Click Here PBS Frontline-Mountain Meadows Part 1
Click Here PBS Frontline-Mountain Meadows Part 2
In case you are unfamiliar with the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the above videos are the 2 parts produced by PBS Frontline that give an accurate account of what happened in Mountain Meadows.
LDS Church Responds
The LDS church has published an article regarding the tragic event that happened in Mormon history. Although the article is part of the September Ensign in commemoration of the 150th anniversary, the early publication on the website comes as no surprise. I think the timing of the publication on the website is in response to the Living Hope Ministries publication, the PBS Frontline Documentary that dedicated a large portion (that can be viewed here) to the event as well as the upcoming movie "September Dawn".
"On September 11, 1857, some 50 to 60 local militiamen in southern Utah, aided by American Indian allies, massacred about 120 emigrants who were traveling by wagon to California. The horrific crime, which spared only 17 children age six and under, occurred in a highland valley called the Mountain Meadows, roughly 35 miles southwest of Cedar City. The victims, most of them from Arkansas, were on their way to California with dreams of a bright future"
I remember being taught a brief lesson about the Mountain Meadows massacre in seminary. I was taught that the incident was initiated by a small group of renegade apostates that were not affiliated with the mainstream church. However, my seminary teacher was lying to me, whether he knew it or not. Dallin H. Oaks has made the first public admission that members of the church including local leaders were behind this terrible event. However, in the same interview, Dallin H. Oaks also said that it is wrong to criticize leaders of the church, even if the criticism is true. So if the members at the time questioned the massacre, would they be in the wrong?
"As is true with any historical episode, comprehending the events of September 11, 1857, requires understanding the conditions of the time"
As stated in the article, it is important to understand the conditions of the time to better comprehend what lead to that atrocity, so I will talk about a few key events that lead up to the massacre.
Events that led up to the atrocity
It is important to point out that Parley P. Pratt, a member of the quorum of the 12 apostles(and happens to be Mitt Romney's great-great grandfather) was killed in Arkansas in 1857, the same year as the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Since the Fancher party was from Arkansas, there were rumors that some of the people from the Fancher party were responsible for Pratt's death, even though those rumors were unfounded.
It is even more important to point out exactly why Parley P. Pratt was killed in Arkansas. A woman by the name of Eleanor McLean had converted to the Mormon church, but her husband did not. Elanor McLean left her husband and married Parley P. Pratt in a polygamist marriage. However, Elanor was still legally married to Hector McLean, her original husband, because they never got divorced. When Parley P. Pratt went to Arkansas in 1857 on a preaching mission, Elanor's legal husband killed him because he felt that Parley had taken her away from him.
So Parley P. Pratt was killed by a jealous husband of one of Pratt's plural wives, who was still legally married to Hector in Arkansas. The Fancher party had absolutely nothing to do with the assassination of Pratt, but because they were also from Arkansas, rumors had flied around that members of the party were responsible for Pratt's death. I think it is reasonable to say that Pratt's death could have influenced the tragedy at Mountain Meadows. In the minds of the Mormons at the time, they were in a way avenging the death of their apostle.
Other events that led to the Mountain Meadows massacre included the United States government breathing down their necks. I think that Mormons at the time had a frame of mind that America was the enemy.
Lessons Learned from Mountain Meadows
I think the Mountain Meadows massacre demonstrates the danger that exists when you have an organization that claims divine authority. To say that it is wrong to criticize the leaders of the church even if the criticism is true is exactly the mindset that led to this horrible atrocity. The people that participated in the murders and execution of innocent people were devout Mormon leaders and followers that did what their church leaders told them to do.
The LDS church had publicly denied involvement in the Mountain Meadows Massacre for 150 years. However, now 150 years later, they are making the position that it is in the past and behind us. The big hypocrisy in the LDS church is that they claim to embrace and celebrate the past, but only the history that paints the church in a good light. It is good to learn about the past, but only the past that has been re-written by the LDS church. However, regarding the "little flicks of history" that don't paint the church in a good light, they say "let the book of the past be closed".
Couple that with Dallin H. Oaks comments that Mormons, including local leaders of the church were the prime movers in the Mountain Meadows Massacre and participated in the killing, and yet it is wrong to criticise the leaders of the church even if the criticism is true.