Thomas Alexander’s Arrington Lecture on the MMM

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In September of 2006 I had the exhilarating experience of attending Dr. Alexander’s coverage of Brigham Young’s post Mountain Meadows Massacre investigations. Furthermore, I got to break the news of the event to Bloggernacle as Clark Goble and the rest of the crew at the Millennial Star allowed me to do a guest post. In the interest of balance, I will share two excerpts from Dr. Alexander’s now published paper, that paint contrasting pictures of Brigham Young’s response to the Massacre.

Brigham dons a white hat

I am reminded of elements in the National Treasure sequel. In NT2, an ancestral figure is wrongly accused of a conspiracy to commit a murder. A scholarly team of experts search the archives and find a book that is passed down through successive Presidents. A dead language written in code is deciphered by a very select specialist and is found to contain information exonerating the ancestral figure. If I can take take liberties with Alexander’s lecture, Brigham Young doubles as the ancestral and presidential figure; Leonard, Alexander, Walker, and Turley correspond to the Riley Poole and the Nicholas Cage characters; and LaJean Purcell Carruth deciphered the presidential office journal (and other items) written in Deseret Alphabet. The newly discovered information makes it clear that federal prosecutorsnot Brigham Young!—-are the most responsible for not not bringing the perpetrators to justice. Thomas Alexander writes:

On July 5, 1859, after the public knew that Cumming had received word from Washington placing the army under the governor’s control, Young met with George A. Smith, Albert Carrington, and James Ferguson. They discussed the “reaction to the Mountain Meadow Massacre.” Young told them that US. attorney Alexander Wilson had called “to consult with him about making some arrests of” the accused.[95]
On the same day, Wilson had met with Young. Young told him “that if the judges would open a court at Parowan or some other convenient location in the south, .. . unprejudiced and uninfluenced by. . . the army, so that man could have a fair and impartial trial He would go there himself, and he presumed that Gov. Cumming would also go . . . ” He “would use all his influence to have the parties arrested and have the whole. . . matter investigated thoroughly and impartially and justice meted out to every man.” Young said he would not exert himself, however, “to arrest men to be treated like dogs and dragged about by the army, and confined and abused by them,’ presumably referring to the actions of Cradlebaugh and the army in Provo. Young said that if the judges and army treated people that way, the federal officials “must hunt them up themselves.”[96]
Wilson agreed that it was unfair “to drag men and their witnesses 200 or 300 miles to trial.” Young said “the people wanted a fair and impartial court of justice, like they have in other states and territories, and if he had anything to do with it, the army must keep its place.” Wilson said he felt “the proposition was reasonable and he would propose it to the judges.”[97]
Now confident that the army would not intrude and abuse or murder Mormons, and that the US. attorney and governor would support them, the church leaders lent their influence to bringing the accused into court. On June 15, 1859, to prepare the way for the administration of justice, Brigham Young had told George A. Smith and Jacob Hamblin that “as soon as a Court of Justice could be held, so that men could be heard without the influence of the military he should advise men accused to come forward and demand trial on the charges preferred against them for the Mountain Meadow Massacre” as he had previously done. Then he again sent George A. Smith and Amasa Lyman south, this time to urge those accused of the crime to prepare for trial and to try to suppress Mormon-authored crime[98].

95. Historian’s Office Journal. July 5, 1859, Carruth transcription of Deseret Alphabet entry.
96. Ibid..
97, Ibid.
98. Historian’s Office Journal, May 25, June 18, and July 5, 1859, Carruth transcription of Deseret Alphabet; George A. Smith so William H. Dame, June 19, 1859, Historian’s Office Letterpress copybooks 1854—1879, 1885—1886, 2:127, LDS Church Archives; Lee, Mormon Chronicle, 1:214 (August 5[6], 1859).

Brigham inherits a black hat

Though ambiguous, it seems plausible that Brigham Young bought into different versions of the story at different times, a victim of the propaganda of the Iron County militia leaders which ranged from “The Indians did it,” to “The Indians made us do it,” to the massacred train were part of prior violent mob activity or “They were asking for it,” to “They were threatening to bring an army back from California.” That sets up the background for an incident that occurred a couple of years later that Alexander covers:

Moreover, as late as 1861, Young still believed the stories of Baker/Fancher crimes which led to the massacre, in spite of his efforts to bring the perpetrators to trial. On visiting the massacre site in May 1861, Woodruff recorded Young’s assessment that the plaque Carleton had erected on the mass grave which read: “Vengeance is mine and I will repay saith the Lord:’ should read: “Vengence is mine and I (the Lord] have taken a little.” Young clearly refused to take responsibility for the massacre. Later, the same month, Young told John D. Lee that the emigrants “Meritd their fate, & the only thing that ever troubled him was the lives of the Women & children, but that under the circumstances [this] could not be avoided.”

As Justin from the Wasp pointed out to me, one of Alexander’s sources, John D. Lee’s 1861 diary is troubling. Juanita Brooks and her co-editor of the JDL diaries find the entry below to be evidence of Brigham Young’s complicity in the post massacre coverup.

Pres. Young Said that the company that was usede up at the Mountain Meadowes were the Fathers, Mothe[rs], Bros., Sisters & connections of those that Muerders the Prophets; they Meritd their fate, & the only thing that ever troubled him was the lives of the Women & children, but that under the circumstances [this] could not be avoided. Although there had been [some?] that wantd to betreyed the Brethrn into the hands of their Enimies, for that thing [they] will be Damned & go down to Hell. I would be Glad to see one of those traitors, though I [don’t] Suppose that there is any here now. They have ran away, & when he came to the Monument that contained their Bones, he made this remark, Vengeance is Mine Saith the Lord, & I have taken a little of it.

Which hat?

I would like to get some reaction from our readers about ways to understand these conflicting images of Brigham Young.

22 thoughts on “Thomas Alexander’s Arrington Lecture on the MMM

  1. Allen Wyatt

    My experience–and not just with the Mountain Meadows Massacre–is that when there is ambivalent or ambiguous evidence, the conclusion drawn from that evidence more often than not reflects the a priori feelings of the individual.

    When there are two hats that can be placed on Brigham Young, the hat that people will place will be evidence of their prior feelings about him, not what the ambiguous evidence demands.


  2. Keller Post author

    It has come to my attention that Will Bagley has left a brief review at Amazon.

    I assume it is Will Bagley as “Vindex” is an obscure historical reference, one that only someone with Bagley’s bonafides would be able to recognize.

    What do you guys think about it? And please no personal attacks on Mr. Bagley, just the ideas expressed. I will give somewhat a kneejerk reaction below.

  3. Keller Post author

    Here are some of my quick impressions.

    1) Bagley introduces a quote from Brooks and Cleland, a work that both Alexander and I cite above.

    2) Are Brooks and Cleland the best experts? I think later historians, Bagley included have tried to extend Brooks’ work, at times modifying some of her conclusions.

    3) For instance, I don’t think Bagley agrees that the local Mormon leaders were the ones who instigated the MMM attack, like the cited text suggests.

    4) I obviously disagree that “To deny that Young had at least full ex post facto knowledge …. [is to] take the naive position that a man who kept himself as fully and completely informed on all matters that went on in the “Kingdom of the Saints” as absolute authority . . .” I don’t believe that Brigham was omniscient or in absolute control.

    5) On the other hand, it is a false dilemma to have to choose on whether Brigham was either omniscient or a “credulous simpleton.” The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

    6) The feds did put their careers on the line. One of the values of Bagley’s book Blood of the Prophets is that is sympathetic to their side of the story. One might wish the work was more balanced, but Mormons have told their side of the story already, so Bagley’s work could be looked at in terms of how it compensates for the pro-Mormon bias in other works.

    7) With that said, it was the feds that botched the investigation, by turning down offers for Mormon help. Yes, Brigham could have done more. But the prerogative for legal justice is in the legal system.

    8) Bagley observes that Brigham protected some of the guilty parties for 20 years. This view does appear to have some merit, if one accepts that John D. Lee’s diary entry shows that Brigham would have been disappointed if a Mormon betrayed one of his fellow Mormons.

    9) Alexander addressed how Haight and Dame may have manipulated Brigham into thinking they were only guilty to the extent they couldn’t control the over-zealous Lee.

    10) Even if Brigham did order the attack, such a scenario would not effect my evaluation of fundamental Mormon truth claims. I don’t have a testimony of the MMM. I don’t have a testimony of Mormonism “persecuted innocence.”

  4. Keller Post author

    On a related note, Amazon indicates that the new Walker, Leonard, Turley book is coming out in July.
    New Mountain Meadows Book

  5. Will Bagley

    Hey Keller, you chowderhead: my comments on Alexander’s farce are clearly identified as being by me on the Amazon site. As for relying on “experts,” how about just considering what Brooks and Cleland said. The trouble with Alexander’s apologia is that it accepts everything Brigham Young said as gospel, and ignores everything Brigham Young did (like bribing Alexander Wilson and bullying George A. Hicks to protect a mass murderer) that bound him as tightly to Mountain Meadows as Br’er Fox was bound to the tarbaby.

    Will Bagley

  6. Mike Parker


    If you’ve had any experience conversing with Will Bagley, you’ll know that name-calling is his stock-in-trade. He freely wields his playground epithets against all, whether he knows them or not.

    Get used to it. There will be more.

  7. Keller Post author


    Thanks for clearing things up about Amazon, I suppose I overly worry about people posing as someone else on the internet.

    You do have me curious about Brigham Young bribing Wilson. What are your sources for that? You are right that Alexander does not cover that angle.

    I don’t think that the 1869 Hicks correspondence is all that significant, given that Lee got exed a year later. Alexander’s suggestion was that Young warmed back up with Lee between 1863-1870 and then got mad at him again after learning the extent in which militia followers were coerced by leaders. I think Bitton addressed Hicks already so why should Alexander reinvent the wheel? I know you disagree with the unsympathetic treatment of Hicks by Bitton.

    In terms of looking at what Brigham did or didn’t do, Alexander did cover the destruction of the rock monument. So at least that is a start at comparing what Brigham did to what he said. I do get your point that the comparison is worth looking into in more detail.

  8. Keller Post author

    By the way Mr. Bagley, I enjoyed your comments in the Presidents and Prophets documentary. If only they could have done something about that goofy show host.

  9. Joe Geisner

    Better questions: Why do Mormon apologist have to jump through hoops when it comes to MMM and Brigham Young? Why not take the approach that both the Bible and Book of Mormon take?

    The Book of Mormon is quite honest in explaining that Nephi murdered an unarmed, drunken old man when he could have easily bound him, kidnapped him, or just left him and still take the plates. The Book of Mormon makes no excuses for this behavior except that Nephi was commanded to do this horrible deed.

    The Bible is equally honest in its portrayal of Joshua’s mass killing of the people of Jericho and Ai, or the Israelites slaughtering the Benjaminites and numerous other examples. Again, no excuses just God‘s command.

    Brigham himself seemed to take this approach when he talked with J.D. Lee and at the monument. Even when he made public announcements he never backed down when it came to killing people for righteousness sake. Why is it that from Charles Penrose to Tom Alexander, apologists have to come up with every other excuse except the one Brigham would have used?

  10. Keller Post author

    Joe, I think some Mormon apologists have considered the approach you suggest and find an appeal to the scriptures in that manner short sighted. Should LDS members quit thinking just because they think they see a precedent set in the scriptures?

    A big difference is that none of the MMM perpetrators claim to have received revelation, like Nephi did. In fact I think you are oversimplifying the Nephi-kills-Laban narrative and to see why consider the latest JBMS article Killing Laban: The Birth of Sovereignty in the Nephite Constitutional Order

    Some Mormon critics would love to see justifications that rely on Mormon scriptures, because it makes their case for them that such scriptures can’t be trusted as a moral compass.

  11. Joe Geisner

    This is exactly what I am talking about. Jumping through hoops. First I gave you plenty of Bible examples. The Bible is much more in line with what happened at MM and yet you have to come up with convoluted reasons. Brigham was a prophet of God, correct? So when he say’s the party deserved what they got you want to deny this. I think you need to re-evaluate if you believe Brigham was a prophet or not.

  12. Keller Post author


    On your other comments in the bloggernacle you come across as a Michael Quinn and David Bigler apologist. If you are into those authors, then it is seems to me that conservative scriptural approaches would have waved bye-bye to you a long time ago. You recognized that prophets (you specifically used Brigham Young as example) could be fallible. Now my question is, why are you so anxious to have Mormon apologists defend views you yourself likely reject? I am not interested in defending a strawman.

  13. Keller Post author

    Joe, please feel free to correct any assumptions I have made about. I would like to know where you are coming from. It seems like some people like to play devil’s advocate at times or use a form of Socratic method without identifying it as such.

  14. Joe Geisner

    To call Brigham a strawman is amazing to me. You people twist the prophets around to fit your needs. You have no courage to stand with them. I have always defended them and been consistent. Is he or is he not a prophet of God? I say he is!

    Brigham also said that the massacre was divinely sanctioned. So the question remains, was he or not a prophet?

    You people do the same thing with Joseph Smith. You can’t take him for his word. I am so tired of this lack of honesty.

  15. Keller Post author

    Joe, I suppose we have had a failure to communicate. I am not calling Brigham Young a strawman. Rather I am referring to your attempt to make Mormon apologists defend a weak argument that they do not stand by. That to me is a variation of the strawman fallacy. Please respond to the arguments Mormon apologists are actually making and not the weak ones you wish they were making.

  16. Keller Post author

    Brigham also said that the massacre was divinely sanctioned. So the question remains, was he or not a prophet?

    I don’t read Brigham’s remarks at the rock monument in the same manner you do. First, John D. Lee reports that Brigham Young was not thrilled with the massacre of women and children, while being misinformed that the men “meritd their fate.”. If Brigham didn’t approve of some elements of the massacre as he understood it, how can you make a case that Brigham thought God approved of it in general? The lack of approval suggests that Brigham did not have any special revelation in his role as a prophet about whether God divinely sanctioned the massacre or not.

    There are many other times when Brigham was quite against the massacre. For example consider this part of Alexander’s paper:

    Significantly, however, Young and the leadership still believed that the principal culpability lay with John D. Lee. In April 1863, after the general conference, Young; his first counselor, Heber C. Kimball; and apostles George A. Smith and Orson Hyde headed south with a large party.’37 On May 6, 1863, they visited Lee in Washington and Young condemned him before the apostles and others present. Recording the event, David John wrote: “Young spoke to… [Lee] about the ‘Mountain Meadow.., [Lee] tried to blame the Indians for the massacre, but Pres Young, would not accept his testimony, and at last said, ‘John D. Lee, do all the good you can, while you live, and you shall be credited, with every good deed you perform, but, where God and the Lamb dwell, you shall never be.’ Lee, wept bitterly.”’38 Although the General Authorities did not officially excommunicate him until 1870, Lee himself reportedly said that in 1863 he considered himself cut off from the church.’

  17. Joe Geisner

    You are correct. We do have a failure in communication, I am writing in English and I have no idea what you are writing in….riddles?

    I had hoped for more, but I can see this is nothing more than the shallow stuff I have found from other apologists. I asked why we cannot give Brigham his due, that he was not acting any different than other prophets in the Bible and Book of Mormon. He saw himself in this way but apologists have to tear him apart and re-invent him. How sad that the truth is thrown to the wayside. This is why I grew to respect, though not approve of their lifestyles, fundamentalist that take Brigham at his word. If you cannot see the damage apologists are doing to the church then we have nothing more to talk about.

  18. Keller Post author


    If you are confused at any of my “riddles,” just ask and I will be happy to clarify.

    I don’t have a high regard for Mormon fundamentalists. They take an oversimplistic view of Brigham Young and filter out any information that doesn’t fit their preconceptions. And there are some strains of violent fundamentalists I would not want to be anywhere near, like Ervil Lebaron and the Lafferty brothers.

    I do have a high regard for Brigham Young, but I consider him to have been on the wrong track at the rock monument, but on the right track when he offered to help Wilson bring the MMM perps to justice.

    As for Brigham Young immersing himself in Old Testament times, he seems quite aware that parts of the Bible are figurative and that he is not operating in Old Testament conditions. Old Testament metaphors appeared in his more fiery sermons but usually in the same diatribe he would indicate some reason or another why there was to be no practical application.

  19. Greg Smith

    The Book of Mormon is quite honest in explaining that Nephi murdered an unarmed, drunken old man when he could have easily bound him, kidnapped him, or just left him and still take the plates. The Book of Mormon makes no excuses for this behavior except that Nephi was commanded to do this horrible deed.


    #1: “Nephi murdered”

    The Book of Mormon no where grants that this is murder, and indeed goes out of its way to demonstrate that it is not, by Jewish law.

    #2: “Unarmed”

    Laban had a sword. Not unarmed. 🙂

    #3: “Old Man”

    It says nothing about Laban’s age, and given that Laban is in full armor, wearing a sword, and seems to be a military leader of some prominence, this makes it unlikely he’s a decrepit old relic. Plus, he “commands fifty,” as Nibley pointed out years ago.

    See: Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 2nd edition, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988), 77.

    #4: “The Book of Mormon makes no excuses for this behavior”

    Again, nonsense. The text very clearly delinates several bases upon which Laban is worthy of death under the law of the day.

    See here with links to the literature on the subject.

    #5: “he could have easily bound him, kidnapped him, or just left him and still take the plates.”

    Right. Laban knows, after all, who Nephi and company are. They’ve been to see him twice. And, powerful military leaders with men at their command likely just swallow insults like having prized records taken from them, right?

    Lehi is at risk of death–people have already plotted his death, and if charged as a “false prophet” could be subjected to judicial execution.

    If Nephi takes the plates, his whole party is likely dead unless they can outrun Laban’s retaliatory strike (unlikely, given that Laban would be just military men, while Nephi’s group has women, children, and provisions for alonger journey) or make sure Laban doesn’t come after them.

    Have you read the Book of Mormon, or anything about this chapter at all?

    Why do Mormon apologist have to jump through hoops when it comes to MMM and Brigham Young?

    Speaking only for myself, I’m interested in the facts of the matter because I rather think the facts are interesting, and well, matter when it comes to deciding what I think of it.

    Along with most historians, I’m not convinced that Brigham ordered it. I don’t think Brigham STUPID enough to order it, whatever else one might think of him.

    Thus, I’m not convinced Brigham thought God commanded it, or said so.

    Thus, the analogy to Laban or Jericho is inapt at best.

  20. Joe Geisner

    I said I would not respond further. Call me a liar. I am sure you will.

    A police officer is lying in the street, he has been hit over the head and unconscious. This police officer raped your wife. You take his revolver out of his holster and shoot him in the head. Its murder, maybe second degree, but its murder.

    Laban was unconscious. you can twist it all you want but its still murder. I love how dishonest you people are. Did God command Nephi to do it? If so then God allows for murder. Why do you have to jump though these hoops?

  21. Greg Smith

    A police officer is lying in the street, he has been hit over the head and unconscious. This police officer raped your wife. You take his revolver out of his holster and shoot him in the head. Its murder, maybe second degree, but its murder.

    Again, you’re being presentist. Modern American/Western law (or law in Joseph Smith’s day) is not the same as Jewish law. Interesting that Joseph gets the law right for Lehi’s day, but wrong for his own.

    The penalty for rape is not death under North American law, so you are again using a false modern analogy.

    By contrast, Laban was worthy of death on several grounds under Jewish law. (Did you read the references I linked to?)

    I don’t deny God commanded it in the text. But, it does not follow that God commanded “murder.” God commanded, essentially, a judicial execution consistent with Mosaic law.

    Unless you think capital punishment is always murder?

    You’re welcome to consider it murder. But, the Book of Mormon does not so consider it (and goes to considerable length to defuse that potential accusation).

    It is therefore dishonest to continue to insist that the Book of Mormon admits or says that “Nephi murdered” Laban.

    It doesn’t. And, it goes to considerable effort effort to avoid just the naive conclusion that you’re trying to foist upon it.

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