Today marks the 150th anniversary of the most despicable act ever committed by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (unless you believe Fawn Brodie, according to which atrocities by Mormons had by that time become standard fare).
It's clear by now that the Native Americans of the Mountain Meadows area weren't nearly as involved in the murders as the guilt-ridden Mormon participants wanted everyone to believe. But it's also clear--except to the anti-Mormon axe grinders--that the Mountain Meadows Massacre was anything but a large-scale Mormon conspiracy.
A recently released movie places the blame squarely on the shoulders of Brigham Young, although it's not difficult for Michael Medved, a Jew, to identify that allegation as hogwash.
Why would Hollywood release a controversial feature film about alleged Mormon terrorists of 150 years ago while all but ignoring the dangerous Muslim terrorists of today?
The movie industry has pointedly avoided harsh treatment of modern Islamic radicals, but September Dawn (to be released nationally Aug. 24) portrays the 19th century Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a deeply corrupt cult led by an all-powerful, blood-thirsty mass murderer.
The trailer for the film makes clear its hostile point of view, with Terrence Stamp as Brigham Young announcing in portentous and menacing tones: "I am the voice of God. And anyone who doesn't like it will be hewn down."
There's probably some validity to ultimately turning the current Mountain Meadows memorial site over to the Federal Government, but it's a bit over the top to blame the Mormon Church, which actually took the initiative to create the existing memorial several years ago, for holding onto the memorial property at least for the time being.
Mormon basher (and fellow Mormon?) Will Bagley sees no problem in believing the worst about Brigham Young and the Mormon Church.
Historian and author Will Bagley believes Young gave the order and is to blame for the atrocity. The Mormon leader, Bagley says, "acted guilty, lied about it for 20 years and didn't go after the Mormon perpetrators."
The history surrounding the event is much more nuanced, but easy to ferret out, as this article on the LDS Church website describes.
As the troops were making their way west in the summer of 1857, so were thousands of overland emigrants. Some of these emigrants were Latter-day Saint converts en route to Utah, but most westbound emigrants were headed for California, many with large herds of cattle. The emigration season brought many wagon companies to Utah just as Latter-day Saints were preparing for what they believed would be a hostile military invasion. The Saints had been violently driven from Missouri and Illinois in the prior two decades, and they feared history might repeat itself.
Church president and territorial governor Brigham Young and his advisers formed policies based on that perception. They instructed the people to save their grain and prepare to cache it in the mountains in case they needed to flee there when the troops arrived. Not a kernel of grain was to be wasted or sold to merchants or passing emigrants. The people were also to save their ammunition and get their firearms in working order, and the territory’s militiamen were put on alert to defend the territory against the approaching troops if necessary.
These orders and instructions were shared with leaders throughout the territory. Elder George A. Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles carried them to southern Utah. He, Brigham Young, and other leaders preached with fiery rhetoric against the enemy they perceived in the approaching army and sought the alliance of Indians in resisting the troops.
It's interesting that we are so enamored by nice round numbers, such as the 2,000 or 3,000 (soon to be 4,000) American troops that have been killed in Iraq, or the 150 years that have elapsed since the Mountain Meadows Massacre. On such occasions as these, we find a sort of solace by dredging up old memories and old wounds. I'm sure the current holding of the entire Mormon church under the microscope for an atrocity that a handful of its members committed will fairly soon pass back into its more common use as the occasional weapon of the anti-Mormon bigot.
Yes, it's clear that Mormons did it. A handful of them. Just like the descendants of slave holders who didn't hold slaves, I am not to blame for what happened at Mountain Meadows. Gordon B. Hinckley, the current leader of the LDS church, isn't either. And accurate historical research has exonerated Brigham Young as well.