Book on Mormon massacre of pioneers generates controversy - and sales
By C.G. WALLACE
Associated Press Writer
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A month after hitting bookstores, debate still rages over a book that blames early Mormon leader Brigham Young for ordering a 19th century wagon train massacre.
But the controversy has done nothing to dampen sales of "Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows." The University of Oklahoma Press sold out of its initial 7,000-book printing and expects to also run out of the next 4,000 in the works, said Caroline Dwyer, assist marketing manager.
It's been almost a century and a half since the group of California-bound pioneers was ambushed and killed by Mormon settlers and their Indian allies. In his new book, author Will Bagley writes that circumstantial evidence suggests Young ordered the killings.
Historians with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are preparing their own book on the Sept. 11, 1857, massacre that will say an isolated community of Mormons acted on their own.
"I would characterize (Bagley's) book as very much written in the tradition of the polar extremes of Mormon historical writing. It's the us-vs.-them affliction," said Brigham Young University history professor Ronald W. Walker, one of the book's co-authors.
At issue is who's telling the truth: the Mormon church, which acknowledges much of the massacre's evidence had initially been covered up, or a historian who has been labeled by critics as anti-Mormon.
"If people confuse an honest presentation of facts with anti-Mormonism, there's nothing I can do about it," Bagley said.
Victims of what's known as the "Mountain Meadows massacre" included women and children, many shot to death at close range.
Brigham Young at the time was the church's prophet and president, its second, and the man who brought the faith's headquarters to the West in 1847 after founder Joseph Smith was murdered in Illinois.
As the ill-fated Arkansas wagon train moved through the Utah territory, the U.S. Army was preparing to squelch Utah's resistance to federal control and its practice of polygamy, Bagley writes. As troops drew closer, Utah became immersed in war hysteria.
In addition, tales were spreading about the death of a Mormon leader, Parley Pratt, in Arkansas. Eventually, rumors grew to link the Arkansas wagon train to the murder, Bagley argues. So Young ordered the killings in a mixture of revenge and a show of force to illustrate his hold on the territory, the author asserts.
"The key to this is how you interpret the evidence, not the evidence itself," said Jan Shipps, a non-Mormon scholar who has written several books about the faith. She compares the debate about the massacre to that surrounding President John F. Kennedy's assassination.
Weber State University history professor Gene Sessions, who also is a Mountain Meadows Association board member, offered a different comparison - to Uncle Tom's Cabin and the way it "inflamed the North against slavery."
"Mainstream Utah historians are not impressed," Sessions said. "He began with the thesis, and set out to prove it."
"The Mountain Meadows massacre has, for many many years, has been a refuge for those uncomfortable with Mormonism," he said.
But for Barbara Hoagland, co-owner of The King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, the book is a needed look at the event.
"I think the church has done a real disservice of trying to cover up some of their history," she said.
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The Church of JEsus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, aKa the Mormon Church, has another testament of JEsus Christ, the Book of Mormon. It is true doctrine about ancient peoples who were warned by God to leave jerusalem and go to the "Promised Land" or America as we know it. The root of those people are from Mennassah and Ephraim as it is said in the Book of MOrmon. That is just something for yout o ponder about, but i know this book is true!