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*Bear River Massacre (Part 9 of 9)

The Mountain Meadows Massacre killed around 100 immigrants from Arkansas in the Utah Territory.  But did you know that a massacre of 2-3 times more Native Americans from the Shoshone Tribe were killed by the U.S. Army just 6 years later?  Historian Will Bagley tells the disturbing details.

Will:  Brig[ham Madsen] said that the greatest achievement of his long career as a historian was to get the references to the Battle of Bear River changed to the Bear River massacre, which is still a controversial question. But it definitely was a massacre.

GT:  Okay, can you give us a thumbnail sketch of the Bear River Massacre?

Will:  Well, it’s another example of the Whites Want Everything. The Shoshones had used Cache Valley, which is absolutely gorgeous, as a refuge for generations.  About 1860, the Mormons start moving into Cache Valley in force. Some of the angrier Shoshones begin stealing cattle and committing a few acts of random violence. But it’s not nearly enough to provoke what happens. The initiating event is that Shoshone raiders attack and kill a bunch of miners on their way to Utah.

Will:  A federal judge swears out a warrant and the commander at Camp Douglas decides to execute it in the middle of winter in late January, and P. Edward Connor, as he called himself, was a Colonel in the California militia. He leads a force of, I think about 150 men north to Bear River, where the Shoshone have a winter camp near several hot springs.  He tries to launch a surprise attack early in the morning. It takes too long. There’s no surprise and it does start as a battle because the Shoshones are entrenched, and they fight back with all their might. Now whether they really expected to be attacked is an open question, because the camp was still full of women. There’s one document where it speculates that the Bear River massacre was staged to get the army out of Utah. If you think of it from Brigham Young’s standpoint, it was a win-win situation. If the Army won, he got rid of the Shoshones, and if the Shoshones won, he got rid of the Army.

Will:  But the Army were professional soldiers, and they did turn the tide of the battle, and they then rioted, and they began slaughtering Indians and women and children. That’s controversial too, but the Shoshone memories of this are devastating and extremely powerful.

GT:  Do we know how many people died in that? I don’t.

Will:  The Army reported 235, and there are Mormon sources that put the number at 500 or 450 or something. But the thing is, the Army had no motivation to underreport the number of Indians they killed, and Connor got promoted to general based on his great victory. So if they’d actually killed 500 people, they probably would have been happy to report that.

GT:  That’s terrible.

Will: It is.

GT:  What year did this occur approximately?

Will:  Early 1863.

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Will Bagley says at least 230 and perhaps up to 500 Shoshone Indians were killed in Bear River Massacre.

Don’t miss our other conversations with Will!

451: Kingdom of the West

450: Trials of Lee/Forgery

449: MMM Cover Up

448: John D. Lee’s Role in Massacre

447: Bagley Critiques Turley

446: Buchanan & George Smith’s Role in MMM

445: Handcart Disasters & Mormon Reformation

444: Will Bagley on Juanita Brooks

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Trials of Lee/Forgery

John D. Lee was convicted in the second trial for his role in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  Will describes what he believes was a deal between prosecutors and the LDS Church.

Will:  Anyway, Sumner Howard, or a member of his team, his assistant goes before Judge Borman, and says, “Judge, I have eaten dirt, and I have rolled around in the dirt, but I’m going to get the job done.” Borman is, of course, a little puzzled by this. But the job at this time is to convict John D. Lee. Howard, in his letter following Lee’s execution, explains “I knew that the only way I would be able to get a conviction was to come to a deal with the Mormons.”  That’s exactly what happens. Essentially, the first thing Borman does is drop the indictment against William Dame. The Church/Brigham Young has put his own attorneys on the defense of William Dame. So, once Dame is essentially turned out of jail, the focus shifts to the next likely candidate who is John D. Lee.

Do you think there was a deal to convict John D. Lee?  We’ll also talk about a forgery connected to the Massacre and why Bagley included it in his book, Blood of the Prophets.

GT  1:42:58  All right, so I want to ask you one more question, and then we can move on to your other book The Whites Want Everything, if we can talk about that, if that’s okay. I was a little bit surprised. I’ve talked with George Throckmorton and Steve Mayfield. George is a big forensic expert. In the appendix to your book, “Blood of the Prophets,” you have included what people have referred to as the Dead Lee Scroll.

Will:  I invented that.

GT:  (Chuckling)  That’s right. I forgot about that. So, there was a plate of lead with like a confession from John D. Lee found in Lee’s Ferry, I believe. You can give us more information on that. George says it’s a forgery, and I was surprised that you had put it in the appendix to your book.  Why did you do that?

Will:  Because it was breaking news. It had just happened. They actually found that Dead Lee Scroll as the Olympics were coming up, also as “Blood of the Prophets” was about to be released. You couldn’t have planned any promo campaign for a book any better than that. At first I thought, “Well, this got to be a forgery.”  Then when I read the text I thought, “It matches up. It’s what Lee feels like.”  He is sick at that time, according to his journal. So I put it in the book. Now, Rick Turley and I went to Page, Arizona, and we went into a National Park Service museum, or maybe, it was either a park service or a BLM Museum.  Rick Turley and I go, along with all the Utah Westerners, we go into the museum at Page, Arizona, that has the Dead Lee Scroll. I’d never seen it. I think Rick had already seen it. But they pull it out, and on the spot, Rick and I have a debate over whether this is an authentic document, wherever it came from, or a forgery. Rick is really on. He’s convinced this is a forgery.

We’ve got some photos of Lee’s Ferry and the Dead Lee Scroll in the video, so be sure to check out our conversation on Youtube….

Will Bagley discusses the Trials of John D. Lee, and the Dead Lee Scroll.

Don’t miss our other conversations with Will!

449: MMM Cover Up (Bagley)

448: John D. Lee’s Role in Massacre

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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MMM Cover Up

It took 18 years to start the first trial of John D. Lee for the atrocities at Mountain Meadows.  Why did it take so long?  Historian Will Bagley believes LDS Church leaders covered up the crime.  How does he come to that conclusion?

Will:  But, what I’m saying is that the event that Wilford Woodruff records is staged, and in Lee’s account, which is of course untrustworthy, Brigham Young tells him, “Don’t even tell Heber about this,” which is a tribute to Heber C. Kimball. But we’re now dealing with the cover up, which begins in 1857, and for my money is still going on.

Will:  But there’s so much of the cover up that I find despicable. For instance, the “investigations.” We have detailed accounts of the conspiracy that was mounted against Mormon leaders to deceive them. These are absurd notions. Who does Brigham Young send down to Southern Utah to investigate what caused the Mountain Meadow’s Massacre? George A. Smith! What better guy!  It would be like send Dick Cheney to investigate what happened in Iraq.

But they actually visit the Meadows and they come up with a likely scapegoat, because at the end of one of Smith’s letters, he says, “And we don’t really know what John D. Lee was up to, but he seems to have been involved in this somehow.” So they already know who they’re going to eventually hang it on. And why did they pick John D. Lee? Because the other two guys are untouchable. The other two guys, senior officers are William Dame and Isaac Haight. Now in the church’s tale, they say, “Well, once Brigham Young realized what was happening in 1870, he excommunicated the main murderers.” No, he didn’t. He didn’t excommunicate Dame. He did excommunicate Haight.

Do you agree there was a cover up?  Check out our conversation….

Will Bagley describes the cover up on the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

Don’t miss our other conversations with Will!

448: John D. Lee’s Role in Massacre

447: Bagley Critiques Turley

446: Buchanan & George Smith’s Role in MMM

445: Handcart Disasters & Mormon Reformation

444: Will Bagleyon Juanita Brooks