Richard Turley is not only an amazing historian but is Director of Public Affairs for the LDS Church. In our next conversation, we’ll get acquainted with him and learn about a few of the books he has written, including the recent release of Saints: The Standard of Truth.
Turley: So Saints, the story of The Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter-days, is the first multi-volume history of the church produced officially since B.H. Roberts’ comprehensive history, which was compiled from a series of journal articles that he wrote and published as a set in 1930 as part of the church’s centennial. Saints is a four-volume work that breaks the history of the church up into four time periods: 1815 to 1846, and then from there until 1893, and then from there until the mid-1950s. Then from that point to the present day.
It is a history that is written in narrative style. So, unlike a lot of histories which was just somewhat expository, this one is narrative, which means it’s deliberately intended to be engaging to the reader. The content is extraordinarily accurate history that’s been source checked repeatedly. You can find the sources in the back of the book. But it’s also written in a very engaging style. So, it has already become, by perhaps an order of magnitude, the single most read history in the history of the church.
GT : Well, it’s sold out too. Do you know that?
Turley: We give it away electronically, and we’ve had a vast number of downloads. We’ve also had a vast number of chapter views. So, we know that we have over a million people reading it right now.
GT : Well, I tried to get it for my mom for Christmas, and it was sold out, and I was like, “Are you kidding me?”
Turley: Well, it’s remarkable. Volume 1 is remarkable, and the other volumes will appear in succession. I encourage everyone to read it.
We also talk about his past and future books on the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
Turley: So when my co-authors and I were writing Massacre at Mountain Meadows, we gathered a lot of information. In fact, we ended up with more than 50 linear feet of files that we had collected from 31 states in the United States and the District of Columbia. I include in that the National Archives on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, the National Archives in Maryland, what we sometimes call Archives Two and the Denver facility for the National Archives. So, we had a lot of information. The information that we gathered included historical documents, legal documents. The legal documents were particularly important, because no one had ever really examined the case from that perspective before and I, having a legal background, was particularly interested in doing that. So, working with the Janiece Johnson and LaJean Purcell Carruth, who is a shorthand transcriber, we put together these two volumes, and then an associated website that has on it thousands of additional pages of information. These volumes gave you the perspective from a legal standpoint of the Mountain Meadows case, including information related to the nine people who were formally indicted for the massacre.
Have you read Saints yet? What are your thoughts on it?
John D. Lee was the only person convicted (and executed) for the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Was he the guiltiest? Richard Turley answers that question, as well as many others.
Turley : Contrary to popular belief, John D. Lee is not the only one who was indicted. A grand jury in September of 1874 indicted nine persons. The key figures in the massacre were, first Isaac Haight. Isaac Haight was the militia major and also the stake president in Cedar City at the time. He seems to be the linchpin, the person who was at the center who organized the events that lead to the massacre and gave approval for the massacre to occur.
William Dame, who was his military superior, the commander of the militia in southern Utah, he lived in Parowan. He was also a stake president. Then, John D. Lee, who was the person who Isaac Haight brought in to make an initial attack on the immigrants and who was on the ground at the time of the final massacre and helped to massacre people. Then, in addition to those, all told, there were probably at least 50 people, maybe 60 people, who played some kind of role in the massacre at some point. So, it was clearly group violence. The people who were investigating the massacre and who were trying it, were not necessarily interested in getting all those people into a courtroom. They were interested in trying the leaders. This is not unusual. If you look at group violence across the United States and across the world, often it’s the leaders that that law enforcement officials go after. That was certainly the case here.
Some have said the Fancher Party were insulting Mormons on their way through Utah. Others have said they were peace-loving people who did not deserve to die. Likely the truth is somewhere in the middle. What led the Mormons to become so angry with the Fancher-Baker party?
In those days, many cities in the United States, including cities in Utah, had anti-profanity ordinances. If somebody profaned in public, you can arrest them, and then either imprison them or give them a fine. Isaac Haight, before the company arrives said we’re going to try to get some cattle from these people. Why get cattle? Well, in the event of a siege, they’d have food that they can use to help supply themselves. So, if these people were expressing themselves verbally, they could have used their anti-profanity ordinance as a way of arresting these people and then taking cattle from them as a fine. So, while the exact details are somewhat murky, we probably had something about like that going on. In short, there was nothing that these immigrants did, nothing, that would justify an attack on a single person, let alone a wholesale execution of men, women and children, who had been promised protection under a white flag.
This seems like simply a pre-text to steal cattle, as Barbara mentioned before. What are your thoughts on John D. Lee?