A memorial is in place on the site where the victims of the Mountain Meadow Massacre are buried.
The Emery County Historical Society recently presented the Mysteries of the Mountain Meadows Massacre at the Museum of the San Rafael. Dottie Grimes, the president of the Emery County Historical Society opened the meeting with a Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer. Followed by Evelyn Huntsman singing the old song "Freckles Gets The Blame", this music was found in the Emery County Archives.
Dottie Grimes then introduced Edward Geary from Huntington who has done extensive research about the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Geary wrote the book A History of Emery County in 1996.
Geary said, "Evelyn Huntsman's song is the cheerful part of this evening and what I have to say is not very cheerful. On Sept. 7, 1857, more than 100 men, women and children were murdered in Mountain Meadows in Southwestern Utah. No other atrocity of comparable scale occurred in the entire history of the 19th century westward migration. This was an event of great magnitude and historical significance.
"Brigham Young was once quoted as saying that 'the Mountain Meadows Massacre set the LDS church back 20 years.' However, more than 150 years later, you can go out into the United States and find people who will know two things about Utah and Mormons, polygamy, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre. So it is a persistent story.
"I have never done any original research on the subject of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. I have read a lot of the things that have been written. I am sure that many of you here have read many of the books written about the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
"First the story of the Mountain Meadows Massacre and how it has evolved over the years. Second, to go through the sequence of events from the best available current knowledge. There are still some things that aren't too clear. Some of those things will never be clear. And third, the mysteries that were advertised to get you here tonight. The historical society has discovered that if they advertise a mystery or a secret of some kind people will come to learn about the secret or mystery.
"The mystery consists of the unanswered questions and some of those will be addressed tonight.
"As soon as the massacre was over, people were at work trying to create or put the story into a form that would be most palatable or most unpalatable. We would say in today's language to spin the story.
"Within about a week of the massacre, John D. Lee started out from Cedar City or from Harmony for Salt Lake to attend General conference and while there he made a report to Brigham Young and other church leaders. He reported that the massacre had been committed by the Indians and the white settlers had been unable to prevent the killing of the people.
"So the first story was that the Indians did it. This story met with skepticism from the very beginning for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons was that it didn't fit the usual pattern of an Indian massacre in that the youngest children were not killed. That was not what Indians usually did when they went to massacre someone. They would massacre everyone including young children. Soon this story became inadequate and clearly false.
"Then after that John D. Lee was clearly implicated, he was charged and tried twice. The first trial ended in a hung jury, and in a second trial, they convicted him.
"Then the story became the Indians and John D. Lee were responsible for the massacre. That was the prevailing story for a long time and in a lot of places. My mother remembers growing up in Castle Dale and being taught in history classes, that was the version that was being taught. The Indian massacre with John D. Lee involved.
"John D. Lee while in prison, wrote a memoir published after his death, called Mormonism unveiled, in which he presented his version, making it clear that there were a lot of people involved besides him. In fact, in reading his story you would hardly know that he was involved at all, but that there were plenty of other people involved. The story then became John D. Lee, the Indians and a few other people were involved.
"By 1892 a number of the participants had died or became too old to be able to tell the story.
"The leaders of the LDS church sent Andrew Jensen, who worked in the historical department to go to southern Utah and try to get first-person accounts of the massacre. So they sent with him a letter signed by the first presidency, saying that the church needed to know the truth about these things and assured them of confidentiality that Jensen and the church would provide. The information given would not be revealed in their lifetime. He gathered some documentary accounts which have frequently been collected and published , such as this book, published by the University press, and Brigham Young University press.
"What towns were involved? Primarily, Cedar City, but also some other communities in southern Utah. When Andrew Jensen went to interview people who were at that time living in Beaver, Parowan, Cedar City and some other places, it was a devastating experience. He very conscientiously copied down what people said to him, and made his report. When he got back, the world looked bleak to him for a long time. Emotionally, it was a very difficult thing for him to deal with as he realized just how widespread or how much an entire community was involved in these events.
"In about 1917 a young woman at that time, named Juanita Leavitt, later became Juanita Brooks, was teaching school in Mesquite Nev. One day, an elderly man by the name of Nephi Johnson asked her to write his story. He is a distant cousin of mine and many other people in Emery County. Nephi approached Juanita and said, my eyes have seen things that my tongue has never spoken. He asked her to come and write down the story he wanted to tell her. She agreed to do it, but she was teaching school. She was busy and didn't get to it until the end of the school term. When she went out to his farm she found him near the point of death. He was delirious and unable to tell a coherent story while she was there. He paused for a moment, stared at the ceiling and said blood, blood, blood, blood.
"Later she was expressing to a friend how sorry she was that she had not fulfilled her promise to write down his story. The friend said, 'Oh, he probably wanted to tell you about Mountain Meadows. He was there. You know.'
"This planted a seed in her heart and mind that led her, many years later, to do the first serious scholarly research. Mountain Meadows Massacre, there are now hundreds of books, volumes and stories written on it one way or another. But the first serious scholarly work was Juanita Brooks, Mountain Meadows Massacre published in 1950.
"During the depression years in the 1930s, one of the government relief programs, was a program that gave opportunities for people in communities to get a little money for writing local histories and collecting documents and putting them on file. Juanita Brooks got involved in collecting histories in St. George, where she lived.
"Juanita discovered that there was a lot more documentary information available than she had at first thought and she began seriously to collect data and to work with it and out of that came her book. She didn't have all the documentary information that is available now and yet she did a remarkable job. Essentially, she got it right. Her basic interpretation has, I think, not been improved upon to any great degree. This continues to be the book by which all others are measured and judged. She paid a personal price for following through on this project. Leaders of the LDS church at that period did not want to see these old things stirred up again. They advised her not to research and not to publish her research. She politely persisted and published her research. Mrs Brooks was in some ways ostracized from her community. Before that time she had been a Ward and Stake Relief Society President. She was actively involved in both church and civic affairs. From the time the book was published, she was not excommunicated from the LDS church, as some reports have it, but she never again had a calling in the church. This was a painful thing for her.
"On the basis of this first work the historians began to pull out other pieces of additional information. Since 1950, there have been a lot of important works, but the last 10 or 12 years saw two major studies. One of those in 2002. Will Bagley an independent historian and columnist at the time for the Salt Lake Tribune published Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows. This is an exhaustively researched book, but is also one of the most biased books I think that you could ever read. It is a book with a thesis. Bagley's thesis is that the 19th century Mormons were blood thirsty zealots. Driven by the determination to avenge the murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith at Carthage Jail and the mobbing's of the Latter-day Saints in the various places where they lived. And that zeal came right from the top on down to the entire community and that the immigrants that were killed at Mountain Meadows were doomed from the moment they entered Utah. They were going to be the example. Everything was a massive conspiracy that culminated in the massacre.
"Bagley's facts are aptly researched, but it is a wonderful case of loading your interpretation of facts completely one-way. There is no sense of well here's something that could be looked at one way or it could be looked at this way or that way. It has to be looked at only this way. In the process of demonizing Mormons he gives a free pass to everyone else. The emigrants were faultless. The Indians were certainly exploited and manipulated by the Mormons. The government officials were just honest decent people trying to do their work. Only the Mormons had the underlying intentions. Well, this book received a lot of attention when it was published by Brown Williams University press.
"The leaders of the LDS church realized that they can't just say, let's not stir things up. Things are stirred up. They approached three historical scholars all of whom did or had worked for the church, Donald Walker, Richard Turley and Glenn Weber. Men whom they felt they could trust to be fair and simply said, we will open our resources to you. You can have access to anything that church has in its archives. Even the first presidency files, which were historically very difficult to get at. These historians were told her to look honestly at the records and determine the conclusion, as they saw it.
"The result of that was this book the Massacre at Mountain Meadows published in 2008. I am briefly mentioned in the, book because I was asked to read the manuscript and make suggestions. I do not deserve any credit, because the suggestions I made they did not take. It is a very fine book and if you want a reasonably bound book, and a moderately written study, this is one that I would recommend. To me it was personally disappointing because with the resources they had, they could have done a definitive study, and they chose to fall short of that. Published at the University press saying that you can't really sell a history book more than 400 pages to a popular audience, so hold it to that number of pages. To do the job that should've been done, they would have to go considerably longer, or a greater number of pages. A lot of other things have been done, but that's kind of the story of the story," said Geary.
At this point, Geary handed to the audience two sheets of paper. The first outlining the Mountain Meadows Massacre time line of key events and the second sheet was a list of the main participants. The year of 1857, became one of the most active years for westward immigration. Probably the most active year since the gold rush of 1849 and 1850. Thousands of people in that season made the journey west to California. By this time most of the Oregon immigration had gone through. So this was a busy time on the plains.
It was also the year the federal government and President Buchanan influenced by reports of some federal officials who had been sent to Utah and then had left reporting that the Mormons were in rebellion. President Buchanan mobilized a large military force to send to Utah to install a new government to succeed Brigham Young. The force made up of about 2,500 men. That may not seem like a large force in military terms of our time, but at that time it represented more than one fourth of the entire standing army of the United States with state-of-the-art equipment on their way to Utah to set things straight.