The trailer of September Dawn shows that a truly deceptive and hostile film is being unleashed to stir up anger and fear about the Mormons. I think Latter-day Saints need to be prepared to discuss what actually happened, including the fact that the evidence shows Brigham Young absolutely did not authorize the massacre and actually insisted that there should be no meddling with the immigrants, who should be allowed to pass through in peace. While I anxiously await a new book to be published by Richard Turley and others, we do have a new advance article from him, “Remembering the Mountain Meadows Massacre.” It will be in the September Ensign but is available online now at LDS.org (a copy is also available at LDSMag.com (Meridian Magazine)). Here’s one excerpt:
President Young’s express message of reply to Haight, dated September 10, arrived in Cedar City two days after the massacre. His letter reported recent news that no U.S. troops would be able to reach the territory before winter.
“So you see that the Lord has answered our prayers and again averted the blow designed for our heads,” he wrote.
“In regard to emigration trains passing through our settlements,” Young continued, “we must not interfere with them untill they are first notified to keep away. You must not meddle with them. The Indians we expect will do as they please but you should try and preserve good feelings with them. There are no other trains going south that I know of[.] [I]f those who are there will leave let them go in peace. While we should be on the alert, on hand and always ready we should also possess ourselves in patience, preserving ourselves and property ever remembering that God rules.”
When Haight read Young’s words, he sobbed like a child and could manage only the words, “Too late, too late.”
Turley’s research provides important insights into the mistakes of Isaac Haight and the conditions that allowed other local people to be drawn into the tragedy. There are lessons that we must never forget: the dangers of deception, the dangers of “just following orders”, and the insidious evil of violence for anything other than self-defense.
Today, some massacre victims’ descendants and collateral relatives are Latter-day Saints. These individuals are in an uncommon position because they know how it feels to be both a Church member and a relative of a victim.
James Sanders is the great-great-grandson of Nancy Saphrona Huff, one of the children who survived the massacre. “I still feel pain, I still feel anger and sadness that the massacre happened,” said Brother Sanders. “But I know that the people who did this will be accountable before the Lord, and that brings me peace.”
Brother Sanders, who serves as a family history consultant in the Snowflake Fifth Ward, Snowflake Arizona Stake, said that learning his ancestor had been killed in the massacre “didn’t affect my faith because it’s based on Jesus Christ, not on any person in the Church.”
Sharon Chambers of the 18th Ward, Ensign Salt Lake City Utah Stake, is the great- granddaughter of child survivor Rebecca Dunlap. “The people who did this had lost their way. I don’t know what was in their minds or in their hearts,” she said. “I feel sorrow that this happened to my ancestors. I also feel sorrow that people have blamed the acts of some on an entire group, or on an entire religion.”
The Mountain Meadows Massacre has continued to cause pain and controversy for 150 years. During the past two decades, descendants and other relatives of the emigrants and the perpetrators have at times worked together to memorialize the victims. These efforts have had the support of President Gordon B. Hinckley, officials of the state of Utah, and other institutions and individuals.
Among the products of this cooperation have been the construction of two memorials at the massacre site and the placing of plaques commemorating the Arkansas emigrants. Descendant groups, Church leaders and members, and civic officials continue to work toward reconciliation and will participate in various memorial services this September at the Mountain Meadows.