- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 21, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY Nearly a century and a half after California-bound pioneers were slaughtered by Mormon settlers and their Indian allies, a new book blaming the massacre on church leader Brigham Young is causing a sensation in the Mormon community.
Church historians vehemently disagree with the premise of "Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows." But author Will Bagley says circumstantial evidence points to Young's involvement.
"Claiming that Brigham Young had nothing to do with Mountain Meadows is akin to arguing that Abraham Lincoln had nothing to do with the Civil War," Mr. Bagley writes. "His own words reveal that both before and after the massacre, Brigham Young recognized the likely results of his acts."
On the shelves since late August, Mr. Bagley's book is a best seller in Salt Lake City, headquarters of the Mormon Church. Sam Weller's Books, which specializes in Western and Mormon history, has sold more than 400 copies, said store manager Dennis Evans.
"I have not seen anything quite like it in terms of [Mormon] history," Mr. Evans said.
On the heels of Mr. Bagley's work, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now is planning to publish its own book on the killings. This comes after years of church leaders insisting that the Sept. 11, 1857, massacre should be a closed chapter in Utah history.
Author Richard Turley, the church's chief historian, said his book will make clear that Brigham Young did not plan the murders.
The victims of the Mountain Meadows massacre were a group of men, women and children on their way from Arkansas to California.
Mr. Young at the time was the church's prophet and president, its second, and the man who brought the faith's headquarters to the West in 1847 after founder Joseph Smith was murdered in Illinois. Under Young's leadership, the territory that would become Utah operated as a "theo-democracy."
Ten years after the Mormons arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, however, the Army was preparing to squelch Utah's resistance to federal control and its practice of polygamy, Mr. Bagley writes. As troops drew closer, Utah trained its own military and stockpiled guns, ammunition and food.
In the midst of growing war hysteria, wagon trains continued to move through the territory on the way to California, including the pioneers from northwest Arkansas.
About the same time, tales also began to spread about the death of a Mormon leader, Parley Pratt, in Arkansas. Rumors made their way around Utah that members of the Arkansas wagon train were involved.
Mr. Bagley, who writes a state history column for the Salt Lake Tribune, said this coincidence helped seal the pioneers' fates.
"Brigham Young considered this a righteous act of vengeance," said Mr. Bagley.
But he said Young also wanted to send a message to the United States that he controlled the road to California.
Mr. Bagley said the massacre was planned and organized before the Arkansas group traveling through Utah from north to south reached the southern part of the territory. The Mormon settlers and Indians ambushed the wagon train of 40 men, 30 women and 70 children. The pioneers circled their wagons and dug in, surrendering days later when the Mormon settlers promised them safety if they disarmed.
Instead, the Mormon militia and Indians killed them. Seventeen children under the age of 7 were spared and adopted into the community.
It wasn't until two decades after the murders that anyone was held accountable for the slaughter: John D. Lee, whom Mr. Bagley and many others believe was the Mormon Church's scapegoat. Moments before a firing squad executed Mr. Lee, the condemned man sat on the edge of his coffin and denounced Young.
"'I studied to make this man's will my pleasure for 30 years. See, now, what I have come to this day! I have been sacrificed in a cowardly, dastardly manner,'" Mr. Bagley quotes Mr. Lee as saying.
Mr. Turley announced in May he was writing his own chronicle of the massacre. His book, to be titled "Tragedy at Mountain Meadows," is tentatively set for publication in 2003 by the Oxford University Press.
Mr. Turley maintains Young had no part in the massacre, calling it an independent plan by an isolated group of settlers.
Those in southwest Utah had heard stories about the bad behavior of the approaching wagon train. The community, however, was divided about what to do with the travelers, and decided to send a message to Salt Lake City and ask Brigham Young for guidance, Mr. Turley said. But before the messenger could leave, the emigrants were ambushed.


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