The Civil War interrupted all investigations of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. There was never any federal impetus to pursue the matter from Washington for many reasons. Rudely put, there were settlers getting hacked up by Indians and Bushwhackers all over the opening states and territories before, during, and long after the Mountain Meadows incident. 618,000 Americans on both sides died in the war. There were battles, skirmishes, wars and fights and ambushes, death, dying and massacres all over, under, around and through this era. The “Battling Parson” John Chittenden was wiping out the Cheyenne at Sand Creek, there was a railroad coming through and immigrants were killing each other off or dying from the workload from one coast to the other. The Dakota were being hung by the score in Minnesota for slaughtering settlers and taking their stuff, which is only fair since the settlers shot at them a lot and took all their stuff first. Custer was getting a little taste of the same at Little Big Horn. Before, after, and during the war, it was Bloody Kansas. It never really stopped being Bloody Kansas. And then you had the rise of the James and Younger gangs, as former rebel militiamen, former “Regulators” dragged on their vendetta for decades against the Yankees and the Union Mr. Lincoln tried to preserve. In the middle of all that horror and upheaval, the 120 members of the Fancher and Baker train were of limited importance. Their horrendous fate seemed not all that horrendous by comparison.
Locally however, in Utah terms, Mountain Meadows did become rapidly and widely known. Anti-Mormonists circulated it as widely as possible as proof that the Mormons were inherent killers and would never be loyal to the federal government. When the transcontinental railway connected in 1869 at Promontory Point in Utah Territory, the attendant telegraph line wired back the first message from the region, a greeting from Brigham Young telling new president Ulysses S Grant that Utah was stalwart and loyal to the Union. This was probably because Lincoln had moved the small residual force of the Utah Expedition to the new Fort Douglas, just up the bench from temple square, and kept a cannon trained on Brigham Young’s house all through the war just in case. Brigham probably wanted to reassure the new president that this was no longer necessary. And, after the war, even that sort of overt military intimidation faded. A presidential pardon issued in 1858 had already exempted Brigham Young from any role in the Utah War, which included Mountain Meadows. Had Young maintained that Mountain Meadows had been the action of territorial militia in the course of the Utah War, the entire incident would have been federally pardoned. Brigham however, consistently maintained after the Mormon involvement had been confirmed, that it was not executed by his or any other territorial or church edict and was a civil crime down to those who committed it. And the fact remains that nobody ever involved in the massacre ever claimed to have been under orders from Brigham Young.
Some years later, in light of Brigham Young’s standing invitation to investigate the crime, and after the extent of the massacre had become more well known, an assistant federal judge named John Cradlebaugh of the territory’s Southern District, decided he had to have a go at somebody. Cradlebaugh primarily wanted to nail Brigham Young for the crime of course. Or any crime. As an avowed Christian, federal “reformer,” he was basing his vendetta principally on just hating Mormons and Brigham Young in particular, but ostensibly upon a more legal premise, the “smoking gun” of the much touted “threat” from Brigham Young’s own lips warning that just such a massacre would result from attempting to take Utah by force. If he could not indict Brigham Young, he set his sights at proving it had been his doing, and set about trying to convict as many high LDS officials as he could in the matter, hoping to extort a confession out of one or more of them that they had been acting as Brigham Young’s obedient minions, under his express instructions. The object of the Christian reformers who ran the federal courts in the issue over the many years it was engaged there, was never to find out who did it or why, but rather, to bring down Brigham Young, cow the LDS population, and set an example for others:
The threat uttered by Brigham Young during his interview with Captain Van Vliet, on the 9th of September, 1857, was speedily fulfilled — so speedily that, at first sight, its execution would appear to have been predetermined. “If, he declared, the government dare to force the issue, I shall not hold the Indians by the wrist any longer.” “If the issue comes, you may tell the government to stop all emigration across the continent, for the Indians will kill all who attempt it.” Two days later occurred the Mountain Meadows Massacre, at a point about three hundred miles south of Salt Lake City.
The threat and the deed came so near together as to lead many to believe that one was the result of the other. But a moment’s reflection will show that they were too nearly simultaneous for this to be the case; that in the absence of telegraph and railroad, it would be impossible to execute such a deed three hundred miles away in two days.
Cradlebaugh took a contingent of the army from Camp Floyd, personally commanded by Albert Sidney Johnston Himself, and began to round up a small number of accused Mormons and attempted to impanel a Grand Jury to use against them. Brigham Young might well have been given a pardon, but that didn’t mean his complicity couldn’t be exposed in the process of convicting his lackeys and accomplices…
…It was not until March 1859 that Judge Cradlebaugh held a session of court at Provo. At this date only six or eight, persons had been committed for trial, and were now in the guard-house at Camp Floyd, some of them being accused of taking part in the massacre and some of other charges.
Accompanied by a military guard, as there was no jail within his district and no other means of securing the prisoners, the judge opened court on the 8th. In his address to the grand jury he specified a number of crimes that had been committed in southern Utah, including the massacre. “To allow these things to pass over,” he observed, “gives a color as if they were done by authority. The very fact of such a case as the Mountain Meadows shows that there was some person high in the estimation of the people, and it was done by that authority…You can know no law but the laws of the United States and the laws you have here. No person can commit crimes and say they are authorized by higher authorities, and if they have any such notions they will have to dispel them.” The grand jury refused to find bills against any of the accused, and, after remaining in session for a fortnight, were discharged by Cradlebaugh as “a useless appendage to a court of justice,” the judge remarking: “If this court cannot bring you to a proper sense of your duty, it can at least turn the savages held in custody loose upon you.” [He then released a couple of violent felons, two convicted rapists from his incarceration out into the community to teach them a lesson.]
Judge Cradlebaugh’s address was ill advised. The higher authority of which he spoke could mean only the authority of the church, or in other words, of the first presidency; and to condemn and threaten to impeach that authority before a Mormon grand jury was a gross judicial blunder. Though there may have been cause for suspicion, there was no fair color of testimony, and there is none yet, that Brigham or his colleagues were implicated in the massacre.
A lack of testimony or evidence did not deter Judge Cradlebaugh from trying to nail Brigham Young with something—anything.
“I fear, and I regret to say it,” remarked the superintendent of Indian affairs, in August 1859, “that with certain parties here there is a greater anxiety to connect Brigham Young and other church dignitaries with every criminal offence than diligent endeavor to punish the actual perpetrators of crime.”
The judge’s remarks served no purpose, except to draw forth from the mayor of Provo a protest against the presence of the troops, as an infringement of the rights of American citizens. [Cradlebaugh was also rounding up witnesses and holding them under guard of federal troops.] The judge replied that good American citizens need have no fear of American troops, whereupon the citizens of Provo petitioned Governor Cumming to order their removal. Cumming, who was then at Provo, was officially informed by the mayor that the civil authorities were prepared and ready to keep in safe custody all prisoners arrested for trial, and others whose presence might be necessary. He therefore requested General Johnston to withdraw the force which was then encamped at the court-house, stating that its presence was unnecessary.
The general refused to comply, being sustained in his action by the judges; and on the 27th of March Cumming issued a proclamation protesting against all movements of troops except such as accorded with his own instructions as chief executive magistrate. A few days later the detachment was withdrawn.
Notwithstanding the contumacy of the grand jury, Cradlebaugh continued the sessions of his court, still resolved to bring to justice the parties concerned in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and in crimes committed elsewhere in the territory. Bench-warrants, based on sworn information, were issued against a number of persons, and the United States marshal, aided by a military escort, succeeded in making a few arrests.
…All the efforts of Judge Cradlebaugh availed nothing, and soon afterward he discharged the prisoners and adjourned his court sine die, entering on his docket the following minute: “The whole community presents a united and organized opposition to the proper administration of justice.”
When Judge Cradlebaugh first set about bringing down Mormonism with his show-trials and military escort, there wasn’t even a jail in Provo to hold the prisoners from whom he hoped to extort enough evidence to hang Brigham Young. But worse yet than this sort of “official” harassment and usurpation of Constitutional liberty, was the mere presence of the soldiery, camp followers, and similar ilk, brought in by the federal government’s Christian “reform societies.”
With the coming Of the army and the civil officers for Utah, there had been assembled those “reforming agencies” from which so much was expected in the moral regeneration of the Latter-day Saints. The New York Tribune, when the “Expedition” was forming for its journey, remarked, in a vein of irony, perhaps, but representing truly the ideas that obtained in some quarters respecting the “Expedition:
“The impending `Expedition’ against them [the `Mormons'] is enthusiastically regarded as holy war, undertaken in the interest of morality and religion, intended to convert the Mormons to more correct ideas on the subject of matrimonial relations and religious truth; to break up their polygamous households; * * * or should they not be brought to reason as to these matters by the precept and example of the new civil officers, seconded by the officers and soldiers of the army, then to resort to the remedy of dispersing them by fire and sword.”
–Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, Volume 4, pg 456
Some of the blessed and wonderful societal improvements brought from Washington’s Christian ministers include many of the local Indians becoming alcoholics who’d trade sex with their women for whiskey, many of the other Indian tribes becoming so pissed off at white men of any sort they began to attack Mormons or Gentiles alike, and a stream of dashing and seemingly gallant army officers leading naïve young Mormon girls into extended visits to Camp Floyd for nefarious purposes, and of course the street riots, riots with the police, public intoxication, lewdness, that president George Albert Smith sums up fairly well:
“Christianity continues to progress with the arrival of its most able expounders and defenders who preach by precept and example; but much to our gratification, at present, they are practising on each other. Several murders have been committed, two of which have occurred in this city; the mayor of our city has to hold a court every day. Street fights prove rather expensive, but are of frequent occurrence. Our brethren, however, keep out of the way and they [the non- `Mormons'] have the fun all to themselves. Although the annoyance to the people, and drunken sights are disgraceful to the community, they are unavoidable as long as the United States treasury pays the expenses.”
“For want of space we omit the details of rapidly increasing profanity and drunkenness, of the progress of gambling, whoredoms, etc., and for the present merely note the fights as yet most prominent. … As there is a fair prospect for a weekly crop of the thrilling and exciting incidents so common in the world, it is but fair to presume that news from this isolated portion of our country will no longer be quoted as `unimportant.’”
“Police riots,” or “rows with the police,” said an editorial in the Deseret News, “are getting to be of weekly occurrence in our city.” … “It is a matter of regret,” said the editorial account of the affair, “that the professors of civilization (!) and claiming to be the very essence of modern refinement, should be found among those whose orgies make night hideous and our streets dangerous….”
“The miserable howling and demoniac yells of the mid- night brawlers, maddened by the intoxicating draught,” wrote John L. Smith, chief clerk of the territorial legislature, in a letter to Stenhouse, “contrasts strangely with the peace which has ever before reigned in `Deseret’.” As a result of the lawlessness the police force of Salt Lake City was increased by the addition of two hundred members four-fold what if had previously been. Out of the number seven special guards of twenty men in each, were organized; and each guard-group was to furnish men for duty through twenty-four hours– covering the week. “…The expense that has accrued in consequence of their presence and acts, to the corporation and to the county, has been more than double the amount that has been required to suppress and punish crime and support pauperism from the first settlement in the valley in 1847 to July, 1858; and there have been more murders committed and more blood shed in the county within the last eight months, than before, since its organization;” and the county was organized by the general assembly of the “State of Deseret” in December, 1849 -nine years before.
–Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church Volume 4, pgs 460-462 [emphasis mine]
The negative social influence of the “reforming” agents of the federal government was not lost on the newly installed Christian governor Cumming. He found himself surprised to be siding with the very Mormons he’d assumed needed civilizing.
“Mormon” annals do not stand alone in describing this perilous state of community life in Utah during this Camp Floyd period. “The unruly crowd of camp followers which is the inseparable attendant of an army,” wrote Albert G. Brown, Jr., to the Atlantic Monthly, “has concentrated in Salt Lake City, and is in constant contact and conflict with the Mormon population. An apprehension prevails, day after day, that the presence of the army [i.e. in the city] may be demanded there to prevent bloodshed. The governor [Cumming] is alien in his disposition to most of the federal officers; and the judges are probably on their way to the states to resign their commissions.”
–Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church Volume 4, pg 463
“There has been,” wrote Elder John Taylor, of the council of the twelve,”a very riotous, obstreperous and vindictive spirit manifested by our missionary civilizers; who, while they are utterly regardless of common decency themselves, seek to embroil us in difficulties and trouble; and provoke us if possible to commit some overt act to reopen the wounds that have so far been healed, and cause a renewal of hostilities in the diabolical hope of fattening themselves upon the prey of their victims.”
Relative to the purpose of those who sought to bring about the “renewal of hostilities” that they might “prey upon their victims,” it can be said that at the very height of Judge Cradlebaugh’s effort to incriminate Brigham Young in the Springville homicides, this passage was written of the non “Mormon” merchants: “The merchants of Salt Lake City say that if they cannot get up a collision between the `Mormons’ and the army at this time they will all be `broke’ [fail in business-be ruined] which is equivalent to acknowledging that they are at the bottom of this outrage upon this people.” This at first sight might seem paradoxical; but a collision between the “Mormons” and the army meant reinforcements to the army, an influx of more people, more government contracts, more business hereabouts in Utah-hence the preying upon the “Mormons’ as victims.
—Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church Volume 4, pgs 467-468
And under later gubernatorial appointments, to effect even greater “civilization” of the Mormon populace, the military was moved directly into contact with the Mormon city centers, both in Salt Lake via Camp Douglas, and and Provo, via Camp Rawlins. One of the most notable incidents of this civilizing force was the Provo Riots of 1870:
The next event in Governor Shaffer’s administration following this militia incident is what is known as the “Provo Riots.” Carrying out the plans formulated at Washington for the suppression of “Mormon influence” in Utah, an additional military encampment was made near Provo, known as Camp Rawlins, named after the late secretary of war in the Grant cabinet. On the night of the 22nd of September, a party of about forty soldiers between the hours of twelve and two o’clock in the night made a raid upon the city of Provo. Before the rioters could be stayed they broke into the residence of City Alderman, William Miller, firing several shots into his bedroom, smashed in doors, and windows and took him prisoner. They broke in the doors and windows and tore down the signs of some of the stores on the principal business street of the town. They surrounded the residence of City Councilman A. F. McDonald, who was absent from home, and demolished every outside door and window of the first floor, sacked the house, scattering the furniture and bedding over the yards and sidewalks. Alderman E. F. Sheets’ house received about the same treatment, and an effort was made to burn the church in the central portion of the town. “The raiders,” said Mayor A. O. Smoot’s telegraphic report to the Salt Lake press, “were armed with United States needle guns, with bayonets and revolvers, and during their rioting they captured several citizens, parading them through the streets, some of whom were severely beaten and bayoneted before they could make their escape.” The rioters were quelled by the assembling of a number of citizens and the firing of a few shots, after which the soldiers fled in the direction of Camp Rawlins.
“CAUSE” OF THE RIOTS
There was no justification for this procedure on the part of the rioters except the refusal of Alderman Miller to rent to the soldiers a hall for the purpose of holding a party; that some of the bishops of Provo had counseled their young men and young women not to associate with the soldiers of the camp; also that Councilman A. F. McDonald had refused to sell them whiskey. The spirit of the affair may be judged by the shouting and declarations made in the progress of the riot, preserved in the depositions of the citizens made at the time before the proper authorities. The rioters swore “they would use up the four `white houses’–viz. McDonald’s, Sheets’, Mayor Smoot’s, and Brigham Young’s”; that they had come “to run this town”–Provo. “They shouted as they went along the streets `come out you G–d d–d Mormons and Mountain Meadow Massacre-ers,” and further using indecent language and threatening to kill the “Mormons” and take their women from them. They said the `Mormons’ had run this territory long enough, “that they [the "Mormons"] had not got volunteers in the territory now, but had Uncle Sam’s men, who were going to run this town as they G–d d–d pleased. This had been Utah territory, but now it was Uncle Sam’s territory, and they were going to run it, as they had men to back them.” There was some shooting in the streets by the soldiers, and one of their number, by the name of Haws, during the evening, was shot in the shoulder.
–Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church Volume 5 pg 342
Eventually national and regional public outcry moved the events at Mountain Meadows to the fore of all federal judicial priorities in Utah. Washington’s appointed Christian reform agents tried another go or two at old Brother Brigham.
This antagonism between the federal and territorial authorities continued until 1874, at which date an act was passed by congress “in relation to courts and judicial officers in the territory of Utah,” and commonly known as the Poland bill, whereby the summoning of grand and petit juries was regulated, and provision made for the better administration of justice. The first grand jury impanelled under this law was instructed by Jacob S. Boreman, then in charge of the second judicial district, to investigate the Mountain Meadows Massacre and find bills of indictment against the parties implicated. A joint indictment for conspiracy and murder was found against John D. Lee, William H. Dame, Isaac C. Haight, John M. Higbee, Philip Klingensmith, and others. Warrants were issued for their arrest, and after a vigorous search Lee and Dame were captured, the former being found concealed in a hog-pen at a small settlement named Panguitch, on the Sevier River.
After some delay, caused by the difficulty in procuring evidence, the 12th of July, 1875, was appointed for the trial at Beaver City in southern Utah. At eleven o’clock on this day the court was opened, Judge Boreman presiding, but further delay was caused by the absence of witnesses, and the fact that Lee had promised to make a full confession, and thus turn state’s evidence. In his statement the prisoner detailed minutely the plan and circumstances of the tragedy, from the day when the emigrants left Cedar City until the butchery at Mountain Meadows. He avowed that Higbee and Haight played a prominent part in the massacre, which, he declared, was committed in obedience to military orders, but said nothing as to the complicity of the higher dignitaries of the church, by whom it was believed that these orders were issued. The last was the very point that the prosecution desired to establish, its object, compared with which the conviction of the accused was but a minor consideration, being to get at the inner facts of the case. The district attorney refused, therefore, to accept the confession, on the ground that it was not made in good faith. Finally the case was brought to trial on the 23d of July, and the result was that the jury, of whom eight were Mormons, failed to agree, after remaining out of court for three days. Lee was then remanded for a second trial, which was held before the district court at Beaver City between the 13th and 20th of September, 1876, Judge Boreman again presiding.
The court-room was crowded with spectators, who cared little for the accused, but listened with rapt attention to the evidence, which, as they supposed, would certainly implicate the dignitaries of the church. They listened in vain. In opening the case to the jury, the district attorney stated that he came there to try John D. Lee, and not Brigham Young and the Mormon church.
He proposed to prove that Lee had acted in direct opposition to the feelings and wishes of the officers of the Mormon church; that by means of a flag of truce Lee had induced the emigrants to give up their arms; that with his own hands the prisoner had shot two women, and brained a third with the but-end of his rifle; that he had cut the throat of a wounded man, whom he dragged forth from one of the wagons; and that he had gathered up the property of the emigrants and used it or sold it for his own benefit.
These charges, and others relating to incidents that have already been mentioned, were in the main substantiated….
Brigham Young however, came out looking pretty good in the whole legal mess, much to the chagrin of those sponsoring the witch hunt.
The first witness examined was Daniel H. Wells, who merely stated that Lee was a man of influence among the Indians, and understood their language sufficiently to converse with them. James Haslem testified that between five and six o’clock on Monday, September 7, 1857, he was ordered by Isaac C. Haight to start for Salt Lake City and with all speed deliver a letter or message to Brigham Young. He arrived at 11 A. M. on the following Thursday, and four hours later was on his way back with the answer. As he set forth, Brigham said to him: “Go with all speed, spare no horse-flesh. The emigrants must not be meddled with, if it takes all Iron county to prevent it. They must go free and unmolested.”
Samuel McMurdy testified that he saw Lee shoot one of the women, and two or three of the sick and wounded who were in the wagons. Jacob Hamblin alleged that soon after the massacre he met Lee within a few miles of Fillmore, when the latter stated that two young girls, who had been hiding in the underbrush at Mountain Meadows, were brought into his presence by a Utah chief. The Indian asked what should be done with them. “They must be shot,” answered Lee; “they are too old to be spared.”
On the testimony which we have now before us I will make but one comment. If Haslem’s statement was true, Brigham was clearly no accomplice; if it was false, and his errand to Salt Lake City was a mere trick of the first presidency, it is extremely improbable that Brigham would have betrayed his intention to Van Vliet by using the remarks that he made only two days before the event. Moreover, apart from other considerations, it is impossible to reconcile the latter theory with the shrewd and far-sighted policy of this able leader, who well knew that his militia were no match for the army of Utah, and who would have been the last one to rouse the vengeance of a great nation against his handful of followers.
When all was said and done, all of this Christian prosecutory zeal only found the satisfaction of heaping itself upon John Doyle Lee. Lee apparently hadn’t heard the maxim: Nobody talks, everybody walks. From the beginning, he began to talk. He did not learn his lesson in his first trial, which ended in a hung jury thanks to some extent to Brigham Young’s hindrance and objection to the particularly biased judges originally staging the hearings—an odd tactic for somebody looking for a scapegoat I must say. But Lee’s mouth kept running, witnesses kept finking on him from out of the woodwork, and ultimately his second trial brought to him a conviction of masterminding the dirty deed. He was executed by firing squad at Mountain Meadows, twenty years after the crime, on 28 March, 1877 at the scene of his atrocity.
You can just go right to Lee himself for the details:
What really singled out John Lee was self-incrimination, not some conspiracy by Brigham Young to pin the crime on him and him alone. Haight and Dane were ranking ecclesiastical officers and they initiated the whole course of action. But it was John Doyle Lee that spilled his guts, and it was John Doyle Lee who all the little surviving victims pointed fingers at as the man who killed their mommies and daddies. It was John Doyle Lee who invited every Indian and white Mormon co-conspirator to point to him as the patsy, because by then, it was the US army, not Brigham Young they knew they had to appease, and not one of them was going to take any part of the blame if Lee was just blabbing away asking for it. As Cradlebaugh records it:
I recollect of one of them, “John Calvin Sorrow,” after he found he was safe, and before he was brought away from Salt Lake City, although not yet nine years of age, sitting in a contemplative mood, no doubt thinking of the extermination of his family, saying: “Oh, I wish I was a man; I know what I would do; I would shoot John D. Lee; I saw him shoot my mother.”
And well, it was exploiting the theater of traumatized children who were two, three, four, maybe one of them six years old tops, and too young to really be reliable at the time, and then further removed by several years passing, and then only after having been thoroughly contaminated by rumor and fable and self-interested coaching by very biased folks overtly trying to convict the Mormons, any or all of them, of this crime, but for the purposes of a witch hunt, it was quite effective. And by his own admission, John D Lee was a witch.
Because of the tragedy of it all, few care to see the Massacre at Mountain Meadows as essentially comical. The whole episode was very much like a movie made back in the height of the Cold War called, The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming. In that little classic, a Soviet submarine runs aground offshore of a small island community in the Northeast US, when the captain wants to have a closer look at the US just out of curiosity. As the Russian crew sneaks ashore to try to steal a large boat to pull them off the shoals, Ruskie sightings run rampant until the entire village is fully armed and insane, convinced they are the victims of a Soviet invasion force. Sadly, it’s only in Hollywood movies that such scenarios end with everyone sharing a hug, finding new friends, and all concerned heading safely home in the end.
Unlike the “nudge-and-wink” community approval of the Christian KKK, the Taliban, Al-Qaida, or the Irish Republican Army through the years, there was no subtle, brotherly LDS backslapping of the culprits of this immoral crime in gatherings around the fellowship hall and community functions in Mormon circles.John Lee and his fellow Mountain Meadows conspirators were instantly despised in Mormon circles. Mormons wrote nasty folk songs about them.
Sure, John D Lee and his guerrilla terrorists expressed resentment that Brigham Young did not cover their arses in the deal. But they also never alleged that he actually told them to do it. Indeed, not the Indians, not the turncoat Mormon informers, not the apostate Mormon informers, nobody in the deal, while they were spilling their tormented hearts out to the court, could honestly say they had any orders from Brigham Young or anyone he had sent on his behalf, nor had anyone actually seen a written order proposed to be from Brigham Young. As close as they came to it was one written preliminary report that claimed an Indian said that Lee showed him a paper that Lee said was from Brigham Young ordering the Indians to attack the Fancher Party. But Lee denied that ever happened, or that he ever had any such paper nor had he ever heard of any such orders directly from Young. And the Indian never showed in court. It was only years later that Lee concluded that Young must have known all about what they were doing, but this he concluded from allusions by the two stake presidents Dame and Haight who set him up for the job. And in spite of it being in his best interest to produce such testimony and such papers, Lee did not nor could he. Nor could any of the others. What they all did instead was say they inferred that their course of action is what Brigham Young expected from various sermons they thought they remembered. No one really had any communication with Brigham Young about it at all until after it was over. Many later claimed that Mormon apostle George A Smith, had been travelling ahead of the Fanchers, warning the Saints to stockpile grain because of the oncoming army, and was also telling the Saints, other Saints that nobody ever produced that is, to kill all the passing emigrants–but none of them ever talked to him personally and so that was something they just assumed he was saying or other people had said he was saying. It was a rumor and nothing more. And the fact is, the GA Smith theory was really developed after-the-fact by anti-Mormonists, not the central witnesses.
My Born-Again readers may be disappointed to find out that Brigham Young was not in the business of killing passing Christian settlers for vengeance or blood sport. That’s a very titillating fantasy for subsequent generations of foaming evangelicals to indulge while they sit around flattering themselves in Christian coffee houses perpetually waiting for the Rapture to come, and listening to Michael W Smith. But Christianity by comparison, has a two-millennia-long history of overt, highly organized, completely naked, violent aggression against both the non-Christian, and against fellow Christians that any given ruling Christian sect or faction doesn’t think measures up to it. Mountain Meadows is entirely consistent with Christian tradition, not Mormonism. Perhaps John Lee and his brethren momentarily back-slid into Calvinism in the heat of battle. Maybe they were thinking about that other “Reformation,” the one with Calvin and Henry VIII and the Spanish Inquisition and all. There was more than a little blood spilt in that one.
In Mormonism, you have to account for your works before God, and even if “salvation” is assured, your Eternal Reward is based in part upon performance: Your words, your thoughts, and your deeds. It’s doctrines like that which Christians say proves Mormons are not Christians. True. Christians are not required to perform. They are forgiven universally for every sin they have committed, are committing, and will commit. In Christianity, the “saved” pay no consequence for their actions. Not in Mormonism.
Mountain Meadows was a very bad performance. Particularly, by Mormon standards. No Mormon involved could ever have listened to or read very closely the lectures and proclamations of Brigham Young or Joseph Smith about the Constitution’s fundamental, Godly principles, and believe they would escape God’s judgment for their actions at Mountain Meadows. In the words of the era’s official LDS historian, BH Roberts:
The conception was diabolical; the execution of it horrible; and the responsibility for both must rest upon those men who conceived and executed it; for whatever of initiative may or may not have been taken by the Indians in the first assault upon these emigrants, responsibility for this deliberately planned massacre rests not with them.
I’m not asking you to believe Brigham Young was a prophet of God. Even as a believer, I happily concede that half the gibberish he was postulating about during the Utah War period in particular was sloppy, convoluted, and easily misread or misheard, and begging to be misunderstood. It was classic, “Can no one rid me of this troublesome priest,” material.
In the words of Horace Greely, concerning Brigham Young’s many unprepared public speeches and sermons:
… “Let him only be sure to talk good sense,” said the great editor of the Tribune, “and I will excuse some bad grammar.” Then the censure:
“But when a preacher is to address a congregation of one to three thousand persons, like that which assembles twice each Sabbath in the Salt Lake City tabernacle, I insist that a due regard for the economy of time requires that he should prepare himself, by study and reflection, if not by writing, to speak directly to the point. This mortal life is too short and precious to be wasted in listening to rambling, loose-jointed harangues, or even to those which severally consume an hour in the utterance, when they might be boiled down and clarified until they were brought within the compass of half an hour each. A thousand half hours, reverend sir! Have you ever pondered their value? Suppose your time to be worth ten times that of an average hearer; still, to take an extra half hour from a thousand hearers in order to save yourself ten or fifteen hours’ labor in the due and careful preparation of a sermon, is a scandalous waste, which I see not how to justify. Be entreated to repent and amend!” (Overland Journey, p. 220)
–Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church Volume 4, pg 524
As disorganized as the sermons of Brigham Young may have been, the bottom line is that John Doyle Lee was the only man convicted of masterminding and executing the bloodiest massacre in the history of Utah Territory, and this by his own admission. The chuckleheads who extrapolated the Mountain Meadows Massacre out of anything Brigham Young ever said of wrote, are the same kind of “Mormons” currently on forums and blogs all over the net still parsing out what Cleon Skousen said about the secret nod he got from John A Widtsoe about the “Atonement.” That class of “Mormon” is the very worst-case scenario that Bruce R McConkie was alluding to when he slapped around Eugene England about not sticking to the canon. Lee and his collection of Mormon shite-heads around the Meadows seem to be the 1857 versions of “911Truthers.” They, most of the press of the day, the Christian America Movement that drove them all, were “conspiracy nuts” before the term was coined. Mormon and Christian alike, they all believed Brigham Young and the Mormon church was running the entire world or wanted to:
You have read that I have had an agent in China to mix poison in the tea, to kill all the nation; that I was at the head of the Vigilance Committee in California; that I managed the troubles in Kansas from the beginning to the end; that there is not a liquor-shop or distillery but what Brigham Young dictates it: so state the newspapers. In these and all other accusations of evil-doing, I defy them to produce the first show of evidence against me. It is also asserted that President Buchanan and myself concocted the plan for the army to come here, with a view to make money…All the army, with its teamsters, hangers-on, and followers, with the judges, and nearly all the rest of the civil officers, amounting to some seventeen thousand men, have been searching diligently for three years to bring one act to light that would criminate me; but they have not been able to trace out one thread or one particle of evidence that would criminate me. Do you know why? Because I walk humbly with my God and do right, so far as I know how. I do no evil to anyone; and as long as I can have faith in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to hinder the wolves from tearing the sheep and devouring them, without putting forth my hand, I shall do so. I can say honestly and truly, before God, and the holy angels, and all men, that not one act of murder or disorder has occurred in this city or territory that I had any knowledge of, any more than a babe a week old, until after the event has transpired. That is the reason they cannot trace any crime to me.98
–Brigham Young, August 12, 1860. Journal of Discourses 8:143