New book investigates infamous massacre


by Bill Boyle

The San Juan Record is beginning a new book club. The first group will meet on October 30 at the newspaper office at 49 South Main Street in Monticello to discuss Massacre at Mountain Meadows by Ronald Walker, Richard Turley, Jr., and Glen M. Leonard.

Oxford University Press recently published this long-awaited account of the most controversial event in Mormonism. With access to LDS documents previously unseen, the authors have produced the fullest and most objective account of a pivotal moment in Mormon history.

On September 11, 1857, a band of Mormon militia, under a flag of truce, lured unarmed members of a party of emigrants from the fortified encampment and, with their Paiute allies, killed them. More than 120 men, women and children perished in the slaughter.

Massacre at Mountain Meadows offers the most thoroughly researched account of the massacre ever written. Drawn from documents previously not available to scholars and a careful re-reading of traditional sources, this gripping narrative offers fascinating new insight into why Mormon settlers in isolated southern Utah deceived the emigrant party with a promise of safety and then killed the adults and all but seventeen of the youngest children.

The book sheds light on factors contributing to the tragic event, including the war hysteria that overcame the Mormons after President James Buchanan dispatched federal troops to Utah Territory to put down a supposed rebellion, the suspicion and conflicts that polarized the perpetrators and victims, and the reminders of attacks on Mormons in earlier settlements in Missouri and Illinois.

It also analyzes the influence of Brigham Young’s rhetoric and military strategy during the infamous “Utah War” and the role of local Mormon militia leaders in enticing Paiute Indians to join the attack. Throughout the book, the authors paint finely drawn portraits of the key players in the drama, their backgrounds, personalities, and roles in the unfolding story of misunderstanding, misinformation, indecision, and persona vendettas.

I have been intrigued and horrified by the whole event for many years. It was the subject of several research papers in high school and college and a whole lot of wonder and discussion. Maybe it is because my father is from Arkansas and my mother from Utah.

Although it is very well written, the book is not an easy read. It is troubling to retrace the steps of the emigrant train as it wends its way though southern Utah to its tragic end.

I must admit that one of the first things I did was turn to the extensive notes and appendices in the back of the book. One appendix lists the participants in the massacre.

Many of the earliest settlers of San Juan County came from the communities of Parowan and Cedar City 20 years after the events, so it is fair to wonder if our San Juan County settlers were involved in the massacre.

I did not find a San Juan County name in the list of participants, but several familiar names were part of the narrative, including Peters Sheets (of Peters Hill fame) and Ira Hatch (of Hatch Trading Post).

A number of years ago, my family genealogical records suddenly changed. Instead of listing the venerable Zachariah Decker as one of my maternal great-great-great grandfathers, the records said that I was descended from John D. Lee. Lee was one of the leaders of the massacre and was the only man convicted of participation in the crime.

Apparently unknown to succeeding generations, my great, great great grandmother, Nancy Bean, had been married, for a short time, to Lee. They had a daughter together. Bean left Lee ten years before the massacre and remarried Decker, who raised the little girl as his own. The little girl became the mother of Evelyn Adams, a storied early settler in Monticello.

Copies of the book are available for purchase at the San Juan Record. Please feel free to participate in our book club meeting.

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People on both sides of the issue are expressing outrage over the controversy surrounding the Kokopelli statue at the Edge of the Cedars Museum in Blanding. The anatomically correct statue of Kokopelli has been moved from its location front and center of the museum to another area of the state park (see the story on page one).

While I understand the feelings on both sides, I believe that the compromise of moving the statue to another location is correct. The cold hard truth is that the state and national parks in southeast Utah are not kid friendly.

I enjoy the sculptures by Joe Pachak that dot the area around the Edge of the Cedars, but have always wondered why the Kokopelli statue was in such a prominent location near the front door.

San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

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