Southwestern States Mission: The Mountain Meadows Massacre

By May 20, 2012

In September 1857 a group of Mormons (and some Native Americans) attacked, disarmed, and then killed approximately 120 men, women, and children from an Arkansas-to-California wagon train. In the early 1900s this “Mountain Meadows Massacre” was in living memory and Arkansas was part of the Southwestern States Mission. [1] How did Mormon missionaries in East Texas encounter and deal with it?

The diaries refer to the “Mountain Meadow Massacre” (no “s” on “Meadow”) six times and once to “killing Some Emigrants that was going through Utah and John Dee Lee was killed for it.” [2] The argument, as refracted through the diaries, was straightforward: “the mormons done it.” Accusations about the Massacre usually came in company with other complaints. [3]

The Elders denied/downplayed Mormon involvement or reacted aggressively:

“‘Well,’ I says, ‘you don’t think the Mormons did that, do you?’ ‘Yes, sir, they did.’ We tried to reason with him but he was so full of the spirit of the evil one that we could do nothing with him.”

“I tried to Show him there was only two or 3 that had anything to do with it. and it was not the mormons’ fault I told him I could bring 500 witnesses to Prove the Same. he said he would not believe them if they was mormons.”

“he…said have you got any Books giving account of the mountain meadow massacre I said you can get them at the devils headquarters”

“He…asked why it was that Johnson’s Army had to be sent to Utah. Elder Craner then spoke and said, ‘because of false stories being told by just such men as you are.’ He then got very angry and said, ‘If you say that again, I will mash your mouth for you.’ This stopped the man.” [4]



The “Southwestern States Mission” series uses the diaries of six missionaries who served in eastern Texas around 1900 to illustrate aspects of Mormon material culture, lived religion, and social History. The missionaries are Mission President Duffin and Elders Brooks, Clark, Folkman, Forsha, and Jones. The series is inspired by Ardis Parshall’s serial posting of the missionary diary of Willard Larson Jones at Keepapitchinin. Previous installment here.

[1] In 1902, when most of these Elders went home, the Massacre was forty-five years past. Thus, a twenty-year-old who read about the murders in 1857 would be sixty-five; the surviving children would be mostly in their late forties. (For comparison: the Tet Offensive [1968 Jan 30] and the My Lai massacre [1968 Mar 16] ‘turn’ forty-five next year [2013]). President Duffin was born in 1860 and Elder Clark in 1859. I have not looked into any of the Elders’ possible family connections.

None of the six diarists worked in Arkansas and President Duffin only visited in a supervisory role. After one conference he reported: “The people of Carrollton tell me that this is the place to which the children saved from the Mountain Meadow massacre were returned. There is a very bitter feeling in this part of the country” (Duffin, 1900 Sep 6 Thu).

The diarists did not record contact with survivors, but met participants from related events. Elder Clark spent the night with “a man who was in the Johnson’s Army in the early days of Utah” (Clark, 1900 Mar 08 Thu); President Duffin spent 1300 words describing his interview with “the last living witness of the death of Apostle Parley P Pratt” (Duffin, 1902 Sep 03 Wed).

[2] Duffin’s reports (1900, 1904) don’t seem to have involved confrontations; Elder Clark had three in the summer of 1901 and Elder Jones had two in January 1902. Brooks, Folkman, and Forsha record no mentions that I have noticed. All five confrontations happened within a five-month period and involved the two  Elders working the farthest north. Such (relatively loose) spatiotemporal clustering might be random, but it suggests at least the possibility of a motivating factor—something like a series of newspaper editorials or an itinerant preacher lecturing on Mormonism.

[3] Variants of the argument include: “our people were the leaders” and “…[he] begun to abuse us and call us murder[er]s.” One contact said he did not “want to hear anything” from the missionaries, presumably because “he never could think of the Mormons but what he thought of the Mountain Meadow Massacre.” (Jones, 1902 Jan 03 Fri). The rest cited at least one more objection to Mormonism. One critique touched on polygamy, heresy, domestic missions, missionaries living off charity, and “stealing” women in addition to the Massacre (Clark, 1901 Jul 25 Thu).

Three of the entries mentioning the Massacre also report the possibility of physical violence: an Elder threatened to “mash” a man’s mouth (Jones, 1902 Jan 05 Sun); a man ordered an Elder off the porch and then brandished a shotgun (Clark, 1901 Sep 21 Sat); and a man warned the Elders to “leave town as there may be trouble” shortly after another man accosted the Elders about the Massacre (Clark, 1901 Aug 28 Wed). I have not yet done a quantitative analysis, but, since threats of violence are pretty rare in the diaries, I’ll be surprised if there doesn’t turn out to be a correlation.

[4] Jones, 1902 Jan 03 Fri; Clark, 1901 Sep 21 Sat; Clark, 1901 Jul 25 Thu; Jones, 1902 Jan 05 Sun. In the last entry it is not entirely clear who threatened whom; I read the Elder as threatening because “This stopped the man.” In 1904 President Duffin reported an encounter with a Campbellite minister who “manifested a broad liberal spirit, among other things saying that the ‘Mormon’ people should not be held responsible for the ‘Mountain Meadow massacre,’ because a few bad men were connected with it” (Duffin, 1904 May 8 Sun).

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. Your correlation of this cluster of diaries reveals so much more than any individual diary can tell. Fascinating, Edje. Thanks.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 20, 2012 @ 1:13 am

  2. It looks like Ardis was waiting up for the latest installment. : )

    Elder Jones was from Southern Utah. Were any of the others? There are some Clarks in Southern Utah, and one in the list of the participants in the Massacre. Maybe they’re related; maybe they’re not. (Since I’m doing the Eminent Women series right now, I check that list when I’m writing each biography. I haven’t found any family members yet, but there’s at least one upcoming woman with someone on the list. The next woman, English immigrant Mary Lockwood Kemp, has a note in her biography about seeing a woman who was said to be wearing some jewelry taken from the massacre victims, but that won’t make it into the series biography, unless I use it to illustrate the gossip that is a recurrent theme of Kemp’s biography.)

    Anyway, it’s interesting to see the topics you come up with, Edje.

    Comment by Amy T — May 20, 2012 @ 10:22 am

  3. Thanks, Ardis.

    Amy: I haven’t looked into the family history much at all.

    Elder Clark’s diary records: “Franklin Clark, son of E. W. Clark and Louisa Mellor – Born May the 12 1859 at Provo city, Utah. Baptized march 22, 1868 at Santaquin by David H. Holliday. Confirmed by Joseph Matthews. Married Jan the 25 1883 to Mary E. Nelson.”

    Elder Brooks is from Arizona, but his father was relatively old and had lived in southern Utah in the 1850s.

    President Duffin’s family also spent time in Utah-south-of-Provo, but I don’t recall where.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — May 20, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

  4. With this series I am again and again surprized how it seems similar to what I have read. These journals are a great proxy for the general LDS missionary experience in the south.

    Mountain Meadows shows up in a few times in the missionary writings I have read, most in the mid 1880’s in Tennessee. Two even ran into some relatives of one of the victims and the encounter may have turned violent, though the written account is ambiguous.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — May 20, 2012 @ 11:15 pm

  5. The MMM Clark (John Wesley Clark) is my ancestor. He was from the South originally, as were many of the residents of southern Utah at the time. He had been sent to establish the “Cotton Mission” in southern Utah, and many of the individuals and families sent to do that were called because they had cotton farming experience from earlier lives in the Southeast. That my ancestor helped massacre a wagon train from Arkansas, having been himself on a wagon train from Arkansas not long prior is something that has haunted my thoughts often. Here is John Wesley Clark’s genealogy page if you want to investigate if maybe one of posterity was “Elder Clark,” though by 1900 most of the Clarks had fled the MMM infamy in southern Utah for super-remote areas of Arizona and New Mexico.

    Comment by Cynthia L. — May 21, 2012 @ 12:35 am

  6. Fascinating as always. Thanks, Ed.

    Comment by Christopher — May 21, 2012 @ 7:17 am

  7. Interesting, Edje. See also this WaPo story from yesterday.

    Comment by Ryan T. — May 21, 2012 @ 2:41 pm

  8. Bruce: That’s useful to hear. I frequently wonder how much of what I’m reading derives from Mormon Culture Region mores, mission culture, or local culture. I wonder how far away, if ever, one has to get to find a significantly different mission experience.

    Cynthia: Thanks for sharing. Haunting indeed.

    Christopher and Ryan: Thanks. It appears that Duffin’s observation about Carrollton, “There is a very bitter feeling in this part of the country” (Duffin, 1900 Sep 6 Thu), still holds.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — May 21, 2012 @ 7:39 pm

  9. Elder Folkman’s father and grandfather came from Denmark in 1856, settling in Plain City, Weber county, where Folkman was born in 1869. No southern Utah connections that I am aware of.

    Comment by kevinf — May 22, 2012 @ 11:34 am

  10. Thanks, Kevin.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — May 22, 2012 @ 6:11 pm

  11. […] The “Southwestern States Mission” series uses the diaries of six missionaries who served in eastern Texas around 1900 to illustrate aspects of Mormon material culture, lived religion, and social History. The missionaries are Mission President Duffin and Elders Brooks, Clark, Folkman, Forsha, and Jones. The series is inspired by Ardis Parshall’s serial posting of the missionary diary of Willard Larson Jones at Keepapitchinin. Previous installment here. […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Southwestern States Mission: Calling a Mission President — May 27, 2012 @ 9:29 am


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