“The most difficult of all the many subjects”

That is what B.H. Roberts called it when he reached the point in his monumental Comprehensive History of the Church where he had to confront the Mountain Meadows massacre, which occurred 150 years ago today.

“Here, in these chapters dealing with the calamitous events of the period of 1851-7, may as well be considered that event which is the most lamentable episode in Utah history, and in the history of the church. I refer to the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The writer recognizes it as the most difficult of all the many subjects with which he has to deal in this History. Difficult because it is well-nigh impossible to sift out the absolute truth of the matter from the mass of conflicting statements made by witnesses and near witnesses of the affair; and equally difficult to reconcile the differences of contending partisans.” (B.H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1930], 4:139)

Despite his sincere attempts to “sift out the absolute truth,” Roberts’s account is deeply flawed in its details, as we now know through the long and careful efforts of other historians, beginning with Juanita Brooks and continuing through Richard E. Turley, whose account appears in the current Ensign.

Debatable facts aside — “the differences of contending partisans” aside — the indisputable fact remains that today is the 150th anniversary of a “most lamentable episode,” when an estimated 120 persons died at the hands of Mormon settlers of southern Utah.

In commemoration of those who died that day, and those who suffered the guilt of their involvement, and the descendants of both groups who struggle to understand why it happened, and who suffer the sting of unjust accusations as to their motives for participation in the public discussion — Please share your thoughts, in a commemorative and reflective vein, perhaps taking your cue from Elder Eyring’s statement on behalf of the Church, made during today’s commemorative exercises at Mountain Meadows, found here.

(This thread is not intended for trolls, or to assign blame, or to debate unsettled factual details, or to discuss the merits/demerits of September Dawn. Please keep this commemorative thread courteous and kindly.)

18 comments for ““The most difficult of all the many subjects”

  1. In his reflection on remembering violence and wrongdoing, _The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World_, Yale theologian Miroslav Volf argues that one of the first steps toward complete healing is accepting the moral responsibility to remember truthfully. In fact, to remember any other way is to not remember at all.

    I would add to Volf’s argument the symbolic power of publicly remembering the truth, which we have witnessed today. Much of what Elder Eyring said has been expressed by President Hinckley and other church leaders in other contexts, but today is different, today is special. I am grateful to be a Latter-day Saint today.

  2. I always have viewed the MMM as a tragic, cautionary warning about how we should react when we perceive a threat – with careful consideration, a forgiving heart and without malice. It makes the Sermon on the Mount come alive for me in a way that most events simply can’t, given what I have been able to learn about the general goodness, sincerity, dedication and Christian outlook of those who participated – and suffered until their dying days for that participation.

    May God have mercy on their souls – just as I pray He has mercy on ours whenever we succumb to the same temptation in less extreme ways.

  3. “Today is different, today is special. I am grateful to be a Latter-day Saint today.”


    I was touched not only by Elder Eyring’s apology to the descendants of the victims, but also his “separate expression of regret [offered to] the Paiute people, ‘who have unjustly borne for too long the principal blame for what occurred during the massacre.’”

  4. I’m grateful for Elder Eyring and his comments. I’m also grateful to be a Latter-day Saint. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a bit harder today than on most days.

  5. The whole conflation of grief on September 11 is rough on me, I’ll admit. Elder Eyring’s goodness makes it a little easier, and I’m quite grateful to him for his comments.

    We recently found out one of my husband’s ancestors participated in the massacre and adopted a surviving child until the child was reclaimed by the gov’t/relatives. I can’t fathom killing and hating someone’s parents and then adopting their child and, I hope, loving him as your own.

  6. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

    “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

    “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

    For me, Mountain Meadows is heartbreaking not only for the loss of life, but also for the perpetrators’ apparent loss of faith in the principle quoted above. I hope we as a people will never forget our duty to love, bless, do good, and pray for those we perceive as hating, using, or persecuting us.

  7. Andrew, I have been struck by that passage as it relates to the MMM and to the World Trade Center bombing – and the way we in the Church might tend to separate them. I have a fairly easy time praying for those who carried out the MMM (and their families to this day), because I share a faith with them and can read of their otherwise righteous efforts and their lifetime grief and suffering. As we prayed for the victims of 9/11/01 and their families, I wonder how many of us thought to pray sincerely for those who had perpetrated that attack – not having the advantage of seeing why they became what they became and not sharing a faith we can use to “understand” their terrible action.

    fwiw, if they had to happen, I am glad that these two terrible things happened on the same day, if only to remind us (Mormons) that we shouldn’t seek to understand our own while simultaneously refusing to seek to understand those who are “only” our own in spirit.

  8. Today (9/11) is my mother’s birthday. The attacks on New York and Washington put a pall over her enjoyment of her birthday for the remainder of her life. For that reason, I have a very personal difficulty with understanding the suicide terrorists that perpetrated that attack. What I do understand is that there is a world of difference in the emotional states of people who believe that dying while killing the infidel will guarantee them entry into a hedonistic heaven on one hand. Compared with the state of people who had been literally chased half way across a continent by people who were trying to kill them with one degree of zeal or another. I don’t approve of the actions of the Militia and it’s leaders. I think that those who were punished should have been. Still in the final weighing, I think that there will be a difference between frightened people who felt that their backs were against the wall and others who killed in an attempt to gain glory.

  9. My wife and I first learned of MMM last year. We were both disturbed by the event. Understanding what happened and why it happened is complex. I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand it. All I know is that I am sad for those that were the victims of this event. I am also sad for those who instigated the event, for they had surely slipped a long way from our Heavenly Father to do such a thing.

  10. A nice cut-‘n’-paste (…sorry) from Richard Turley (director of the Church’s Family and Church History Department)’s opinion piece in the St. George Spectrum from http://www.thespectrum.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070911/OPINION/709110319 :

    The discussion has at times been halting and emotional. But in the past, it was often nonexistent. Though healing takes time, continuing the dialogue offers hope for understanding among those who may approach the subject from divergent points of view. …[B]e tolerant of others’ viewpoints. A failure to respect other human beings led to the massacre. The recent and welcome discussion about the massacre has at times threatened to devolve into acrimony. Being tolerant does not mean quashing all emotion. The killing of 120 people and the untold suffering of the survivors is a highly emotional matter. So is the burden carried by the descendants of those whose ancestors perpetrated the massacre and those who were blamed for it unfairly. But it is possible to voice opinions and express emotion in an attitude of respect for both the living and the dead.

  11. My wifes GGgrandmother was married to JD Lee at the time of the massacre. Within a year of the event she left him. Family lore suggests that she was disgusted by his role in MMM and found him repugnant after she learned about the deaths of the women and children at MMM.

  12. I have been reading B.H.’s ‘Comprehensive History’ for the past few weeks and it just so happened that I came to the chapter in vol. 4 on the massacre yesterday. Readint it was fulfilling; I was glad for the candor B.H. applied with the information at his hands. As Elder Eyring said, over time we continue to learn more, and it still saddens us sometimes. I wish this could be laid to rest, but I surmise more statements from the church will be expected in the future.

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