Guest Post: On September 11, almost one hundred fifty years ago

"…And the first thing a principle does—if it really is a principleis to kill somebody."
                                                     From Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

In his post Welcome to the Dungeon, Chris included an excerpt from Mistress Matisse's account of her encounter with two young men from the Church of Latter Day Saints. Her description of those two nervous missionaries reminded me of the experiences of a friend, a non-Mormon, who lived in Utah for a year. After she arrived in a suburb of Salt Lake City, she quickly learned that the black slacks, white shirt and tie was the required male dress code for card carrying members of the LDS. Yes, the LDS does require membership cards.

My friend also told me about certain events in the history of the Mormon Church that are deserving of remembrance. In a few days, numerous memorial services will be held to commemorate the five year anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. Those who lost their lives on that day should be remembered in services that are solemn and respectful. For those who think that these services are the perfect setting for patriotic fervor, I would recommend that they remember another massacre which occurred in September, almost one hundred fifty years ago.

September 11 is the date of the Mountain Meadows Massacre which took place in Utah in 1857. At the end of a five day siege, Mormon militia and some members of the Pauiete Indian tribe killed 120 unarmed men, women and children. The victims were farming families known as the Baker/Francher party, traveling from Arkansas to California. Only seventeen children under the age of six survived. What was the cause of the massacre? In the summer of 1857 troops of the U.S. Army were marching towards Utah, and the Mormons feared that the persecution which they had experienced in the previous decades was about to resume. In 1838 the Mormons had been driven out of the state of Missouri, and six years later, Joseph Smith, one of the Mormon founders, and a few of his followers were murdered by a crowd in southern Illinois. After Smith’s martyrdom, the Mormon Church added the following language to the initiation ceremonies, and it was not removed until 1927:

You and each of you do covenant and promise that you will pray and never cease to pray to Almighty God to avenge the blood of the prophets upon this nation, and that you will teach the same to your children and to your children's children unto the third and fourth generation.

The fact that the Baker/Francher party was in possession of cattle and equipment valued over $300,000 may also have been a factor, The Mountain Meadows Massacre, as depicted in T.B.H. Stenhouse's 1873 book, 'The Rocky Mountain Saints: A Full and Complete History of the Mormons'according to Hans P. Freece in his book, The Letters of An Apostate Mormon, published in 1908. One of the letters described this chilling scene after the besieged emigrants had been persuaded to give up their weapons in exchange for a promised safe passage by an escort of Mormon militia.

When they reached the point of the hill, Bishop Dame cried out, "Israel, do your duty!" And at that command the soldiers murdered the men in cold blood, and then ran forward to join the "Indians", who had previously been concealed in the cedars, to complete the massacre… When night came stealing down the mountain side it hid from vulgar gaze the nude and mangled bodies… The murderers had stripped the bodies and left them to become carrion…

Mr. Lee, the leader of the militia, was executed for his crimes and excommunicated from the Mormon Church. He was the only person punished for the crime. Believing one is under attack, in danger of persecution, can make the most inhumane acts seem necessary. Mr. Lee reportedly wept when he first saw the plight of the people he would later murder, but that compassion could not stop him and his brethren from acting in accordance to their beliefs.

Tricky things, those beliefs. We are supposed to admire people who hold to them, no matter what the cost. But now, almost 150 years later, what belief could have been so important that it required the murder of 120 unarmed men, women and children? That question cannot wait until the next September 11.

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One thought on “Guest Post: On September 11, almost one hundred fifty years ago”

  1. Beliefs are tricky things, I so agree my dear.

    I am currently reading a novel set in Tudor England where of course, the religious and political issues are at the heart of the story. I set the book down to read your article, then sat back and reflected on how for all our technological advances, our hearts and minds still have so much maturing to do.

    I guess essentially this betrays the chasm between the soft joys and very real responsibilities of freedom and the hard, inflexibility of fundamentalism. How many more souls will be lost in that blackhole of beliefs?

    A fine piece and reminder.

    blessings and love,

    Lena

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