are gathered here... to build up the Kingdom of God... to make the wilderness
blossom as the rose... and fill these mountains with cities... My soul
feels hallelujah, it exalts in God, that He has planted this people in
a place that is not desired by the wicked.
It had been ten years since Brigham Young led his Latter-day Saints west. And while the rest of the country wrestled with the question of slavery, he continued to build his Mormon kingdom in the deserts of Utah.
Salt Lake City, with nearly ten thousand residents, was now the second-largest city west of Missouri -- eclipsed only by San Francisco. New colonies stretched for 300 miles along the Wasatch Mountains. The Mormons printed their own currency, drove federal officials out of Utah, and publicly announced that polygamy -- plural marriage -- was part of church doctrine.
Polygamy was mostly meant for important Mormon leaders. Brigham Young himself had 27 wives. Young's chief lieutenant Heber Kimball had 43. Most polygamists had no more than two wives, and four out of five Mormon men had just one. Still, the practice turned many Americans against them.
to polygamy, I charge it to be a crying evil; sapping not only the physical
consitution of the people practicing it... but at the same time perverting
the social virtues, and... morals of its victims.... It is a scarlet whore.
It is a reproach to the Christian civilization; and it deserves to be
In the election of 1856, the brand-new Republican Party ran on a platform opposed to what they called the "twin relics of barbarism:" slavery, and polygamy. The Republicans lost, but the issues would not go away.
Mr. President, I believe that we can supercede the Negro-Mania with the almost universal excitement of an Anti-Mormon Crusade... and the pipings of Abolitionism will hardly be heard amidst the thunders of the storm we shall raise.
when Democrat James Buchanan won the election, to sort of take the heat
off of this building tension over slavery, he did a very remarkable thing
that's only happened a few times in our history; he sent an army out against
citizens of the United States."
In the summer of 1857, twenty-five hundred troops headed toward Utah to reassert federal control.
At the same time the army slowly made its way west, a lone wagon train entered the southern part of Mormon territory. They were settlers mostly, families traveling with small children, on their way to California and a better life. But riding with them were a band of men who called themselves the "Missouri Wildcats," and they were bent on causing trouble for the Latter-day Saints.
They swore and boasted openly... that Buchanan's whole army was coming right behind them, and would kill every God Damn Mormon in Utah.... They had two bulls which they called one "Heber" and the other "Brigham," and whipped 'em through every town, yelling and singing... and blaspheming oaths that would have made your hair stand on end.
On September 7th, 1857, the wagons reached a grassy area called Mountain Meadows. There, some 200 Paiute warriors, encouraged by the Mormons, attacked.
The emigrants drove them back. The Indians settled in for a siege, then asked the Mormons to join them in destroying the common enemy. Elders sent a message to Salt Lake City, asking Brigham Young what they should do. But before his message arrived, the Mormons back at Mountain Meadows resolved to wipe out the wagon train and blame it on the Paiutes.
One of the men ordered to lead the fighting was John D. Lee, a Mormon so loyal that Brigham Young himself had adopted him as a spiritual son. Lee was used to following church orders. He was, as he said, "as clay in the hands of the potter" when it came to carrying out the wishes of his elders. But even he was stunned at what he was now being asked to do.
orders said to decoy the emigrants from their position, and kill all of
them that could talk. This order was in writing.... I read it, and then
dropped it on the ground, saying, "I cannot do this...." I then bowed
myself in prayer before God... and my tortured soul was wrung nearly from
my body by the great suffering.... If I had then had a thousand worlds
to command, I would have given them freely to save that company from death.
In the end, John D. Lee decided to follow orders. On the morning of September 11th he rode out to the besieged wagon train under a flag of truce.
D. Lee and some others came to them and said, 'Throw down your arms, we've
got the Indians under control, you come out with us, and you'll be safe.'
And they were reluctant to do it, but they finally did. And as they marched
out, the order was given, 'Do your duty.'"
The Mormons opened fire, each man assigned to shoot the emigrant walking next to him. Lee's task was to kill the sick and wounded riding in a wagon in front of the others. Then the Paiutes swept in and finished off the rest.
In less than half an hour, 120 people had been butchered at Mountain Meadows. Only seventeen children were spared, thought too young ever to tell the horrible story. They were later adopted by local Mormon families.
The dead were stripped of their clothing and belongings which the Mormons sold at auction. They were hastily buried in shallow graves -- and soon dug up again by wild animals.
I'm a great grandson of John D. Lee. My middle name is Lee and I've studied
his life and his tragedies. I will always believe that it could only have
happened at that particular moment, that if this wagon train had come
through, as they had before, two weeks earlier, two weeks later, they
might have gone unscathed, so it's almost a Greek tragedy."
Two days after the massacre, Brigham Young's messenger finally arrived at Mountain Meadows with the orders to let the wagon train pass. John D. Lee was chosen to ride to Salt Lake City and tell Brigham Young what had happened. Precisely how much the Mormon leader was told of his people's role in the slaughter is unclear. Publicly, Young blamed it all on the Paiutes.
Meanwhile, winter had stopped Buchanan's army's advance, and the "Mormon War" ended before it really began. In a negotiated settlement the president pardoned Young and his followers for inciting a rebellion, and Young in turn resigned as governor -- but he remained in effective control of his people. The attempt to divert the nation's attention from slavery had failed.
Four years later, Brigham Young stopped at Mountain Meadows. Federal troops, outraged at the massacre, had erected a makeshift monument to those who had been murdered. On it were the words, "Vengeance is mine saith the Lord, and I will repay." Young gazed at it for a time, then ordered the monument torn down. "Vengeance is mine," he muttered, "and I have taken a little."
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