Notes From The Massacre at Mountain Meadows Panel, Part 5: Q & A

By September 6, 2008


Q: For Turley, In 1856, also during reformation, over 200 died in handcart disaster…given that F. D. Richards urged the group forward, blind faith, not questioning authority…a connection? 

A. Yes there was groupthink, fundamental difference is in degree of conscious pushing toward disaster.  People were hopeful unrealistically with the handcart situation.  In MMM, they were making decision after decision and ultimately they had to consciously decide to destroy people’s lives, that consciousness is the difference.

Q for all 4: Curious to hear reaction to whether MMM somehow was an anomalous occurrence or reflective of general trends going on in the region, not in terms of violence but in mentality, reflect the general mentality, bound to happen at some point?


Barlow: I’m not inclined to say that any event was bound to happen but a tinder box was ready to explode.  Turley: In the literature on violence there is talk of people failing to stand up to stop the cycle. There were several junctures clear up to the final massacre, someone could have stopped it and no one did.  That’s one of the frightening things about group violence. People are very inclined to follow authority. The caution is one for all to recognize, this intense peer pressure.  It’s easy to step back and say I wouldn’t have done it, but we need to ask ourselves serious questions.  Faragher: I agree but disagree with these responses…every event is unique.  When we look at this event, we can look at it hour to hour, we see how contingency plays a dramatic role, absence or presence of certain individuals, but the commonality of pattern, the ease with which Americans of the 19th century talked about exterminating each other is very dramatic and revealing, coming from a culture in which the extermination of native people was assumed to be a national policy goal, this constant discussion of extermination is revealing and disturbing that it was available to those who felt victimized.  Common pattern of events, in mid of 19th cen. Homicide rates help us understand patterns of violence. Suggest levels of violence.  There is a relationship between homicide rates and other violence. In the mid 19th century rates varied from 30 per 100,000 to several hundred to 6 per 100 thousand today, it was a murderous time.  Not just at MM where massacres taking place. The kind of brutality that took place is startling…a lot of this is covered up, we proclaim disbelief that we are such a violent people. The MMM is one such event of many dozens of such events.  Fixico: Violence.  If something could happen like that again in which the violence natives suffered, Andrew Jackson used Creeks agianst Creeks and then removed all the tribes outside the US.  Cherokees in particular, we don’t carry 20 dollar bills in our wallets.  I went to the ATM for 40 bucks, two 20s came out!  We can’t win!  Apache scouts used against Geronimo.  He’s the longest American person as a POW, 23 years, never allowed to go home.  Separated, sent to Pensacola. Those scouts who helped to hunt him, they were sent to Florida as well. 

Q: You’ve had good access even to the 1st pres. vault, have you extended an invitation to scholars to do further research, Bro. Bagley doing documentary research…does Bagley get access?  Turley: All the materials we used are gathered as a research collection available to any one who wants to come in and use it. [“Even me!” Bagley exclaimed from the balcony]  [“Behave Bagley”, Forrest Cuch]

Q: [Forrest Cuch] I’m the editor of History of Utah’s American Indians published by USU Press. I certainly hope that the perception and outdated perception that Paiutes were the instigators was not perpetuated in any way, because if it did, all of that would have been a disservice.  I’m disappointed that our book was not used more.  I witnessed 3 of the 4 interviews conducted and all 3 testimonies corroborated the version given by the Paiutes…when manuscripts first came out, the Paiutes excluded MMM and I called and asked why? We’re afraid of retaliation from the Mormon church. I told them Don’t be.  Most [militia members] dressed up as Indians, not emphasized enough. There are numerous books, but especially the testimony of the victims of the descendants say that most of the 60 members, well, some, were dressed as Indians, and validates the premise that the militia was trying to place blame…the book is weak in that respect, but still reflects that Paiutes were allies.  Maybe the Paiutes were involved in the initial attack, but little evidence that Paiutes were involved after, 2 maybe more, so we negotiated the term “some”, but I’m not ok with the fact that we didn’t bring out the fact that some of the militia men were dressed as Indians, I wish more was done to use our book. 

Turley: With input we have changed the book flap, it no longer says “allies” in later editions.  I did interviews, I gave them the option to let us use the material. Most did not give me a release form. I will make this offer…we launched a website today. I would love to put those living oral histories on our site to people can hear the Paiute perspectives if we can get permission…


Q: For Fixico….whites seemed to get courage in that the savage Paiutes were able to do what they didn’t think whites could do.  They pulled this off because they told themselves a racist story where the Paiutes could do it.  Did that apply more broadly?  Did they imagine the savagery of the Indians to attack?  Seems to be a distinctive feature of violence of the time?  [In other words, did the militia use the “Savage Indian” idea to inspire themselves to commit mass murder?].

A: Fixico: amount of violence like a psychological, mass apathy, when soldiers attack, when Indians attack, leadership needs to be strong, when stop said, stop, but sometimes it doesn’t’ stop, so when the emotions and revenge is used…why was Geronimo the way he was?  Mexicans murdered his wife and two daughters, how could he not take it personally?  As he thought of revenge, he was filled with hatred.  Faragher…your suggestion of the effect of painting up or making up or imagining the effect it has in lowering the threshold foreseeing a rule of nonviolence is extremely important. It’s historically documented in attacks on Mormons in Missouri, almost every account talks of painting of faces of the mob, the murderers of Joseph Smith painted themselves.  There is a whole book about playing Indian, this is one of the most destructive aspects of playing Indian. Fixico:  The word “Indian” carried pejorative and dehumanized natives, if you are Indian you are not human, and because you are less, you can be wiped out.  That meant that it was good to annihilate you, and that was taken over even to Vietnam.  The enemy territory was Indian country. We are not Native Americans, we are Indians. It’s taken a long time of forgiving the US to come to that… 


Q: For Turley.  The impression I run into frequently that the leaders gave orders to these good LDS to go out and participate in this atrocity, I’m wondering if there were good LDS that said no.

Turley: The majority of the militia of Cedar City did not participate…there are stories passed down, some are elaborate and some may very well be true.  Others are not.  The fact that some percentage did not may suggest that some refused. From the trial testimony, an example of at least one that didn’t participate but whether the reason was that there were enough to carry it out or of refusal is hard to tell.  The bulk of the participants would fit in as the leadership of the militias, a disproportionate amount of leaders participated.



Q: What element of Christianity would come into this?  You listen to Islamic propaganda, we don’t have that kind of history.  Are there elements in the Christian tradition that would lend themselves to violence?  [The question was confusing. She seemed to actually be framing the question that since Christianity was more violent than other religions, how did this play into it?]

Barlow: I have some idea about the contestability of whether Christianity has a more bloody history.  But are there elements there that lend themselves to this kind of violence?  [Fixico interjected: “That’s above my pay grade!”] [Laughter]


Barlow: Constantine changes to Christianity, by this [the cross] conquer, originally a symbol of [peace] than conquest.  Nothing in the early times with Jesus to indicate any special tendency to violence.


See also parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.


See also a transcript of the three authors speaking at Benchmark Books in August.Ardis has also put up her notes from the night.


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  5. So does anyone have the link to the website related to the book that Turley mentioned in one of his responses?

    Comment by Dave — September 6, 2008 @ 11:41 am

  6. Here’s the link.

    Comment by Rivkah — September 6, 2008 @ 2:19 pm

  7. Excellent! Thank you Rivkah.

    Comment by Jared T — September 6, 2008 @ 2:29 pm

  8. The audio will be broadcast at KCPW starting Monday.

    Comment by Jared T — September 6, 2008 @ 2:31 pm

  9. Wonderful, Jared. Thank you from those of us who live afar.

    I got a chuckle from the twenty dollar bill thing.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — September 6, 2008 @ 3:43 pm

  10. I loved that too. Fixico definitely had a number of great lines during the night, like the “above my pay grade” remark also aside from the scholarship.

    Comment by Jared T — September 6, 2008 @ 4:15 pm

  11. Jared, I’ve just read all of your sections now and see the many parts you caught that I did not. A discussion like this that was so packed could use three or four note takers, don’t you think? Kind of like how the Nauvoo saints recorded Joseph Smith’s sermons and then tried to reconstruct them later from the various accounts?

    Thank goodness for the upcoming podcast. And thanks for noting that it was KCPW.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 6, 2008 @ 4:26 pm

  12. Jared,
    This is great! Thanks for posting this.

    What new insights emerged from the panel that people hadn’t thought of before?

    Comment by Paul Reeve — September 6, 2008 @ 9:46 pm

  13. Ardis, Yea, I really wish there could have been like 5 of us with our little laptops tapping away while Joseph Smith spoke.

    Although, given that we are both typing, and, at least for me, typing is a lot faster than writing, it’s amazing how much both of us still missed. Makes you wonder how much was missed when Joseph spoke. And that’s just the ones people took down.

    Comment by Jared T — September 6, 2008 @ 10:06 pm

  14. Jared,

    I would be very interested in hearing yours and Ardis’s as well as anyone elses evaluations of the presentations. I really enjoy these transcriptions, but I would also like to know your own impressions of the speakers

    Comment by Joel — September 8, 2008 @ 7:51 am

  15. I’m also very interested in thinking about why these three professors were chosen for the panel. Although I respect the work of all three of these historians, none of their work seems to really distinguish them as the primary authorities on the aspects of the book they were assigned to evaluate. Am I wrong? Were the organizers simply trying to bring in a panel of distinguished professors whose work generally ties in with some of the book’s themes?

    Comment by Joel — September 8, 2008 @ 8:04 am

  16. Joel and Paul, I’m gonna put up some “reflections” soon and would like to get others impressions there also.

    As far as selection choice, I couldn’t speak for the organizers, though I think it quite a coup to have gotten John Mack Faragher to come from Yale U to be on the panel, he being, generally, one of the top scholars in the field of western history. I believe the idea was to get people who could come in as “outside” voices to bring a fresh perspective to the book rather than have the same Utah experts opining. I think it succeeded very well.

    Perhaps Paul Reeve could comment on the selection as he was one of the organizers.

    Comment by Jared T — September 8, 2008 @ 9:29 am

  17. #15 Joel,this panel was over a year in the planning and went through various iterations before it became who and what it was on Friday. We invited some scholars who turned us down. In the end we were pleased with the panel that we put together. We asked each to consider the book and the massacre within a broader context than is normally done. We asked them to help us think about it in new ways. To varying degrees of success, I think they did that, Faragher and Richard Turley especially. Faragher is a prominent historian of the West and is currently researching violence in frontier L.A. I was most pleased with his panel presentation and the depth and breadth of his comments.

    Comment by Paul Reeve — September 8, 2008 @ 3:53 pm

  18. Paul,

    I hope I didn’t sound like I was complaining or second-guessing your choices. I respect all of these historians very much!! I really like Faragher’s work–didn’t he win the Bancroft for Sugar Creek?– and I enjoyed all of the panel members’ presentations as recorded by Jared. I was just wondering about the philosophy for choosing the panel members. I am a primary booster for trying to deprovincialize Mormon history. At some level, as I try to put together panels of my own for conferences, I am extremely interested in the process and the mindset that goes into formulating them.

    Comment by Joel — September 8, 2008 @ 10:17 pm

  19. Joel,
    No, didn’t sound like a complaint to me, but a sincere inquiry and good questions. At one point we conceived of the panel with one person representing each of the various groups involved in the massacre: someone to represent the victims, someone the perpetrators, someone the Southern Paiute, and someone to help us think about violence in the west. For a variety of reasons we decided to get people more removed from the events, outsiders with scholarly reputations. I recognize that Barlow doesn’t exactly fit. He is an insider/outsider, in a sense, more aware and invested in the history than the other two, but we asked him to look at it from a religious studies perspective/religion and violence. He is certainly more removed than a descendant of one of the groups would have been.

    Finally, one can always dream big about the type of panel to put together and which big names to include, but one is always constrained by $. We not only had to put the panel together, but secure a group of sponsors that would make it possible to pull it all off. That was also a factor in who was there and who was not.

    Comment by Paul Reeve — September 10, 2008 @ 10:59 am


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