This is the first book I've read cover-to-cover on any topic in less than twelve hours in years. It's that engaging! I think she does an excellent job...moreThis is the first book I've read cover-to-cover on any topic in less than twelve hours in years. It's that engaging! I think she does an excellent job of presenting the conflict in her life and why she chooses to remain connected to Mormonism. A wonderful read for a liberal Mormon or one familiar with Mormon culture. I haven't busted a gut laughing out loud from a book in a long time. This book was fantastic.(less)
This book is an account of a well-to-do 19th century British woman, Jane Rio, who uprooted her life to pursue belief in Mormonism at its nascent only...moreThis book is an account of a well-to-do 19th century British woman, Jane Rio, who uprooted her life to pursue belief in Mormonism at its nascent only to be disillusioned on her arrival in Salt Lake City with the discovery of polygamy and unbridled authoritarianism. Her experience is summed up by the following (p.139).
"My 20-acre farm turned out to be a mere saleratus (sodium bicarbonate) patch, killing the seed which was sown instead of producing a crop," Jean Rio recalled years later in an addendum to her diary. Admitting defeat, she deserted her land, moving into a "small log house" in Ogden to learn dressmaking. "I have tried to do my best in the various circumstances in which I have been placed," she wrote. "I came here in obedience to what I believed to be a revelation of the most high God, trusting in the assurance of the missionaries whom I believed to have the spirit of truth. I left my home, sacrificed my property, broke up every dear association, and what was and is yet dearer than all, left my beloved native land. And for what? A bubble that has burst in my grasp. It has been a severe lesson, but I can say that it has led me to lean more on my Heavenly Father and less on the words of men."
Two of her sons left Utah territory as soon as they were able. "They could not stand poverty any longer so ran away from it." Later Jean married a Gentile in Utah who lived only six months. Her oldest son, William, who was devout and a polygamist was reinstated after being disfellowshipped for purchasing a pair of boots from a Gentile. She eventually left Utah with the remainder of her family, excepting William, to join her sons in California who had prospered. She became a member of the First Congregational Church and contributed to her community there. Jean made one 21 month long visit to spend time with her son William and his family in Richfield, Utah before returning to California to live out the rest of her life.
(p.180)"Wilford Woodruff issued the first edict against polygamy that forced William into hiding and ultimately result in his incarceration as a polygamist. Ordered to divide his property and cash among his two families, and required to provide for them financially, he found the task impossible. Despite his ample income, there was simply not enough to support two wives and eighteen children." [His second wife:] Nicolena suddenly found herself a forty-five year old mother of seven with little if any outside support. She, like hundreds of other polygamist women in her position, received no financial aid from the church." Nor was the husband she was depending upon to pull her "through the veil" able to provide much assistance." "When William died in 1901 he received a substantial obituary reflective of his longstanding stature in the community of Richfield. Neither Nicolena nor any of his children by her were named as next of kin. Like the thousands of other children of polygamists, they were treated as if they were illegitimate and in effect punished by disinheritance and social stigma by the very society that had sanctioned and encouraged the practice of polygamy." (less)
Fortunately all history is not written with Bushman's unscrupulous avoidance of conflict and biased acceptance of one side of the facts. He does indee...moreFortunately all history is not written with Bushman's unscrupulous avoidance of conflict and biased acceptance of one side of the facts. He does indeed go further than prior Mormon biographers of Joseph Smith Jr. in painting a more realistic and believable portrait of the prophet.
Anyone with a thorough understanding of Mormon history will recognize that Bushman offers little more than acknowledgement of opposing views. His minimalist or non-existent consideration of modern evidence with regard to the Book of Mormon, Book of Abraham, the Kinderhook Plates, and the story of Zelph, for example, suggests that modern interpreters of Smith and his prophetic claims should not take this evidence into account. Thankfully not all historians would present such a naive viewpoint.(less)
First and foremost, let me make clear my personal opinion on the key issue that separates spectators of the Mountain Meadows Massacre: Brigham Young d...moreFirst and foremost, let me make clear my personal opinion on the key issue that separates spectators of the Mountain Meadows Massacre: Brigham Young did not explicitly give the order to attack and kill the Fancher Party. However, I am sympathetic to Will Bagely’s argument that BY was largely responsible for the tragedy because Young underestimated the affect of his venomous rhetoric toward non-Mormons on the Saints.
Having gotten that formality out of the way my general opinion of this book is that it is essentially a response to Bagely’s “Blood of the Prophets” well disguised as an academic historical work. Not that “Massacre at Mountain Meadows” isn’t well researched – it is, but it is unsatisfactory in the sense that it adds so little to the existing historical record for supposedly so much dedicated research and the authors’ claim to previously unavailable source material. The authors fail to grasp that to regain credibility lost over 150 years of official Church silence on the tragedy that they (in producing a Church supported historical publication) must be more forthcoming and open in their reporting of privileged sources.
An opportunity for such disclosure would have been more thorough discussion of the following: Massacre at Mountain Meadows wrote: Among the most significant discoveries in the Church’s collections were the field notes of assistance church historian Andrew Jenson, who collected several reminiscent accounts of the massacre in 1892. This discovery, in turn, led to the full collection of Jenson materials in the First Presidency’s archives.
When Jenson went to southern Utah to gather this material the First Presidency gave him a letter asking Church members to cooperate. "There is an opinion prevailing that all the light that can be obtained [on the massacre:] has not be thrown upon it," the letter read. "We are anxious to learn all that we can upon this subject, not necessarily for publication, but that the Church may have the details in its possession for the vindication of innocent parties, and that the world may know, when the time comes, the true facts connected with it.” [p.xi:]
The aforementioned paragraphs occur in the Preface and no further mention of Jenson or his contribution appears anywhere in the book. Furthermore, “Jenson” appears in the “Abbreviations Used in Notes” but I could not find a single reference to Jenson in the Notes. Apparently it is acceptable for the authors to read and be directly influenced by Jenson but not the reader.
The idea that the First Presidency knew in 1892 that this was an important historical event, directed contemporary research into the matter, and secreted away firsthand accounts of the massacre expecting later vindication is, without further explanation, ruinous. In the case of mass murder the Church cannot ethically solicit and retain evidence of guilt and selectively choose to use the evidence for defense of the innocent. Credibility is sacrificed in such an endeavor.
At the very least it makes one question how much investment in genealogical and historical research the various First Presidencies have conducted attempting to prove massacre victims were indeed Missourians and ruffians guilty of past Mormon persecutions prior to privately accepting that Mormon folklore was simply wrong. Is the reader really expected to believe that until the publication of this book in 2008 all prior First Presidencies dating back to 1892 had no clue such was the case? And if any of the First Presidencies did know that “…the emigrants did not deserve what eventually happened to them… All the purported wrongs of the emigrants, even if true, did not justify the killing of a single person” – why didn’t they publish a mea culpa earlier? Why would latter day prophets allow eight generations of Latter Day Saints to go to their graves falsely justifying evil misdeeds of their fellow church members? And if eight, why not nine, ten, eleven, etc…? Bagely. That’s why. Unlike Brooks, Denton, and others, Bagely directly impugned their mantra that “…the Prophet will never lead you astray” and it stuck. Even a high school student knows that in 1857 one person could not massacre 120 people. And, fortunately, it is no longer politically acceptable to blame the massacre on the indians and expect people to accept a racially biased version of events.
The authors are able to claim their work is based on “primary source” material and "primarily not a response" to Bagely precisely because the prima facie documentary evidence is that Brigham Young did not explicitly order the attack. One wonders what their book would be if that were not the case. As it is they claim the evidence changed some of their pre-existing opinions yet offer no examples of such.
The book is not blatantly apologetic but mild pro-Mormon bias is present. A clear example is the author’s commentary on Carleton’s monument [italics and bold are mine:]: “Finally, a monument marked the victim’s final resting place. But Carleton meant the monument to be more than a mausoleum. He meant it to shame the Mormons.” [p.5:] Note that this commentary is not footnoted to reflect historically documented intent by Carleton. It is solely the authors’ interpretation of Carleton’s intent, and while possibly accurate, does not reflect the narrative style imposed elsewhere that relies on documentary evidence.
A more subtle example is where the authors take issue with a Bagely conclusion by stating “… Brigham Young’s invitation for Indians to take cattle was a generalized war policy, not an order to massacre the Arkansas company.” [p.146:] Do historians really expect Indians to parse the translated English-to-Paiute nuance of “we want you to attack and steal cattle on the southern route, but not the Arkansas party”? Bagely’s claim may be a bit of an overstatement, but it is far more logical that the Paiutes would have interpreted any message broadly as opposed to narrowly.
The authors’ work does provide some insight into precipitating events from records of Church documents, although none aside from Brigham’s Young’s exculpatory letter address the massacre itself. Most certainly there were relevant communiqués and letters exchanged with Brigham Young in the immediate aftermath but the authors are remarkably silent on that subject.
They do, however, admit documented evidence of anger in Church leadership and membership over polygamous wives leaving the territory in large numbers with Gentile parties large enough to provide them safe harbor to California or back East. They also explore and explain the folklore of the Arkansas emigrants poisoning wells and livestock as likely due to an outbreak of anthrax.
The book strives to clear Brigham Young of any explicit or implicit order to kill the emigrants and places blame squarely on John D. Lee and his southern Utah local Church leadership associates. Yet, it leaves the impression that Young excommunicated Lee not for murder but for “keeping bad company, playing cards, and using foul language”. [p.231:][Subsequent excommunication of other massacre participants is completely unmentioned.:]
Lee’s case begs the question: What sort of moral or divine justice is being administered here. People expect churches to hold the moral high ground. In this work we are told that Lee committed atrocious acts yet Young forestalled his restitution for twenty years and the Church reinstated Lee’s membership and temple blessings posthumously in 1961 – certainly long after Mormon folklore regarding the massacre was known to be false to the First Presidency.
It is not acceptable for the authors (or the Church) to merely recite “Brigham Young didn’t order the attack” over and over again in defense of their latter day prophet. The magnitude of the tragedy demands an explanation as to why only one person, among dozens of Mormon perpetrators and several prominent local Church leaders, was ever brought to trial and punished for such a horrific crime. [The authors leave this subject for a supposed second volume.:]
The catharsis that Mormon Church leaders want in regards to the Mountain Meadows Massacre remains elusive because justice is unfulfilled. [p.x:] Lee has paid his price. Like it or not, it is up to the Church to pay the rest because Young purposely denied justice being served on the remaining massacre participants. I doubt that the second volume mentioned by the authors will be published anytime soon for the simple reason that Brigham Young can’t be cleared of conspiracy to obstruct justice. There’s no way for Walker, Turley, Leonard, Bushman, Jensen, or the Church to spin this part of the tragedy to a neutral outcome (although I am aware that Arrington tried).