Welcome to the Read Rinaldo Blog. Over the next several weeks this site will analyze different people involved in the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857. This week, RANK AND FILE MORMON ASSASSINS.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon) began in rural New York, moved to Kirtland, Ohio, then to Nauvoo, Illinois before stopping in Utah Territory. The LDS experienced a great deal of persecution at each location before settling in the distant and unpopulated Utah Territory. The persecution in Illinois included gunfights between locals and the Mormon Militia, eventually named Avenging Angels or Danites. The Mormons stockpiled weapons for these encounters. Having to guess at the cause of these fights from what I know about humans, I suspect the locals and the Mormons share fault for reaching this level of violence. Prophet Joseph Smith, LDS originator and leader, died when a mob of gentiles lynched him (Mormons define gentiles as non-Mormons). Brigham Young filled the void atop the LDS hierarchy and moved the Church to Utah.
During Brigham's leadership, approximately 150 Arkansans were slaughtered during a four day siege of their encampment in 1857. Eerily, though the siege lasted from September 7th to September 11th, nearly all of the emigrants died on September 11th. This ranked as the most deadly killing of Americans by Americans outside of the Civil War until the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Local Mormons allegedly committed this atrocity. In 1999 two men digging with a backhoe unearthed bones at Mountain Meadows. Forensic scientists flocked to the area to quickly study the remains. Within days Governor Mike Leavitt ordered the bones reburied. Interestingly, Mike Leavitt is allegedly a direct descendant of one of the killers at Mountain Meadows in 1857. Mormons consider lineage of vital importance, and one's ancestry is something a faithful Mormon would definitely know. Please note that despite Mormons blaming local Paiute Indians for the killings, the scientists definitively concluded that every death they could account for happened with bullets, something the Paiute tribes in the area did not possess. Science, the limited federal investigation in the years following the massacre, and the surviving historical record irrefutably declares that Mormons killed these travelers. In 2007 the LDS officially expressed regret that the local Mormons participated in the massacre, but failed to admit sanctioning these murders.
RANK AND FILE MORMON ASSASSINS
A few names of the Mormon leadership who orchestrated the massacre at Mountain Meadows have survived from 1857 to the present, but what about the rank and file Mormons involved in the killings? They faithfully served their church by killing approximately 150 people they had never even met. In fact, the wagon trains made the Utah Territory survivable for the frontier inhabitants. The wagon trains brought frying pans, ammunition, guns, metal knives, hatchets, and all the other items a person living on the frontier couldn't manufacture themselves. The people of the wagon trains traded these industrialized goods for perishable items such as flour, corn, bread, etc. This barter economy benefited both parties. So why would these Mormon frontiersmen kill this wagon train?
The Mormons living along the wagon trail had to know word of this massacre would eventually reach the East, causing all traffic on this path to California to cease. This massacre verged on suicide.
Mormons during this period had followed Joseph Smith and later Brigham Young from New York state, to Ohio, to the Illinois-Missouri border before settling in the Utah Territory. They had been attacked and reviled at every stop. Their belief in Joseph Smith as God's one true prophet and plural marriage had separated them from the typical citizen. Joseph Smith preached that the gentiles who persecuted Mormons (defined by him as anyone not Mormon) represented all gentiles. After Joseph Smith was arrested and murdered by a gentile mob, Brigham Young's claims of being persecuted by not only individual gentiles but the government sounded all too true to the faithful.
Imagine the faith of these men to follow Brigham Young, after Joseph Smith's lynching, from the Midwest to Utah Territory. Utah offered nothing but barren land. The Mormons had to build everything from scratch. If you wanted a house for your family, you needed to help the six families with men of higher rank in the church build their houses first so they might help you later. No doubt several families shared the first house until others were built. The residents in those first few years most likely considered all food communal knowing they might have prairie dog to eat today, but tomorrow they wouldn't and the Jones's would.
This interwoven faith/community meant sticking together. If the person representing the path to heaven named Brigham Young told you to kill a wagon train full of friendly strangers, you did it. If the fight lasted longer than expected, you stayed and fought, in this case a four-day siege ending in a fictitious truce that required you to shoot either an unarmed man, woman, or child. These low-ranking Mormons had tremendous faith in their church, its leader Brigham Young, and one another. Too bad these mindless soldiers used their power for murdering fellow Americans who were searching for a better life just like them.