Welcome to the Read Rinaldo Blog. Over the next several weeks this site will analyze different people involved in the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon) began in rural New York, moved to Kirtland, Ohio, then to Nauvoo, Illinois before stopping in Utah Territory. The LDS experienced a great deal of persecution at each location before settling in the distant and unpopulated Utah Territory. The persecution in Illinois included gunfights between locals and the Mormon Militia, eventually named Avenging Angels or Danites. The Mormons stockpiled weapons for these encounters. Having to guess at the cause of these fights from what I know about humans, I suspect the locals and the Mormons share fault for reaching this level of violence. Prophet Joseph Smith, LDS originator and leader, died when a mob of gentiles lynched him (Mormons define gentiles as non-Mormons). Brigham Young filled the void atop the LDS hierarchy and moved the Church to Utah.
During Brigham's leadership, approximately 150 Arkansans were slaughtered during a four day siege of their encampment in 1857. Eerily, though the siege lasted from September 7th to September 11th, nearly all of the emigrants died on September 11th. This ranked as the most deadly killing of Americans by Americans outside of the Civil War until the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Local Mormons allegedly committed this atrocity. In 1999 two men digging with a backhoe unearthed bones at Mountain Meadows. Forensic scientists flocked to the area to quickly study the remains. Within days Governor Mike Leavitt ordered the bones reburied. Interestingly, Mike Leavitt is allegedly a direct descendant of one of the killers at Mountain Meadows in 1857. Mormons consider lineage of vital importance, and one's ancestry is something a faithful Mormon would definitely know. Please note that despite Mormons blaming local Paiute Indians for the killings, the scientists definitively concluded that every death they could account for happened with bullets, something the Paiute tribes in the area did not possess. Science, the limited federal investigation in the years following the massacre, and the surviving historical record irrefutably declares that Mormons killed these travelers. In 2007 the LDS officially expressed regret that the local Mormons participated in the massacre, but failed to admit sanctioning these murders.
JOHN DOYLE LEE
Today we have the hindsight to see that most individuals ordered to execute innocent people do so because they are promised a better life. In Rwanda the Hutu, a suppressed minority, were promised the land and cattle of the elite Tutsis. Adolf Hitler preached revenge for losing World War One to an impoverished German population. In 1857, Lee and his Mormon collaborators were doing well economically, which makes one curious why they followed orders to kill people they'd never met. Lee not only killed these emigrants, but negotiated the truce making the murders simple. The terms of the truce required the children to leave the pasture at Mountain Meadows first followed by the women a quarter-mile behind, followed by the men a quarter-mile later. With the Arkansans disarmed and spread out, the Mormons shot them. After the murders, Lee proved instrumental in dividing the plunder - wagons, guns, surviving children... Lee took three of the emigrant children for himself.
John Doyle Lee had convinced himself that his eternal happiness depended on obeying every order issued by the Mormon Church, in my opinion. For some reason a man who had succeeded in farming and iron in Illinois and Utah forfeited his volition to Joseph Smith and later, Brigham Young. In my opinion, Lee was probably well above average intellectually, as evidenced by his repeated prosperity as a businessman, but he had an extremely poor sense of self-worth. He considered himself nothing; that's why he looked to the LDS for recognition and reward. More importantly, John D. Lee enjoyed killing people. Amazing how many men like this the LDS found.
After being arrested for the murder of approximately 150 emigrants, Lee violated his oath of secrecy and claimed Brigham Young ordered the executions. To the day he was executed Lee proclaimed that Prophet Smith's LDS Church represented God's one true church on Earth, but his faith in Brigham Young faltered, and he said, "I have been sacrificed in a cowardly, dastardly manner." (American Massacre by Sally Denton; page 233; Vintage Books; copyright 2003)
In 2002, a US Park Service volunteer cleaning animal droppings from a cave found a "lead scroll" with what appears to be John D. Lee's signature admitting to have killed the emigrants. It also declares that he acted directly on Brigham Young's orders. The LDS officially denounced the scroll as a fraud before anyone could authenticate it. That definitely leads me to believe it's really from Lee. The cave sat on part of the property Young assigned Lee to work after the massacre. This parcel proved inhospitable and remote, an unlikely place for an innocent person to hide.
Next, week I'll profile the children who survive the Mountain Meadows Massacre.