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Handcart Disasters & Mormon Reformation (Part 2 of 9)

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.

Check out our conversation, and don’t miss our previous conversation with Will!

Will Bagley tells about a touch decade in Mormon history with handcart disaster, Mormon Reformation, and MMM.

444: Will Bagley on Juanita Brooks

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Will Bagley on Juanita Brooks (Part 1 of 9)

163 years ago this month a terrible massacre occurred in southern Utah: the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  Juanita Brooks was the first LDS scholar to examine the massacre, and her book published in 1957 set the standard for Mormon scholarship.  In our next conversation with Will Bagley, we’ll get acquainted with him, and he will give his impressions of Brooks’ famous work.

Will:  That takes me to my next subject, which is how much I admire and respect Juanita Brooks. When I began working full time on the Mountain Meadows Massacre in 1995, the first thing I did was read the second edition, but this is the first edition of her Mountain Meadows Massacre. She did a minor update, which I’ve got around here, someplace, in 1970.  I don’t agree with everything Juanita Brooks concluded, but I can’t help but recognize her courage and her dedication to the truth.

It was courageous book. She worked within very narrow confines but did an absolutely beautiful job. I want to read a quote… It’s not very long, but it’s absolutely the essential documents and everything that had emerged that Juanita Brooks found in her long life, because she was 52 when the book came out, and she came to four basic conclusions. The first one was, while Brigham Young and George A. Smith, the Church authorities chiefly responsible, did not specifically order the massacre, they did preach sermons and set up social conditions which made it possible. Now to me, that is assigning who holds the moral responsibility for the worst event to ever happen in Utah, outside of a couple of massacres of Indians. I think that pretty well defines who deserves to be held accountable.

Do you agree?  Check out our conversation as we get more acquainted with Will.

Juanita Brooks groundbreaking book, “Mountain Meadows Massacre” was published in 1957 & was the first scholarly treatment of the disaster.

Don’t miss our other conversations with Richard Turley & Barbara Jones Brown.

Richard Turley – Prosecuting the Cold Case:  MMM

Richard Turley is Managing Director of Public Affairs for LDS Church and author of 4 books on Mountain Meadows Massacre
Richard Turley is Managing Director of Public Affairs for LDS Church and author of 4 books on Mountain Meadows Massacre

269: What Did Brigham Know, & When Did He Know It? (Turley)

268: Federal Investigation into MMM (Turley)

267: Was John D. Lee Most Guilty? (Turley)

266: Richard Turley on Saints… & Sinners (Turley)

Barbara Jones Brown on MMM

Barbara Jones-Brown is Executive Director of Mormon History Association.
Barbara Jones Brown is Executive Director of Mormon History Association.

261: Who Bears Responsibility for MMM? (Jones Brown)

260: After the Killing (Jones Brown)

259: Cattle Rustling Turns Deadly (Jones Brown)

258: Tackling Myths of Mountain Meadows (Jones Brown)

257: Revenge for Haun’s Mill & Pratt’s Murder? (Jones Brown)

256: Utah War & Mountain Meadows Massacre (Jones Brown)

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Mark Hofmann’s Role in Mormon History (Part 4 of 5)

John Larsen of the Sunstone and I discussed some critics of Mormonism. The most notorious is probably Mark Hofmann, who is a murderer and forger of Mormon documents.  We discussed some of Rick’s past interviews and knowledge Rick has learned in talking to people who knew or prosecuted Mark Hofmann.

John:  I mean, Hofmann is a murderer, and a criminal. But geez, that man was brilliant.

Rick:  He was brilliant.  He’s got horrible handwriting, too.

John:  We still don’t know because, you can push back, because the church wanted it to go away. So the church got involved. There’s a lot of people who’ve accused this. I’m not the one making this up. The church got involved. They wanted to cut a deal. They cut a deal with Hofmann, that if he pled guilty, he wouldn’t get the death penalty. He got a blanket pass that he wouldn’t have to talk to anybody else. So he didn’t have to answer…

Rick:  Well, that’s not exactly true. There was a deal cut and if you want to get into all the details, watch my George Throckmorton interview, because we talked about that. Also, Sandra was very angry that a deal was made because she’s like, “I think we could have got the death penalty on him.” I don’t know if people know this, but he tried to put out a hit on the Director of the Board of Pardons.

John:  Oh, I didn’t know that.

Rick:  Yeah, while he was in jail, because he should be out of jail by now. He will never leave jail.

Rick:  But yeah, so Mark was supposed to spill the beans and he never did, due to–anyway. George talks about it. There were some mistakes done in the prosecution, and they should have had him tell the stuff before they’d cut the deal and they didn’t. So then he had no incentive to talk after that. A lot of the stuff that he was supposed to tell he never told.

John:  I would invite everybody go out there and read one of the true crime books. The one I liked was one by Sillitoe.

Rick:  Yeah, that’s the best–that’s one of the best ones.

John:  I think it’s called Salamander.

We will talk about other details of the Hofmann saga, and discuss other Mormon critics.  Check out our conversation….

Mark Hofmann killed 2 people and is serving a life sentence.

Don’t miss our previous conversations!

415:  Learning from Mormon Cousins

414:  LDS Leaders and Historical Issues

413:  Intro to Gospel Tangents