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 prosecutors
—not 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.
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.”
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.”
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.
95. Historian’s Office Journal. July 5, 1859, Carruth transcription of Deseret Alphabet entry.
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, 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.
I would like to get some reaction from our readers about ways to understand these conflicting images of Brigham Young.