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John D. Lee’s Role in Massacre (Part 5 of 9)

John D. Lee was the only person convicted in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  Historian Will Bagley tells the awful details of the tragedy.

GT:  Okay, so the first attack occurs on September 7. Basically, the Fancher party literally circle the wagons, and then they dig in because they’re trying to defend themselves.

Will:  Yes, and they’re fighting back a lot harder than the clowns from Iron County who attacked them, including John D. Lee, who was put in charge of actually running the operation. It’s one blunder after another, and these people are tough. These are frontiers people from the south.

Will:  [Lee] cooks up the story saying that he needs to divide them into three parties, the wounded and the youngest children, the women and the older children, and the men and he will put an armed guard at the side of every man. So the Indians don’t spring out of the bushes and kill everybody. Now, this is all fairly suspect, but what does Lee also do? He gives these Arkansans Masonic handshakes which are…

GT:  A sign of protection.

Will:  A sign. Masons do not betray other Masons, but John D. Lee did without a thought, and the Arkansas agreed to this.

GT:  Because by now they’re running out of ammunition. They’re out of water.

Will:  There’s no water. They’ve been shooting at them anytime they try to get to water. It’s a complete total mess. But what follows is very arguably the most horrible incident in the history of the American West, where white people kill white people. That’s the basic story of what Mountain Meadows is, and why it horrifies the rest of the United States so much, and why it gets the Mormons in such deep trouble.

Check out our conversation….

Will Bagley describes John D. Lee’s role in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

Check out our previous conversations with historian Will Bagley.

447: Bagley Critiques Turley

446: Buchanan & George Smith’s Role in MMM

445: Handcart Disasters & Mormon Reformation

444: Will Bagleyon Juanita Brooks

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Bagley Critiques Turley (Part 4 of 9)

Following Will Bagley’s 2002 release of Blood of the Prophets, Richard Turley published Massacre at Mountain Meadows in 2008, as well as some collected legal records in 2017. I asked historian Will Bagley his impression of Turley’s work, and was surprised by his reaction.

GT:  Should we get your opinion of that book [Massacre at Mountain Meadows]? I’m curious.

Will:  It’s just part of the cover up. It’s just part of the standard story. I went into Bill Slaughter’s office at Church archives. You can look at and you can see all of the old church archives. It was after Blood of the Prophets had come out, and they were saying that they were going to have their book out next year. But I said to Bill, “I think you can throw enough dirt in the air about whether Brigham Young ordered the massacre or not, but you can’t avoid the cover up”.

Will:  The cover up is too damn well-documented, in the most impeccable Mormon sources, as Juanita Brooks said. Bill looks off in the distance and he goes, “We got our story, and we’re sticking to it”, which is the best summary of what the Church’s Mountain Meadows books are going to be about. They got their story, which was cooked up for H. H. Bancroft in the 1870s, and they’re sticking to it. [laughs]

GT:  The story is Brigham Young wasn’t involved.

Will:  [The story is] he would have been horrified at the whole idea. Absolutely, and then he didn’t know about it for 20 years, and when he did know about it, he excommunicated people. No, no, no, simply not true.

But, the thing about the massacre at Mountain Meadows is, when does [Turley’s book] stop? The day after the massacre. It has a coda in which they convict John D. Lee and put all the blame on him. But it’s an act of historical deception, to not address the entire story.

GT:  Well, that’s what part two is supposed to be coming out, which hopefully is next year?

Check out our conversation….

I asked Will Bagley to critique Richard Turley’s books on Mountain Meadows Massacre.

Don’t miss our other conversations with Will!

446: Buchanan & George Smith’s Role in MMM (Bagley)

445: Handcart Disasters & Mormon Reformation (Bagley)

444: Will Bagleyon Juanita Brooks

Here is our earlier conversation with Richard Turley!

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)


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Pres. Buchanan & George Smith’s Role in MMM (Part 3 of 9)

When assigning blame for the Mountain Meadows Massacre, two figures who played a prominent role in raising tensions often don’t get talked about as much as others:  President James Buchanan, and apostle George A. Smith.  Will Bagley tells how these two men created the environment which allowed a massacre to take place at Mountain Meadows.

Will:  Buchanan thought that by extending America, purchasing Cuba and getting most of northern Mexico to open for the slaveocracy, that that could avert the Civil War. The Mormons are just sort of in the way and he’s convinced that if he can get them to move to Mexico, they’ll support his plan to defuse the slave crisis. Now, Brigham Young would have gone to Sonora at the end of the Utah war, but there wasn’t any way to get there.

GT:  So you’re telling me that President Buchanan was trying to kick the Mormons out of Utah and send them to Mexico?

Will:  He’s trying to scare them out.

Did you know that?  We also talk about apostle George A Smith.

Will:  Here we are, it’s early September.  George A. Smith, the old funny potato saint who had starving people at Winter Quarters eat potatoes, he was quite a funny guy and quite beloved. He winds up touring southern Utah and giving hell raising speeches. This is where the widely held belief that there’s hysteria in Utah, war hysteria. Well guess what? There isn’t, and we now have direct evidence that people believe in Brigham Young. They’re completely committed to Brigham Young. Brigham Young says, “We’re going to use up the army. We’re going to completely destroy all these people who are threatening us.”  So being true, believing Latter-day Saints at this time, they’re not worried. It isn’t hysteria that takes over Southern Utah, it’s fanaticism, and who’s down there stoking the fanaticism? George A. Smith.  John D. Lee, in his autobiography, gives a very good account of how he does a mafia. What will happen if…? Smith has him out on the trail up to Mountain Meadows and he says, “What would happen if Indians attacked wagon train here?”

GT:  George Smith says this to John D. Lee?

Will:  Yes, and Lee says, “Well, the Indians would use them up, no doubt.”   He says, “If Brigham Young doesn’t want us to do this, you’d better have him send a message because otherwise, I think I know what you want.”

Check out our conversation….

US Pres Buchanan and Elder George A Smith both increased tensions in Utah leading to the Mountain Meadows Massacre.