Just another old case of American terrorism

The burial site for the victims of the Mountain Meadows massacre has been discovered. That massacre was one of the heinous crimes of the 19th century: the Mormons ambushed and slaughtered a wagon train passing through Utah, killing about 120 people, and taking away a few children under 8 years old. It was very Biblical. To add cowardice and racism to their crime, the Mormons also tried to pin the blame on Indians.

It’s odd to me how the weight of history can add resonance to a location, and how so many of us are oblivious to it.

Bassett said he’s surprised that the burial sites weren’t discovered before now because the Army records are very accurate. The burial site for the women and children is within sight of Utah Highway 18, he said.

“Truckers were driving by honking at me,” Bassett said. “The location where the women and children were massacred is right in the middle of the highway, to some extent.”

Near where I grew up, in Auburn, Washington, there is a monument to the victims of an Indian massacre, by which I mean some white people were killed in conflict with local natives. It’s located along a busy highway, near the local airport, and I used to bicycle out that way, and the monument was a convenient resting place. I’d also think about how different the area had been 125 years before — it was a paradise for the natives, with rich forests and rivers full of fish, and here a few scattered strangers had settled, building cabins and farming, claiming the land for their own, and a few times tensions erupted into violence. The white victims got memorials and monuments. I always wondered where the monuments to the Indians were — in that conflict, a heck of a lot more of the natives died than the invading strangers, and of course, when I looked around on my bike ride, I saw teeming swarms of white people and no Indians at all. Where were they? Buried somewhere, no doubt, and their descendants confined to reservations, but they don’t get markers commemorating their destruction by people of European descent.

So I’m reading along, thinking sad thoughts about the past, and then I hit this statement and my brain got all confused.

“I know it’s stressful not knowing where your ancestors are buried,” he said. “Maybe if we can put this to rest by knowing where they are, it might create a balm to heal some of these wounds.”

Wait. I don’t know where most of my ancestors were buried at all, and I can’t say that I was at all concerned about them. The ones I knew, sure, I could probably even lead you to the spot on a hillside in Kent, Washington where their bones are decaying. And I’d rather you didn’t dig them up and wave them around in front of me, because that would just stir up personal memories of grief and loss. But the ones I didn’t know, that no one living has memory of now? Respect the fact of their past existence, but their bones have no capacity to make anyone grieve now.

I know that attitude is somewhat in contradiction to the unsettling observation of trucks now roaring past sites of old pain and death, heedlessly. We are always looking for an emotional acknowledgment of the burden of our history, even while we may see it as a pointless exercise, intellectually. Being human is a tangle.

But the other jarring side of that comment about it being “stressful not knowing where your ancestors are buried” is this: it seems to refer specifically to white ancestors. We need to know where and how dead white people from 150 years ago were buried, and we take it for granted that officials damned sure better treat those bone fragments with honor.

But once again, I have to consider the other side. Do we similarly take it for granted that Indian remains should be repatriated? My brain says there is no reasonable personal connection between old bones and living people, and if we can learn new knowledge by studying them, we should keep them in museums where they can be useful. But my brain also says an appreciation of and feeling for the humanity of history is important, too, and that we lose something important when we replace a sense of reverence with a pair of calipers and a DNA sequencer.

Still tangled. I don’t think I can ever be untangled.


  1. busterggi says

    While I wouldn’t want my parents or grandparents dug up for fun I’d gladly have it done for scientific research.

  2. Johnny Vector says

    “How we treat our dead is part of what makes us different than those did the slaughtering.”
    –Shepherd Book

  3. says

    I hope this doesn’t derail things, but the history of America’s native peoples is a good example of the silliness of the “We need guns to defend ourselves from tyranny!” idea. Their armed resistance wasn’t enough, because they where outnumbered and fought an enemy with more resources.

    For that matter the victims of the Mountains Meadow Massacre were armed. Sure didn’t do them much good.

  4. Big Boppa says

    The massacre at Mountain Meadows has been part of my family lore for as long as I can remember. My grandmother had a couple of relatives who were among the 17 surviving children (she called them her uncles but their mother was actually her great aunt). The older one apparently had some memory of seeing his mother killed and he was kind of an emotional wreck his whole life. The younger was an infant when it happened so he escaped having first hand memories of it. The US government recovered the boys from the Mormons a couple of years after the massacre and returned them to their grandparents. My great grandfather was named after one of the boys.
    As an adult, I did some research on the subject to see how much of the family history (if any) was embellished bullshit. Turned out to be pretty accurate overall. Gave me an insight into why the older members of the fam considered Mormons to be some kind of Satanic cult.

  5. frog says

    I’m with you. I don’t even know who my ancestors were beyond my great-grandparents, other than “a bunch of peasants in Ireland.” Given how well the Irish kept records, I could probably look them up, but who cares? Their lives would be good and interesting (and perhaps harrowing or triumphant, who knows) stories, I imagine, but have only Butterfly Effect relevance to my life, which is happy and successful by most human standards.

    It is tremendous hypocrisy for people to venerate their ancestors and not the folks whose lives were cut short by those ancestors, and whose descendants continue to suffer as a result.

  6. says

    Ex-mormons discuss the finding of the burial site:


    […]One highlight of the two part story from the SLTrib is the evidence that popped up during the brief time the bones were available for study:

    “Novak’s partial reconstruction of approximately 20 different skulls of Mountain Meadows victims show:

    — At least five adults had gunshot exit wounds in the posterior area of the cranium — a clear indication some were shot while facing their killers.. One victim’s skull displays a close-range bullet entrance wound to the forehead;

    — Women also were shot in the head at close range. A palate of a female victim exhibits possible evidence of gunshot trauma to the face, based on a preliminary examination of broken teeth;

    — At least one youngster, believed to be about 10 to 12 years old, was killed by a gunshot to the top of the head.

    Other findings by Novak from the commingled partial remains of at least 29 individuals

    — a count based on the number of right femurs in the hundreds of pieces of bone recovered from the gravesite — back up the historical record;

    — Five skulls with gunshot entrance wounds in the back of the cranium have no “beveling,” or flaking of bone, on the exterior of the skull. This indicates the victims were executed with the gun barrel pointing directly into the head, not at an angle, and at very close range;

    — Two young adults and three children — one believed to be about 3 years old judging by tooth development — were killed by blunt-force trauma to the head. Although written records recount that children under the age of 8 were spared, historians believe some babes-in-arms were murdered along with their mothers;

    — Virtually all of the “post-cranial” (from the head down) bones displayed extensive carnivore damage, confirming written accounts that bodies were left on the killing field to be gnawed by wolves and coyotes.” […]

  7. says


    But once again, I have to consider the other side. Do we similarly take it for granted that Indian remains should be repatriated?

    You’re dismissing the reasons so many Indian skeletons ended up in museums. We were considered to be animals – filthy savages by some, noble savages by others, graves free to plunder, because why on earth would savages care about that? I’ll let Pura Fé, Soni, and Jennifer speak for me:

    I saw them lying
    stacked high on shelves
    cardboard boxed and labeled
    “skeleton mother holds her [infant] child”
    no blankets no nothing just how-
    I was looking at myself buried alive
    government, research, science, churches
    and museums
    I was looking at myself buried alive
    I am my ancestors
    My mother’s stolen grave
    wipe my face from the right to live on this land
    creation came
    you still take, you still take, you still take, you still take, you still take, you still take, you still take,
    you still take, you still take

    Sterilized women who cannot give birth,
    Strip mine womb of mother earth
    remove my future, leaving no trace to say
    That I’m a non-existent race

    I cannot claim, from where I came
    you hid [hear?] the truth
    no guilt, no shame

    I cannot claim, from where I came
    you hid [hear?] the truth
    no guilt, no shame

    and apologies
    excavation: you call it state property
    [exploitational] living
    how can you justify the greed
    to disguise what it truly genocide?

    I cannot claim, from where I came
    you hid [hear?] the truth
    no guilt, no shame

  8. Big Boppa says

    timgueguen @3

    the victims of the Mountains Meadow Massacre were armed. Sure didn’t do them much good.

    They thought they were safe because the Mormons had given them permission to camp on their land and rest their livestock. It was all a ruse to steal their property and leave no witnesses. They rounded up the people and divided the men from the women and children. The men were taken into a ravine and slaughtered within earshot of their families. The women and older children were killed after the men were all dead.

    The 17 survivors were all children under 7 years old who were given to the same wealthy families who plundered their belongings.

  9. Saad says


    While I wouldn’t want my parents or grandparents dug up for fun I’d gladly have it done for scientific research.

    Reminds me of David Mitchell’s joke on the topic (paraphrased):

    “I don’t care about all the lives it saves. I’m just upset my uncle’s brain is in a jar and not in a ditch!”

  10. says

    Steve Benson writes about his visit to the Mountain Meadows Massacre site before the new discovery.


    […] From the parking lot, a narrow, asphalted footpath snakes up a small hill, with a sign indicating by arrow the direction to a “Mountain Meadows Monument.”

    This sign, as well, makes no mention of a “Massacre.”

    […] The signage indicates that local Mormon settlers, along with native Indians from the area, laid siege to the Fancher party for several days at the Fancher campsite, killing 15 men in that party during that initial period, then negotiating an arrangement with the Fancher party under which the migrants surrendered to the Mormons.

    The informational signage indicates that the Fancher migrants were led out by Mormon escort under a white flag and then, without warning, were shot and killed by their LDS escorts. […]

    The walkway information says that the Massacre occurred during the “so-called Utah War” and that the reasons for the Massacre’s occurrence are not known to this day.

    One of the pathway signs indicates that the Massacre occurred on September 11, 1857. Someone has permanently etched a scratchy line in the metal under the date “September 11.”

    Upon reaching the summit of the hill, one comes upon a granite plaque, several feet in length, upon which are listed in capital letters the names (in some cases, by first name only) and ages of the Massacre’s murder victims. This plaque was erected by descendants of the Mountain Meadows Massacre victims in 1990. […]

    From the hill, one then descends by foot back to the parking lot and follows a vehicular dirt road down to the Mormon-dedicated site, which is also the burial spot for 29 victims of the Massacre. […]

    The memorial site features a large mound of stones, approximately 15 to 20 feet tall, in the center of the fenced-in area. On opposite ends from each other, separated by this rock mound, are two informational stones at the base of the rock pile, on which are etched details, among other memorial-related points, of the eventual dedication of the site by Mormon Church President Gordon B. Hinckley on September 11th, 1999. […]

    After the Mormon attackers duped the Fancher migrants into surrendering, they were escorted by their Mormon murderers several hundred yards away to an area out of sight of the Fancher encampment and, there, brutally massacred. […]

  11. says

    Below is an excerpt from a March 12, 2000 Salt Lake Tribune article, in which we find more evidence that Indians did not massacre the victims, white men did, mormons did.

    In 2000, the Governor of Utah, Mike Leavitt, a descendant of one of the perpetrators of the massacre, did his best to cut Novak’s examination of the bone fragments short.

    […] In her analysis of more than 2,600 bone fragments, Novak found no evidence of knives used to scalp, behead, or cut the throats, as well as no evidence of trauma from arrows. Although the study cannot determine what weapons Paiutes might have used in the Massacre (if they were involved), it brings up the possibility that white men murdered all of the victims, contradicting John D. Lee’s testimony accusing Native Americans of slaughtering the women and children. […]

    The analysis of the remains questioned the accuracy of the historical accounts and stirred up many emotions. After five weeks, Novak’s analysis was cut short by an order from the governor of Utah, Mike Leavitt, that the bones be re-interred in time for the September [1999] anniversary. . . .

    Leavitt, whose grandfather participated in the Massacre, circumvented the law and ordered that the bones be re-interred before the minimum required study was finished because he “did not feel that it was appropriate for the bones to be dissected and studied in a manner that would prolong the discomfort'”. […]

    The quote below is from a Mormon News Room article:

    “I don’t remember when I first heard about the Mountain Meadow Massacre. It was, I think, in a classroom, probably high school level, maybe college, I heard that the terrible atrocity was perpetrated by the Indians in southern Utah.” Dallin Oaks [Oaks is a mormon apostle]

  12. Erp says

    I know that bones at my local university are sometimes uncovered (usually from erosion on a local creek bank). After a check by the local police and the campus archaeologist to determine age, older bones are turned over to representatives of the Muwekma Ohlone people whose ancestors had lived in the area.

  13. Owlmirror says

    A few days ago, PZ asked:

    If the slaughter of the Amalekites wasn’t actually a literal murder of the residents of Canaan, what is it?

    A hypothesis I’ve had in mind for a while is that at least some of that was the result of something like this: there were contemporary massacres at or slightly before the time that the bible was being composed; events similar to the Meadow Mountain Massacre. And some of the participants and/or witnesses were bothered by what they had done or seen. Thus, the bible narratives had the various genocides, massacres, and atrocities added in in order to provide historical rationalization and precedent for the contemporary butchery. In essence, the narratives were created to say something like: The [contemporary] victims were the descendants of bad people. Yahweh commanded the slaughter of those bad people. This is the sort of thing that Yahweh did in the past, and does now as well. You think something bad happened? Cheer up! Yahweh wanted it to happen. It was [long-]delayed payback. It would have been wrong not to have killed them, just like Samuel (or Moses, or Joshua, or Elijah) said.

    Etc, etc.

  14. Owlmirror says

    I do wonder if any of those directly involved in the Mountain Meadow massacre looked to massacres in the bible or the book of Mormon as part of their own process of rationalizing what they had done.

  15. says

    I knew about Mountain Meadows through… ‘Kay I’m not even sure. Certainly read the Krakauer book, some years back, but think I’d heard of it previously. As a (relatively) NRM whose history is to a large degree still kicking around, the Mormons and Smith have always been kinda (darkly) fascinating to me. Oddly, however, I didn’t even realize the grave sites weren’t known. I see from the report the existing monuments weren’t exactly far off, and I knew those existed; maybe this is why?

    I liked the Krakauer book okay, by the way. Kind of thing in which so many people are likely to find something to object to, but it does keep the story interesting, weaves a lot together. Obviously, however, I’m not the sort of audience is likely to take much exception to suggestions some people seem to have found therein that religion in general tends to the toxic (my reaction: yeah, just maybe… and?).

    On the bones of ancestors: I have a vague curiosity about where some of mine are. But I think it’s part of the larger curiosity about where they even lived. As with (I suspect) a lot of people, that’s a pretty confused history in my family. There’s a very few lines were just wealthy and/or prominent enough they’re not so hard to find, but others, yeah, when it’s a mix of poor sharecroppers and the like from across Europe and the British Isles, all we have now are terse notes on which direction they walked out of the forest from, and at a few sparse points, in which office someone wrote it down in whichever registrar.

    Funny thing is: I figure it was probably always a bit like that, for most people. An uncle tells you someone told him his grandmother grew up somewhere near Plymouth; unless you were born with the proverbial silver spoon and someone’s been helpfully inscribing the family tree in the same huge leather bound bible in the family library for the past five years, that’s all you got. People bailing from whichever war or famine may not have a lot of time for genealogy; it’s hard to blame them. And I wonder if it’s probably only against the scary ubiquity of networks and datacentres of the past few decades and the megabits of data you can get on just about any damned question you might want to ask that this even seems so strange.

    Thinking about it, I also figure I wouldn’t be much bothered by people interested in digging them up to work out what pathogens they might have carried during life, or whatever (knowing so damned little, I almost would encourage it). But I figure also that’s a very different context for me than, say, members of North American native cultures who have been treated with such general contempt in this and so many other ways for long centuries, now.

  16. says

    Owlmirror @17, Brigham Young preached the doctrine of “Blood Atonement.” Some people see vestiges of this doctrine in modern-day mormon communities. It shows up in things like the vote in Utah to reinstate firing squads as a method of execution.

    […] there is incontrovertible proof that Brigham Young, the second prophet of the Mormon Church, publicly preached a doctrine called “blood atonement.” […]

    “There are sins that men commit for which they cannot receive forgiveness in this world, or in that which is to come, and if they had their eyes open to see their true condition, they would be perfectly willing to have their blood spilt upon the ground, that the smoke thereof might ascend to heaven as an offering for their sins; and the smoking incense would atone for their sins, whereas, if such is not the case, they will stick to them and remain upon them in the spirit world. […]

    “And further more, I know that there are transgressors, who, if they knew themselves, and the only condition upon which they can obtain forgiveness, would beg of their brethren to shed their blood, that the smoke thereof might ascend to God as an offering to appease the wrath that is kindled against them, and that the law might have its course. […] (Sermon by Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 4, pages 53-54); also published in the Mormon Church’s Deseret News, 1856, page 235) […]

    In other words, the Mountain Meadows Massacre very likely had some connection to blood atonement for the death of Joseph Smith. Brigham Young foisted the fault onto one guy, John D. Lee, but Young probably ordered the massacre.

    An interesting detail: John D. Lee had been “sealed” to Brigham Young, meaning that John D. Lee would continue to serve Young after death, in the mormon Celestial Kingdom. In real life, Lee was a member of Young’s secret “Council of Fifty.” This council often decided which mormon men should die for real or imagined sins, with blood being shed during the killing, and with council members doing or ordering the killing.

    In the book “Confessions of John D. Lee,” Lee wrote:

    In Utah it has been the custom with the Priesthood to make eunuchs of such men as were obnoxious to the leaders. This was done for a double purpose: first, it gave a perfect revenge, and next, it left the poor victim a living example to others of the dangers of disobeying counsel and not living as ordered by the Priesthood. […]

    In Utah it was the favorite revenge of old, worn-out members of the Priesthood, who wanted young women sealed to them, and found that the girl preferred some handsome young man. The old priests generally got the girls, and many a young man was unsexed for refusing to give up his sweetheart at the request of an old and failing, but still sensual apostle or member of the Priesthood. […]

    Details from a more direct connection between the doctrine of blood atonement and the Mountain Meadows Massacre:

    […] “In September 1857 Apostle George A. Smith told a Salt Lake City congregation that Mormons at Parowan in southern Utah ‘wish that their enemies might come and give them a chance to fight and take vengeance for the cruelties that had been inflicted upon us in the States.’ [a reference to persecution of mormons in Illinois, and to the death of Joseph Smith]

    Smith had just returned from southern Utah where he had encouraged such feelings by preaching fiery sermons about resisting the U.S. army and taking vengeance on anti-Mormons. Just days before his talk in Salt Lake City, members of Parowan’s Mormon militia participated in killing 120 men, women, and children in the Mountain Meadows Massacre….

    “Although most accounts claimed that the militia killed only the adult males and let their Indian allies kill the women and children, perpetrator Nephi Johnson later told an LDS apostle that ‘white men did most of the killing.’ Perpetrator George W. Adair also told another apostle that ‘John Higbee gave the order to kill the women and children,’ and Adair ‘saw the women’s and children’s throats cut.’… […]

    “Under such circumstances the Mormon hierarchy bore full responsibility for the violent acts of zealous Mormon[s] who accepted their instructions literally and carried out various forms of blood atonement. […] LDS leaders publicly and privately encouraged Mormons to consider it their religious right to kill antagonistic outsiders, common criminals, LDS apostates, and even faithful Mormons who committed sins […]


  17. Dark Jaguar says

    I could be way off on this, but I seem to recall some documentary years ago that said that the native americans (by which I mean north america since borders weren’t exactly the same back then) had a bustling empire of their own which suffered a cataclysm even before white settlers showed up, complete with a highway system (sans concrete) and major cities (sans modern technology). Had that pre-arrival disease never happened, european settlers would have found themselves setting shore on a fully populated nation with no hope of committing their own atrocities.

  18. blf says

    Dark Jaguar@21, “… no hope of committing their own atrocities.”

    Until they used their Guns, Germs, and Steel. (I highly recommend the book.)

  19. Usernames! (╯°□°)╯︵ ʎuʎbosıɯ says

    native americans … had a bustling empire of their own which suffered a cataclysm even before white settlers showed up, complete with a highway system … and major cities …
    —Dark Jaguar (#21)

    Perhaps you’re thinking of the formation of the Five Nations (by Hiawatha, et. al.), prior to European invasion/occupation? There doesn’t appear to be archaeological evidence for any cities of stone in NorAm comparable to, for example, Tenochtitlan.

    As for roads, it was common to use trees as trailmarkers, because road maintenance on a large scale would be unfeasable.

  20. unclefrogy says

    I am of two minds on the subject. I think that the remains should be studied and as much as possible their history be known. I also think that should be applied to all remains we find not just the ‘settlers” but the natives as well. I would apply the same standard to all remains every where. They all should be subject to as
    thorough a scientific analysis as possible.
    At the same time I think we owe them some kind of reverence and respect as well as their descendants wishes. They are all our relations no matter how distant and as we treat them we treat ourselves.

    Yes they were from a different time and they still committed heinous crimes. I really detest this holly reverence when we sanctify the past and it’s inhabitants.
    They were humans and animals and completely fallible and facing life in all it’s strangeness without any more understanding the we have and subject to all the same emotional pressures we are.
    as I say of two minds.
    uncle frogy

  21. CJO, egregious by any standard says

    A hypothesis I’ve had in mind for a while is that at least some of that was the result of something like this: there were contemporary massacres at or slightly before the time that the bible was being composed; events similar to the Meadow Mountain Massacre. And some of the participants and/or witnesses were bothered by what they had done or seen. Thus, the bible narratives had the various genocides, massacres, and atrocities added in in order to provide historical rationalization and precedent for the contemporary butchery.

    Well, there was already a long tradition in ANE royal propaganda of framing military victories as utter annihilations and dispossessions of the enemy, when we know that ancient warfare rarely took on the aspect of total war. Some sieges were concluded with destruction of the city and massive displacement of people along with many deaths of course, but my point is that if you were an aspiring monarch in that time and place, massive, improbably one-sided total defeats is what you were supposed to be handing out to all who dared oppose your might.

    So I read the Conquest Narratives as legitimization narratives couched in the familiar terms of royal boasting retrojected to a previous era. As this is purely literary/propagandistic, no actual massacres are necessary to explain the texts. Post-exile, returning elites to Judea were concerned to assert two, somewhat contradictory claims: one, that the Tribes of the Hebrews had a unique connection and guarantee to the land west of the Jordan, but, two, that they were distinct from the surrounding Canaanite tribes.

  22. says

    Caine@10 my comment was definitely not intended as a reply to yours, which hadn’t appeared yet when I was typing it. Just another example of why it’s a bad idea to try to write comments while trying to get ready to run out the door. It was intended as a general comment about the post, as the Mountain Meadows Massacre doesn’t sound much different from what ISIS is doing these days.

    There’s no denying that indigenous remains have been treated disrespectfully and irresponsibly by the general scientific and historical community for generations. If there’s still descendants of a people/culture around to ask there’s no excuse for not consulting them on how the remains of their ancestors should be handled. If there’s no one to speak for a set of remains there still needs to be strong consideration for whether they should be examined or not, and how they should be handled afterwards

  23. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    I understand the story and the massacree and all, yet part of me is baffled by digging it up (causing highway delays etc). Trying to be empathetic, yet my emotions tell me, “build a prominent marker to highlight the site, possibly ad a fence around it to delineate the boundaries of it.

  24. microraptor says

    The first time I heard of the Mountain Meadow Massacre, it was from a Mormon girl in my high school.

    Except that according to her, it was something that the US Army did to a group of Mormons.

  25. Pen says

    I don’t know where a single one of my ancestors is buried. All the ones I actually knew have been cremated. I suppose I could find out my ancestors names at least back to the first census, which isn’t that long ago. Realistically, before that, they were worth less than the paper the church records were written on – assuming they were near enough a church to fall under its jurisdiction.

    All that aside, what’s interesting about finding the remains is the historical perspective it might give – and which I’m still missing. So there was a massacre? Was this an isolated event or part of a pattern? When you say a massacre by ‘the Mormons’ does that mean supported by the official Mormon leadership of that time? I suppose the Mormons could have been quite a small group then with ‘everyone’ involved? What motivated them – if pure highway robbery of sorts, one would expect a recurrence… or was there some kind of crisis? Just a few of many questions….

  26. Sili says

    I don’t know where a single one of my ancestors is buried.

    I know my paternal line onto the ninth generation – and they’re all buried in the same place, even if we only have stones from my great-great-grandfather.

    I don’t think this makes me a better person.

  27. Pteryxx says

    Pen #35 –

    So there was a massacre? Was this an isolated event or part of a pattern? When you say a massacre by ‘the Mormons’ does that mean supported by the official Mormon leadership of that time? I suppose the Mormons could have been quite a small group then with ‘everyone’ involved? What motivated them – if pure highway robbery of sorts, one would expect a recurrence… or was there some kind of crisis? Just a few of many questions….

    To start, there’s the first source PZ cites in the OP: (link)

    Exactly why the wagon train was attacked and the people massacred has been debated over the past 158 years.

    Some historians cite hostilities between Mormons and the federal government, saying the wagon train just happened to pass through Utah at a volatile time.

    Others cite the murder of Parley Pratt in Arkansas on May 13, 1857. Pratt was a Mormon apostle and is the great-great-grandfather of former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

    2003 article from Archaeology: (link)

    Since its beginning, the Church of Latter-day Saints (LDS) was at odds with the federal government, its members persecuted for their unorthodox beliefs. Mormonism began in the early nineteenth century with the prophecy of Joseph Smith who wrote the Book of Mormon derived from golden plates he found near a family farm in 1827. From New York, Smith and his followers were continually forced west, their radical theology shunned by each town in which they settled. In 1844, Joseph Smith was killed by an anti-Mormon mob in Illinois, and Brigham Young became the new Prophet. The Mormons finally settled in the Utah territory where they enjoyed autonomous political and religious power. Young was not only in charge of the church, but also of the state when President Millard Fillmore named him territorial governor of Utah in 1850. In the fragile pre-Civil War era, Young openly flaunted secessionist tendencies. In its attempt to develop its own theocratic government, the church often clashed with the federal government, creating a mutual feeling of distrust.

    And this site (1857massacre) collects the reports of news articles at the time, Army captain J. H. Carleton’s formal report, and accounts from the survivors who did remember what had happened to them as small children. Carleton reports being told that Brigham Young authorized the attack on this wagon train:

    Judge Cradlebaugh informed me that about this time Brigham Young , preaching in the tabernacle and speaking of the trouble with the United States, said that up to that moment he had protected emigrants who had passed through the Territory, but now he would turn the Indians loose upon them. It is a singular point worthy of note that this sermon should have been preached just as the rich train had gotten into the valley and was now fairly entrapped; a sermon good, coming from him, as a letter of marque to these land pirates who listened to him as an oracle. The hint thus shrewdly given out was not long in being acted upon.

    From that moment these emigrants, as they journeyed southward, were considered the authorized, if not legal, prey of the inhabitants. All kinds of depredations and extortions were practiced upon them. At Parowan they took some wheat to the mill to be ground. The bishop replied, “Yes, but do you take double toll.” This shows the spirit with which they were treated. These things are now leaking out; but some of those who were then Mormons have renounced their creed, and through them much is learned which, taken in connection with the facts that are known, served to develop the truth. It is said to be a truth that Brigham Young sent letters south, authorizing, if not commanding, that the train should be destroyed.

    Also from that site, a survivor’s account recorded in 1940:

    A lot has been said, both pro and con, about what caused the massacre. It wasn’t just because we had a lot of property the Indians figured was well worth stealing. There were several other things that entered into it.

    In the first place, the members of our party came from a section of the country not far from the district in Missouri and Illinois where the Mormons had been mighty badly treated. If you’ve been reading Mr. Robinson’s articles in The American Weekly , you’ll recall how the Mormons were driven out of Missouri into Illinois , where Joseph Smith, their Prophet and the founder of their religion, and his brother, Hyrum, were assassinated. Then they were driven out of Illinois and, after suffering all sorts of hardships crossing the plains, they finally got themselves established in Utah .

    So, it is only natural that they should feel bitter about anybody who came from anywhere near the part of the country where they had had so much trouble. I’m sure nobody in our party had anything td do with the persecution of the Mormons in Missouri and Illinois, or anything to do with the assassination of Joseph Smith and his brother. But that didn’t make any difference.


    But early in 1857, just before our party set out for California , two Mormons showed up at Wynn’s blacksmith shop and asked him a lot of questions. Then they turned back north, along the same route our party followed a few weeks later, and it certainly looks like those two Mormons found out that we were figuring on passing through Utah on our way to California and told the Danites, or Destroying Angels of the Mormons, to be on the lookout for us, because we were from the same district where Pratt was murdered.

    At any rate, we sure did get a mighty unfriendly reception when we finally did reach Utah . By that time, the Mormons didn’t have much use for anybody who wasn’t a Mormon.

    Off and on, ever since they took over Utah , the Mormons had been bickering with the Federal Government, insisting that they had a right to run everything to suit themselves. It finally got so bad President Buchanan issued an order removing Brigham Young as governor of the territory, and appointing Alfred Cumming to take his place. And just before we landed in Utah , the Mormons heard that Cumming was on his way out, backed up by an army of 2500 men. That made the Mormons mad as hornets, so mad, in fact, that Brigham Young issued a proclamation defying the Federal Government and proclaiming martial law, but the members of our party didn’t know anything about that, and walked right into the hornet’s nest.

    Much more material at the link.

  28. bonzaikitten says

    I’m personally hoping that my family won’t interfere with my plans for whatever can be donated be donated, and the leftovers sent to our new body farm for research*.
    I do understand being tangled though. While it wouldn’t bother me for my ancestors to be dug up, this is something of a culturally specific attitude. I don’t understand, but I sympathise with and certainly agree that the remains of the dead be treated with respect, whether recent or ancient, for the ease of those still living. I also sympathise with (although again, cannot fully appreciate or understand) the cultural importance of the return of artifacts and remains of members of indigenous cultures that have been sent around the world in the *cough* glory days *cough* of the Empire.
    I think it is good to be conflicted like that though — keeps me on my mental toes, and keeps me checking my privilege and empathy levels (I’m still learning!).

    * http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/drawingroom/australias-first-body-farm-aims-to-answer-forensic-questions/6668860