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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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Brigham Knew About MMM?

There is dispute among historians about Brigham Young’s knowledge about the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  Is it true Brigham knew in Sept 1857?  Did John D. Lee tell him the truth about the massacre?

Mel: Well, Brigham Young argued that he didn’t know the story for a long time after. I agree with Will Bagley and others that John D. Lee did not lie to Young and that Jacob Hamblin told him the truth within two weeks. Hamblin is reciting second hand what the killers had told him.

GT:  Because I know Barbara said that John D. Lee went up, I want to say September 29 to Salt Lake to talk to Brigham and Barbara says that John D. Lee lied and blamed it on the Indians.

Mel:  That has been one of the standards of protection for President Young for a very long time, that John D. Lee lied.

GT:  Okay, so you’re saying that Will Bagley believes that John D. Lee told Brigham the truth right from the get go?

Mel: And I do, too.

GT:  You do, too.

Mel:  And some other historians do. Jacob Hamblin was up there within 10 or 11 days. And I can imagine…

GT : Well, Jacob wasn’t part of the massacre.

Mel : No, he was not.  He would be repeating what he heard second hand. But everybody lived in everybody’s hip pocket down there. You know, we have this idea that Dixie is this vast place, which it is, that takes forever for people and information to travel. No. On horseback from what is now Panguitch, or say, Circleville, the fort there is no more than a two-day travel down to Santa Clara. Native Americans, Mormons, other whites, Mexicans, and what they know are moving through this area all the time. It’s fluid, it’s constant.

Historian Mel Johnson tells us what he thinks, and discusses pioneer John Hawley’s possible involvement, and his vocal disagreement, with the massacre.

Mel:  Medical forensics work showed that there were a number of pistol holes in the skeletons and skulls of men, women and children. The only two revolvers that I can find in the Iron County Militia Musters: men who owned revolvers that were thought to be at the killing fields was Indian missionary Ira Hatch and John Pierce Hawley.

Check out our conversation….

Historian Mel Johnson believes John D. Lee told Brigham Young the truth about the Mountain Meadows massacre. (Others think Lee lied.)

Don’t miss other other conversations with Mel!

279: Hawley’s Opposition to MMM

278: Mormon Pioneers in Texas & End of Wightites

277: More on the Zodiac Temple in Texas

276: Lyman Wight & Mormon Colonies in Texas

275: Intro to Hawley