David Keller, a USU Ph.D student in Electrical Engineering and main contributor to the Mormons and Catholics blog ( www.mormonandcatholic.org ). David also volunteers for FAIR and helped formulate the main response to the latest mass-distributed anti-mormon video that the Church’s website directed people to. He has previously guest blogged on Millennial Star about Thomas Alexander’s lecture about the Mountain Meadow Massacre last Fall. A special thanks to David for sending in his notes from the Richard Turley lecture.
Last night [Mar. 29th] Richard Turley came to USU and delivered a lecture on the MMM. Here is the things I remember:
- He themed some of the discussion around the dysfunctionality of militias, which were a holdover from the Revolutionary War (as a backlash of the standing army under the King’s control during peacetime) and the forerunner of the National Gaurd. Militias can degenerate to organized mobs, and this was illustrated with Missouri mob actions.
- Hence it appears the upcoming book will stress the war hysteria-war crime hypothesis. Turley said he sees the MMM as a series of escalations, with Missouri persecutions as quite fresh on Mormon minds.
- Turley did some debunking. The sickness thought to have come from a poisoned well near Salt Creek (?) is better accounted for by records of spreading disease that can be traced as far away as Bountiful (I have sketchy memory of the specifics here.)
- However, even though the wagon train likely wasn’t guilty of that incident, Mormons had a hard time giving outsiders a benefit of a doubt. It is what was believed that mattered, not what was true.
- More setting the record straight: The Turner/Duke party really were Mormon haters/fighters and caused many of the problems that later conveniently transferred to Fancher/Baker one as an excuse.
- Turley talked about Buchanan’s blunder and cast the tension between the US and Utah as typical of the US and other territories. Territories had their carpet bagging governorship appointed for them rather truly representing them. Turley described a Mormon letter desiring statehood as patriotic and as channeling shades of Revolutionary War rhetoric desiring more self-government. Buchanan read the letter as rebellious.
- General Harney, the original guy who was to lead “Johnston’s army” was a competent soldier but a notoriously cruel monster. Turley related a story of Harney torturing one of his slaves to death on flimsy provocation.
- Turley saw war strategy to stockpile grain and cattle as a contributing factor. (I admit to some uneasiness about this because it is going to be difficult to distinguish between a general policy and the implementation of it through unethical means, especially the connections Bagley tried to make from SLC to MM.)
- The southern Paiutes were not particularly adept at carrying out violence against wagon trains, but now and then they might target stragglers and strays. Turley did not particularly emphasize the utility of keeping an alliance with them or their role in the Massacre. They were mostly just tools of the Mormons. This to me leaves some unanswered questions of just how they were manipulated so easily to get involved.
The above informations served as a preamble. Turley then increased the amount of detail got to the main points he wanted to emphasize. He gave a play-by-play of the action mostly from Isaac Haight’s point of view, and compressed other parts of the events (For example, he didn’t talk much about what was happening mid-week at the MM and he didn’t mention express riders, etc.)
1. The Baker/Fancher party bought some wheat from someone, even though Mormons were in general trying to stockpile. Typically wagon trains planned on re-furnishing when they arrived in Salt Lake, but the war preparations created tensions and drove up prices.
2. Some members in the part stopped at Haight’s mill wanting to get flour ground, but they felt the asking price of one cow was exorbitant. (Turley said the party had 900 head of cattle, much higher than previous estimates.)
3. Party members complained, used fowl language, and made threatening overtures. They did something that was against city ordinances and worthy of arrest.
4. The party boisterously went from the mill to Haight’s home to complain to him. Haight, a temple guard from Nauvoo, interpreted this group as a mob, escaped out his back door and went to the town sheriff to get an arrest.
5. Turley than referenced typical interactions between passing through trains and local laws. They would either give up the guilty in their party and let him pay fines, make amends etc or band together and help that person resist arrest and get out of town. The Fancher party went with the latter.
6. This was unacceptable to Haight who then asked Dame if he could use the militia to help make an arrest. Dame denied the request, pleading with Haight to let them go. There is some quote about harsh words blowing over, but I don’t recall it.
7. Haight was still angry, so he began to plot for extra-legal revenge. The plan seems to escalate from recruiting the indians to engage in a “brush” (steal some cattle) to wiping out the entire train. John D. Lee was present for this escalation and it would be his job to be a behind the scenes field commander. Turley seemed confident that it was a planned massacre from the beginning and not something that escalated over the week. [As an aside this goes against my prior conception of the massacre, namely that it was initially planned as a cattle raid (with not much concern about casualties) and a way to form an alliance with the natives; then escalated when John D. Lee was spotted, the Indians were not competent by themselves to carry a raid out successfully, the indians desired revenge to for losses they suffered, and needed to be kept happy so as not to turn on the Mormons.]
8. Kind of a continued aside here, but premeditated Mormon masterminding is harder to deal with then panic-escalation on the ground with John D. Lee at the epicenter. I wanted to challenge Turley during the Q and A on this point.
9. Some reports of Lees difficulties reach Dame, who visits Haight to find out what is happening. Haight feigns surprise and both conduct an investigation.
10. A council meeting rules against carrying out the massacre or at least delaying it.
11. Haight meets Dame after the meeting and convinces Dame to let him go forward with the massacre plan. Dame seems to have been a Pontius Pilate (my description) here, not really consenting, but willing to let Haight have his way.
12. Turley describes the decoy and deploy plan as Haight’s.
13. Then Turley described the massacre in all its morbid details. He began the lecture by calling it the worst atrocity in Mormon history and something he has lost a lot of sleep over. He talked about Lee shooting some teenage girls that the indians wanted to keep alive.
14. He then talked a little bit about the unsuccessful cover up from Lee’s perspective, such as burying bodies in shallow graves (which were easily found later) and Lee altering documents.
I think around this point he ended his lecture and began a formal Q and A. The only good question I remember was asking him about the status of the book. Some of the better questions were given a read and find out answer. I was frustrated I couldn’t get my question in. Turley said that the manuscript had already been sent to Oxford, and that Oxford was a jury press. Essentially that means a lot of people will be reading advanced copies and there is an lengthy voting/approval process and a need for revisions. Turley suggested that the book might not be out until the beginning of next year. Turley dropped some hints about a second book in the works. Initially he said, referring to Brigham’s knowledge after the massacre, “A book could be written about that subject.” (IIRC) Which meant to me that the upcoming Oxford book won’t address it in detail and perhaps plans for publishing a second book and the choice of venue were still tentative.
Postscript (6/23): The LDS website has made an article that will published in September’s Ensign available early. It was authored by Richard Turley and has some content similar to that reported here. The Mormon Wasp blog has some excellent coverage of the upcoming film September Dawn well worth checking out which have been summarized at Mormon Mentality.