Just a few years before the Mountain Meadows Massacre was the Willie & Martin Handcart disasters. Will Bagley has some surprising allegations about Brigham Young concerning these disasters.
Will: Brigham Young gets word of this through Franklin D Richards, and goes into Conference–it’s late October by this time. How does he deal with the crisis? He lays it on the bishops. He says, “You guys get stuff and send it up and feed the handcart pioneers and bring them on in.” So the bishops do it, and they do a remarkable job of a rescue effort. But still, hundreds of people die, miserably. It is not a pleasant way to go.
I did a long article on this for the Journal of Mormon History. It’s available on the internet. But I was shocked when I found out what Brigham Young’s priorities were, and what did Brigham Young put ahead of the lives of these people? His steam engine. He was importing through A. O. Smoot, who’s come into the news lately as a slave owner in Utah. But he’s also Brigham Young’s agent and man on the trail. He led a lot of freight trains to Utah with stuff that Brigham Young really wanted, and they included a steam engine. We have no idea what Brigham Young wanted to do with a steam engine. It may have been that he intended to have a steam yacht on the Great Salt Lake. But some of these things are still mysteries.
Will goes on to talk about other things Brigham wanted, besides the steam engine. We’ll talk about how the Mormon Reformation ratcheted up Brigham’s fiery sermons leading to the terrible disaster on September 11, 1857.
Will: But at the same time, they’ve got the Reformation underway. That started in September of 1856. Utah has been through a famine. They’ve had really hard times. The famine breaks in 1857. But in 1856, it’s still very hard times. Brigham Young decides it’s the people’s fault, because it can’t be his fault. It’s everybody else’s fault. This is what the Reformation does, and he assigns, or I think Jedediah Grant decides he’s going to be in charge of it.
GT: See, I always thought Jedediah Grant was kind of the driver behind the Reformation, and Brigham just kind of let him do his thing. Is that right?
Will: That’s how it’s sold, but it’s not what happened. They’d even used reformations earlier in different periods, but he was the face and voice of it. He gets out and he’s baptizing people in creeks in December and dies of pneumonia, probably.
GT: Jedediah Grant.
Will: Yeah, and in the faithful telling of the Reformation, it ramps down, it’s virtually over. But it’s not true. It lasts well into 1857.