Center My Heart
I feel like a father with a great family of children around me, in a winter storm, and I am looking with calmness, confidence and patience, for the clouds to break and the sun to shine, so that I can run out...and say, “Children, come home....I am ready to kill the fatted calf and make a joyful feast to all who will come and partake.”
For 30 hard years, Brigham Young had attended to every detail of life in Mormon Utah, where he had tried to fashion a distinct society based on communal economics, polygamy, and one-party politics -- all run by the church. But now he felt besieged. Congress was again trying to assert control over Utah with an 1871 law that gave federal courts, not Mormons, jurisdiction over criminal cases.
One of the first actions of the Federal prosecutors was to arrest Young's devoted follower, John D. Lee, and put him on trial for the Mountain Meadows massacre of twenty years before, when more than a hundred men, women and children -- emigrants on their way West from Missouri -- had been slaughtered in cold blood. It had been the darkest event in Mormon history.
D. Lee was one of my great-grandfathers and, until recent times, he was
considered the leader who carried out the Mountain Meadow Massacre. Actually,
he was about third in line in the chain of command of a militia that carried
this out. He later then was sent to southern Utah and kind of out of the
immediate orbit of Brigham Young, but there was a father-son type relationship
between those two men.”
For years, Young tried to protect Lee from capture and prosecution, sending him to exile in the Arizona wilderness, near the Grand Canyon. Prosecutors now offered him money and leniency if he would implicate others in the killings.
is told around for a fact that I could tell great confessions and bring
in Brigham Young and the heads of the church...[But] I will not be the
means of bringing troubles on my people, for...this people is a misrepresented
and cried-down community. [Yes, a people scattered and peeled...] and
if at last they did rise up and shed the blood of their enemies, I won’t
consent to give ’em up.
When Lee's trial began, orders went out that no Mormon should testify. The four Gentiles on the jury found Lee guilty, but all eight Mormons held out for acquittal. Across the nation, the case became a symbol for everything Americans despised about Mormonism. Pressures mounted for the government to strip Brigham Young and the church of their authority in Utah.
“And I think a decision was made, Well, if we sacrifice Lee, maybe the pressures will go away, because at the second trial, the word was sent down to the Mormons that this had to be completed, and that they should vote for conviction. He was singled out as the perpetrator, and the Mormons even put it in their Sunday school lessons -- which bothered my family for a long time -- and he was in effect the scapegoat.”
At Lee's second trial, all the members of the jury were Mormons and all voted to convict. No one else who took part in the massacre was ever brought to trial.
Under Utah law, Lee was allowed to choose whether he wished to be shot, hanged or beheaded. He chose to face a firing squad.
On March 23, 1877, John D. Lee was escorted to the site of the Mountain Meadows massacre, seated on a coffin and photographed. He made arrangements for each of the two wives who remained true to him to get a copy of the picture. Then he spoke to the little crowd that had come to see him die.
have but little to say this morning. Of course I feel that I am upon the
brink of eternity...I feel as calm as a summer morn....I am ready to meet
my Redeemer....I do not believe everything that is now being taught and
practiced by Brigham Young. I do not care who hears it....I studied to
make this man’s will my pleasure for thirty years. See, now, what I have
come to this day! I have been sacrificed in a cowardly, dastardly manner...What
confidence can I have in such a man! I have none, and I don’t think my
Father in heaven has any...
Then, Lee shook hands with his executioners, handed his hat and overcoat to a friend. His last words were to the firing squad: "Center my heart boys," he said. "Don't mangle my body."
Five months later, Brigham Young was on the brink of eternity. For days, surrounded by his huge family, he floated in and out of consciousness. Then, on August 29th, he called out the name of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon faith, and died. Now his followers would have to face the world without him.
Lake City, Utah Territory
Brigham is the article that sells out West with us -- between a Roman cutlass and a beef butcher knife, the thing to cut up a deer or cut down an enemy every bit as well.
You, that judge men by the handle and the sheath, how can I make you know a good Blade?
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