the thinker

Will Bagley

This web page is dedicated to the accomplishments of WIll Bagley and his dealings with the Mormon Church.

Who is Will Bagley?

Will Bagley is an author, historian and current Latter-day Saint & MT contributor.



Will Bagley, who David Roberts called “that sharpest of all thorns in the side of the Mormon historical establishment,” has written more than twenty books on overland emigration, frontier violence, railroads, mining, the invention of digital search technology, and the Mormons. Born in Utah, he attended Brigham Young University and was a President's Scholar at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he studied writing with Page Stegner and history with John Dizikes. He has rafted down the Mississippi River, performed country music from Wyoming to Nevada, and in 1979 recorded a long-playing album, “The Legend of Jesse James.” Between 2000 and 2004, the Sunday Salt Lake Tribune published more than 200 of his columns and articles. His Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows (2002) won many major writing awards—the Spur, the John Caughey, the Caroline Bancroft, and an Old Joe.

In 1997 the Arthur H. Clark Company launched Kingdom in the West: The Mormons and the American Frontier. Bagley is editor of this projected 16-volume documentary history series, which Journal of the West called “one of the happiest events in recent Western publishing.” Thirteen volumes have appeared. His most recent is Playing with Shadows: Voices of Dissent in the Mormon West, edited with Polly Aird and Jeff Nichols, which the Utah Historical Society picked as the year's best documentary history.

So Rugged and Mountainous: Blazing the Trails to Oregon and California, is the first of four volumes of Bagley's epic history America's overland wagon roads. The book won the Western Heritage Award (The Wrangler) and was a Spur Finalist. Richard Francaviglia called the book magisterial, and Benjamin Schwarz selected So Rugged as the Editor's Choice in the September 2011 Atlantic. His collaboration with David Bigler, The Mormon Rebellion: America's First Civil, won his second Spur award and the Smith-Pettit Best Book in Latter Day Saint History Award.

Mr. Bagley was a Wallace Stegner Centennial Fellow at the University of Utah and the Archibald Hannah Jr. Fellow in American History at Yale University. He has appeared in more than two-dozen documentary films, notably Helen Whitney's “The Mormons” on PBS's “The American Experience.” Yet his proudest accomplishment is being editorial cartoonist Pat Bagley's older, uglier, shorter, and dumber brother. He lives and works in Salt Lake City.

Will's Writings

What's the Matter with Mitt? Romney's roots and his hapless quest for the presidency

The Mountain Meadows Massacre - An Interview with Will Bagley

Conducted By Deborah and Jon Lawrence

The Problem with a Guilty Mass Murderer by Will Bagley

A response to John G. Turner's “The Mountain Meadows Massacre Revisited”
Link is here.
Posted: 10/18/2012 7:22 am

“They Have Slain My Children”: The Rescue of the Orphans of Mountain Meadows

By Will Bagley For Wild West

A Tangled Skein by Will Bagley

A Companion Volume to The Baker Street Irregulars' Expedition to The Country of the Saints



Blood of the Prophets

Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows

The massacre at Mountain Meadows on September 11, 1857, was the single most violent attack on a wagon train in the thirty-year history of the Oregon and California trails. Yet it has been all but forgotten. Will Bagley's Blood of the Prophets is an award-winning, riveting account of the attack on the Baker-Fancher wagon train by Mormons in the local militia and a few Paiute Indians. Based on extensive investigation of the events surrounding the murder of over 120 men, women, and children, and drawing from a wealth of primary sources, Bagley explains how the murders occurred, reveals the involvement of territorial governor Brigham Young, and explores the subsequent suppression and distortion of events related to the massacre by the Mormon Church and others.

Blood of the Prophets is the winner of numerous awards, including:

Also available at Amazon

innocent blood

Innocent Blood

Essential Narratives of the Mountain Meadows Massacre

The slaughter of a wagon train of some 120 people in southern Utah on September 11, 1857, has long been the subject of controversy and debate. Innocent Blood gathers key primary sources describing the tangled story of the Mountain Meadows massacre. This wide array of contrasting perspectives, many never before published, provide a powerful and intimate picture of this “dastardly outrage” and its cover-up. A fine addition to the Kingdom in the West Series.

The documents David L. Bigler and Will Bagley have collected offer a clearer understanding of the victims, the perpetrators, and the reasons a frontier American theocracy sought to justify or conceal the participants' guilt. These narratives make clear that, despite limited Southern Paiute involvement, white men planned the killing and their church's highest leaders encouraged Mormon settlers to undertake the deed.

This compelling documentary record presents the primary evidence that tells the story from its contradictory perspectives. The sources let readers evaluate and track the evolution of such myths as the Paiutes' guilt, the emigrants' provocation of their murderers, Brigham Young's ignorance of what happened, and John D. Lee's sole culpability. Clearly revealed is the part Utah authorities took in blocking the investigation until it became expedient to sacrifice Lee.

Together, these narratives show how the massacre's story has been continually distorted and then revealed over 150 years—and how the obfuscation and cover-up continue. Innocent Blood conveys the encompassing impact the atrocity had on people's lives, then and for generations after. It is a valuable sourcebook sure to prove indispensable to future research.

The University of Oklahoma has "Innocent Blood: Essential Narratives of the Mountain Meadows Massacre" in hardcover ($45) on sale for $18.00. Link is here.

mormon rebellion

The Mormon Rebellion

America's First Civil War, 1857-1858

America's first civil war played out in the Far West

In 1857 President James Buchanan ordered U.S. troops to Utah to replace Brigham Young as governor and restore order in what the federal government viewed as a territory in rebellion. In this compelling narrative, award-winning authors David L. Bigler and Will Bagley use long-suppressed sources to show that—contrary to common perception—the Mormon rebellion was not the result of Buchanan's "blunder," nor was it a David-and-Goliath tale in which an abused religious minority heroically defied the imperial ambitions of an unjust and tyrannical government. They argue that Mormon leaders had their own far-reaching ambitions and fully intended to establish an independent nation—the Kingdom of God—in the West.

Long overshadowed by the Civil War, the tragic story of this conflict involved a tense and protracted clash pitting Brigham Young's Nauvoo Legion against Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston and the U.S. Army's Utah Expedition. In the end, the conflict between the two armies saw no pitched battles, but in the authors' view, Buchanan's decision to order troops to Utah, his so-called blunder, eventually proved decisive and beneficial for both Mormons and the American republic.

A rich exploration of events and forces that presaged the Civil War, The Mormon Rebellion broadens our understanding of both antebellum America and Utah's frontier theocracy and offers a challenging reinterpretation of a controversial chapter in Mormon annals.

Also available at Amazon


Video from Ex-Mormon Conference Presentation

This youtube video is from Will's 2002 Ex-Mormon Conference presentation on Blood of the Prophets

Will Bagley 2002 Blood of the Prophets