LDS Restorationaist movement including the Mormon churches
The 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre
"If any miserable scoundrels come here, cut their throats."
Brigham Young 1
"The Mountain Meadows Massacre stands without a parallel amongst
the crimes that stain the pages of American history. It was a crime
committed without cause or justification of any kind to relieve it of its
fearful character... When nearly exhausted from fatigue and thirst, [the
men of the caravan] were approached by white men, with a flag of truce,
and induced to surrender their arms, under the most solemn promises of
protection. They were then murdered in cold blood."
William Bishop, Attorney to John D. Lee. 2
The early history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
(the LDS church) was fascinating and sometimes chaotic. The Mormons found
themselves heavily oppressed because they:
Insisted that their faith group was the true Christian church and that other Christian groups had deviated from the original
teachings of Jesus.
Used the Book of Mormon and Doctrines & Covenants as a supplement to the Bible.
Were perceived by Gentiles (non-Mormons) as trying to form a
Introduced polygyny by implementing the Law of Abraham, (a.k.a. the Patriarchal Order of
Marriage, or Celestial Plural Marriage).
For these and other reasons, their relationships with other Christians were
always strained and often violent. They were expelled
from a succession of settlements. In 1838, 17
Mormon settlers were murdered in the Massacre at Haun's Mill, MO. Their
founder, Joseph Smith, and his brother were assassinated by a mob while in prison.
In 1846, most of the Mormons relocated to the Great Salt Lake, UT,
and established a theocracy under Brigham Young. Mormon anger against the
Gentiles (non-Mormons) remained high for many years. The year 1857
was a time of particularly high tension. The Mormons were expecting an attack
by the U.S. Army. It was in the fall of that year in what is now southwestern
Utah that the Mountain
Meadows Massacre took place.
Author Juanita Brooks has concluded:
"The complete --t he absolute -- truth of the affair can probably never be
evaluated by any human being; attempts to understand the forces which
culminated in it and those which were set into motion by it are all very
inadequate at best." 3
A group of men
-- variously described as Southern Paiute Indians, Mormons dressed as Natives,
or a combination of Natives and Mormons -- deceived and attacked a group of 137 pioneers
whose wagon train was traveling from Arkansas,
through Utah, and on to California. There are allegations that
Mormons in the Mountain Meadows area created unrest among the Native
population by spreading a rumor that the the pioneers were planning go to
California and return with an army to attack the Natives and Mormons.
Apparently, many people on both sides died in the initial conflict. The
pioneers then surrendered. Under a flag of truce, they were disarmed, and
then slaughtered in cold blood. In all, 120 men, women and children of the wagon
train were killed. 17
children under the age of 7 were considered "too young to tell;"
were spared. Brevet Jamor J.H. Carleton noted in his investigation of the
tragedy "that about one third of the skulls were shot through with bullets
and about one third seem to be broken with stones." 4
There was "a popular and widespread impression that John D. Lee was the
leader and arch criminal of the massacre." 5 He was made
the scapegoat, tried twice, and executed in 1877. There are allegations that the
massacre was perpetrated by an underground Danite group. This theory appears to be a hoax since no such group existed in Utah at the time.
Brigham Young led a church cover-up, saying that the Natives were responsible
for the massacre. He wrote that pioneers had earlier caused the death of Natives by
giving them poisoned meat, and by poisoning some of their wells.
Who was responsible for the massacre?
There are two main theories concerning the mass murder:
It was perpetrated by an isolated community of Mormons acting
independently. Author Brooks writes that Mormon residents in the Cedar
City area sent a rider to Brigham Young for advice. She reports that Young
"In regard to the emigration trains passing through our
settlements, we must not interfere with them until they are first
notified to keep away. You must not meddle with them. The Indians we
expect will do as they please but you should try and preserve good
feelings with them."
Unfortunately, she reports that the massacre had already occurred by the
time that the messenger returned. 6,7
Professor Gene Sessions, a Mormon, historian
and authority on the massacre has concluded:
"... some 50 Mormons taking orders
from local ecclesiastical leaders actually went out and tricked these
120 people out of their encampment with a white flag and then proceeded
to murder them in cold blood with the exception of 17 small children.
"It's an awful story, you can't put a smilie face on it. This was
cold-blooded murder of innocent people. Occasionally someone will come
up to me and say, 'Well don't you think they deserved it?' And, no I
don't think they deserved it. I don't care how many of the stories you
believe about whatever the immigrants did to get killed, nothing they
did came anywhere close to justifying the murder of little children and
the oldest child saved was six-years and 11 months old. Everyone older
than that was murdered. In fact most of the murdered people were women
and children. So there's no justification. Even if you wanted to make
some justification for killing the men, it breaks down pretty fast. It's
just- there's no justification for the murder of these people. ..."
"I also believe without any question, even though the Paiutes might deny
loudly that they were involved, that there indeed were. At the beginning of the
attack; at the beginning of the week somewhere in the neighborhood of three
hundred Paiutes--there may have been only a handful left by the end of the week
when the actual murders took place--but they were involved from the beginning
and anyone who suggests otherwise is just missing enormous amounts of evidence." 14
It was ordered by the church's prophet and president, Brigham Young. AuthorWill Bagley implicates
Young directly in the massacre. Bagley's book "Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows
" has generated considerable controversy since it was first published in
2002-OCT. He concludes that Brigham Young knew that the attack
was imminent and, according to legend, sent the message "Brethren, do your
duty." Bagley provides some circumstantial evidence in support of this
The children who survived were initially placed with Mormon families in the
area. All but one was later gathered up by Federal officials and returned to their
relatives in Missouri.
According to reporter Mark Havnes:
still haunts nearby communities, where descendants of some of the participants
are divided between those who wish the atrocity would disappear and those who
insist that justice demands that unresolved questions be answered."
On 2003-JAN-23, Bagley addressed a gathering at Southern Utah
"... spoke of the agony many massacre participants
suffered after the deed and how requests to LDS Church President Brigham
Young for spiritual guidance in dealing with pain were met with ridicule,
threats or silence."
The site of the massacre:
In 1859-MAY, the U.S. Army buried the remains of 34 bodies in a rifle pit,
and erected a cairn on the location.
In 1998, Mormon president Hinckley decided to build a new monument at the
location of the original cairn. The Dan Sill Hill monument has the names of the
people who are known to have been killed there. One year later, a second
monument was built at the bottom of a draw at the meadows.
Gene Sessions commented:
"In the course of preparing to put that new monument there, we made every
effort in the [Mountain Meadows] Association to discover where the remains were because we knew
that cairn had migrated a bit over the years--farmers had knocked it down,
vandals had carried off rocks and so forth. Brigham Young ordered it knocked
down once according to Dudley Leavitt, he was there with a party in the
1860s and they came up to it and he ordered it destroyed."
Suggestions of a cover-up:
In 2000-MAR, Chris Smith of the Salt Lake Tribune wrote a series of
articles on the massacre. He suggested that the bones recovered at the site were
full of secrets which would have been revealed if the archaeologists had more
time to study them. He alleged that the Mormon Church conspired with the
governor to have the bones reburied quickly. This was picked up by the news
services and widely disseminated.
Many people now regard this story of a Mormon Church cover-up as the truth. A
2005-MAY television program on the History Channel called "Investigating
History" reported that:
"...in 1999, a backhoe operator unearthed a mass grave,
and forensic anthropologist Shannon Novak made astonishing
discoveries--until the governor (one of the murderers' descendants)
ordered the bones reburied. But it was too late, the ghosts had spoken
and a new story emerged, implicating religious authorities in the mass
There appears to be little or no evidence of a cover-up. In reality, the rush
to rebury the bones was the result of pressure from the victims' descendents in
Arkansas. Sessions commented:
"... the descendants in Arkansas became very angry. They
wanted them reburied immediately and enormous pressure began to come upon us
in the [Mountain Meadows] Association to try and keep this whole thing
afloat--to get the Church and the state and whoever else we could to get
those bones back in the ground--so we worked hard to get that done."
"... the week before the dedication of the new monument
which was to take place on September 11, a Saturday, 1999, a man in
Harrison, Arkansas named J.K. Fancher who is friends with Dixie Leavitt the
governor's father, got on the phone and called Dixie and said, 'Your son's
got to intervene.' So the governor called the state archaeologist and within
a few hours the bones had been removed from the University of Utah and
brought altogether and on Friday morning, the day of the funeral that had
been scheduled for the bones, they were brought to St. George and brought to
a funeral parlor where they were placed in four small little caskets and
buried that afternoon in a Baptist funeral." 14
The lead plate hoax:
There were allegations that during 1998 or 1999, a lead plate was found by a
park service worker in southern Missouri, close to the
homeland of the massacre victims. It was allegedly written by John Lee, and said
that Brigham Young had ordered the massacre. Later handwriting analysis revealed
that the message was not in Lee's handwriting. It made for an exciting story,
though, and has been widely accepted as accurate by the anti-Mormon community.
A search of Amazon.com inventory for books relating to the massacre:
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selection of books, click on your browser's refresh key
"A vivid, gripping narrative of one of the most notorious mass murders
in all American history, and a model for how historians should do their
work. This account of a long-controversial horror is scrupulously
researched, enriched with contemporary illustrations, and informed by the
lessons of more recent atrocities." --Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer
Prize-winning author of "What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of
"Three Mormon scholars have thoroughly researched one of the most
shameful events in Mormon history. They have produced a very detailed,
insightful and balanced account of the events leading to the Mountain Meadow
Massacre of 9/11, 1857." --Robert V. Remini, Professor Emeritus of History
and the Humanities, University of Illinois, Chicago
"An institutional effort at truth telling in service to reparation, this
book provides in unflinching detail and with scholarly transparency the
story of one of the West's most disturbingly violent moments. The authors
tell the story well and get the history right, in no small part because of
LDS Church sponsorship that underwrote a level of professional staffing and
research that is impossible, even unimaginable, to the most diligent of lone
writers. This uniquely well-documented account of a highly contested event
may make obsolete previous studies and without doubt will constitute the
necessary starting point for all future ones." --Kathleen Flake, author of
The Politics of American Religious Identity
"The authors of Massacre at Mountain Meadows have written the best
researched, most complete, and most evenhanded account of the Mountain
Meadows incident we are likely to have for a long time. Above all they tell
a gripping tale. Though I knew the end from the beginning, I began to sweat
as the narrative approached its fatal climax. The authors won't let us turn
our gaze away from the horrors of that moment." --Richard Bushman, Howard W.
Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies, Claremont Graduate University
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
From Brigham Young's "red hot blood atonement" sermon. Journal of
Discourses, Vol. II., Page 311.