Mountain Meadows massacre in the news again

In a recent news release, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that it will seek National Historic Landmark designation for the Church’s holdings at the Mountain Meadows site.

The intention of the action is to support efforts of descendants groups to memorialize the victims who were killed at Mountain Meadows more than 150 years ago in southern Utah.

A memorial service was held on 11 September 2007, 150 years to the day of the 1857 tragedy in which 120 emigrant men, women and children were massacred some 35 miles West of Cedar City Utah.

President Eyring attended that meeting representing the First Presidency and spoke on behalf of the Church. The memorial service was organized by descendants of those on the wagon train bound for California who lost their lives.

He acknowledged that the responsibility for the killings rested with local leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the regions near Mountain Meadows who also held civic and military positions and with members of the Church "acting under their direction."

On 11 September 1857, after tensions escalated between Mormons in Southern Utah and a California-bound wagon train from Arkansas, fifty to sixty local militiamen, aided by some native people, killed about 120 emigrants. Most of the victims were from Arkansas.

Expressing "profound regret for the massacre," President Eyring referred to the "undue and untold suffering experienced by the victims then and their relatives to the present time."

"What was done here long ago by members of our Church represents a terrible and inexcusable departure from Christian teaching and conduct. We cannot change what happened, but we can remember and honor those who were killed here.

"Many of those who carried out the massacre were haunted all their lives by what they did and saw on that unforgettable day. They and their relatives have also suffered under a heavy burden of guilt."

Personal observations

You can probably ascertain that most of the above text was taken from official news releases from the Church. Having been a member of the Church most of my life, I grew up with a knowledge of what happened at Mountain Meadows so long ago. It was not hidden and there was no cover up. It was taught in Seminary and in Institute classes on Church History.

The Mountain Meadows massacre was a painful, regrettable and terrible event that transpired in Southern Utah that should never have happened. It is something about which we speak with sadness and reverence for those who lost their lives. I cannot even imagine the pain and sorrow it must have caused the families and descendants of all those involved on both sides.

I know that some have pointed to this tragic episode from our history as evidence that we cannot possibly be true followers of Jesus Christ. There is no way that the events of that time can be excused. Even after studying the history, I'm still not sure that I even understand it.

Please do not let your knowledge of this horrendous crime prevent you from considering the true message of the restored gospel. We hope you can forgive imperfect men who will undoubtedly face the justice of God and receive appropriate punishment.

For more information

A detailed historical summary of the events that surrounded this terrible tragedy can be read in an article found in the LDS Newsroom or in the September 2007 Ensign article. My wife and I read the article when it was published as part of our evening gospel study. I recall being moved with compassion when reading the account of the mistakes made by otherwise good leaders.

Comments

S.Faux said…
I very much appreciate the honesty of this post.

Many of my childhood years were spent growing up in Cedar City, Utah -- very near the site of the massacre. Fortunately, my family would visit the site about twice a year. My LDS parents impressed upon my mind that this horrible event should never be forgotten or swept under the rug.

Part of the historical context was that the Latter-day Saints prior to the massacre (1830s and 1840s) had been pushed out of their homes nearly every where they lived in the midwest -- Kirtland, Far West, and Nauvoo are the first to come to mind. In 1857 tensions were building between Brigham Young and the United States. A U.S. army was marching toward Salt Lake City, Utah with all appearance of a military takeover. Mormon militias were organized all over the state. Contributing to the tensions was the fact that a few months earlier a Mormon Apostle, Parley P. Pratt, had been assassinated in Arkansas.

It was within these escalating tensions that the ill-fated Fancher company (120+ people), largely from Arkansas, attempted to make their way through southern Utah to get to California.

Because the Mormons perceived themselves at war, they were not easily giving up supplies to non-Mormon travelers. The Fancher party may have become verbally irritated. Unfortunately, the Mormon militia of the region was itching for a fight, maybe with revenge as a motive. The Fanchers had done nothing bad, but they symbolized something bad to the Mormons of the area.

I am like you. I have studied several books on this topic. I still do not understand how any Mormons could kill others in the fashion that they did. I do not understand, even within the context above, how the massacre could be justified in their minds.

One-hundred years later, when I was a child in the region, I could still sense the guilt still carried by the later generations. It was a sin literally passed from the fathers to their children.

Partly with this incident in mind, I have taught my sons (one in the Army) that there is NEVER any justification for following an immoral order from a leader. Thank goodness that General Alexander Doniphan understood this principle when he was ordered to execute Joseph Smith, a prisoner of the "Mormon War" of Missouri, 1838. He refused, and further, threatened to take his commander to court.

Alexander Doniphan is one of my heroes.
kelly miller said…
What can you do
When someone you love
Acts hatefully
And kills thereof

Do not further abuse
Honor those who've died
And make no excuse
Sins...one cannot hide

Then seek to know
And understand
Let forgiveness flow
Trust in God's hand

Others were blamed
As they too took part
Adding to the shame
Sins path to chart

What can we learn
And not repeat?
Have faith, discern
When fears you meet

This group had come
To travel through
Hurting none
They'd children too

Though, they were from where
An apostle was killed
The order wasn't there
To have their lives stilled

Otherwise good men
Chose poorly that day
Feeling threatened
They plotted away

Then furthering the sin
They justified their acts
Knowing this... let's begin
To understand all the facts

please someone comment if this would be an appropriate poem to give to a Mountain Meadows survivor family?

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