Admin: Janiece (or JJ as we like to call her), is a PhD student at the University of Utah where her she is completing dissertation work in part on the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
In It Does Not Die, Maitreyi Devi wrote a “she said” to Mircea Elidae’s Bengal Nights, the “he said” semi-autobiographical account of his time in 1930s Calcutta and his relationship with Devi. Unsurprisingly, Devi offered a very different version of events in her narrative. Academia (and even Oprah thanks to James Frey) has long debated the definition of memoir and its highly subjective nature. A comparison of It Does Not Die and Bengal Nights provides many aspects for analysis of events personally subjective and emotive while grounded in history. Can scholarship ever overcome personal opinion or reaction in highly emotionally charged historical events?
I first worked on the Mountain Meadows Massacre project in 2001-2002 as a research assistant. Initially, I was hired for six months. Who knew that I would work on Mountain Meadows for several months, leave Salt Lake City, go to Divinity School and get another graduate degree, and then return to work on essentially the same Mountain Meadows project for the following four plus years? Not I. And I am only one of many in the years of work, thousands of miles traveled, and endless hours of research.
Juanita Brooks provided an important foundation with her groundbreaking 1950 book The Mountain Meadows Massacre—a foundation upon which many a house has been built. The houses have come in a variety of shapes and colors, with an array of grades of materials, a wide expanse of woman/man hours, and significant differences in levels of workmanship. The forthcoming volume, Massacre at Mountain Meadows by Ron Walker, Richard Turley, and Glen Leonard, is, in my opinion, easily the most comprehensive single research effort that has been made to date on the massacre itself. I believe that when the book is out in the next few weeks, this will be clear. This first book has also spawned additional prospective volumes on the aftermath of Massacre, the prosecution for the Massacre, the legal papers of the Mountain Meadows prosecution (including comparative analysis of the transcripts of John D. Lee’s trials), significant analysis of John D. Lee’s Confessions, Pauite Indian involvement, and many more potential works.
Yet….might it ever be enough to raise the discussion past “he said” and “she said”? Or “he said” and “they said” or whatever incarnation you like…
At the Mormon History Association in 2007, Gene Sessions, Utah War Historian and early Massacre at Mountain Meadows manuscript reviewer, said, “the single biggest problem with the book will be the three authors”: Ron Walker, now retired BYU History Professor, Rick Turley, current Assistant LDS Church Historian, and Glen Leonard, former director of the LDS Museum of Church History and Art. The voluminous postings from the Deseret News article summarizing Rick Turley’s most recent MHA presentation on Brigham Young’s role in the massacre highlight the continued angst and personal emotion involved in any talk of the massacre. In contrast to Turley’s presentation, very little evidence was offered in the article, yet most who commented had very firm opinions of what did or did not happen. Can research and methodology overcome emotion and bias? Is that a necessary or an erroneous juxtaposition? Most people who know something about the massacre have already formed an opinion, can those opinions still be molded by evidence, or are they “steadfast and immovable”? (And not, I believe, “steadfast and immovable” in the way that King Benjamin might have envisioned.) Juanita Brooks was compelled to write her account from a harrowing deathbed exclamation. I cannot completely divorce myself completely from my own emotional responses, is it too much to ask others to try?
So in my first guest post, I just want to ask, “Will it ever die?”
(Whatever the answer, don’t worry I still have research plans for years to come.)
 Maryteri Devi, It Does Not Die, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976, and Mircea Eliade, Bengal Nights, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.
 My paraphrased memory.