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What Did Brigham Know? When Did He Know It? (Part 4 of 4)

While it seems likely that Brigham Young was initially lied to about the Mountain Meadows Massacre, at what point did he learn that Mormons were involved?

Turley: Well, basically Brigham Young knew that he had received a letter from Isaac Haight. Again, this is a story that you’ll see in our book. He knew he had a letter from Isaac Haight midweek in the massacre, basically saying that the immigrants were under attack at the Mountain Meadows. He sent a letter back saying, “Let them go.” Then he got word that they had been attacked and massacred. So, the natural question he would have on his mind when he gets his first visitor from the south is what happened? What happened here?  The story that he got, which we detail in the book, is a story of an all-Indian massacre.

GT: And that was from John D. Lee, correct?

Turley: It was from John D. Lee.  That’s right.

GT: John blamed it all on the Indians.

Turley  Yep. And he does it in such a way that he attempts to foist a burden of guilt on Brigham Young for his Indian policy, which was: get Indians to align with us in the Utah War, to be enemies against the Mericats,[1] the Americans. So, the way John D. Lee told the story led Brigham Young to believe:  “My policy has contributed to spilling the blood of innocent people on Utah soil.”

GT: So you’re saying that when John D. Lee came up to tell Brigham about the massacre, he’s essentially saying, “Brigham, this is your fault, because you’re trying to align with the Indians?”

Turley: Yeah.

GT: That’s interesting.

Turley: It wouldn’t have been that crass, but that’s essentially what he was trying to do.

[1] Mericats was the word Indians used for Americans.

What did he try to do about it?

Turley: By the middle of 1859, he was very convinced that there was disturbing information about members of the church being involved. He was telling them at the time, “Look, if you had something to do with this, you’re not going to be protected. Get yourselves ready to go to trial.”  I think he was very much in hopes that trials would occur. People said that he wanted to have those trials in probate courts that were operated by local bishops. Ultimately, he comes to the conclusion that the best way to resolve this is have it be done in the territorial courts, the federal courts, if you want to call them that. Unfortunately, for the reasons that we described in the book, it didn’t happen, and those are political reasons.

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Richard Turley describes how Brigham Young learned about the massacre.
Richard Turley describes how Brigham Young learned about the massacre.

Don’t miss out other conversations with Richard 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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Federal Investigation into MMM (Part 3 of 4)

When the Fancher-Baker Party did not make it to California, news traveled fast.  Congress asked federal investigators to find out what happened in Mountain Meadows.  Was it an all-Indian attack, or were Mormons involved?

Turley: But the word made it quickly to California and then quickly to the eastern United States. So, people knew that their loved ones were killed or missing in late 1857 and early 1858, so it didn’t take long at all. At that point people in Arkansas, whose relatives were killed began to write to their congressional representatives saying, “We need to do something about this.”  It wasn’t long before officials in Washington were demanding that something occur as well. So, they were sending orders with their people who were headed west with the Utah expedition telling them that they needed to do something about the massacre.

GT:  Okay. So, because, if I remember right, didn’t it take about 10 years before they brought anybody up for trial? Or what was the time frame before they actually brought legal action?

Turley: So the Utah War ended in 1858, and before it ended, there was not anything done. In 1858, when the federal judges arrived, one of the federal judges, John Cradlebaugh, became responsible for that portion of the territory of Utah that included the South.  So in 1859, in March, he convened a court and as part of that court had a grand jury, and he wanted the grand jury at that point to indict those who he felt were responsible for the massacre.

Without spilling a lot of the details of what’s going to be in our second volume, I’ll tell you that that was a complicated event. We explained in there exactly what happens during this trial. By the time you get to the middle of 1859, Church leaders are also concerned about what they’re hearing, and so they want to have some type of judicial proceeding as well. But for reasons, again, that we explain in our book, based on evidence no one’s ever seen before, that doesn’t work out. Then we get to the Civil War. After the Civil War, we get judges back in Utah, who are turning their attention to this crime again. So then in 1874, you finally have your first indictments, and then two trials of John D. Lee: one in 1875, and in 1876.

Check out our conversation….

News of the massacre traveled fast, but the first trial of John D. Lee happened in 1875, following the 1857 massacre.
News of the massacre traveled fast, but the first trial of John D. Lee happened in 1875, following the 1857 massacre.

Don’t forget to see our previous conversations with Richard Turley.

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

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

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Was John D. Lee Most Guilty? (Part 2 of 4)

John D. Lee was the only person convicted (and executed) for the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  Was he the guiltiest?  Richard Turley answers that question, as well as many others.

Turley : Contrary to popular belief, John D. Lee is not the only one who was indicted. A grand jury in September of 1874 indicted nine persons.  The key figures in the massacre were, first Isaac Haight. Isaac Haight was the militia major and also the stake president in Cedar City at the time. He seems to be the linchpin, the person who was at the center who organized the events that lead to the massacre and gave approval for the massacre to occur.

William Dame, who was his military superior, the commander of the militia in southern Utah, he lived in Parowan. He was also a stake president. Then, John D. Lee, who was the person who Isaac Haight brought in to make an initial attack on the immigrants and who was on the ground at the time of the final massacre and helped to massacre people. Then, in addition to those, all told, there were probably at least 50 people, maybe 60 people, who played some kind of role in the massacre at some point. So, it was clearly group violence.  The people who were investigating the massacre and who were trying it, were not necessarily interested in getting all those people into a courtroom. They were interested in trying the leaders. This is not unusual. If you look at group violence across the United States and across the world, often it’s the leaders that that law enforcement officials go after. That was certainly the case here.

Some have said the Fancher Party were insulting Mormons on their way through Utah.  Others have said they were peace-loving people who did not deserve to die.  Likely the truth is somewhere in the middle.  What led the Mormons to become so angry with the Fancher-Baker party?

In those days, many cities in the United States, including cities in Utah, had anti-profanity ordinances. If somebody profaned in public, you can arrest them, and then either imprison them or give them a fine. Isaac Haight, before the company arrives said we’re going to try to get some cattle from these people. Why get cattle? Well, in the event of a siege, they’d have food that they can use to help supply themselves. So, if these people were expressing themselves verbally, they could have used their anti-profanity ordinance as a way of arresting these people and then taking cattle from them as a fine. So, while the exact details are somewhat murky, we probably had something about like that going on. In short, there was nothing that these immigrants did, nothing, that would justify an attack on a single person, let alone a wholesale execution of men, women and children, who had been promised protection under a white flag.

Check out our conversation….

Richard Turley weighs in on whether John D. Lee was most guilty.
Richard Turley weighs in on whether John D. Lee was most guilty.

Check out our previous conversation with Richard!

266: Richard Turley on Saints… & Sinners