The Mountain Meadows Massacre – Juanita Brooks

I’m re-reading The Mountain Meadows Massacre, by Juanita Brooks at the moment.  Twenty or thirty years ago when I submerged myself in everything I could find about the event I concluded the Brooks work was the best out there.  When it came into my hands again recently I held back beginning it again to savor the anticipation.  Now I’m midway through it again and it’s as fine a piece of research as ever.

Brooks was a Mormon lady, which made the Mountain Meadows Massacre a work of courage on her part.  The LDS church had spent a century suppressing the realities about the mass homicide of an estimated 60-120 men, women, and children of the Fancher wagon train journeying through Utah to California in 1857, by Mormons and members of a tribe of Native Americans.

The event happened at a time when there was plenty of massacre going on across North America, but was unusual for a couple of reasons.  First, because the people involved were Mormons killing Christians, as opposed to Christians killing Mormons, and the motivation wasn’t acquisition of territory belonging to someone else.   Second, because the circumstances surrounding the massacre involved ‘normal’, dutiful, pious people behaving in ways anyone outside the context could only consider far from normal.  Believing the killing was defensively justified and necessary.

Brooks establishes clearly and thoroughly that the heads of the LDS ordered the massacre and that John Lee, who’d been hanged for it and handed full responsibility by the LDS Church, was carrying out those orders.

An excellent read for anyone interested in history, human behavior, duty, and the ability of the human mind to justify anything it applies itself to.

Old Jules

26 responses to “The Mountain Meadows Massacre – Juanita Brooks

  1. I’ve stood where this took place, walked all around it, standing and thinking, walking and pondering, wondering how something like this could take place, trying to wrap my mind around what it is that happens in such cases. I believe this: All it takes is one person to step outside of reason. Fervor leads to zealotry leads to mass hysteria leads to mob mentality and a frenzy, not unlike sharks in a feeding frenzy, takes place. It’s not the whiff of blood, not yet, it’s the whiff of unreasonable behavior and it takes one person to step outside it and then others who have not yet learned to control these impulses join in and all hell breaks loose. A justification, of sorts, was quickly set in place, but all it takes is one person willing to act from their basest nature to set it in motion. It’s an important lesson in human behavior still.

    • Teresa Evangeline: Good seeing you. It takes a lot of pondering to arrive as a sufficient level of confusion about it all to entirely not understand it. My confusion about Mountain Meadows more-or-less begins and ends with context. One person didn’t do it, from my viewpoint, so much as a composite of people did it beginning at least a decade earlier. Even the people on the train helped it along, as well as the Missouri Wildcats who’d been travelling with them, inciting and haranguing with boasts that some had participated in the murder of Joseph Smith. While there can be no ‘justification’ for any act of this sort, an abstraction of etherial ‘justice’ seems to hang around waiting to be pointed at some vulnerable target where it can become the antithesis of justice.

      Similar in a lot of respects to 21st Century events we’re all familiar with.

      Gracias, Jules

  2. “The event happened at a time when there was plenty of massacre going on across North America…”

    There certainly was, wasn’t there? A lot more than the vast majority of us today have an inkling of. We were certainly a blood-thirsty lot.

    I’ll keep my eye out for Brooks’ work, and appreciate the heads-up on the story, Jules.

  3. Things similar to this can happen at anytime. I classify wars for lies for the benefit of a few in this same category.

    • Hi One Fly: Good seeing you. Poisonous certainties and vituperations concerning our own ‘rightness’ compared to the horrifying, repugnant ‘wrongness’ of others probably has a place in the mix. Gracias, Jules

  4. Good morning, Old Jules…after moving to the Salt Lake City area just over a year ago, I jumped a little further into the subject, as well, and read John Lee’s book “Mormonism Unveiled.” He does speak a little too highly of himself at times, but he seems to present a very clear picture of how things happened at the direction of the LDS church, not only with this incident, but with many others from the early years of the church. Thank you for the info on the Brooks book, I’ll have to check it out. Scott

    • Morning Seekraz: The John Lee book was a good one, but I think the entire era is worth a lot of reading. It’s a microcosm of too many things to allow myself to ignore it. Gracias, Jules

  5. I’d never heard of this before, but am fascinated now… You sum it all up in that last sentence… Have a great day, Jules!

  6. Good to know. Another book for stack three.

  7. The Mormon Militia were dressed as American Natives to disguise themselves. once they were figured out by the settlers that they were not being attacked American Natives but Mormons, the Mormon Militia decided to massacre everyone except for small children.

    Why would the Paiutes any Paiutes get involved in this, I don’t believe there were any Paiutes involved that was just an alibi…blame it on the Natives to get off the hook.

    • Hi Wayne. I value your supposition, though it doesn’t happen to be supported by the evidence from either side of the body of biases. But there’s no reason not to believe anything you wish to believe about it unless you happen to wish to know as nearly as possible what actually happened. The tribal members had a lot more justification for rage directed at the Fancher train than the Mormons did. However, you are correct in saying the Mormons dressed as Indians.

      Thanks for the visit. Jules

  8. Nothing new under the sun…

  9. Well, well, well – the Mormons prove once again to be ‘above God’ – and not in a good way. I grew up in ‘the church,’ but left when i was 14. Most of my family is still with that faith. It’s hard because there are so many elements that are beneficial, but, and this is true for any sect or soul, there IS a dark side. And they’d best start facing it before it swallows them whole. Of course most of us know the money they packed behind a lobby to defeat same-sex marriages in California.
    A lesson for all of us that we are not sheep, but instead thinking, feeling, functioning people with minds of our own. Would be great if we’d all use them, lest history continue to repeat itself.
    Thanks for the post as always Jules.

    • Hi Bela: I don’t know much about ‘above God’, but in 1857 they did kill off the Fancher party. I’d certainly agree human beings have a dark side. I wasn’t aware the Mormons were conspicuous in opposition to same sex marriages, though it seems consistent with stands taken by most Judeo-Christian religions. I don’t pay it any mind because I’m fundamentally opposed to all marriages between people of child-bearing age.

      History will repeat itself most likely. Best we learn to love it doing so because history is what it is because humans are what they are. Gracias, Jules

  10. Old Jules, I seem to remember this on the History channel and these folks did not want to be Mormon and that is why they were killed by a Mormon who was trying to take over and create a different sect of Mormons.

    That connection you made with the Gold mine is possible, can you tell us more about that connection.

  11. “The people involved were Mormons killing Christians, instead of Christians killing Mormons.” What a sad state of affairs for the idea of organized religion! Maybe that is why I prefer having a connection to God out in Nature where caring for each other is foremost, rather than killing!

  12. Hello there Old Jules, another piece of American history I knew nothing about until reading your post, always pleased to be learning something new

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