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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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After the Killing (Part 5 of 6)

The day after approximately 100 immigrants from Arkansas were killed, Mormon leaders in Iron County got together to discuss how to explain the deaths.  Barbara Jones Brown tells how leaders dealt with Brigham Young’s message to leave the immigrants alone, and how they decided to blame the Indians for the atrocity.

Barbara:  On the day after the massacre Haight and Dame arrive at the Mountain Meadows to see what’s happened, what’s been done. Lee and Klingensmith are already there because they were major participants in the killings, in the atrocity. They come and then Lee talks about watching Haight and Dame argue over who’s to blame for this as they see the horrible, butchering, just the horrible, butchered bodies lying all across the meadows, including all of the women and children. Dame says, “We have to report this.”

And Haight says, “How? As an Indian massacre?”

And Dame says, ” I’m not sure I would report it just as that, because Dame knows he’s ordered out the Iron County militiamen to do this.

Isaac [Haight] says, “You have to report it as an Indian massacre or you’ll implicate yourself.”

Dame says, “Isaac, I didn’t think there were so many of them. You told me that most of them were already dead, that there were just a few more witnesses that had to be killed.”

Haight yells at him and says, “If you blame this whole thing on me, I will follow you to hell to make sure you pay for it,” basically. So there’s just this horrible argument going on the day after. So, Lee gets back to Fort Harmony and starts bragging to his congregation about what he’s done. He’s proud of it.

A letter from Brigham Young arrives on September 13th, two days later. It arrives in Cedar City telling Isaac Haight, “The Indians will do as they please, but you must not meddle with the immigrants. If those who are there will go, let them go in peace.”

Isaac Haight receives that letter and says, “Too late, too late.” So he forwards that message to Harmony and also to Washington. The same thing happened in Washington. The militiamen returned to Washington and they’re bragging about what they’ve done. They’re proud of it, until that message arrives, that Brigham Young had said, “No. Let them go in peace.”

So Haight calls Lee to him in Cedar City and says, “We’re in a muddle.” He says, “You need to go report this to Brigham Young and take as much of the blame for it as you can.”

So Lee says, “Why don’t you just tell him you’re the [leader.]”

He [Haight] says, “Well, you could tell him better than I.”

So he sends Lee north to report the massacre to Brigham Young.

And so the blame game begins.  Check out our conversation….

What Happened after the Killing at Mountain Meadows?
What Happened after the Killing at Mountain Meadows?

Don’t miss our other conversations with Barbara!

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)