lake as an independent historian and Glen Leonard and his wife have been serving a mission in Santa Fe. I’d suggest that these people deserve kudos rather than carping.
    As to the question of why the Feds didn’t nab the MMM perps right away, it’s an interesting and fascinating question, almost as interesting as why Lieut. Gen. D.H. Wells of the Nauvoo Legion never held a court of inquiry or court martial during 1857-58 to look into the appalling actions of his own officers and troops in southern Utah. The fact of the matter was that, except for an uproar in California starting in October 1857, the rest of the country wasn’t that indignant about MMM; it knew little about it and was more interested in the outcome of the bigger event, the Utah War. President Buchanan, by the summer of 1858, wanted very much to quiet down the public’s preoccupation with the war because in the midst of a major economic recession it was costing a huge amount (U.S. Treasury completely drained by the time Lincoln took office) and the troops were needed to prosecute Indian campaigns in the Southwest and the Pacific Northwest. Even when during July 1858 the War Department siphoned off the Sixth U.S. Infantry by sending it to California, marched the Battalion of U.S. Volunteers back to Fort Leavenworth and discharged it, and sent Loring’s battalion from the regiment of Mounted Riflemen and Third U.S. Infantry back to New Mexico, Camp Floyd, Utah was the biggest military garrison in the country. Buchanan took the position that he could “work” with B.Y. eventhough he was no longer governor, and he and Apostle George A. Smith, with the help of Thomas L. Kane, served up a very misleading, watered-down account of what happened at MM to U.S. Attorney General Black that could easily be described as a coverup. Further weakening the U.S. government’s hand in UT at the time was a split between the federal appointees engineered by B,Y. with Gov. Albert Cumming, U.S. Attorney Alex Wilson, and Supt. of Indian Affairs Jacob Forney forming one faction and the three federally appointed judges and U.S. Marshal Peter K. Dotson forming another. Aggravating the impact of this split was the fact that the effectiveness of at least three of these officials — Cumming, Wilson and Judge Sinclair — was badly impaired by alcohol. There was also a raging controversy over the powers of the army in UT versus those of the governor. When you tote all this up plus the distraction of the Civil War, it would be decades before there could be a proper focus on fact-finding, let along action, re MM.

  33. John Mansfield
    July 24, 2008 at 9:25 am

    Mr. MacKinnon, I appreciate your efforts to help us understand the war-time setting and that the Utah War really was a war.

  34. Randy B.
    July 24, 2008 at 10:04 am

    Bill, I am in complete agreement that these folks deserve kudos for getting the book out, particularly given the many obstacles in their way and their interest in other projects and efforts. But I don’t think that giving credit where credit is due requires us to ignore the very real challenges (some of which you identify) that lie ahead with respect to volume two.

    The additional background on the circumstances at the time dovetails nicely with Nate’s comments. The challenges faced by federal and local officials are an important consideration in all this. Of course, those considerations don’t necessarily explain everything away, particularly as to steps the church itself could have taken (including, for example, church discipline for those involved).

  35. Bill MacKinnon
    July 24, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    John Mansfield, I’m glad that you recognize it as a war…many of my U.S. Army friends and the institutional army itself still prefer to think of the Utah War as merely an expedition or a campaign, noting that, of course, there was no congressional declaration of war. For me it’s a practical matter of terminology and common sense not unlike the labels we apply to events like the “Indian Wars,” the “Blackhawk War” (twice in Illinois and Utah), or the Great Sioux War that stretched from the 1850s to the 1890s. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like one, it’s probably a war, er, duck. When one has nearly one-third of the U.S. Army marshaled against what was arguably the nation’s largest, most experienced militia, with shots being exchanged by both sides (including the greatest incident of organized mass murder against unarmed civilians in the nation’s history until 1995), the nation’s largest military post created, and 30,000 refugees on the road (the greatest such upheaval in North American history between the American Revolution and the Civil War’s depopulation of three counties in western Missouri under Union Army order no. 11) I think one’s justified in calling it the Utah War.

    Randy B., from what I know of it, I’m pretty sure that the second or follow-on volume to “Massacre at Mountain Meadows” will be “up” to dealing with the untidy scene that went on for decades after the massacre in which it is highly likely that church leaders and Nauvoo Legion commanders will be shown to have either lacked diligence in pursuing the facts and dealing with the killers or worse. I’m not sure whether the author of the follow-on volume will be Rick Turley alone or Rick in collaboration with one or more of his other colleagues. I’m pretty sure that the chapters are already largely written. Why do you think there is doubt out there about whether a second volume will ever appear? It strikes me that the hard part was getting this lamentable story past the worst, most corrosive accusation of them all…that B.Y. (through some combination of George A. Smith and his August 1857 meeting with tribal leaders) ordered the massacre before the fact. “Massacre at Mountain meadows” has dealt with this accusation; perceptions or accusations running to after-the-fact behavior are far less damning I would think and therefore presumably less difficult to tackle.

    By the way, I don’t agree with the “DesNews” quote a few days ago from Jan Shipps to the effect that one reason why all this analysis is coming out now — including materials from the FP’s famous vault — is because leakage of confidential materials is so pervasive and therefore there was a need to publish before the material was leaked. True, this is an era of leaking (who would have ever anticipated the publication of the Pentagon Papers from DoD or President Nixon’s 1972 tax return from the IRS’s Martinsburg, WVA data center), but that phenomenon didn’t drive the decision to do the Walker-Turley-Leonard book. I think the driver was the maturity of the LDS Church and its leadership in support of a burning desire by the authors to get the truth out on behalf of their church irrespective of where the chips fell. Undoubtedly the tone set by the late President Hinckley was an important part of this atmosphere, but the project started with the authors and worked its way up, not top-down. Anyone who has read my “Lonely Bones” article in “JMH” and chapter in “At Sword’s Point, Part 1” will notice some fairly sensitive stuff about murders and B.Y.’s October 1857 authorization for the execution of U.S. army officers and their civilian guides if caught west of Fort Bridger. Most of the documents revealing this departure from the longstanding “shed no blood’ mythology are to be found in LDS Church Archives and are available to the public and have been for some years. From what I know, there was more leakage of documents from LDS Church Archives in the decades of the 1970s and 80s than there is today, Jan’s apparent comment notwithstanding. As I’ve published, I’ve not been denied access to a document that I’ve requested of LDS Church Archives except matters running to the priest-penitent relationship or confiderntial matters of temple ritual.

  36. Randy B.
    July 24, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    Bill, as I noted above, I see less of a perceived need from the church’s perspective for a volume on the aftermath. As you say, the most corrosive and potentially damaging charge concerns BY’s alleged ordering of the massacre. That is the charge they most needed to address. Allegations of a cover up and failure to properly take action after the massacre may be less damning, but they are also more difficult to refute. In short, as mentioned before, I just don’t see as much potential ground to make up here as there was with volume one. When you add to that other issues, like people wanting to move on to other projects, being called to service elsewhere, etc., etc., I’m not inclined to get my hopes up.

    Here’s hoping I’m wrong.

  37. Utahn
    July 24, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    “including the greatest incident of organized mass murder against unarmed civilians in the nation’s history until 1995”

    Unfortunately, I think that this dubious honor goes to one of several encounters between Indian tribes and the U.S. Army, although I suspect that any such discussion will degenerate into quibbles about how unarmed the victims were. Even in the history of Mormon Country, the MMM is not the bloodiest incident. That dubious honor goes, I believe, to the Bear River Massacre. The difference is that the victims in the Bear River Massacre were not white.

  38. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    July 24, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    Thanks to Nate and Bill and others who have weighed in on my question, which leads into the anticipation of a second volume on the aftermath of the crime. It sounds like some of the inadequacy of investigation and prosecution was due to the general state of legal disarray in Utah Territory, while another part of it was due to the Federal government’s own inadequacies, some of which may be related to the reasons why the Confederacy felt safe in seceding from the Union.

    The general sense I have had of Buchanan’s motive for the Utah expeditionary force was to demonstrate a determination to not allow rebellion against the Federal government, as an object lesson to secessionists in the South. When the Army ended up partially crippled by a nonprofessional militia, the message may have been taken as the opposite, namely that the Army was not an obstacle to a determined rebellion by the South, especially in fighting on their own home territory. Perhaps the inglorious ending of the Utah War helped to make secession more likely.

    Is it possible that the secession of Arkansas, the experience of war, and Reconstruction preoccupied the relatives of the MMM victims, who had plenty of people close at hand to shoot at and who were shooting at them? Did the identity of the victims with that state dampen the enthusiasm of Federal authorities to pursue the perpetrators?

  39. July 24, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    Utahn, Bill usually qualifies that statement by including “white” as part of the description. This heavily qualified description of MMM has always made me uneasy because it feels somewhat manipulative — it has to include “white” and “unarmed” and perhaps “civilian” to exclude the Indian massacres, and has to include “white” and “unarmed” to exclude the 1921 Tulsa race riot that killed an estimated 300 blacks, and it has to include “unarmed” and “civilian” to exclude massacres by guerrilla bands during the Civil War whose perpetrators had so little color of military authority that the murders barely count as military engagements. If the deck has to be stacked by including so many qualifiers, the statement loses something of its persuasiveness in my opinion. On the other hand, I’ve certainly heard worse, more sensationalized shorthand descriptions of MMM, so I don’t complain. Much.

    Raymond, I’ve never seen anything at all that suggests the Arkansas origin of the emigrants had the slightest impact on whether and when Federal authorities took action.

  40. Bill MacKinnon
    July 24, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    Utahn (#37), yes, the difference as I’ve defined it is one of whether the victims were armed or unarmed. The body count at Bear River was surely higher than at MM, but in the latter case the victims had been completely disarmed under a white flag with officer pledges of safety, which the emigrants at MM were willing to accept. I think that’s a significant difference.

  41. Bill MacKinnon
    July 24, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    Raymond (re #38), I agree with Ardis re the irrelevancy of Arkansas’s status as a Confederate state after 1861 vis a vis the U.S. Government’s willingness or ineptness in pursuing the perps at MM after 1857. Re your argument that Buchanan launched the Utah Expedition to teach potential southern secessionists a lesson, I don’t think that was the case. Buchanan came into the presidency very keen on maintaining the Union; it was his highest priority. Having said that, my take is that part of the context in which this goal played out was his lawyerly belief that there was a fundamental difference between the states and the territories. B.’s launch of the Utah Expedition was predicated on the belief that there was a need to maintain and, if necessary, restore federal authority over the territories, which were “wards” of Congress. The states were a higher form of political being in his view. He was opposed to secession by states, but did not believe that the federal government had the legal right to compell a state to remain in the Union by force of arms. This is where he and Lincoln came to differ so greatly; Lincoln too was opposed to secession, but he also considered the Union to be indisolvable and proved willing to use force to back up this view. I don’t think the difficulties experienced by the Utah Expedition emboldened the South; I believe that alternately they weakened even further Buchanan’s willingness to use force to meet an armed challenge. If the South was indeed emboldened by the experiences of the Utah Expedition, it’s interesting that that force’s commanding officer (Albert Sidney Johnston) became the Confederate Army’s ranking field general until his death at Shiloh in April 1862 and that the Buchanan cabinet was filled with men who also later became Confederate generals such as Secretary of War Floyd, Secretary of the Interior Thompson, Secretary of the Treasury Cobb and Vice president Breckinridge.

  42. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    July 24, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    Thanks, Ardis and Bill. This is like attending a seminar, which is why I like this blog.

  43. Bill MacKinnon
    July 24, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    Ardis, re your #39 I did not read it before sending off my #40; otherwise I would have bundled my comments into a single post. I disagree with you that I have “usually qualified” my definition of the enormity of MMM to include “whites” in my description. To the best of my recollection, I have only done that twice. First, at the suggestion of Glen Leonard on the eve of delivering my paper at the October 2003 annual conference of the Western History Association in Fort Worth. After I delivered the paper, the change didn’t sit well with me, so I removed “white” from the manuscript for the “JMH” article that flowed from this paper as “Lonely Bones,” but, alas, I again put it back in at the urging of one of “JMH”s anonymous readers, and there it stands on p. 124 of “JMH”s Spring 2007 issue. But when it came time to draft my “Loose in the Stacks” article for “Dialogue”s Spring 2007 issue I chose instead the following language: ” For example, the execution of 120 children, women, and disarmed men at Mountain Meadows on September 11, 1857, by Nauvoo Legion troops and Indian auxiliaries was the largest organized mass murder of unarmed civilians in the nations’s history until the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Surely this slaughter was part of and prompted by the Utah War. There were, of course, even larger-scale massacres of Native Americans by regular or volunteer troops at Bear River, Utah (1863), Sand Creek, Colorado (1864), and Wounded Knee, South Dakota (1890); but in these engagements, the circumstances under which Indian children and women were killed were hopelessly complicated by the armed and/or combatant status of many of the women in all three encampments. In contrast, the victims at Mountain Meadows were wholly defenseless. They had surrendered their weapons and entrusted their lives to the militia officers who guaranteed their safety, then murdered them.” (pp. 60-61) These last two sentences, by the way, were suggested to me by Rick Turley in commenting on my “At Sword’s Point” ms., and you may recall that that book, when it came out this past April, did not include the qualifying term “white. ” (p. 36) Ditto for my reference to MMM in my latest draft “Utah War” essay for your and Paul Reeve’s “Encyclopedia of Mormonism.” I don’t think race should enter into a description of the massacre’s enormity. By the way, I don’t think calling attention to victims’ armed or disarmed status is a “quibble;” I’m sure that the victims didn’t view this as a minor point, and I suspect that the shooters felt the same way. By the same token, I don’t view calling attention to whether or not a massacre was “organized” as manipulative; in the case of MMM I think that it was highly important to understanding the circumstances and what the event really was.

  44. July 24, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    Ah. I apologize for misrepresenting you — we’ve never talked about this particular development in your thought, and I wasn’t aware of your reasons for deleting “white” from the description and hadn’t tracked how seldom you actually used it. Sorry.

    The reason the qualifications make me uneasy is that, despite valid reasons for including so many adjectives (“unarmed” and “civilian” and the now excluded “whites”), it seems calculated to make MMM more extraordinary than it really was. I don’t mean to take anything from the horrific, unjustifiable slaughter there. I do mean that billing it as “So Awful That It Would Not Be Equaled For 130 Years” is misleading and casts the Mormons as one-of-a-kind monsters. And in order for that to work, all other mass slaughters have to be blurred out of the picture by saying, “well, that one didn’t count because some participants may have been armed” and “this other one didn’t count because the victims threw rocks” and “this one didn’t count because the body count wasn’t quite high enough” and “that one didn’t count because it was more deeply related to war than MMM.”

    I don’t believe that this is the effect you intend — that’s why I contrasted it to far more sensational summaries of MMM that do seem calculated to inflame. Nevertheless, I wince a little when I read your summary, because it does wall off MMM as an incident utterly unlike anything else. I don’t think it was such an outlier as that.

    Again, I apologize for misrepresenting you.

  45. Bill MacKinnon
    July 24, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    Ardis, I certainly am not saying that MMM took place because of some flaw in the Mormon religion — to the contrary, the Walker-Turley-Leonard book indicates that there were several intriguing cases of LDS men in southern UT who refused to take part in the killing or otherwise opted out at great personal risk — but I do believe that the total picture of MMM did indeed make it very unusual if not unique event in American history. It wasn’t just another case of frontier violence. I refer not only to the killing behavior associated with such of my descriptors as “organized,” “disarmed,” and “civilian” but to the immediately following chain of events by which the victims were stripped of all their possessions — clothes, household goods, cash, jewelry, carriages, wagons, and livestock — given an indecent burial that immediately exposed them to the ravages of carnivores and weather, demeaned for generations their behavior and character, destroyed the cross and memorial cairn erected by the U.S. dragoon privates who eventually did provide a decent burial years later, and provided arrangements for the 1,500-mile trip home of the 17 juvenile survivors so insensitive that even the calloused dragoons were aghast and again had to intervene to mitigate the impact. All while the federal government was being billed by the killers for the looted clothing. For me that’s pretty much of a one-off chain of events and picture.

  46. July 24, 2008 at 10:51 pm

    And I still don’t think it was nearly as unique as you paint it, Bill. U.S. soldiers spent precious little time giving decent burial to massacred Indians. As for plunder, the Mormons at MM didn’t take body parts from their victims as trophies; soldiers don’t have uniformly clean hands in that respect, any more than the hands of Sherman and his men, and others, were clean of plundering during the Civil War, or than Missourians’ hands were clean of plundering their Mormon victims 20 years before MMM. The decades long description of Indian massacres as “battles,” together with denigration of Indians as savages and subhumans, seems to qualify as the equal of the generations long demeaning of the behavior and character of the MMM victims. Gen. Harney’s bludgeoning to death of his female slave hardly marks the only time blacks were murdered with impunity — is a single action resulting in 120 murders really more monstrous than 120 separate murderous acts within a society that shrugged at the violence?

    Some historians we could name do credit MMM as due to “a flaw in the Mormon religion” — I know you do not. But emphasizing differences while brushing aside similarities to other bloody deeds throughout the U.S. — not only on the frontier — during the 19th century and beyond does tend to paint the individual Mormons involved, if not their religion, as uniquely monstrous and depraved. I won’t accept that. (And I say that with no desire to lessen the crimes of MMM by broadening the discussion.)

  47. DavidH
    July 25, 2008 at 1:21 am

    Ardis, I know you do not mean to lessen the enormity of MMM, but the post did come across a bit that way to me (a descendent of one of the perpetrators).

    MMM was unconscionable, horrible, inexcusable and terrible. There may or may not have been other crimes of similar magnitude in U.S. history, but, personally, I do not think there have been any that were worse in any way that matters.

    I do not believe Mormonism per se caused MMM or created its enormity. But, as a descendent of an otherwise honorable pioneer who got caught up in what I would call “obedience and loyalty to Church/leaders run-amuck”, I become acutely uncomfortable when I hear lessons or talks in Church or read posts that emphasize almost unyielding or unquestioning obedience to leaders or assert the near infallibility of their direction or teachings.

  48. July 25, 2008 at 8:30 am

    None of which can you find in anything I have written here or anywhere else, DavidH.

  49. Utahn
    July 25, 2008 at 10:31 am

    Bill:You are quite correct about the flag of truce, etc. before the MMM, and the cold-blooded way in which it was carried out is a significant part of the horror of the event. On the other hand, the brutal savagery and butchery of O’Connor’s men at Bear River has its own kind of horror, and there are many instances of battles that don’t end in the wanton massacre of women and children. (By the way, my understanding is that the suppression of the Shoshone was not without support from Mormons in SLC, so while I am happy to poke holes in a kind of Bigler-esque vision of Gentiles as the unsullied heroic white hats in Utah history, there is plenty of complicity to go around when it comes to Bear River.)

  50. Bill MacKinnon
    July 25, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    Utahn (#49), I don’t disagree with anything you’ve written here. Not only was there enthusiasm for Connor’s expedition in SLC, several Nauvoo Legoion officers were present during the action at Bear River as civilians, including Porter Rockwell who served as a paid guide. I don’t see any connection between the three events, but it’s truly remarkable how much tragedy unfolded in one region during the period 1856-1863: the Willie-Martin handcart companies disaster — the worst loss of life in the entire overland trails experience (western Nebraska Territory/northeastern Utah), MMM — enough said above about loss of life (southwestern UT); and Bear River massacre — greatest Native American loss of life in the Indian Wars (northeastern UT/southeastern Oregon Territory). If Kentucky had been dubbed a “dark and bloody ground” earlier, this more westerly region also probably qualified for such a label during the mid-nineteenth century.

  51. Karen
    July 28, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    I got mine today. I preordered from Amazon ages ago. DH is YSA bishop and I usually go to FHE but tonight I am staying home to read. I’m sure I’ll learn new things.

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