on March 6, 2004
I liked Bagley's work as the product of years of effort and the assembly of some new material. However, the book is very weak in the assessment of official documents, probably its greatest defect.
When Blood of the Prophets concludes that the LDS Church reached a "deal" in September 1876 with the Justice Department which would require the government to cease any further investigation of the massacre in exchange for the scapegoating of John D. Lee, Bagley misses two important things. First, he ignores federal case law which would have made any such deal a nullity and unenforceable. A federal prosecutor cannot offer a deal like the one Bagley describes without the approval of a judge or a president.
Second, he ignores official correspondence from 1876 to 1884. In that correspondence, government lawyers express the feeling that it would be wise not to make their investigation public, as it would alert possible suspects. The investigation, in the end, proved ineffectual. Nonetheless, the government pursued it for years. A president, a secretary of war, three attorneys general, several marshals, and a federal judge all weighed in on the prosecutorial effort from 1876 to 1884. A presidential pardon was secretly offered Lee to turn against Brigham Young in 1877 -- months after the date Bagley tells us a deal was made to ignore the prosecution of Brigham Young and others. A reward was offered by the Department of Justice in 1884 for the apprehension of massacre perpetrators who were fugitives.
Bagley's theory of a "deal," however, is the central theme of the book.
There really is, not yet, any definitive treatise on the massacre which adequately handles the official documents.
on January 23, 2004
Recently I've read Jon Krakauer's book which deals partly with the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and Sally Denton's book which focuses entirely on it. Will Bagley's "Blood of the Prophets" is the definitive source, to date (and until the Mormon Church makes all its archives available to scholars), on this shocking, almost incomprehensible event.
I've given it 5 stars because of the throughness of its documentation, but I do believe serious inquirers should consult other sources for a fuller description of the oppression which the Mormons had experienced, culminating in the lynching of Joseph Smith and his brother. Such knowledge makes the Mountain Meadows Massacre of a large wagon train, largely by the Mormons, no less horrifying and no less indefensible, but at least slightly explicable.
As I immersed myself in the bloody events of 1857, I was sadly aware that the willingness of ordinarily decent people to do terrible things in the name of their god is not unique, of course, to some Mormons of the mid-19th century. And it is not unique to Islamic extremists today, as evidenced by Krakauer's book about recent Utah murders-in-the-name-of-god and by the killing of Christians by Christians in Northern Ireland. Religions, which inspire so many good, generous actions, also are the justification used by some people to commit the most terrible acts.
on May 9, 2003
This book may deal chiefly with the Mountain Meadows Massacre, but researchers and scholars will find no better primer on what life in territorial Utah was really like. I've been trying to understand why my great-great-grandfather's first wife left him to elope with a soldier from the Utah Expedition, and this book is the most helpful source I've found.
Bagley undertook this work knowing that the Massacre and its unflagging aftermath cannot be interpreted without a thorough understanding of Brigham Young. In the third chapter, my eyes popped out when I read, "Brigham Young loved his office as governor of Utah and the salary and power that went with it, but he was never comfortable with his role as prophet." This was the preface to a series of staggering insights into Young's inner workings.
On the 200th anniversary of Young's birth, Bagley published a sagacious appreciation of the prophet's career in the Salt Lake Tribune. Let's hope Bagley is gearing up to produce the definitive biography of Young that for over a century has been crying out to be written.
on January 19, 2003
Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows is not for thefaint-hearted, or those who want a popular "read", of this sensational or lurid event of the American West. Rather, it calls mightily to the professional historian and the serious layperson. Its words strike to the heart, and appeal to the gut, of human experience. The author's authentic voice as a great storyteller emerges swiftly in the prologue, "The Mountain Meadow", and continues to inform the book to its end.
Bagley magnificently narrates, interprets, and deconstructs the myth, legend, and lore surrounding the events and subsequent retelling (often false or misinformed) of the massacre. It meets the imperative that good history writing inherits the criteria underpinning good literature. Impeccable, exhaustive research with a clear, fresh narrative and interpretative style makes the book a must read for those truly interested in the tragedy and its subsequent versions of its retelling. All future works must meet the bar that Bagley has set; Blood of the Prophets convinces the objective reader that Brigham Young's words, intent, and actions were clearly revealed on the meadows.
If you truly desire to know the truth about Mountain Meadows, buy this book.
on December 12, 2002
Other reviewers have discussed the subject matter of this book amply and well, so I'll avoid that aspect of the book.
I was (and still am) very interested in the subject matter so I anxiously looked forward to getting my hands on this book. It was obviously very well researched, but contains too much detail that is not essential, and, quite honestly, very boring. This results in reading material that goes on and on and on and on. A true lover of books, I trudged through this morass of words and was able to glean the points that the author was trying to convey. I found myself dreading the book; I didn't want to pick it back up when I set it down. A shorter book that pinpointed the main issues with a more "reasonable" amount of background detail would have been preferable and much more enjoyable. I am a firm believer that good written history should be fun to read, not hard work.
All that said, this is an important book of history. I just cannot justify recommending this book at its current price. Wait until it comes out in paperback to purchase.
on November 27, 2002
On 11 September 1857, a wagon train traveling from Arkansas and headed to California, was ambushed in a valley in Southwestern Utah. The Mountain Meadows Massacre involved the slaughter of 120 men, women, and children, and although the technology of massacres has now far overtaken it, it was one of the worst mass murders in US History. No one disputes these facts, but there is a good deal of dispute about the details. _Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows_ (University of Oklahoma Press) by Will Bagley, who writes for the _Salt Lake Tribune_, gives details, but since the book demonstrates the involvement of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the massacre, it will be a controversial effort. Bagley shows, however, that the church has long campaigned to keep details of the massacre hidden, and he gives documentation that the reason for this is that leaders of the church provoked the killings and members of the church committed them. Even though stories of Mormon complicity in the massacre were present immediately afterwards, and have been demonstrated by historians in this century, the church has continued to deny culpability. The deniers will have to contend with this big, well documented book. It cannot close the issue forever; one of the lessons of Bagley's history is that history itself can never be fully written. This is to the chagrin of Mormon leaders. At a memorial ceremony in 1999, president of the church Gordon B. Hinckley declared that it was "time to leave the entire matter in the hands of God" and ordered: "Let the book of the past be closed." Fat chance.
Bagley knows what he is up against. The fate of the Fancher party's wagon train from Arkansas until its doom can only be reconstructed from problematic reports: "Almost every acknowledged 'fact' about the fate of these murdered people is open to question." However, Bagley has firmly placed the massacre within larger church history. He demonstrates why the Mormon leaders viewed the presence of Arkansans going through the state as an outrage against them. He shows how they were already expecting a showdown by the US Army because of their famous polygamy, their refusal to install a reliable court system, and Brigham Young's tendency to make pronouncements like "I live above the law and so do this people." When the Fancher party passed from Salt Lake City into the impoverished southern Utah, interpreters were available to rally the Indians, and the book gives evidence that Young himself had encouraged the Indians to seize the valuable stock of the well-supplied wagon train. Various church officials of the region organized the Indians, and painted themselves up to look like Indians; this happened without a doubt, though church officials will disagree that it happened to the extent that Bagley has well documented. All, saving some children under seven years old, were slaughtered in separate scenes of bloody chaos. The questions about Brigham Young's involvement before the massacre will always remain, and Bagley shows how the Mormons have argued that their prophet could not have committed any such evil. The evidence he gives here is plain, however.
Bagley not only gives a history of the massacre and its aftermath, but also a history of the histories about it, graciously noting how much he has depended on the work of Mormon historian Juanita Brooks. Bagley has confirmed most of Brooks's findings, and has new material to report. This is not just newly-found fading documents from dusty archives, although there is plenty of that. He can summarize new forensic evidence, from a dig to make a new memorial at the Mountain Meadows site in 1999; the bones, some of women and children, had not been damaged by the clubs or tomahawks of Indians, but by the bullets of Mormons. Bagley's smooth narrative makes fascinating reading, and his well-referenced arguments clear up much of what happened at Mountain Meadows, before, during, and after the massacre. He writes that although there is much obscure in the matter, "Its causes and effects are not an impenetrable mystery." He shows that those who think of themselves as God's anointed have chosen to rely on mystery and have failed to admit or atone for crimes that history has made plain.
on November 9, 2002
As a native Utahan I have always wondered about the strange and mysterious events which occurred and still occur in rural Utah to this day, including the murder of Dr. Allred and the ritualistic crimes of the Laferty brothers. Mr. Bagley has exposed the cultural of violence and revenge which characterized the early Mormon Church from the Nauvoo exodus to the death of Brigham Young. Had the American Civil War not diverted attention away from Utah in the 1860's the LDS Church would have had to answer for in its complicity in the murder of 120 California bound emigrants.
The questions which still need to be answered concern the Farmington Utah meeting between Church Prophet/President Woodruff and a group of faithful Mormons who were directed to hide in the southern Utah wilderness and keep the original church alive including the practice of polygamy, consecration, and blood atonement.
Only when the Mormons openly confront their own history can they separate themselves from the view of Mormon exceptionalism which is the bane to all non Mormons with whom they share the State.
My only critique is with Mr. Bagleys writing style. It is obvious that he is a newspaper columnist. In some places the narrative is choppy and redundant as if the events described were unrelated. Mr. Bagley's greatest strength though is his flawless research. I have purchased many copies of the book so far and sent them as gifts around the country. If Mr. Bagley will write a book about the Church from the death of Brigham Young to Utah statehood it would go a long ways towards resolving the continued questions about the strange events which still occur here.
on October 17, 2002
Juanita Brooks said it first: "Nothing but the truth can be good enough for the Church to which I belong." Will Bagley says it better: "Church leaders might wish until the end of time that the [Mountain Meadows Massacre] matter could be forgotten, but history bears witness that only the truth will lay to rest the ghosts of Mountain Meadows." Bagley, following the tradition of Brooks, has done a yeoman's job in compiling the most complete story of the tragedy of September 11, 1857 to date. And yet, without the Mormon Church accepting responsibility for the role of Brigham Young ... and George A. Smith, the doctrines of blood and vengence begun with Joseph Smith, Jr., and the obedience required under the threat of blood atonement by local church leaders, the story will continue to haunt the lives of Mormons living in southern Utah, and will continue to come up again and again in the work and thinking of thoughtful historians, both in and out of the Church. The only way to give rest to the ghosts of Mountain Meadows is to face the truth. And that the Church has not done.
Bagley is convinced that Brigham Young was more than an accessory after the fact (Brook's official, published opinion), and was in fact partly or wholly responsible for initiating the crime. Unfortunately for Bagley and the rest of history, the so-called "smoking gun" has yet to turn up. To date, no letter signed by Brigham ordering the destruction of the Fancher train has been discovered ... He draws this conclusion from a scanty array of circumstantial evidence, including a vague reference in Dimick Huntington's diary in which he alleges Brigham authorized the southern Paiutes to help themselves to the emigrant's livestock. This "proves" nothing, but it adds to the perception that Young MAY have known, and MAY have ordered or approved of the attack on the train.
If you are looking for verification that the Church's highest leaders can be implicated in this tragic affair, it ain't here. But SO MUCH else is here that the reader feels reasonably confident filling in the gaps on their own, or, in the words of John D. Lee, "putting the saddle on the right horse."
Bagley does a wonderful job in creating the context, both for the Fancher train and the Mormons at the time of the massacre. The reader gains great insight into the power of the prophecy that the Lamanites (Native Americans) would cast off their "curse" and unite with the saints in ushering in the millenium. Thus the Indians were seen as "the battle axe of the Lord," held firmly in the hand of...Brigham Young, Indian Agent for the Territory of Utah. Bagley also paints the picture of the unquestioned obedience required of the saints to...Brigham Young, and his strict belief in the need for "blood atonement" for certain sins, including apostacy, adultery, and no doubt spilling the blood the prophets and apostles, such as Parley Pratt. Pratt, beloved apsostle of the early church was killed by the jealous husband of one of Pratt's wives (yes, you read that right...she was married to two men at the same time, and not the only woman in the church to be polyandrous...) in Arkansas, the home state of the Fancher party. And you are also treated to witness the manipulation of the legal system in Utah to impede, distort, and generally disrupt the prosecution of the men on the field at Mountain Meadows by none other than...Brigham Young. ... But as Bagley points out, for the Church to concede that Brigham or George A. Smith, or other high-ranking "Prophets or Apostles" had any involvement what-so-ever, it must risk shaking the faith of many of it's members who believe these men walk and talk with God daily, and take their orders from him. ...history is seldom written so well!
on October 5, 2002
Will Bagley has chosen to tackle one of the most difficult subjects in Western American History--the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Bagley is to be commended for examining new sources of information, re-examining old sources, and drawing deeper conclusions than in previously written material.
This book challenges Juanita Brook's "Mountain Meadows Massacre" as being the most authoritative book dealing with the subject. Brook's book was well-written and meticulously researched. However, Brooks was too accepting of unsupported statements and failed, perhaps, to reach certain logical conclusions.
For those who are unaware, in 1857, an unfortunate group of pioneers traveling by covered wagon from Arkansas passed through Utah Territory on their way to California. The journey happened to coincide with the murder of LDS Church Apostle, Parley P. Pratt, in Arkansas shortly before. It also occurred at the same time President Buchanan was sending the United States Army to Utah to gain control over the "disloyal" Mormons. In September of 1857, as the pioneers were camped in the Mountain Meadows west of Cedar City they were initially assaulted by a group of Indians (there may have been Mormon settlers dressed as Indians among the group as well). When several days of hard fighting failed to destroy the pioneers, a group of Mormons appeared on the scene and pretended to negotiate a ceasefire with the Indians. As soon as the Arkansas pioneers laid down their guns, they were than slaughtered by a group including both Mormons and Indians. It is estimated 120 people were butchered in this fashion.
Only one man, John D. Lee, was ever tried in a court of law for this crime and that occurred twenty years later after a massive cover-up took place involving church leaders and the whole community in southern Utah. Lee alone paid the penalty for this event. He was executed by firing squad in 1877 for his role in the massacre.
Many haunting questions remain unanswered: 1. How many Mormons were involved in the massacre? 2. Was the massacre the result of action by local church leaders, or a directive from the President of the Church? 3. Why did the church allow the property of the emigrants to be looted by settlers and Indians? 4. Why was there a need to cover-up the details of this incident for so many years afterwards? 5. Why was John D. Lee the only man punished for the crime?
Bagley's answers are more disturbing than anything that has ever been written about the massacre so far. He concludes that the killing of the settlers had to be ordered in some fashion by high church leaders. And, it is difficult to explain away the actions of Apostle George A Smith who left Salt Lake City and rode south at the time to condemn the pioneers in the wagon train, at the same time they arrived in Salt Lake City. It is also difficult to explain away the journal entries of Dimick Huntington which provide support for the theory that church leaders encouraged Indians to attack the pioneers.
Bagley is subject to criticism because much of any account of the massacre is simply "interpretation". Bagley chooses to interpret evidence to blame church leaders. In fact, the evidence may be capable of different interpretations. Perhaps, Bagley doesn't give Brigham Young enough credit for the letter he sent to the Southern Utah communities instructing them to leave the pioneers alone. (which somehow arrived just a day or two too late to prevent he massacre). Also, its difficult to rely on much of anything John D. Lee said. Lee wrote and said many contradictory things about the massacre. Additionally, his statements may have been motivated by a desire to escape criminal responsibility for his acts. Much of the other evidence in the book is both dated and circumstantial.
However, if there is a conclusion that can be drawn from the book it is this. The true and complete story of the massacre has never been told. Obviously, there is much more to it than has ever been explained. That the church participated in a coverup of the events cannot be denied. And, one has to ask why, if no one "higher up" had any culpability for what occurred.
Will Bagley is to be applauded for tackling a difficult subject and having the courage to reach the conclusions that he has. Perhaps, his book will result in more thoughtful research and inquiry into this subject.
on September 5, 2002
This book should be read by anyone interested in Western Americana and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Bagley has performed yeoman service with his treatment of the tragedy at Mountain Meadows. His research has opened important opportunities for objective evaluation. Important new material includes, among other sources, both Brigham Young's encouragement to the Paiutes to attack immigrant wagon trains and John Hawley's memoirs of Mormon attitudes immediately after the attack in the southern counties of Utah Territory. Although Hawley denies that he participated in the massacre, the evidence seems credible that two of his brothers were at the scene as was Hawley, no later than the afternoon of the slaughter of the prisoners.
Recent forensic evidence on immigrant remains brings into doubt the charge that the Paiutes killed the majority of women and children, as been stated by various Mormon sources. Point-blank gunshot wounds to bodies of women, children, and infants point to the Mormon militia being far more active in the killings and contradicts their statements they killed only the men and older boys.
Whether Brigham Young actively ordered the wagon train's destruction remains circumstantial. However, his behavior at the time provides a basis for his indictment at the very least on grounds of conspiracy and failure of leadership.
The real question remains: "Would priesthood holders in Southern Utah destroy a wagon train of non-believers without Young's explicit approval?" Any serious student of LDS history knows the answer.