If you didn’t grow up in Utah, you’ve probably never heard of the Utah War. Federal troops came to Utah in 1857 creating great anxiety among the Mormons. This war footing led to the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the lowest point in Mormon history. Barbara Jones Brown tells about these events that led to the greatest atrocity in American history up to that point in 1857.
Barbara: A memorial from Utah’s legislature [was sent to Washington] saying, “Look, if you keep sending us federal officials that we don’t like, that we don’t agree with, we’re going to send them away. Please choose appointees that are from among us and represent our values.” Basically one legislator said it was practically a declaration of independence. So there’s these kinds of stories, these kind of rumors, some based in fact, some exaggerated that reach Washington. So the new president concludes that he needs to send a whole new set of territorial appointees to Utah, including one to replace Brigham Young as governor and that he’s going to send federal troops with them to ensure that they are placed successfully and with no resistance from local Utahns.
So Brigham Young and church leaders interpret this as a threat and they vowed that the army, the troops will never enter into their settlements. I’m really glossing over things quickly here, but you have what came to be called the Utah War erupt where the troops and the federal appointees, as they are nearing settlements of what was then Utah Territory. Young and other church leaders send out Mormon militia men to hamper their way. So they’re running off their cattle, they’re burning the grass in front of them. They are burning their supply wagons, doing everything they can to try and get the troops to be stopped on the plains that year. So that’s the environment and you’ve got this war hysteria going, on if you will, in Utah Territory.
These heightened tensions contributed to Mormons in Utah committing the worst war atrocity in U.S. history up to that time in 1857. Approximately 100 settlers from Arkansas were killed. Was the Mountain Meadows Massacre the result of previous persecution against Mormons?
20 years before the Mountain Meadows Massacre, 17 Mormons were killed in Haun’s Mill, Missouri. And just four months earlier, Parley P. Pratt, a beloved Mormon apostle was killed May 13, 1857 in Arkansas. Just a few months after Pratt’s death, around 100 immigrants from Arkansas were killed. Is it true that Mormons sought revenge for the Haun’s Mill and Pratt’s murder?
Barbara: So I looked at that theory and all I can find is proximate cause, meaning, so okay, this happened in Arkansas, therefore these people were from Arkansas, therefore that must be the reason. But when I looked at it, I don’t think that was the motive. I think these other things that I’ve been talking about were the motive. Here are my reasons. Quite a lot of the perpetrators eventually come out and say why this happened as well as local people. They give a whole slew of motives and reasons for why this happened. Not one of them ever said that Parley P. Pratt’s murder was a motive.
GT: Hmm. That’s among the principal people that were involved.
Barbara: Yeah. Anyone. Anyone. You can’t find a single Mormon that ever said that.
GT: So, do you think that’s overplayed then?
Barbara: I do.
Were you surprised to hear Brown downplay Pratt and Haun’s Mill in the Mountain Meadows Massacre?
To bring a modern note up that relates to mass killings, I am also saddened by the horrible mass killing in the New Zealand mosques. Unfortunately history repeats itself much too often.
I was also at the Utah Jazz game Saturday night, a few days after the racial epithets hurled by fans against Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook. It was sad to see Utahns react poorly to Westbrook. But I was heartened by Donovan Mitchell’s amazing gesture. The Utah Jazz guard purchased t-shirts for both the Jazz players and the Brooklyn Nets players who were in town. The shirts showed grasping hands between a black and white person with the words: “You don’t fight racism with racism. You fight racism with solidarity.” It was truly a classy gesture by the 2nd year player, and a wonderful lesson to all of us. See https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2826169-look-donovan-mitchell-jazz-and-nets-players-wear-t-shirts-denouncing-racism
What can we do to build solidarity in our communities? Clearly there are far too many massacres and mass shootings.