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Red Water

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  556 Ratings  ·  108 Reviews
In 1857, at a place called Mountain Meadows in southern Utah, a band of Mormons and Indians massacred 120 emigrants. Twenty years later, the slaughter was blamed on one man named John D. Lee, previously a member of Brigham Young s inner circle. Red Water imagines Lee s extraordinary frontier life through the eyes of three of his nineteen wives. Emma is a vigorous and capab ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published April 8th 2003 by Anchor Books (first published December 31st 2001)
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Libbie Hawker (L.M. Ironside)
Two stars for the majority of the book. Four stars for the middle section. And a lot of confusion as to why an author would make such a choice in combining three disparate writing styles into a single novel.

Red Water examines, through fiction, the life and death of John D. Lee, the scapegoat who was executed for the infamous Mountain Meadow(s) Massacre in Utah, one of the darkest stains on the history of the Mormon Church. This examination is accomplished through the perspectives of three of his
Lia /|\
Sep 13, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lia /|\ by: Liz
Shelves: borrowed
Pretty interesting! It took me back to my Mormon days, even though it showed some major differences between the church we know now, and the church in the early days. Utah Mormons smoking and drinking! Eternal Temple marriages dissolved with a Writ of Releasement anytime anybody wanted out so they could marry someone else! Early communism! Human trafficking (they bought Indian children from other Indians)! Wow... it was interesting, even though I already know that the church changes with the time ...more
Aug 01, 2017 rated it liked it
I liked the book well enough, but it's definitely written in an interesting style. This piece of historical fiction is told from the perspective of 3 of John D. Lee's 19 wives. I really enjoyed Emma and Ann's narratives, but Rachel's (which is at the conclusion of the book) really seemed to drag. It's certainly an interesting and disturbing story and it goes to show how complex people can be.
May 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Judith Freeman's prose reminds me of Cormac Mccarthy, maybe it's the way she does dialogue. Now that's high praise. There's no one alive today who writes better than he does, in my estimation. I do think her writing has a gravity and a power that is rare. The subeject matter of the novel, (John D Lee's role in the Moutain Meadows Massacre) is also fascinating. I did love the way Freeman does justice to the tangled complexity of the event. I also appreciated that she chose to tell the story throu ...more
Angela Pezel
Apr 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. I've read some other reviews and do not agree that the book is anti-Mormon, or that the author has a bias against the faith. The book deals with polygamy and is not an apology for the practice.

The book is in 4 parts and each part is the voice of someone integral to the story of the John D. Lee family. Lee himself as a historical figure is a powder keg of controversy, and the same applies to his portrayal in the book. Although the book in some ways claims to be center
Mar 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
I met the author at a booksigning here in Boise. She was presented as part of the Log Cabin Literary Society, and although I didn't know anything about the book I was fascinated by the author's personal story and had to get the book. What a remarkable and thought-provoking read. Judith Freeman, a former Mormon, writes a novel in three parts, each part a separate perspective from three of the many wives in a frontier polygamist marriage. The man they are married to features prominently in a bruta ...more
Mar 20, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
While the writing is good (unlike many modern styles that distract from the story they are attempting to tell), I found that my interest in a historical novel about real people is limited. I often felt myself wondering how much of it was accurate and how much invented. I think I would prefer to read biographies of real people and novels about fictional people.

But, I presume the major facts are true, such as ages, births, deaths (& causes), major historical events, etc, and it is interesting
Jun 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting tale based on real people and events after the Mountain Meadow Massacre. The story is narrated in three different parts by wives of John D. Lee, the purported leader of the Massacre. You get to see, fictionally, how the events of that day affect their lives as a polygamist family helping to settle that area of Southern Utah.

I found it interesting how the author changed voices as she switched narrators in the story. I especially enjoyed the section "written" by Ann, a brid
May 19, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A fascinating historical novel based on real people, Red Water is told from the perspective of three different women, who happen to be three wives of the same man: John D. Lee. Lee was eventually executed (some say he was the scapegoat) for the Mountain Meadows Massacre in Utah in 1857 where over 100 men, women and children were killed by a group of men disguised as Indians. These "Indians" turned out to be Mormon settlers, and the scandal and the massacre is said to lead right to the top: Brigh ...more
Apr 01, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Freeman is an excellent storyteller - unfortunately she plays too much with the facts here and commits character assassination on her subjects (who were living, breathing people.) If I did not know so much about this topic already (for me it is family history) I probably would have given this book five stars. I sobbed through the first chapter as she described my great-great-great grandmother accompanying her husbands body home after he was executed by firing squad. As I got further into the sto ...more
May 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
This was a really interesting view onto a world I know nothing about (except from watching Big Love). Really gives a picture of what pioneer America was like: the life, the land, the blind faith that many people had for the newly forming Morman religion. Told from the perspective of the 3 wives of a controversial man who took part in a horrific massacre. Told from first person, 3rd person, and journal entries, the accounts give a strong picture of their lives and their marriage to the same man.
Feb 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I reviewed this book for the LA Times when it came out--a brutal, breathtaking novel of early Mormonism in the West, told from the points of view of three of the 19 wives of the Mormon charismatic leader John D. Lee, centering around the story of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, in which Mormons dressed as Indians slaughtered over a hundred non-Mormon settlers. The points of view are fantastic, each of the wives, and how they view their husband, and their place in the West, and their reaction to t ...more
Jul 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed Judith Freeman's writing style; telling the story from the perspective of three of Lee's wives painted a dramatic picture of this family, their beliefs and challenges. I thought the glimpse into Rachel's diary, rather than direct narrative, set the perfect tone for this particular wife's personality.

George - thank you for suggesting this book. I'm moving The Mountain Meadow Massacre to the top of my to-read list.
Feb 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This was a great read on many different levels. The characters were real and their stories well-written. If I have any criticism, it is of the diary format of Rachel's story, which interrupted the smooth flow of the novel. I learned a lot about the basis of the Mormon religion, not really realizing before that in its beginnings it was a cult of the worse kind.
Mar 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite books. Obsure, sparse, amazing.
A book about women, and all that this entails. I found the words to be so revealing, as if someone were giving away the secrets that we carry inside us.
All this, surrounded by an actual bloody event in history.
Oct 07, 2008 rated it it was ok
Hardly about Mountain Meadow Massacre. More about the author's irritable view of early church history and the involvement in Polygamy.
Feb 10, 2009 rated it it was ok
About the 19th wife of John Lee. Who was executed for the Mountain Meadows Masacre. The author seems to be anti-mormon.
Oct 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Haunting tale of Mormon history. I don't know how some people live like this...
May 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Mountain Meadows Massacre was an actual event that took place in southern Utah in 1857: a wagon train from Arkansas was attacked, and all but the youngest children were killed. Twenty years later Mormon John D. Lee was executed for the crime, which he and others had carried out under orders from Brigham Young himself. The story is told here by three of Lee's wives: Emma, an English girl who actually chose him; Ann, a thirteen year old who he has groomed; and Rachel, the one wife who remains ...more
Jun 26, 2017 rated it liked it
When I finished two other books on vacation I found this interesting telling of a Mormon family, and the partial story of John D Lee, the only Mormon executed for the immigrant massacre originally blamed on local Indians.
Some of the writing in the early chapters was really terrible. The style improved when the author got into the details of why the youngest wife was drawn to John, 30 yrs senior, and the process of adapting to a polygamous family.
Sep 11, 2011 rated it it was ok
Historical fiction novel about a polygamist family in the Brigham Young era (1880's). Particularly the story focuses on the patriarch of the family and 3 of his 19 wives.

2 stars seems harsh, but "it was ok" is how I feel about the book. I was interested in John D Lee and his story, especially getting a view into his motivations and the motivations of his wives. The story is told from the view of the three wives in turn. Emma is the first voice of the story and I enjoyed her perspective and the
May 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Although the liner notes suggest the novel is about the Mountain Meadow Massacre by the Mormons in Utah, the narrative is actually from the point of view of three of the leader's wives some time after the actual event.The massacre has an impact on them all of their lives, even though they were not involved (one says she saw the remains as a child).

Judith Freeman has certainly done her research into the lives of the Mormons who made it to Utah from the Midwest under terrible conditions, and she
Aug 30, 2007 marked it as to-read
From Publishers Weekly
In 1857, in a field in southern Utah, a party of Mormons and Native Americans slaughtered more than a hundred men, women and children who were traveling to California. Only one man was ever tried, and executed, for the horror that became known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre John D. Lee. This well-told novel by Freeman (The Chinchilla Farm) presents Lee's story from the point of view of three of his 19 wives: Emma, his "English bride," who recognizes that the man she loves
May 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
The Mountain Meadows Massacre is a tragic event in Utah history that has gripped me for a few years. In 1857, a group of Mormon men and Native Americans attacked an emigrant train from Arkansas and slaughtered 120 men, women and children. John D. Lee was one of the primary antagonists in the attack and was the only man tried and executed for the slaughter. In Red Water, Judith Freeman tells the story of three of Lee's wives in the aftermath of the attack. This is a good piece of historical ficti ...more
Ashley Hoopes
Jan 05, 2010 rated it liked it
I am not loving this book. Hoping it redeems itself, but I doubt it. Too long and boring in parts...too wildly imaginative in others.
The author is telling the story of the lives of the multiple wives of John D. Lee. Lee was blamed for the Mountain Meadows massacre, where in 120 emigrants who were headed to California were rounded up by Latter-Day Saint men, and killed.
This story tells of the man who took the fall for the event, and the women who loved him. There were a lot of them. They were a
John Benson
May 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
This historic novel tells the story of three real people--Emma, Ann and Rachel--who were three of the 17 polygamous wives of John D. Lee who was accused, and later executed, for the Mountain Meadows Massacre that took place in southern Utah in 1857. Emma's story, which is the bulk of the book, gives the most background on John D. Lee, her marriage to him after the Massacre and the twenty years before he was put to death. Ann was a young bride who eventually ran away and her story is partially in ...more
Oct 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Red Water was a fascinating book about an unsavory sect of the Mormons. The story is told in 3-parts from the viewpoints of three wives. This historical novel follows the life of Lee who was executed for playing a part in the slaughter of a group of homesteaders from Arkansas. It appears that Lee did this, in part, for financial gain. A svengali like figure, Lee practiced polygamy and married up to 20 women though his household(s) were always in flux as many women left the fold. He was charismat ...more
Lori Foley
May 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Several years ago, I read a review in a magazine about this book and bought it. It sat on my shelf for years, but I finally picked it up. I'm not sure what my hesitation was, because it really is quite an interesting read. I even considered giving it 4 stars, but there were parts that were less interesting and when I consider whether I would recommend it to my friends, I'm not sure. That's because I don't know if my own Mormon background (my father was born in the church, but is no longer a memb ...more
Aug 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
A work of fiction, based on facts surrounding the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857, this book taught me much about the Mormon religion and the lives of three of the wives of John C. Lee. He was accused and executed for the deaths of 120 emigrants moving into the southwest U.S. from the eastern U.S. Although the book sometimes got bogged down a bit because of lack of conversation (I don't usually like 2-page paragraphs), I'm glad I kept reading. In all, Mr. Lee had 19 wives -- some died, some re ...more
Jan 08, 2017 rated it liked it
This book is both enlightening and ponderous! Sometimes I couldn't bear another paragraph of description of the life of these Mormon settlers to southern Utah. In the 1850s the life these women lived with John D. Lee, wives number 17,18 and 19, was nothing but a cruel and crude existence. The three women all entered into this plural marriage for different reasons, and none of them knew much of the Mountain Meadow Massacre for which he was eventually executed. The whole story is built around this ...more
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Red Water 1 8 Nov 18, 2009 07:34AM  
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