August 12, 2008 Massacre at Mountain Meadows Lecture at Benchmark Books, Part 4: Glen Leonard

By September 8, 2008

Glen Leonard:  In his comments in reviewing the book prior to publication, Richard Bushman mentioned this, “Though I knew the end from the beginning, I began to sweat as the narrative approached its fatal climax.  The authors won’t let us turn our gaze away from the horrors of that moment”.  One of the copy editors said something similarly, “this is a page turner, she said”. [pause]  I’d like to turn a few pages.  I’d like to take you into the book, and give you a sample of the narrative, as an illustration of what we were trying to accomplish by taking the facts, drawing our conclusions, and then casting them into a narrative voice.We decided the best way to prove our point, to demonstrate what we felt was happening, and why, was to tell the story, and let the facts speak for themselves.  One of the interesting disclosures in our research was that there were three separate council meetings held, and in each of those councils there was a variety of opinions expressed, in each one the majority said “leave the emigrants alone,” and yet they didn’t.  Those who made the final decisions ignored the council, and moved ahead.On Sunday September 6th, Isaac Haight, Stake President in Cedar City, met with his counselors, the Bishopric, the High Council, and other leading citizens.  In this weekly gathering, Haight brought up the question of the emigrants, they passed through the city on Thursday, stopped briefly, and there’d been some planning on a previous council held prior to this Sunday meeting.  One member of this High Council was Laban Morrill, he lived about six miles north of Cedar City, and when he arrived the meeting was already underway.  He knew nothing about those previous conversations.  Morrill entered the meeting late, and immediately sensed confusion and some little excitement.  When Morrill asked what was up, he heard the Cedar City concerns.  “I was told there was an immigrant train that had passed down along to near Mountain Meadows, and that they’d made their threats in regard to us as a people, signifying they would stay there and destroy every damn Mormon.”The leaders took the threat seriously because they believed “there was an army coming on the south, that is through the mountains into Cedar City area, and one on the north”, and were debating “what method we ought to take in regard to preserving the lives of the citizens”.In other words, some people there felt genuinely threatened by threats, of which one of the councilors had said. “Words are but wind, ignore them.”  Morrill was stunned by what he heard.  “Do not our principles of right teach us to return good for evil and do good to those who despitefully use us?”  “To fall upon them and destroy them was the work of savage monsters rather than that of civilized beings in our own enlightened time.”  Morrill wanted to know “by what authority” Haight and the others were planning such drastic measures.  Had something come from Col. Dame, who was in charge of the Southern Utah militia?  If so, Morrill demanded to see the documents.  In response, Haight and his supporters had to admit that they were acting on their own, there were no orders from anywhere.  Nothing had come from Parowan, from Col. Dame.The full truth went further:  Dame had actually told Haight to let the emigrants alone.Still more damning, Haight did not tell the council that John D. Lee, and others were already at the Meadows gathering for action.  You do know the end of the story from the beginning.  Let’s go to the Meadows, it’s September 11th, 120 innocent men, women, and children are lying dead upon the Meadows, 17 surviving children, those too young to tell the tale, that the emigrants knew that white men had been involved in killings earlier in the week, and now the older people had been killed to cover up the evidence of white involvement.  The children had been taken to the Hamblin Ranch, two miles north of where the killing took place, it’s dark, the scent of human blood in the Meadows brought Coyotes from their dens, and their howls mingled with the crying of the children, and the bawling of the emigrants cattle.

That night campfires flickered here and there in the Meadow, although the militia leaders, including Lee, went to Hamblin’s Ranch House in time for supper at sundown, despite the din, and the fresh memories of the slaughter, Lee rolled out his saddle blanket and slept soundly, exhausted from the weeks action, he also had the facility to shield his mind from self inspection, he had done his duty, that was all he allowed himself to think.  Likely some militiamen may have rested well, but, the sleep of others must have been more fitful.  However much they sought solace thereafter, memories of the massacre at Mountain Meadows would lurk in their minds and haunt them to their deaths.  Some sought refuge in excuses or denial.  Others fled the land in the vain hope of escaping the recurring visions of that day.  None was ever the same again.The tragedy at Mountain Meadows played out on several levels, the murdered emigrants lost their hopes, their dreams, their property, and their lives, some lost their very identity, their names forever effaced from human memory, the surviving children were robbed of the warmth and support of parents, brothers, and sisters.  Their first sobbing night at Hamblin’s was just the start of their ordeal.

The Paiute participants would bare the brunt of blame for the massacre, shamelessly used by the white men who lured them to the Meadows.  For the militiamen who carried out the crime, as well as their families, descendents, and fellow church members, there was another kind of tragedy, it was the nigh long anguish that flows from betrayed ideals.  The burdens of the massacre would linger far beyond what anyone imagined on that night of September 11th 1857.  We dedicate the book to all of those victims.  [applause].

See also Parts 1, 2, 3, and 5.


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