I have no idea of the context of the girl yelling about Mountain Meadows. She was a smart girl, my age, and sometimes a "smart aleck" in our Sunday School and Primary classes. I was sensitive enough to understand even if I couldn't explain it at the time that her "intellectual" challenges to authority came out of her hurt, shame, and wounded pride from her less-than-ideal family circumstances.
And I certainly didn't understand about Mountain Meadows except that it was also some kind of taboo, having seen it used only as a verbal lash in a moment of desperation. My next hint was from a High School friend, not a member, who was reading a history book about the pioneering families of Washington State and some reference to their choice of route west to avoid being "killed by the Mormons" in Utah. He had a good laugh about that at my expense, neither of us understanding what the context really may have been.
Through my education and interest in reading, I came across enough references to start putting the stories together. There had been a massacre of a wagon train heading to California, the guilty parties being Indians and Mormons who blamed each other, and a sense in some stories that the immigrants had somehow deserved it because they were threatening the Mormons or had actually been Missouri mobocrats or the actual killers of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
I became aware of the Juanita Brooks history, The Mountain Meadows Massacre, originally published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1950. I may have even glanced at the book but I didn't sit down to read it cover to cover until many years later. I became more aware of the basic story that prominent Mormon Pioneer, John D. Lee, was involved and sentenced to death by firing squad for his part, which may have been part scapegoat for the Mormon Church. As referenced in my blog about Stewart Udall, I was well aware of the controversies including a fairly common charge in the History of the West, that Brigham Young himself was somehow at fault.
Then the church publicly owned up to its history. One of the touching connections I had with Brother Udall, a John D. Lee descendant, was his expressing appreciation for LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley in acknowledging the tragedy with the dedication of a new monument at the site and some reconciliation between the descendants of the victims' families and the perpetrators as well as with the LDS Church. I also made some visits myself to the massacre site in the mountains above St. George, Utah. Once I even took a non-Mormon friend from work who noted the ongoing controversies with the historical markers marred by modern vandals with differing views.
The Church sanctioned a published history by church historians with enhanced access to church archives. One could suppose editorial control by the church, but it is independently reviewed and published. It is an amazing book that should be required reading for every member of the church- Massacre at Mountain Meadows, by Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley, Jr., Glen M. Leonard (Oxford University Press, 2008). It is a great book, hard to describe. I was impressed enough to write to the authors. My letter follows:
[The quote is: "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being."]
I got a nice letter in response thanking me for my interest and encouraging me to read the anticipated sequel about the aftermath. There is no word on whether they will use the better citation to their Solzhenitsyn quote in any future editions. I have referenced that elsewhere as one of my favorite quotes helping to form my personal philosophy.
The second book has not been published yet. The historical events after the massacre are somewhat troubling, too. Although, this is one historical instance where cover-up may not be worse than the horror of the original crimes.
The official church magazine, the Ensign, also published an article for 150th anniversary of the massacre in September, 2007. Richard Turley, Director of the Family and Church History Department, and one of the authors of the book, wrote a good summary of the terrible history recounted more fully in the book that was soon to be published.
The official church has made its attempt to face this history honestly and fully and has done quite well. It led me to consider what I would have done personally had I'd been in there as a Mormon pioneer settler in southern Utah in 1857. Once, I was wondering aloud with my family and my oldest daughter said, "Don't worry, Dad. You're such a contrary person you would never have gone along with something like that." It's always good to get a compliment from your kids. I hope I can remain "contrary" in all the right ways.