6:40 – Okay, so my first attempt at live-blogging has fallen flat, for technical reasons. I could get an internet connection in the library foyer, but I can’t get one in the auditorium where the discussion is to be held. So … I’ll “blog” to myself now, and post it delayed as soon as I can.
There are 150 people here already, by actual count. Many familiar faces, and a lot I don’t know. The auditorium is filling up fast, and people keep asking if the two seats next to me are taken. (I’m up in the balcony, as far in the corner as I can get.) When I tell people they’re welcome to sit there but that I’ll be typing the whole time, so far everyone has gone on hunting seats elsewhere.
6:52 – The room is almost completely full now – more than I can count now, since they’re milling around – and some brave soul who swears he won’t mind my constant typing has taken the seat next to me. I am not surprised to see the usual crowd who attends MHA and other seminars like this one, but I’m a little surprised at the number of “just plain folks” who seem to be here. Two of the panelists (and I don’t know who’s who yet) have taken their seats.
7:00 – The panelists are all in place, and Rick Turley is being presented with copies of MatMM for autograph, left and right. No sign yet of the meeting beginning. I think every seat in the auditorium has been taken, and people are standing along the back and in the aisles. (Oh, fire marshal …)
7:03 – Bob Goldberg, moderator, is calling for people to identify open seats, and the loud audience buzz has dropped to silence.
7:04 – Bob Goldberg: Good evening … Please take this opportunity to turn off your cell phones and anything that might go beep in the night.
[In the following report, I attempted to transcribe verbatim. When I couldn’t keep up, I elected to drop some language – always marked by ellipsis – rather than to paraphrase, except in the case of bracketed words.]
The facts are now well known. The crime occurred on September 11, 1857 in southwestern Utah, not far from Cedar City. [summary of the accepted facts] A new book of this event has just been published, Massacre at Mountain Meadows by Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley, and Glen M. Leonard. It is the topic of our distinguished panel tonight. Please let me introduce our panelists in the order in which they will speak. First, John Mack Faragher joins us from Yale University [credentials]. He will consider MatMM against the broader themes of violence in American history.
Professor Phil Barlow [credentials] will situate the book in the broader field of Mormon studies and religious violence.
Donald Fixico [credentials] will consider Mountain Meadows from the perspective of colonial Indo-Euro relations.
Following …, Rick Turley will respond to the critiques. [credentials] After his comments, I will open the session to comments. At the time, please note there are two standing microphones [procedures for asking questions].
[sponsors announced, to much applause]
7:10 – John Mack Faragher:
Thank you very much. It is an important topic. The organizers of this forum have asked me to focus my response to the book on the question of violence, particularly frontier violence … I am by no means an expert in the history of Mormonism or the history of Utah or the MMM in particular. Neither am I an expert in the history of frontier violence, although it is a subject in which I am now deeply engaged … I hope to put that important context against this important book. …
The most important question in the book is this: What led normally decent people to commit mass murder in a method and a manner and on a scale, in the authors’ words, “so calculated … so premeditated, evil and cunning”? The men who committed the atrocity at Mountain Meadows, they write, were neither fanatics nor sociopaths, but normal and, in many respects, decent people.
Now before going any further I want to comment briefly on the choice of words here. “Sociopath” is not a clinical but rather a lay term, and I think it is something of a straw man. I don’t know of any historian who makes a claim that the [perpetrators of Mountain Meadows] … suffered from psychopathic disorders, although a number may well have been psychopaths of one form or another. … The authors themselves characterize John D. Lee as a zealot … in his mind, an instrument of God’s purpose. If that does not qualify Lee as a fanatic, I’d like to know what does. Indeed, they also quote Mormon Samuel Knight referring the perpetrators Isaac Haight and William Dame precisely as fanatics, fanatics who were guilty, in Knight’s words, of a dastardly deed.
So I think a more general and neutral terminology … would be better … I would substitute … “ordinary men.”
In order to address the problem of how ordinary men became mass murders, the authors draw on several key studies … [several cited]. I am quite familiar with this literature, and in my opinion they … utilize it fairly. …
Now the first four of these conditions [cited in the studies as preconditions of mass murder], “demonizing,” “authority,” “obedience” and “peer pressure,” are, I think, much more important than the others, as preconditions for collective violence, if you will. The literature clearly suggests that the single most significant factor in incidents of collective violence is the process the authors call demonizing, the classification of one people by another as “the other.” Devaluing, stereotyping and dehumanizing the enemy makes mass murder possible. A great deal of historical work … [indicates that] mass murder is unlikely, even impossible, without this condition. The authors provide a good deal of evidence … that the process of demonizing gentiles … was well advanced in 1857 Utah.
The other significant factor is a political structure of unassailable authority, absolute obedience, and significant peer pressure … The so-called Mormon Reformation of 1856 and 1857 seems to have played a key role in the development of such a structure of authority and obedience, and I think the authors spend too little time exploring this event.
Personally I am not especially interested in the controversy of whether Brigham Young ordered the massacre or not, and I won’t speak directly to that, but I wonder to what extent sermons from Young and other … leaders that preached … [vengeance and retribution] created the context for vigilante and mob action. There is a difference between legal responsibility and moral responsibility, but both are legitimate subjects for the historian, and I’d like more of a discussion of moral responsibility. The authors do say that the tough talk about blood atonement and dissenters must have helped to create a climate of violence, but they refer only obliquely to … [crimes in places such as Springville] during the Reformation. At Cedar City, where the Mountain Meadows massacre was plotted by local leaders, there was much talk of “blood sucking gentiles” … [and other similar phrases] … Notably when some Mormons at Cedar City refused to comply with Brigham Young’s order to send their cattle north to Salt Lake City, they were threatened by local leader John D. Lee, who wrote to Young that he was determined to enforce local discipline, “if it need be by the shedding of blood …” And after the massacre, perpetrator Nephi Johnson wrote about his fellow Mormon perpetrators that “a good many objected …” The authors might have asked more direct questions about the connections between the leadership and these [threats and deeds]…
My hypothesis would be that the Reformation of 18567-57 was a signal event in creating the conditions necessary …, first, by enforcing group discipline … and second by sanctioning legal violence in pursuit of sanctioned goals.
This second point … might have been emphasized more. The authors rightly note the initial pacific Mormon response to the [anti-Mormon violence in Missouri and Nauvoo] … yet the way LDS leaders chose to partake of the rhetoric of extermination is also notable. The authors quote from Sidney Rigdon’s infamous 4th of July oration … [“We warn all men ...”].
Such moral sanction for lethal violence continued as an important part of Mormon rhetoric. On Pioneer Day 1857, in Cedar City, men unfurled the banner inscribed “Terror to Evil Doers” … Isaac Haight … declared, “I am prepared to feed the enemy the bread he fed to me and mine.”
To be sure, Mormons were fearful, rightly, of federal invasions … of yet another attempt to destroy them. But nothing justifies … [focusing on that emigrant train]. [quotations from local residents threatening the train].
In their narrative of the events leading to the massacre, the authors offer compelling evidence of the mix of self-righteousness and lust for vengeance among Mormons, and that was a lethal combination. The plan of employing the Paiutes to do the dirty work of killing, particularly of killing the women and children, was despicable and shocking. But equally damning is the fact that the final massacre was planned as a coverup of the initial crime. [quotations from book] …
In the end, self interest and moral cowardice led to the logic of extermination. Men killed men, and women, and children in cold blood, shooting people point blank, cutting their throats, “butchering people like hogs,” in the words of one perpetrator, because they feared the consequences of what they already had done or condoned. Finally, it came down to the most ancient modus operandi known to man, the attempt to destroy the evidence.
Before I close, I’d like to raise two more general critical points: Early on, the authors point to the fact that the 19th century United States, in their words, “could be a violent place.” This is a critical part of the historical context, and if anything, they greatly understate and underestimate the truth of this, within the wider realm of American history … I believe that this theme of violence is not sufficiently elaborated. The United States did not experience the precipitous drop in homicide rates that took place … in 19th century western Europe and Canada. Max Weber famously defined the state as “the social institution with the legal and moral monopoly of the use of violence,” and there is good evidence to suggest that the rise of the modern European state was accompanied by a new code of civility … But at precisely that time the United States suffered through an intense crisis of the state, … not only with the Civil War but also with the acquisition of vast western territories that were weakly governed for many years. … [The challenge to] the legitimacy of the state … contributed to massive outbreaks of both political and everyday violence. Homicide rates, which are the historian’s most reliable marker for generalized lethal violence in society, rose highest in the United States in the regions of the South and the Southwest, where the legitimacy of the state was most seriously contested. And indeed, those spatial patterns … continued through the 20th century and remain true today. Frontiers were places of conquest … extirpative war. … [quotations about the killing of Indians]. Frontiers were places that attracted reckless and violent men, the … phenomena of lawlessness and vigialantes consistently characterized the frontier. …
Directly relevant to the Mountain Meadows massacre: By definition, frontiers … were beyond the sphere of routine action of centralized authority. The frontier context … [of the massacre was] between two emergent political formation: on the one hand, the Territory of Utah, and on the other, the state of Deseret. The frontier experience did much to set the United States on a different course, … retarding development of central authority and a more pacific and populist temperament. No doubt the frontier contributed to …. liberty but also to … violence. One of the issues … is the place of the Mountain Meadow massacre in this history of frontier violence. The significance of this subject is strengthened by this context. …
We need to develop a more sophisticated approach, not only to the why’s … but also to the how’s. We need a better understanding of the patterns of socialization that trained Americans in violent behavior. … Even in a society that approves and sanctions lethal violence, there are non-violent men as well as lethally violent men. Legend has it that Abraham Lincoln … [prevented the killing of Indians during the Black Hawk War of Illinois], but then there were others, the shootists at the final massacre at the Battle of Bad Ax, as the Sauks attempted to escape across the Mississippi … Western and frontier historians need to explain how it was that such men existed.
We tend to take violence for granted. We tend to see it as a straightforward and uncomplicated phenomenon. … People are prone to violence when their primary groups – their families, their mentors … – see violence as acceptable, hold beliefs in support of violence, and themselves are violent. The socialization to violence is a developmental process that usually takes place at home during childhood. It commonly includes the violent subjugation of an authority figure, the witness of the violent abuse of a loved one, usually a mother or sibling, the deliberate coaching in violent techniques. You have to learn to be violence. You “have to be carefully taught.” The child asks, “What can I do to prevent this kind of abuse except to use violence means to protect myself?” … This process reproduces violent individuals. …
[We have few documents of domestic violence] such a personal history… [This] requires that we as historians penetrate the curtain that has been drawn across domestic life. This is difficult historical work, but it can be done. The authors tell us, for example, that John d. Lee tells of being raised by an aunt … [recounting his abuse at her hands]. Lee learned about violence at home, and was later accused of domestic violence by his wives.
Significantly, the authors tell us that Lee was a participant at the Battle of Bad Ax where those Sauks … were deliberately destroyed. The Mountain Meadow massacre was not the first time that Lee had participated in an act of collective extirpatory violence.
I don’t know if the historical evidence exists to detail the violent training of the perpetrators of the Mountain Meadow massacre, but until we do that kind of historical work we will never truly understand why they found it so easy to turn to violence.
(At this point there was a disturbance in the audience as a man stood to complain about children in the audience, that parents should remove them. He went on at greater length than necessary – to that point I hadn’t been aware of any child noises – concluding with the statement that “children are like cell phones – turn them off.” He got no applause; there were calls from the audience for him to shut up and sit down. And although I didn’t hear anything more from this man, he apparently continued to make remarks audible to his neighbors. One woman kept saying “Not one more word! Not another word!” A few minutes later, a police officer entered and escorted the man – after some protest – out of the auditorium. He was later allowed to return, taking a seat in front of a friend of mine, who told me that he was composing rambling, off-topic questions, and somewhat lunatic questions in his notebook, which my friend could read over his shoulder. Fortunately, when he went forward later to ask his questions, Bob Goldberg ended the Q&A before he had a chance to ask them.)
I have changed the whole thesis of my talk to consider that children are no different than a cell phone. [laughter] Although I don’t mean to belittle that request. It’s good to be able to hear …
I’d like to congratulate the authors of this book and their many assistants who have contributed so much to the production of the book … [other congratulatory remarks concerning the authors, their institutional support, and their assistants] Within the context of Mormon historiography, … this is, as a piece of scholarship, it’s a significant, formidable piece of work. In the context of … Mormonism, it’s a monumental achievement … There will be time [in other venues to critique this work]. These authors are on a circuit in California, Arkansas, Missouri, Utah, and around and about.
I’m construing my task here as an opportunity to think about the implications of the book in a certain realm, implications of the book, and of the wretched event that prompted the book. What does the massacre teach us about Mormonism? What does it teach us about religion and its potential for good or evil? I’m gathering materials to respond to a whole constellation of books by [names of numerous authors] under the general rubric, “Is religion sick?” It will not surprise you that the answer is “yeah, sometimes; sometimes not.”
What does it mean for Mormon studies, and what does it mean about the LDS church, and for the LDS church that the church opted to fund and facilitate this work? This book is an important accomplishment by these three authors and those who aided them … in an amazing quantity of research, debate, and review. It is also important to comprehend the fact and the implications of the fact that the book represents an institutional decision and effort. As such it is not merely an important work about history; it is itself historic, and it will change some things about the study of Mormons. It is an institutional effort in several senses, … [the decision] at the highest levels of LDS church authority to give permission to the authors to pursue the tasks, and, as the authors insist, they were given permission to let the chips fall where they may. It’s an institutional work in the authors’ being given access to materials in the custody of the church in a way that hasn’t been [done before] … and in the fabulous support of the authors. Without the approval of Elder Marlin Jensen … [and others] at the highest levels, the book in anything resembling its present form could not have been accomplished. And without the material support of the church it would not have been accomplished in 20 years. … [citing other contributions and support by the church]. This is not the way my books get written!
The resulting book is exhaustive. Few institutions could or would have done so, so well. And yet it was our three authors who at last had to make decisions about how to couch and accent things. And I’m glad that my new historical atlas of religion … was not the only book that was five years or so past its contract date!
The book has received resistance from some quarters … [I have been introduced to] electronic commentaries by readers every time the newspaper says something about Mormons. There was an avalanche of materials condemning the book by readers who hadn’t had a chance to turn a single page, because of the prospect of people in the employ of the LDS church writing about such a theme … [Other objections came] about tender nerves of some communities and some living descendants that still tender, [on this] tough theme.
Many urge that we should let sleeping dogs lie, but the dogs have never slept for serious students of history, for the descendants of the victims, for some across the nations who stand aghast … and of course for the mob whose relentless campaign to impugn Mormonism knows no end. But to borrow a phrase form our authors, the bones from the massacre site would not stay buried…. symbolically the bones cry out from the earth.
Because the book is good and because the painful enterprise was blessed by the LDS church, there are many who will read only this one book, especially many LDS. That is okay if you are sparing yourself Sally Denton, Larry McMurtry or … September Dawn … There are other books … [and it would be good] if we acquaint ourselves with those … [especially citing Will Bagley’s past and forthcoming books. His documentary history] is going to be disproportionately important in helping us see some of the primary documents. [citing others, including Juanita Brooks, and Levi Peterson’s “exquisite biography” about her writing effort, and Shannon Novak, and “Bill MacKinnon’s indispensable new documentary account of the Utah War.” He praised At Sword’s Point repeatedly, mentioning its contribution to our understanding of there being more violence during the Utah War than has ever been reported, the problems of using belittling labels like “Johnston’s Army,” and the fact that it was a war and there was violence.]
The success, and I’m sure that it will be success, of the Walker-Turley-Leonard book will mean a number of things. … The Historical department of the LDS church will likely address other difficult aspects of its history in the future. It will learn that the church will not crumble by such a candid, thoughtful probing of difficult contours … We can look for more treatments, perhaps of polygamy … The history of blacks … will be treated with less defensiveness … [and] more balance … as this Mountain Meadows massacre volume. [It is] Kind of like the U.S. space program launched by John F. Kennedy: We didn’t just get to the moon, but we learned how to eat jell-o in diff kind of packets. There’s a lot of collateral discoveries and products that came out of that enterprise …[I expect a similar] lot of collateral products from this book and the enormous institutional effort that went into it. … [identifying a few possibilities mentioned to him by researchers]: changes in Utah law regarding capital punishment came as a consequence of first-hand accounts of John D. Lee’s execution … the evolution of Brigham Young’s Indian policy … whites disguised as Indians committing criminal acts … cattle disease on the trail …
The publication of this book will bring some cultural catharsis, perhaps the most obvious likely outcome from the book. Catharsis is largely good and healthy in this context. Again, our authors have been candid, [using] words not like “unfortunate” to describe the event, or “tragic errors,” but “sinister plan,” “atrocity,” “murder,” “desecration” lace these pages.
Ironically, although I think catharsis may be culturally very health for the LDS community … many in the LDS community, especially of a young generation, people in their 20s – many people have not heard of the Mountain Meadows massacre. Many people have, but have distanced themselves. Many people have, and carry a distant, vague guilt about it, or excuse themselves from it under the notion that “men will be punished for their own sins” … “I wasn’t there; what can I do about it?” And others – if people’s last name is Lee or Haight a number of other names … people for many decades … were steered away from marrying into such families. …
I’m going to suggest that this book will be cathartic – painful, but cathartic – but I’d also like to warn that catharsis can in some situations be too thorough. It can make people neglect important truths that the authors embrace: That is, we humans, including LDS humans … are capable of evil. Puritans in the 17th century were, the German nation in the 1930s was, contemporary American soldiers guarding prisoners at prisons in Cuba and elsewhere, are capable.
I won’t recount the recipe that’s been thoughtfully treated already … But Voltaire observed long ago that if one could be made – if people could be made to believe absurdities, they can be made to commit atrocities. There is such a thing as a healthy discomfort, and if we Americans remembered that more, we who should be grateful and proud of so much – but if we forget … we can put ourselves in a position, say, of launching preemptive war, strictly forbidden in Mormon scripture.
The massacre itself reminds us that Mormons are humans. This may have occurred to some of you previously. But I mean three things in particular:
One, I’ve already said … under certain conditions, Latter-day Saints, like other human beings, are capable not merely of mistakes, not merely of sins, but of evil. This is a notion more amply explored in Protestant and Catholic than LDS thought.
Secondly, Brigham Young was human too. I’m not attempting to adjudicate [between Bagley and Walker-Turley-Leonard] … In any event, Brigham Young did, under the pressure of war, against the people he led only 10 years previously into exile … he did issue orders to this effect concerning smaller circumstances: Don’t start the violence, but if aggression comes … don’t leave witnesses to tell tales abroad and further attract the unjust wrath of the nations upon us. … [Referring to the earlier military fraternization with women], a livid Brigham Young offered a blunt warning …: “Continued fraternization can carry dire, perhaps even lethal, consequences.” Such rhetoric naturally affected the attitude of his devoted followers … Brigham Young was a human. It was a difficult situation of war, and the pressure of war, so I’m not construing myself as in a position to judge him. But those are difficult words that need careful thought.
Finally, the massacre and the occasion of this book about the massacre, church sponsored as it was, may present to the Latter-day Saints and to otter religious folks the options of a different paradigm as to how they construe their faith. … The church is not only divine … Instead, in this inverted paradigm, one might think of the church as consisting entirely of human beings, with all that that can entail, who can try to respond to the divine with which they believe they and their mission have been touched. …
Another implication of the book is that there are proper limits to authority and regard for authority and obedience and faith. LDS culture and teaching emphasizes obedience, obviously; it’s emphasized as the first law of heaven … More faith is always good, and more than most cultures they have elevated notions of authority, extremely high. I’d like to suggest that there is nothing virtuous about blind obedience, or blind faith. Terrorists of all sorts have plenty of that. Proper obedience and proper faith requires thought A thoughtful faith is better than blind faith. All humans – all humans, secular or religious, rely on sources of knowledge, although few humans are very deliberate about it. Secularists … [believe their faith is reason] although often it’s the prestige of some authority figure … [using evolution and intelligent design as examples] Few can articulate the evidence for their argument; they’re often relying on the prestige of the Bible or the majority who espouse those principles. Religious understanding may rest primarily on reason or scripture or living leaders … or councils or tradition, or intuition … Usually even if unconsciously, it’s a combination of several …
In the case of the Latter-day Saints, there’s an extraordinarily deep reliance on the authority of contemp religious authorities, on the notion of personal revelation, and on scripture… [which] demonstrates the need to be aware of the limits of the authority that one gives oneself over to.
Our authors specifically point to the danger of theocracy where all power is concentrated in single or few hands. There may be a time to say no. There may be a time to question absolute notions of authority, and Mormon doctrine teaches as much when it alludes in passages in the Doctrine & Covenants to unrighteous dominion leading to “amen to the priesthood” of these people.
21st century saints are not apt to be called upon … to participate in killing … [but there are] other issues in the contemporary [world] where the private sensibilities of some believers is in tension with some church policies … [citing examples: blacks and the priesthood, polygamy, same-sex marriage]. So those aren’t blood and guts sorts of issues, but they are issues.
Let me conclude by saying that the fact that this book has been published means that time has passed. We are in an era in which the flowering of Mormon studies and the existence of the internet renders it impossible for any institution to entirely fence its history … The publication of the book also means that Mormon culture has reached a place of enhanced maturity and confidence … better able to see, as Juanita Brooks insisted more than half a century ago, that “nothing but the truth is good enough for the church of which I am a member.” The church will not be undercut … for coming to terms with this … for willingness to point to the culpability of its own people rather than to the convenient … [distortions].
Some writers, such as sensationalist author Jon Krakauer want to suggest that violence is the … [very definition of Mormonism]. Others would construe the massacre entirely as a distortion of Mormon principles. I think it is indeed a distortion … but I think, too, that there indeed is a recessive gene in Mormonism that tends toward the violent. Most saints will not be aware that the scars and wounds from the violent clashes … [of the] 19th century … [include such things as references to temple oaths].
Unlike Fawn Brody, who published No Man Knows My History, … Juanita Brooks remained loyal … She wrote of the Mountain Meadow massacre under different circumstances … but she wrote with the notion, as I said, that nothing less than the truth is good enough … In 1979 she was featured on a documentary on KSL television, and in one scene she haltingly reports that she was disfellowshipped from the church for writing her book, published in 1950. That’s not literally true … [no court was convened], but she spoke, as her biographer casts it persuasively: “Her tongue spoke what her heart felt.” … Now in 2008 we find ourselves able to read a book, an institutional book as well as a tri-authored book, that candidly subjects [the church] to criticism and scholarly exchanges … [and that] tries to face that episode. That’s an act of courage. We’ve come a long way baby. Thank you.
(At about this point, a police officer came in and insisted that another man leave the audience; nobody seems to understand why, because he had not been making a visible or audible disturbance. Not that that’s important, but you-all oughta have the flavor of the evening as much as possible, no?)
I want to begin by saying I am not Paiute. I’m Shawnee, and a Creek, and …
I also I am not Mormon, but I am Southern Baptist …
[I apologize to readers and to Professor Fixico, but I was unable to transcribe his speech. There was something about his cadence and soft intonation – not that his diction was not absolutely clear; it was – that kept me from falling into the natural rhythm I need in order to transcribe verbatim. This is especially unfortunate, because his remarks were among the most novel of the evening. Unfortunately, I can give you only scattered phrases and a general impression of his points.
He complimented the authors and the book, using words like “monument” and “role model for scholarship” and “pivotal.” A pivotal book causes change, “it causes people to change in their way of thinking, and to address other questions, and that’s what this book does.”
He said that “American Indians are not really a part of the main story, but they’re a part of the story. He addressed four points: 1. perspective; 2. raising questions and leading to thought; 3. treatment of native peoples and their role; and 4. relationships.
“This book does something that I don’t see a lot of western scholarship doing when Indians are involved. We should be involved. The biggest question for me in looking at the west is, “Where are the Indians?” He said that contemporary treatment of Indians is that they are always in the past: he, as an Indian, can go into a museum and look at a display relating to Indians, and the museum-goer next to him can say something about how it’s too bad that all the Indians are gone now. By contrast, Massacre at Mountain Meadows brings Native American history to center stage.
“This book makes American Indians a part of the story.” It enumerates the several roles of the American Indian in history: “as victims, victors, losers in war, mercenaries, partners in civilization, and pawns used for imperialism.”
It points out two “presences” for native peoples: It makes them present in an actual physical way; there were Indians present at the massacre site. But it also speaks to the fear and paranoia of whites concerning their dread of Indian attacks on wagon trains, and so makes Indians present in a metaphysical way.
He said that there were 36 stereotypes of the American Indian, and only six of them were good. Those stereotypes are present in this book, in the way the Mormons and the other whites thought of Indians.
19th century Mormons and Indians shared more than land: Both were vulnerable to the westward expansion of American society. Indians had felt the effects of this expansion for some time; the Mormons felt it when they saw the expansion coming, the military coming, American culture coming to dissolve what they had built in the west.
When Brigham Young approached the Indians, he intended to do good for them. But by doing so, he put the Mormons in a precarious situation: he put Mormons in some no-man’s-land middle ground between Indians and the United States. Brigham Young believed he understood alliances, including alliances with Indians, and he sought Indian alliances, and cultivated those alliances on their (the Indians’) terms. In some ways, this put Mormons under the power of the Indians. But the relationship between Indians and Mormons was always precarious. Fixico does not think that the Indians really were all that trustful of the Mormons – they were skeptical and distrustful of all relationships with non-Indians, and all relationships with other groups of Indians.
“This book makes us think from a different perspective.”
I’d like to begin by thanking these three notable scholars for their comments … I suppose every author hopes to be read, and there is a certain expectation and hope that people will not only read but that they will understand. For many authors like myself there is a great deal of humility in approaching a book that has been read by three scholars… [such as these; he thanked them]
As Dr. Faragher has reminded us, the United States could be a violent place, as we put it. And as he put it, that statement was very understated, underestimated. That’s the theme he felt we should have developed more. … One of the constraining factors … was the page counts … and so there was a temptation to which we gave way over and over again to write at length about some of these topics … [then had to cut them mercilessly] … We could only touch the tips of the iceberg as we walked across this ocean, with the hope that others would come later and develop for us many of these important themes. What was especially gratifying to me … was how many of these themes they were able to identify … [Speaking to grad students or doctoral candidates wondering what to write about:] If you are searching for a thesis… you’ve heard several this evening. …
I like Dr. Faragher’s reference to “ordinary men.” … It was our intention that [this] book create discomfort. If we look at the Mountain Meadow massacre from a distance, or a pedestal of righteous indignation, we miss much of the meaning of the massacre. These people who carried out the massacre, if we think of them somehow as being categorically different from ourselves, become strangers … And yet the history of violence suggests that … [there is a short distance between “ordinary” and “violent,” which they want us to understand. We like our criminals to be so different from us that we can rest easy and say we are not like them.]… People who commit crimes look different from ourselves. They are so different from ourselves that we don’t need to worry about our own proclivity towards violence. We hope that readers of this book will shorten that distance … and recognize that all human beings, unless they check a natural tendency… may give way to violence under certain circumstances.
Dr. Faragher also raised the point about Mormon rhetoric and its influence on the Mountain Meadow massacre. This is an extremely important point. Violence does not happen in a vacuum. The Mountain Meadow massacre occurred … [against the] backdrop of the Utah War and the Mormon Reformation, and it’s very important for us to recognize that, because in this distance between peacefulness and violence, there is a spectrum … [The progression] from vilifying … to language that’s often used to characterize the “other” in the discourse of war. And it’s only a short distance from the discourse … to war itself. …
I also found it very interesting that Dr. Faragher would talk about the importance of having more information about the place of the Mountain Meadows massacre in the history of frontier violence … We tried not to look at it as just an anomalous event … We need far more work to be done on this … How did violence in Utah compare to violence elsewhere? … He referred to the phrase often used by people who are attempting the murder of native peoples or even their genocide: “nits will make lice.” It’s the same term that was used at Haun’s Mill. … You can see here it’s not a huge distance from the language to the act.
Dr. Barlow’s remarks about the impact of this book on Mormon historiography I found quite interesting. … What does this book mean for Mormon studies? … What we hoped as we set forth … [that] this is, in our opinion, … this is the most difficult subject in Mormon history. And our feeling was that if we could confront this topic face to face and in a straightforward manner, with all of its horror … [and] gore, then people who write about Mormon history would feel able to confront virtually any topic … Our hope is that in fact this book will not only give way to a number of books and articles … but will also help to generate good scholarship on other difficult points of Mormon history. …
[Dr. Barlow] reminded us that the book can create pain that leads that leads to catharsis, but we need to have caution that this catharsis doesn’t become too thorough … If we forget that point, … we will have missed one of the main points of the book …
Sufficient time has now passed that we can enjoy this flowering of Mormon studies …
Dr. Fixico talked about the Mountain Meadows massacre and this book in terms of native peoples and native perspectives. I want to make it a particular point, that the Paiutes, who from the very beginning were intended as scapegoats for what happened at Mountain Meadows, have suffered under a burden that needs to be relieved. I don’t mean to get too personal here, and for those who may be listening or recognize the circumstances I’m describing I don’t intend to be offensive. I have sat with groups in southern Utah who continue to insist that the burden for this should be on the Paiute people. I tell them to give that up; it was your ancestors who were the principal aggressors in this event. [applause] You need to relieve them of a burden under which they have suffered now for a century and a half.
As Dr. Fixico talked about the 1,642 wars and skirmishes that have been carried out against native peoples, I thought to myself how many other crimes have been committed against Indian peoples. In the case of Mountain Meadows, an effort [has been made] to vilify them, an effort to saddle them with a crime committed, principally by these white southern Utah men.
And then I’ve thought about other events in Utah history that need further attention. some attention has been given in the last several years to the Bear River massacre. But for the Paiute people in particular, the Circleville massacre is a topic that needs greater attention and greater candor. … To me, another tragedy of the Mountain Meadows massacre as it relates to native peoples was that, as Dr. Fixico pointed out, these people in southern Utah had been sent to befriend the Paiutes and to live among them. A relationship of trust was established, and that trust was violated in the Mountain Meadows massacre.
Now the anthropological literature is full of statements about whether the conversion to Mormonism of some of these Paiute peoples were nominal, or more than nominal. I’m not here to discuss that topic, but I will say this: Some of those people who became the victims of this scapegoating were at least nominally Mormons. And so what you had here was a case in which some people had developed a relationship of trust … [and] foisted upon … their fellow church members the blame … That’s an abuse of authority that needs to be recognized.
Finally, I want to say that a book of this nature could not have bene completed without the help of many, many people … [he offered thanks to many categories of helpers].
[I will] conclude with gratitude to these people, and to our panelists for being willing to grapple with what I think is the most difficult topic in Utah or Mormon history.
[applause, and a call from the moderator for thanks to all]
[the Q&A format explained again]
Q to Richard Turley: [Do you see any correlation between the Mountain Meadows massacre and the 1856 handcart disaster? group think, blind faith, etc.?]
Richard Turley: I think what you had is both comparable and different from what happens at Mountain Meadows. Yes, there was group think … [they] pushed forward in spite of signs of disaster … The fundamental difference is in the degree of conscious pushing towards disaster in the case of the Willie and Martin handcart people, [who] were unrealistically hopeful; they pushed on in spite of signs to the contrary. In the case of the Mountain Meadows massacre, they were making decision after decision after decision, and ultimately they had to make a decision, a conscious decision, to destroy people’s lives. That conscious decision, I think, is the difference.
Q, for all four: [Is this Mountain Meadows massacre an anomalous occurrence, or is it reflective of general trends in the region – not in terms of violence necessarily, but in mentality?]
[Nobody offers to answer; lengthy pause.]
Phil Barlow: I’m not inclined to the notion that any historic event was bound to happen, but it certainly was a tinderbox that could have happened with ignition, and a series of sparks that our authors described.
Richard Turley: In the literature about violence, there is considerable discussion about the failure of people to stand up at important events in the cycle of mass killing and try to stop it. With the Mountain Meadows massacre, there were several junctures at which someone could have stopped what happened, clear up to the final massacre itself. But no one did. That’s one of the most frightening elements of group violence that many human beings are susceptible to.
It’s easy to step back, to say “I wouldn’t have done it.” It’s important for all of us to examine ourselves and say, is that capability in us?
John Mack Faragher: I would certainly agree with both, although I also disagree. Every event is unique. We see how contingency plays a dramatic role, and the presence and absence of certain individuals and events determines the outcomes. On the other hand, there is the commonality of pattern. And so I would go back to these points: the ease with which Americans of the mid-19th century talked about exterminating each other. This is really quite 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, I think, is extremely revealing and very disturbing that it was available to people who found themselves victimized [and in turn victimized others].
There is also the common pattern of events in the middle of the 19th century. [He explained why homicide rates are important – there is a body lying there that gets noticed in those cases, which leaves a mark on written history, while other events of, say, domestic violence do not]. In the middle of the 19th century in the United STates, the homicide rates varied from 20 or 30 per 100,000 to 400, 500, 600, 700 per hundred thousand. Today it’s 6 per 100,000. This was a murderous time. It’s not only Mountain Meadows where the massacres are taking place. The Mountain Meadows massacre is one such event of many dozens of such events.
Donald Fixico: Violence indeed. If something could happen again like that – something already happened very similarly – in which violence and deceit and deliberate planning [played a role] that native people have suffered: The Battle at Horseshoe Bend, where Andrew Jackson used Creeks against Creeks, [then turned against his Creek allies and moved them beyond the borders of the United States, as was also done with the Cherokees] We don’t carry $20 bills in our billfolds! [He also related the history of Geronimo, who was held captive for 21 years, the longest term any American prisoner of war has been held, and also related how the Apache scouts who were used to capture Geronimo were then arrested and imprisoned after they were no longer useful.]
Q, to Rick Turley: [You’ve had had good access up to the First Presidency vault. How much access would you give to someone like Will Bagley and others? How far does this access reach?]
Rick Turley: All the materials that we have used for our book and all the materials that we have gathered are available to anyone who wants to come in and use them.
Will Bagley, calling from balcony: Even me!
Forrest Cuch: [head of the Utah state bureau of Indian affairs; I do not know its precise name] [Rather than ask a question, he made a speech repeatedly faulting Walker-Turley-Leonard for “not giving enough credence” to the testimony borne by living Paiutes that their ancestors had no role in the Mountain Meadows massacre. He referred to the authors’ “terrible disservice to the Indian people” and complained about the text on the book flap referring to the Paiutes as the militia’s “allies.”]
Rick Turley: With input from Forrest Cuch we have changed the book flap. If you have a later edition, it no longer uses the word “allies” … I did do oral histories down at tribal headquarters with a number of Paiutes. I gave each of them the option of whether they wanted to allow me to use that material [he gave them a release form]. Most did not give me a release form. We launched a website today [as referred to in the back matter of the book] … I would love to put those Paiute living oral histories up on our website so people can hear directly from Paiute voices, if I can get permissions from the people to do it.
Q, for Dr. Fixico: [This seems to be an inversion of racist violence against Indians: the whites seemed to gain courage int heir evil deeds by imagining themselves as savage Paiutes capable of massacring whites in a way that whites could not do themselves. Are there other instances of whites using the racist savagery to give themselves courage to attack other whites?]
Donald Fixico: War and violence takes on a character on its own. … The amount of violence that occurs becomes a psychological war, almost mass apathy. When soldiers attack – even when Indians attack – the leadership has to be strong enough so that when they stop, they will stop, or it keeps going on in a kind of frenzy, when the emotions, especially revenge, is involved. [Illustrated by referring to the example of Geronimo, whose wife and daughters were killed by Mexicans, and his pursuit of revenge]
John Mack Faragher: I think your suggestion of the effect of painting up or making up or imagining the effect that it has in lowering the threshold that may otherwise be there, enforcing a rule of nonviolence between settlers, white people, I think is extremely important. Historically look at the attacks on Mormons in Missouri. Almost every account of these attacks describes the attackers having painted their faces, painted them black, or red. The murderers of Joseph Smith had painted themselves in black face. …
Donald Fixico: The term “Indian” really carried baggage, and pejorative connotations. The usage of the word “Indian dehumanized native people, made them cardboard fixtures. If you’re “Indian,” you’re less than a human being, so you can be destroyed.
Q, for Rick Turley: [There’s the impression that the leaders gave orders to these men for this atrocity. Did anyone say no?]
Rick Turley: The majority of the militia of Cedar City did not participate in the Mountain Meadows massacre, and there are lots of stories passed down by families to explain that their particular ancestor did not participate. Some of these are fairly elaborate. Some may be true. Others are categorically not. As we’ve been able to triangulate the idea, some of these “non-participants” did in fact participate. The fact that some percentage did not may suggest that some refused. From the trial, we know of at least an example of one who didn’t participate. But whether the lack of particpation was because they had enough to carry out the deed or because of refusal is difficult to tell at this juncture. It is true from our study of the participants that the bulk would fit into the category of the leadership of the local militia, officers for the most part. Not all. A disproportionate number of militia leaders participated.
Q, for all: [A somewhat disjointed question asking what role Christianity played, given its far bloodier history than any other religion, including Islam]
Phil Barlow: Did I understand your question to assert that non-Christian religions like Islam did not have a history of violence paralleling Christianity’s?
Q: Correct. Christianity is the bloodiest.
Phil Barlow: I understood the question to be, “Are there elements within the Christian religion or tradition that would lend themselves to this violence expression, because the questioner understands Christian history to be more bloody than others.
I’m not the chief expert, I will defer. I would have some question about the understanding laced into the idea that Christianity has a bloodier history than other religions. That’s a contestable thing.
John Mack Faragher: I’m not prepared to answer.
Donald Fixico: That’s above my pay grade.
Phil Barlow: [We would have no difficulty pointing to lots of examples of violence within Christianity – and he cited several – but there is nothing in the earliest Christianity, or the teachings of Jesus Christ, that I would deem intrinsically violent. But Christians, like Mormon Christians, are human, and sometimes violent.]
[and thus endeth the evening, except for a massive book signing by Rick Turley and Ron Walker – I did not see Glen Leonard – in the lobby]
[I really apologize for my coverage of Dr. Fixico's remarks and his responses to questions. He had some fascinating things to say, and my disjointed effort at reporting him does not do him justice at all.]