the thinker

Peace & Violence among 19th-Century Latter-day Saints - Response to

Peace and Violence - Joseph addresses the Nauvoo Legion for the last time

On May 12, 2014, the LDS Church released another essay addressing troubling issues in its history. The essay is now in the topical guide of the website. It is found here: Peace and Violence among 19th-Century Latter-day Saints

A MormonThink editor responds to the essay below.

Significant facts presented

1) Regarding the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the essay acknowledges that an LDS Stake President ordered the attack on the Fancher Party.

Isaac C. Haight, a stake president and militia leader, sent John D. Lee, a militia major, to lead an attack on the emigrant company.

2) The essay acknowledged that a Mormon militia committed the massacre. In the past, the Church 'defended' the massacre by blaming it on the Paiute Indians.

Over the next few days, events escalated, and Mormon militiamen planned and carried out a deliberate massacre. They lured the emigrants from their circled wagons with a false flag of truce and, aided by Paiute Indians they had recruited, slaughtered them. Between the first attack and the final slaughter, the massacre destroyed the lives of 120 men, women, and children in a valley known as Mountain Meadows. Only small children—those believed to be too young to be able to tell what had happened—were spared. The express rider returned two days after the massacre. He carried a letter from Brigham Young telling local leaders to "not meddle" with the emigrants and to allow them to pass through southern Utah. The militiamen sought to cover up the crime by placing the entire blame on local Paiutes, some of whom were also members of the Church.

3) In the past it was common for the Church and its defenders to acknowledge the existence of the Danites, but they usually rationalized by saying that they acted totally on their own and Joseph Smith did not approve of them. The essay acknowledges that Joseph approved of the Danites, although they still try and minimize Joseph Smith's full knowledge about their activities by guessing about that knowledge (emphasis added):

At the Latter-day Saint settlement of Far West, some leaders and members organized a paramilitary group known as the Danites, whose objective was to defend the community against dissident and excommunicated Latter-day Saints as well as other Missourians. Historians generally concur that Joseph Smith approved of the Danites but that he probably was not briefed on all their plans and likely did not sanction the full range of their activities. Danites intimidated Church dissenters and other Missourians; for instance, they warned some dissenters to leave Caldwell County. During the fall of 1838, as tensions escalated during what is now known as the Mormon Missouri War, the Danites were apparently absorbed into militias largely composed of Latter-day Saints. These militias clashed with their Missouri opponents, leading to a few fatalities on both sides. In addition, Mormon vigilantes, including many Danites, raided two towns believed to be centers of anti-Mormon activity, burning homes and stealing goods. Though the existence of the Danites was short-lived, it resulted in a longstanding and much-embellished myth about a secret society of Mormon vigilantes.

4) Blood Atonement

Although never using the term 'Blood Atonement', the essay acknowledges the teaching (emphasis added):

At times during the reformation, President Young, his counselor Jedediah M. Grant, and other leaders preached with fiery rhetoric, warning against the evils of those who dissented from or opposed the Church. Drawing on biblical passages, particularly from the Old Testament, leaders taught that some sins were so serious that the perpetrator's blood would have to be shed in order to receive forgiveness. Such preaching led to increased strain between the Latter-day Saints and the relatively few non-Mormons in Utah, including federally appointed officials.

Errors & misleading statements

1) Starting with the second paragraph, the essay states:

They (Mormons) were persecuted, often violently, for their beliefs.

This isn't completely accurate. The violent persecution against the Latter-day Saints were generally not for their beliefs but rather for their actions. Latter-day Saints often repeat how Joseph was persecuted by the 'gentiles' for stating he had seen a vision. That isn't true. The Palmyra Methodists actually welcomed him into their congregation. It was only when the Saints started doing things like the sexual allegations against Joseph Smith, bombastic sermons, committing bank fraud, inciting violence, preaching how God will take the lands away from the local 'gentiles' and give it to the Mormons that any form of violent persecution began.

As mentioned in the essay, Mormons were also aggressors, such as the actions by the Danites and also the Mountain Meadows Massacre which was an unprovoked attack on an innocent wagon train that was merely passing through Utah.

2) 'Extermination Order' - The essay states (emphasis added):

In the first two decades after the Church was organized, Latter-day Saints were often the victims of violence. Soon after Joseph Smith organized the Church in New York in 1830, he and other Church members began settling in areas to the west, in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. Time and again, the Saints tried to build their Zion community where they could worship God and live in peace, and repeatedly they saw their hopes dashed through forcible and violent removal. Mobs drove them from Jackson County, Missouri, in 1833; from the state of Missouri in 1839, after the governor of the state issued an order in late October 1838 that the Mormons be expelled from the state or "exterminated"; and from their city of Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1846. Following their expulsion from Nauvoo, Latter-day Saints made the difficult trek across the Great Plains to Utah.

The essay purports that the Saints wanted to merely worship in peace and not bother anyone. They use the infamous extermination order issued on October 27, 1838 by Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs as evidence that it was the 'evil gentiles' who wanted to persecute the righteous Mormons. What most LDS do not know is that it was LDS leader Sidney Rigdon who first used the term 'exterminate' which lead to Governor Boggs order.

What preceded the Mormon Extermination Order was a speech given by Mormon Leader Sidney Rigdon on July 4, 1838 at Far West, Missouri. In that speech, it was Rigdon who first used the term 'extermination' and threatened to exterminate the non-Mormons.

Sidney Rigdon's July 4th Oration (emphasis added):

We take God and all the holy angels to witness this day that we warn all men in the name of Jesus Christ, to come on us no more forever. The men or the set of men that attempts it does so at the expense of their lives. And the mob that comes on us to disturb us, it shall be between us and them a war of extermination, for we will follow them till the last drop of blood is spilled, or else they will have to exterminate us; for we will carry the seat of war to their own houses and their own families, and one part or the other shall be utterly destroyed. Remember it then, all men! No man shall be at liberty to come in our streets, to threaten us with mobs, for if he does he shall atone for it before he leaves the place; neither shall he be at liberty to vilify or slander any of us, for suffer it we will not in this place. We therefore take all men to record this day, as did our fathers, and we pledge this day to one another our fortunes and our sacred honours to be delivered from the persecutions which we have had to endure for the last nine years, or nearly that. Neither will we indulge any man or set of men in instituting vexatious LAW-SUITS against us, to cheat us out of our just rights; if they attempt it we say woe be unto them. We this day, then, proclaim ourselves FREE, with a purpose and a determination that can never be broken. No, never! No, never!! No, never!!!"

The sermon was printed up and distributed widely as a flier.

Brigham Young blamed the Mormon's problems in Missouri on LDS leader Sidney Rigdon, counselor in the First Presidency:

"Elder Rigdon was the PRIME CAUSE OF OUR TROUBLES IN MISSOURI, by his Fourth of July oration."

Times and Seasons, p. 667, 1838

A comment from a reader:

In 1838 "exterminate" did not only mean "to kill" but it also could mean "to drive from within". Both Governor Boggs & Sidney Rigdon used "exterminate" in the same manner. Part of the overblown Mormon persecution complex that has built up over the years is a misunderstanding of what Bogg's was ordering. He was not ordering the mass killings of the Mormons in Missouri. The use of the term exterminate in today's context to claim some sort of martyrdom complex for Mormons as a group in 1838 is simply an exaggeration of the situation. I wish the essay had emphasized the contemporary meaning of the word, as used by both Boggs and Rigdon, in the body of the essay.

See More Information: Extermination Order

3) Tarring & Feathering of Joseph Smith.

The essay leads the reader to believe that Joseph Smith was tarred & feathered and beaten merely because of their differing religious beliefs. From the essay (emphasis added):

As Latter-day Saints faced these difficulties, they sought to live by revelations to Joseph Smith that counseled them to live their religion in peace with their neighbors. Nevertheless, their adversaries in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois resented the Saints' differing religious beliefs and social and economic practices. They also felt threatened by the Saints' growing numbers, which meant that Mormons could increasingly control local elections. These opponents attacked the Saints, first verbally and then physically. Church leaders, including Joseph Smith, were tarred and feathered, beaten, and unjustly imprisoned.

The tarring & feathering of Joseph Smith occurred on March 24, 1832 in Hiram, Ohio after Joseph supposedly propositioned (or possibly had sex with) 16 year old Nancy Marinda Johnson. Dr. Dennison, with the encouragement of a neighborhood mob, was encouraged to castrate him. Why would the mob try to castrate him? Castration is used as a penalty for sexual crimes only. The castration attempt is acknowledged by pro-LDS scholar Susan Easton, although she does not say why the Johnson brothers attempted to castrate Joseph.

The Johnson brothers were reportedly very upset that Joseph Smith, an older married man, would proposition his 16 year-old sister (perhaps niece) Nancy Marinda Johnson.

When the Doctor failed to perform the castration, the mob decided to tar & feather Smith. So the attack was not based on Joseph's religious beliefs, but rather on his actions.

More on the tar and feathering of Joseph Smith:

Randy Jordan discussions

Link is here.

Sexual allegation against Joseph Smith

4) Hawn's (Haun's) Mill

In the worst incident, at least 17 men and boys, ranging in age from 9 to 78, were slaughtered in the Hawn's Mill Massacre. Some Latter-day Saint women were raped or otherwise sexually assaulted during the Missouri persecutions. Vigilantes and mobs destroyed homes and stole property. Many of the Saints' opponents enriched themselves with land and property that was not justly theirs.

The Hawn's Mill Massacre (usually referred to as Haun's Mill) was a tragedy and there certainly is no excuse for the Missourians that participated in the slaughter. However, the essay and more prominently the Church film, the New Joseph Smith Movie, depict the event completely as a mob attacking the innocent Latter-day Saints without provocation. However, Mormons are not usually aware of the fighting that had already been escalating in Missouri. Ten days before the attack on Haun's mill on October 30, 1838.

Mormon soldiers met secretly and organized into companies of ten, fifty, and one hundred in preparation for war.… On the morning of 20 October [1838], Joseph Smith gathered about three hundred of his men on a ridge near Diahman and covenanted with them never to accept peace at the sacrifice of truth and justice.… The Prophet then stepped forward, drew his sword, and lifting high above his head, proclaimed, "I have drawn my sword from its sheath and I swear by the living God that it never shall return again till I can go and come and be treated by others as they wish to be treated by me".

The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, pp. 125-126

The Mormons living in the small community of Haun's Mill had experienced a number of attacks from non-Mormons but had signed a peace treaty with the locals. Thus they were caught off-guard when, on Tuesday, October 30, 1838, about 200 Missouri troops attacked the settlement, killing eighteen men.

The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, p. 164

There is, of course, no way that a person can justify this bloody deed. Dr. Quinn was very disturbed by the "brutality of the anti-Mormon" militia that "attacked the LDS settlement at Haun's Mill," but he put the matter into perspective by showing that the action of the Danites earlier at the Battle of Crooked River led to the slaughter at Haun's Mill:

In the skirmishes that both sides called "battles," Mormons used deadly force without reluctance. Benjamin F. Johnson wrote that Danite leader (and future apostle) Lyman Wight told his men to pray concerning their Missouri enemies: "That God would Damn them & give us pow[e]r to Kill them." Likewise, at the beginning of the Battle of Crooked River… Apostle David W. Patten (a Danite captain with the code-name "Fear Not") told his men: "Go ahead, boys; rake them down." The highest ranking Mormon charged with murder for obeying this order was Apostle Parley P. Pratt who allegedly took the careful aim of a sniper in killing one Missourian and then severely wounding militiaman Samuel Tarwater. This was after Apostle Patten received a fatal stomach wound. In their fury at the sight of their fallen leader, some of the Danites mutilated the unconscious Tarwater "with their swords" striking him lengthwise in the mouth, cutting off his under teeth, and breaking his lower jaw; cutting off his cheeks… and leaving him [for] dead." He survived to press charges against Pratt for attempted murder…

A generally unacknowledged dimension of both the extermination order and the Haun's Mill massacre, however, is that they resulted from Mormon actions in the Battle of Crooked River. Knowingly or not, Mormons had attacked state troops, and this had a cascade effect. Local residents feared annihilation: "We know not the hour or minute we will be laid in ashes," a local minister and county clerk wrote the day after the battle. "For God's sake give us assistance as quick as possible." Correspondingly, the attack on state troops weakened the position of Mormon friends in Missouri's militia and government. Finally, upon receiving news of the injuries and death of state troops at Crooked River, Governor Boggs immediately drafted his extermination order on 27 October 1838 because the Mormons "have made war upon the people of this state." Worse, the killing of one Missourian and mutilation of another while he was defenseless at Crooked River led to the mad-dog revenge by Missourians in the slaughter at Haun's Mill.

Quinn, D. Michael, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, pp. 99-100

LDS historian Richard Bushman commented:

The skirmish at Crooked River led to the charge of treason against Joseph Smith and the Mormon leaders. Resisting a band of vigilantes was justifiable, but attacking a militia company was resistance to the state.

Bushman, Richard L., Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, p. 364

In Sidney Rigdon's July 4th speech he threatened that if the Mormons were attacked, there would be "a war of extermination; for we will follow them until the last drop of their blood is spilled; or else they will have to exterminate us…" Although Boggs' order echoed Rigdon's threat to exterminate the opposition, the Mormons were able to negotiate a settlement. Joseph Smith and four others surrendered to the militia. Richard Bushman writes:

The Mormons were to give up their arms and leave the state. Those accused of crimes were to be surrendered and tried. Mormon property in Missouri was to be confiscated to reimburse the Daviess citizens whose houses had been burned. The Mormons were to give up everything except their lives.

Bushman, Richard L., Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling,, p. 367

The Mormon prisoners were eventually brought before a court. Richard Bushman gives the following overview of the event:

The inquiry before Judge Austin King of the Fifth Circuit Court in Richmond ran from November 12 to 28 [1838]. The nearly fifty prisoners were accused of participating in the raids on Daviess County or the attack on Samuel Bogart and the Richmond County militia at Crooked River. For two weeks, the court heard testimony from over forty witnesses blaming Joseph for instigating the Mormon raids and setting up the Danites as a secret government.…At the end, the court found probable cause to charge Joseph and five others with "overt acts of treason." Another five, including Parley Pratt, were charged with murder because a Missourian was killed at Crooked River. The rest of the accused Mormons were dismissed.…

Because the Richmond jail was crowded, on December 1 the group charged with treason were sent chained and handcuffed to Liberty, the Clay county seat.

Bushman, Richard L., Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling,, p. 369

Bushman gives the following summary of the Mormon problems in the 1830's:

While in prison, Joseph mulled over the problems of the past year. The Missourians were to blame, of course, but he now saw that the Church had erred, and he had made mistakes himself.…

Repairing their mistakes, however, did not deal with the underlying question: why God had allowed the Missourians to abuse the Saints. If this was His work where was He? The succession of failures, beginning with Jackson County and continuing through the Far West surrender, was too much for John Corrill, the steady, clear-headed Missouri leader. At the end of his 1839 account of early Mormonism, Corrill explained why he abandoned the movement:

"When I retrace our track, and view the doings of the church for six years past, I can see nothing that convinces me that God has been our leader; calculation after calculation has failed, and plan after plan has been overthrown, and our prophet seemed not to know the event till too late. If he said go up and prosper, still we did not prosper; but have labored and toiled, and waded through trials, difficulties, and temptations, of various kinds, in hope of deliverance. But no deliverance came."

Everything Corrill said was true. The great work had met defeat after defeat. None of the Mormon settlements had lasted in Ohio or Missouri. Joseph's seven-year stay in Kirtland was the longest in any gathering place. At Far West, the Saints survived barely two years. The gathering led to one disaster after another, as local citizens turned against the expanding Mormon population.

Bushman, Richard L., Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling,, p. 379

After spending months in jail the five men were able to make an escape while being transferred to another jail in April of 1839, and made their way to Illinois.

Both the Missourians and the Mormons were guilty of crimes but the essay and the Church movie places all the blame on the non-Mormons and shows the Mormons as peaceful and non-aggressive. There were reasons [beyond "beliefs" that] the Mormons kept running into opposition and were driven out of various areas, but that is never explained in the film and only partially explained in the essay.

Reference: Salt Lake City Messenger

5) Danites

The Danites are limited to this one paragraph:

At the Latter-day Saint settlement of Far West, some leaders and members organized a paramilitary group known as the Danites, whose objective was to defend the community against dissident and excommunicated Latter-day Saints as well as other Missourians. Historians generally concur that Joseph Smith approved of the Danites but that he probably was not briefed on all their plans and likely did not sanction the full range of their activities. Danites intimidated Church dissenters and other Missourians; for instance, they warned some dissenters to leave Caldwell County. During the fall of 1838, as tensions escalated during what is now known as the Mormon Missouri War, the Danites were apparently absorbed into militias largely composed of Latter-day Saints. These militias clashed with their Missouri opponents, leading to a few fatalities on both sides. In addition, Mormon vigilantes, including many Danites, raided two towns believed to be centers of anti-Mormon activity, burning homes and stealing goods. Though the existence of the Danites was short-lived, it resulted in a longstanding and much-embellished myth about a secret society of Mormon vigilantes.

As mentioned above, the Church acknowledges the Danites and Joseph's approval of them, but then claim that he didn't know about their actions. That's not true. There are multiple accounts putting Joseph and Hyrum at Danite meetings and sanctioning their actions. (See Quinn, Origins of Power pp. 93-94.) There are accounts of Sidney Rigdon, as a member of the First Presidency, attending multiple meetings. Id. Joseph's closest family members and advisers—including Hyrum and his uncle John—joined the Danites in their threatening letter to Oliver Cowdery and other dissenters to leave Missouri or face violence. The implication of the essay is that there's nothing there, when in fact the involvement of Church leadership ran deep with this group and their activities.

The Danite Oath:

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, I do covenant and agree to support the first presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in all things, RIGHT OR WRONG; I will faithfully guard them and report to them the acts of all men, as far as in my power lies; I will assist in executing all the decrees of the first president, patriarch or president of the twelve; and that I will cause all who speak evil of the presidency, or heads of the church, to die the death of dissenters or apostates, unless they speedily confess and repent, for pestilence, persecution and death shall follow the enemies of Zion. I will be a swift herald of salvation and messenger of peace to the saints, and I will never make known the secret purposes of this society, called the Destroying Angel, my life being the forfeiture in a fire of burning tar and brimstone. So help me God, and keep me steadfast.

More information about the Danites is found in our Glossary and our Quotes pages. The Church's official site, "The Joseph Smith Papers" also has some information.

See also the whistling and whittling brigade

6) Indians were descendants of the Israelites.

Essay states:

Unlike most other Americans, Latter-day Saints viewed Indians as a chosen people, fellow Israelites who were descendants of Book of Mormon peoples and thus heirs to God's promises.

It should be at least worthy of a footnote to say that since the Church has stepped away from their claim that the Indians were the 'principle' ancestors of the Book of Mormon peoples and were merely 'among' them and in light of the 'Book of Mormon & DNA' essay previously released, shouldn't they say "Latter-Day Saints wrongly viewed Indians as…Israelites who were descendants of Book of Mormon peoples"?

7) Mountain Meadows Massacre

As stated above, the essay does acknowledge that it was a Stake President who ordered the massacre on the wagon train killing 120 men, women and children. The essay says that an attempt was made to contact Brigham Young before the attack:

When the president reported the plan to his council, other leaders objected and requested that he call off the attack and instead send an express rider to Brigham Young in Salt Lake City for guidance.

The express rider returned two days after the massacre. He carried a letter from Brigham Young telling local leaders to "not meddle" with the emigrants and to allow them to pass through southern Utah.

The LDS Church's explanation is nonsensical. Why did the militia in Cedar City write to Brigham Young "to seek his guidance," but then NOT WAIT for his reply? They just went ahead and killed everyone before Young had a chance to give them his orders—orders that THEY had supposedly requested!

Why would these Mormons, including a Stake President and several bishops, even think that Brigham Young might actually tell them to mercilessly slaughter an innocent wagon train of men, women and children that were merely passing through Utah on their way to California? Obviously they must have had a reason to think Brigham Young felt that way.

There is no way to prove the letter was even real as it was "found" some 20 years AFTER the event. Brigham's scribe, John V. Long, the man who might testify about the communications, was found dead in a ditch.

The following are some insightful comments from the Mormon Discussions Board:

LDS leaders preaching

The essay states, in a detached manner, that Brigham and other church leaders "preached with fiery rhetoric" that may have contributed to the atmosphere leading up to the massacre, but implies that the resulting violence was just unfortunate zeal and fear on the part of a few. It fails to tell readers that while the Fancher train was camped outside of Salt Lake City with the largest herd of cattle ever to pass through the territory to that point, Brigham Young sent George A. Smith to southern Utah to order the settlers to not sell anything at all to passing wagon trains under any circumstances, drill the local militias (which, incidentally, were part of what the church called the "Nauvoo Legion." which was not disbanded like the essay claimed), give permission to the local Indian tribes that they were free to attack any wagon train that came through and specifically that they could keep as many cattle as they could capture and steal from such attacks, and to ruminate not so cryptically with local stake presidents (and Nauvoo Legion commanders) Isaac Haight and William Dame about what might happen to any large wagon trains passing through the area, and whether they might get "used up," thereby showing the approaching federal army what could happen if the Mormons decided to stop cooperating and protecting passing emigrants.

Apostle George A. Smith

George A. Smith left the area within days of the Fancher party coming through. The essay fails to then mention that Smith camped a short distance from them near Fillmore on his return trip, where he conveniently also started the lie and rumor that the party had poisoned a local spring and Indian cattle to make the Indians sick, preemptively forming the original church-endorsed excuse for the massacre as Indian retaliation for the poisoning, even before the massacre happened. To the hardscrabble settlers who had been willing to go to the desert wastes of southern Utah because of their devotion to instructions from church leaders, the message was clear: the Fancher party had been marked for attack. A far different story than is painted in the whitewashed essay. See Will Bagley's excellent Blood of the Prophets for a well-researched, detailed, and sickening account of what happened.

Church took the wealth from the Fancher Party

The essay also fails to mention that the church itself was directly enriched by the Massacre, with accounts that Brigham and the church (whose finances were one in the same at the time) took possession of a large amount of the substantial gold coinage that the Fanchers were carrying to California. It fails to mention that the attackers took the wood from the wagons and ironwork and used it in their own houses and barns—one of which is still standing in Paradise, Utah. Link is here.. It also fails to mention that the 17 surviving children were given different names and scattered among southern Utah families in an attempt to hide their identities and what had happened, but when they were finally discovered by federal investigators, the church and the settlers actually had the nerve to demand reimbursement for the care of the children.…Additionally, Brigham Young also demanded reimbursement from the federal government for what he claimed were the goods he had to give the local Indians to settle them down after the massacre, when in fact he had already profited from the massacre and not a single Indian can be confirmed to have participated in the killing.

Paiute Indians

About that, the essay claims that the final slaughter involved "Paiute Indians they had recruited." There is no documentation of this. What there is documentation of is the memories of the surviving children, that white men with blue eyes and painted faces emerged from the bushes to slaughter the women, older children, and wounded with hatchets and tomahawks. Painted Mormons trying to lay the blame for the most horrific aspect of the massacre at the feet of the Indians, and it still continues to this day.

Remains exposed

Another point which I just have to mention because we should never forget: the essay understandably omits the facts that the marauders left the dead exposed to the elements and the wolves for two years until an Army platoon performing the first federal investigation into the disappearance of the Fancher train and the rumors of the massacre found the Mountain Meadows still strewn with the remains - dismembered skeletons, many obviously of children, with hair still clinging to the skulls and scraps of clothing still enshrouding some bodies. The soldiers buried them there in a mass grave and erected a crude monument of stones over the site with a cross at the top with the saying "Vengeance is Mine, and I will repay" carved into the wood.

Brigham Young visits MMM

The essay - again, understandably - then omits that a few years after this, Brigham Young visited the site with his usual entourage and local hangers-on. As he stood at the monument, he said "Vengeance is mine - and I have repaid," and then raised his arm to the square, tacitly reminding the Saints of their temple-invoked oath of vengeance for the "blood of the prophets," and stood there like that, watching, as the others got the message and tore down the monument, stone by stone, and scattered them through the meadow.

Brigham Young covered up MMM

Finally, just as was done by Walker, Turley, and Leonard in their book, this essay also conveniently fails to mention that for 20 years after the massacre, Brigham Young did everything in his power to cover up the massacre, protect the perpetrators, and obstruct formal investigation into the massacre as much as he could. While his direct involvement in ordering the massacre is dubious, it is beyond any question or dispute that he actively covered it up and kept the participants from being brought to justice. Only when the church got cornered on the issue by the investigators and needed a scapegoat did Brigham throw them John D. Lee, who - incidentally - was Brigham's own adopted son through the now-abandoned temple ordinance of sealed adoption. Brigham lied to Lee to get him to take the fall, promising him protection. In the end, he abandoned Lee to death by firing squad on the site of the massacre. Then, in 1961, the church posthumously reinstated Lee's membership and ordinances in the church. Another fact conveniently omitted.

Adapted from Tom Hagen

Despite the Church's assurance that Brigham Young did not authorize the massacre, the truth is there is not sufficient evidence to 100% conclude that Brigham did or did not order the massacre.

Comment from a reader:

Even if Brigham Young was innocent of the MMM, if he truly was God's Prophet, why didn't he see all of this coming and stop the Church from having the worst event in it's history from happening? Not to mention saving 130 lives in the process?

For years, the descendants of the MMM have asked for an apology from the Church for causing the conditions that led to the crime. However, the Church continues its stance of never apologizing for anything. In a speech at the MMM Memorial, the Church simply expressed 'profound regret' over the incident without taking any blame for the incident.

Resources on the Mountain Meadows Massacre

8) Killing of Old Bishop

The Church essay wrote:

In late 1849, tensions between Ute Indians and Mormons in Utah Valley escalated after a Mormon killed a Ute known as Old Bishop, whom he accused of stealing his shirt. The Mormon and two associates then hid the victim's body in the Provo River.

However, the version by settler Thomas Orr, which ends the same way but starts differently. According to Orr:

The Saints and the Timpanogos had made a treaty by which the Indians "agreed not to molest our cattle if we agreed not to kill the wild game which they depended on for a living." When Old Bishop came across the three Mormon men hunting a deer, he objected, and paid with his life.

Harvard University Press's On Zion's Mount, by Jared Farmer, pg 68.

The Church essay version makes Old Bishop look as if he was shot for being a common thief, while the other version shows him being murdered for discovering Mormon men breaking an Indian treaty.


1) Parley P. Pratt

In setting the stage for the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the essay states:

In addition, Parley P. Pratt, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was murdered in Arkansas in May 1857. News of the murder—as well as newspaper reports from the eastern United States that celebrated the crime—reached Utah in late June 1857. As these events unfolded, Brigham Young declared martial law in the territory, directed missionaries and settlers in outlying areas to return to Utah, and guided preparations to resist the army. Defiant sermons given by President Young and other Church leaders, combined with the impending arrival of an army, helped create an environment of fear and suspicion in Utah.

The essay only states that Parley P. Pratt was murdered, giving the impression that it was 'another' totally unprovoked attack on innocent Mormons. In reality, Parley P. Pratt was killed by Hector H. McLean when Parley took Hector's wife away to become Parley's 12th polygamous wife. Why doesn't the essay give any context for Parley's murder? The death of Parley P. Pratt was a result of his actions and not his beliefs.

Read the full account of the death of Parley P. Pratt

2) Temple Oath of Vengeance

Not mentioned in the essay is that at the time of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the temple ceremony practiced by the Saints included an oath of vengeance against the United States government for the death of Joseph Smith. The change was added by Brigham Young after Joseph was killed by the mob. This was removed in early 1927. Imagine if Mitt Romney was running for president after taking an oath against the United States government.

The oath in part was:

You and each of you do covenant and promise that you will pray, and never cease to pray, Almighty God to avenge the blood of the prophets upon this nation, and that you will teach the same to your children and your children's children unto the third and fourth generations.

It became the subject of a United States Senate Investigation:

Link is here.

More on that here: Link is here.

Perhaps these oaths help explain how the Mountain Meadows Massacre could have occurred among good Latter-day Saints men.

3) Church profited from violence caused by Mormons

Although the essay acknowledges that Mormons "raided two towns believed to be centers of anti-Mormon activity, burning homes and stealing goods", the essays fails to inform readers that those goods were then taken in by the Bishop's Storehouse at Far West, meaning that the Church itself directly profited from that plunder as it did from the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

It also fails to inform the reader that the perpetrators of this violence were not some unruly rogue members, but an organized militia led by a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, David W. Patten (or as he liked to call himself before he was shot in "the bowels," Captain Fear-not!).

4) How the Church treated it's former members

The essay does not discuss at all how the LDS Church treated those who left the Church. It was the Mormons who gave their own members who apostatized 24 hours to leave or be killed…driving them into an alliance with the Missourians.

Sidney Rigdon's Salt Sermon

The salt sermon was an oration delivered on June 17, 1838 by Mormon leader, Sidney Rigdon, against Mormon dissenters. Rigdon was First Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and often acted as spokesman for Joseph Smith, Jr. The dissenters included Book of Mormon witnesses Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and John Whitmer, and other leaders including William Wines Phelps.

According to Rigdon, the dissenters were like the "salt" spoken of by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (part of the metaphors of Salt and Light in the Sermon on the Mount): "If the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men." Two days after Rigdon preached the Salt Sermon, eighty Latter-day Saints signed a statement (the so-called Danite Manifesto) warning the dissenters to "depart, or a more fatal calamity shall befall you."

The dissenters and their families interpreted these words as threats, and they quickly left Caldwell County, Missouri. Their stories helped stir up anti-Mormon feeling in northwestern Missouri and contributed to the outbreak of the 1838 Mormon War.

Bushman, Richard L., Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 349-53.

Quinn, D. Michael, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, 1994.

Wikipedia, Salt Sermon

Often, the people the Church was most concerned with were former members:

Thus during the Nauvoo years it appears that the Saints passing through St. Louis were more concerned with opposition from Mormon apostates than from those of other faiths, with whom they commingled in the marketplace.

The Missouri Mormon Experience, Thomas M. Spencer, pg 156

So in effect, ironically it was the LDS Church that was the source for creating the people that it feared the most.

Ending summary

Tone of essay

The essay starts by rehearsing all of the "atrocities" and "persecutions" suffered by the Saints, clearly painting the Church as the victim of some heinous prejudice and violence at the hands of unspeakable cruelty, saying "the scope of this violence against a religious group was unprecedented in the history of the United States."

However, when the essay turns to Mormon violence, we suddenly get this tripe: "In 19th-century American society, community violence was common and often condoned." And this: "The isolated acts of violence committed by some Latter-day Saints can generally be seen as a subset of the broader phenomenon of frontier violence in 19th-century America." So when there's action against the Church, it's "violence…unprecedented in the history of the United States," but when it's the Church committing half-admitted acts of violence, it's "common and often condoned" and just a "subset of the broader phenomenon of frontier violence." This is the Church's attempt to sterilize the Church's side of this double-edged sword while making the blood drip on the side of the "enemies."

The essay makes it seem that the Missourians were worse than the Mormons. For example, it is only the Missourians that were accused of the heinous crime of rape:

Some Latter-day Saint women were raped or otherwise sexually assaulted during the Missouri persecutions.

However, they never mention that during the Mountain Meadows Massacre the Mormons were also accused of raping and then killing two young girls.

Will Bagley, Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows (University of Oklahoma Press, 2002), 151, 304–305

According to the essay, such violence was common in those days? Can you think of any similar violent conflicts involving other religious groups in other places, like Virginia, Tennessee, Michigan, Pennsylvania or elsewhere, in those days? I can't. Did any other religion in America have anything close to the Mountain Meadows Massacre in the 1800s? If anything should have been described as "unprecedented" it should have been the MMM.

LDS Church continues to make enemies today

Mormon history teaches us that Mormons made their own enemies. The tradition continues today but not with bullets but with seemingly arbitrary practices that harm those not of the LDS faith.

My dad was really one of the kindest men I ever knew and yet he was not allowed to attend my wedding because he wasn't a member of the LDS Church. The LDS Church caused him to resent the Church, but it wasn't the beliefs of the members but the Church's action of preventing an innocent man from merely attending his son's wedding.

Another example is how the Church has made an 'enemy' of the gay community. The Church leaders have given numerous talks against homosexuals, the massive campaigning for Prop 8, the electro-shock therapy used on gays at BYU and other discriminatory practices and preaching that only shows the ignorance of the Church leaders and the condemnation they have for those different than themselves.

Blind obedience

Perhaps the underlying problem with the Church and violence is the undying allegiance members have to authority figures. By most accounts, the Mormons who participated in the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the burning and looting of non-Mormon settlements like Gallatin were not blood-thirsty cutthroats but rather good people who blindly followed their leaders by doing something absolutely abhorrent. No doubt these people would not have done these things if it were not for their membership in the LDS Church.

First Presidency counselor Sidney Rigdon wrote this to fellow apostle Orson Hyde:

It was the imperative duty of the Church to obey the word of Joseph Smith, or the presidency, without question or inquiry, and that if there were any that would not, they should have their throats cut from ear [to] ear.

Sidney Rigdon, Sidney Rigdon letter to Apostle Orson Hyde, October 21, 1844, in Nauvoo Neighbor, December 4, 1844; see also Quinn, D. Michael, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, p. 94

Unfortunately, this type of blind obedience continues today with members believing history that is in error but presented in Church as factual, members putting the Church ahead of their own families and members believing they should pay the Church before their own creditors.

Not long ago, a reader wrote to me and said that he was discussing the troubling LDS historical issues with his bishop. The conversation eventually turned to faith and obedience. The reader was shocked when his bishop actually said if the prophet asked him to, he would fly a plane into a building, but of course added that the prophet would never ask him to so such a thing. Whether or not this "common judge in Israel" would really do such a thing is unknown, but for someone to say such a thing tells me that the same mentality of blind obedience that existed among the Saints involved in the Mountain Meadows Massacre still exists today.