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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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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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Was Jane a Slave? (Part 1 of 5)

Dr. Quincy Newell is the first non-Mormon scholar we’ve had on Gospel Tangents.  Of course, I had to ask why she was interested in Mormon history in the first place!

GT:  I think one of the things that’s most perplexing to me, and I think to my listeners as well, you’re not Mormon!

Quincy:  No, I’m not.

GT:  Why in the world are you studying Mormonism?

Quincy:  I am interested in religion in the American West, and Mormons are a huge part of that story.  I’m also interested in the experiences of religious and racial ethnic minorities. So thinking about sort of how those different factors in identity intersect and how they shape people’s lives. So that’s why I got into the study of Mormonism.

Dr. Newell has just come out with a book on early black Mormon pioneer Jane Manning James.  It’s called “Your Sister in the Gospel,” and is published by Oxford University Press.  I was curious about Jane’s relationship to slavery.

Quincy:  Jane was not a slave. She was very particular in making sure that everybody knew that. She was born free in Connecticut, in about 1820. Her mother had been enslaved, and she said that her maternal grandmother had been brought from Africa as an enslaved woman as well. So Jane certainly had slavery in her background. She knew about it. She experienced it. She knew people who had been enslaved. But she herself was not enslaved at any point. That’s a status symbol, I think, for her. So she was very particular in making sure that people who knew her, people who heard about her, knew that she was not enslaved, and that was important to her.

GT:  But her mother was a slave. How did that work?  I think there was a law or something that you were emancipated a certain age or something. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Quincy: Yes, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to get all the details right off the top of my head. But Connecticut passed a set of laws that basically instituted a kind of gradual emancipation.  I don’t remember the year in which they were passed, but Jane’s grandmother was too old, and was never emancipated. The legislature in Connecticut decided they didn’t want owners of slaves to dump their aged slaves on the public trust and make the public responsible for maintaining them. So they remained enslaved for the rest of their lives. But there was a date that anybody born after that date was to be emancipated by, I think, their 25th birthday, something like that. So Jane’s mother was eligible for that emancipation, and for that reason, she probably was emancipated in around 1810 or so. Jane was born about 10 years later, so she was born free. But she certainly knew relatives who would have remained enslaved for the rest of their lives.

We will get more acquainted with both Jane and Quincy in our next conversation.  Check it out!

Dr. Quincy Newell of Hamilton College has published a biography of black Mormon pioneer Jane Manning James.

Don’t miss our previous conversations about Jane with Margaret Young!

002:  Combating Racism

001: “Is There No Blessing for me?