Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Mountain Meadows Masscre

So far, I've stayed away from historical subjects on the blog, but recently I decided I wanted to know more about the Mountain Meadows Massacre. This was where Mormon leaders in southern Utah basically encouraged the local Native Americans to attack a emigrant train, then offered to save the men, women, and children, but slaughtered the 120 unarmed, surrendered people instead.

So I checked a couple books out of the library. I started reading Juanita Brooks's Mountain Meadows Massacre. Here are some of my thoughts as I go through.

I found myself torn on feeling sympathetic for the Mormons as they were driven from various places in the Midwest. When I was a faithful Mormon, I found myself not caring for persecution and pioneer stories. I felt like it was talked about too much or something, like we were supposed to feel the Spirit when really what we were feeling was sympathy. And it was so one-sided. This time reading them, I could feel sorry for them as human beings--no one should have to go through that--but also finally knowing what they did to make everyone so angry at them. Not that they deserved it, but at least I could see both sides. (And I felt a little guilty about that.)

Brooks painstakingly goes through motivations, personalities, histories, movements, etc of the Mormons involved (the perpetrators). But she not only ignores Native American motives for involvement, but downright infantalizes them.

Take this quote:

"The Indians, being 'the battle-ax of the Lord,' could logically do the work, for they had no qualms about shedding blood, even innocent blood. Since the Big Mormon Chief [BY] wanted them to help with this war [against the US troops being sent from the East], here was a good place to begin. So the natives had followed and annoyed the company, happy in the sense of Mormon approval; they sent out runners to other bands for reinforcement in this thrilling and exciting game" (pp. 56-57, italics mine).

Okay, I know this was written over 50 years ago, and history really was written differently then, but sheesh. She makes the Native Americans sound like happy little puppies, eager to please their masters. Please. Surely the ones who were involved had motivation for doing so. How about bothering to find out what it was? I know the historical record would be biased toward what the Mormons were thinking rather than the Native Americans, but still.

This supposed eagerness to do the Mormons' bidding doesn't make sense in the light of the very next paragraph in Brooks's book:

"It should be remembered also that at this time the whites in the area were outnumbered more than four to one by Indians, so that the business of maintaining friendly relations was important..[she gives examples of Mormons moving into forts for protection from Indians]..In all their dealings with the Indians, both before and after the massacre, the people of the area were careful to avoid frictions lest they lead to attacks upon the scattered ranches and smaller villages" (p. 57).

Why were the Native Americans so eager to please the Mormons if they had the upper hand, as the second paragraph seems to say? Wouldn't "the business of maintaining friendly relations" be more important for the Mormons than the Native Americans?

And as far as the massacred company goes, were they really so stupid as to insult and deride the Mormons they were so dependent on for supplies in their trip through the Utah dessert? That's how Brooks unquestioningly presents them (so far anyway, I've only finished 4 chapters). Surely there is more to the company's side of the story. While Brooks certainly doesn't say the Mormons were justified in the murders, she never asks why the company wasn't more eager to keep up friendly relations with the Mormons they were so dependent on, whether they disliked them or not.


Zarathustra said...

Have you checked out Will Bagley's _Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows_? I haven't read it, but I understand it is one of the better accounts of the event.

from the ashes said...

I checked that one out too, and will get to it next.