The day after approximately 100 immigrants from Arkansas were killed, Mormon leaders in Iron County got together to discuss how to explain the deaths. Barbara Jones Brown tells how leaders dealt with Brigham Young’s message to leave the immigrants alone, and how they decided to blame the Indians for the atrocity.
Barbara: On the day after the massacre Haight and Dame arrive at the Mountain Meadows to see what’s happened, what’s been done. Lee and Klingensmith are already there because they were major participants in the killings, in the atrocity. They come and then Lee talks about watching Haight and Dame argue over who’s to blame for this as they see the horrible, butchering, just the horrible, butchered bodies lying all across the meadows, including all of the women and children. Dame says, “We have to report this.”
And Haight says, “How? As an Indian massacre?”
And Dame says, ” I’m not sure I would report it just as that, because Dame knows he’s ordered out the Iron County militiamen to do this.
Isaac [Haight] says, “You have to report it as an Indian massacre or you’ll implicate yourself.”
Dame says, “Isaac, I didn’t think there were so many of them. You told me that most of them were already dead, that there were just a few more witnesses that had to be killed.”
Haight yells at him and says, “If you blame this whole thing on me, I will follow you to hell to make sure you pay for it,” basically. So there’s just this horrible argument going on the day after. So, Lee gets back to Fort Harmony and starts bragging to his congregation about what he’s done. He’s proud of it.
A letter from Brigham Young arrives on September 13th, two days later. It arrives in Cedar City telling Isaac Haight, “The Indians will do as they please, but you must not meddle with the immigrants. If those who are there will go, let them go in peace.”
Isaac Haight receives that letter and says, “Too late, too late.” So he forwards that message to Harmony and also to Washington. The same thing happened in Washington. The militiamen returned to Washington and they’re bragging about what they’ve done. They’re proud of it, until that message arrives, that Brigham Young had said, “No. Let them go in peace.”
So Haight calls Lee to him in Cedar City and says, “We’re in a muddle.” He says, “You need to go report this to Brigham Young and take as much of the blame for it as you can.”
So Lee says, “Why don’t you just tell him you’re the [leader.]”
He [Haight] says, “Well, you could tell him better than I.”
So he sends Lee north to report the massacre to Brigham Young.
And so the blame game begins. Who was most culpable for the massacre? Was it John D. Lee, Brigham Young, or militia leaders in Iron County?
Barbara: [Brigham Young] starts to come to believe that John D Lee and Isaac Haight we’re involved. Now at this time, he doesn’t have civil authority. He just has church authority, right? Because he’s not the governor anymore. And so, he excommunicates John D. Lee and Isaac Haight, eventually.
GT: Would it be safe to say that those were the two most responsible people for the massacre?
Barbara: I think William Dame is also responsible because he gave the final okay to go ahead and carry it out as Iron County militia commander. Phillip Klingensmith was clearly very much involved and clearly received much of the spoils. We know from a clerk of Phillip Klingensmith that he was pilfering tithing funds and stealing from the people long before the massacre.
But is Brigham Young completely blameless?
Barbara: I agree with Juanita Brooks’ conclusion that his rhetoric before the massacre was very dangerous. You know, privately he was writing and saying, “I don’t want any bloodshed in this conflict.” But he was definitely whipping people up into a state of hysteria.
GT: Would Brigham Young be an accessory to that with his rhetoric?
Barbara: I don’t think he’s an accessory to the crime. I look at President Donald Trump today and some of his rhetoric that he uses. Did he tell people to do what happened at Charlottesville? No. But did his rhetoric make people think it was okay to do what they did? Did some people think it was okay to do what they did at Charlottesville? Probably. So, would you call Trump an accessory to any crime? Would you call Trump an accessory to the crime that occurred at Charlottesville when you had one of these people drive a car into protesters? No. I wouldn’t call Trump an accessory to that crime. No. But did his rhetoric encourage some people to think that was okay? Possibly.
Incidentally, Lee didn’t follow Haight’s order to take blame. Who you have followed that order if you were Lee? What are your thoughts about the massacre?