Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mountain Meadows and the Other

Drove by Mountain Meadow Sunday. The dark gray clouds, remnants of Californian deluge, added to the depressive mood I always feel there. Having some pioneer ancestors in Utah's Dixie, I've wondered if any were involved in the massacre. So far, none show on the lists. The real problem is, it could have involved almost anyone. Humans have the capacity of great good and abject evil. While most of us shift around in the middle, well, I don't like thinking about it because of those clouds.

I still recommend the honest assessment of Walker, Turley, and Leonard. (See my earlier comments here). And searching around the internet today, I found this great quote and checking footnotes, realized it was mostly from their book. Commenting on the classic work by Juanita Brooks on the same theme:
Brooks concluded, "Perhaps, when all is finally known, the mountain meadows massacre will be a classic study in mob psychology or the effects of war hysteria." "Exaggeration, misrepresentation, ungrounded fears, unreasoning hate, desire for revenge, yes, even the lust for the property of the emigrants, all combined to give justification which, once the crime was done, looked inadequate and flimsy indeed."
"Since the time Brooks wrote those words, scholars of religious or ethnic violence have described the step-by-step process that leads to mass killing." These researchers found that "episodes of violence often begin when one people classify another as 'the other,' stripping them of any humanity and mentally transforming them into enemies. Once this process of devaluing and demonizing occurs, stereotypes take over, rumors circulate, and pressure builds to conform to group action against the perceived threat. Those classified as the enemy are often seen as the transgressors...when these tinderbox conditions exist, a single incident, small or ordinary in usual circumstances, may spark great violence ending in atrocity."
Other conditions prepare the way for violence against perceived enemies. "Usually there is an atmosphere of authority and obedience.... Atrocities also appear...then their culture or messages from headquarters leave local leaders wondering what they should do. Poverty increases the likelihood of problems by raising concerns about survival. The conditions for mass killing--demonizing, authority, obedience, peer pressure, ambiguity, fear, and deprivation--all were present in southern Utah in 1857.
While all these historical models or patters help us understand, we cannot neglect the role of individual choices....
Away from my library, I was skimming the web for a hint of something I had once seen concerning the victims. Somewhere I read that two disaffected Mormon widows may have joined the Fancher party in Spanish Fork. There are several unidentified victims of the massacre.

The web has some good, solid information on the Massacre including the some from the association engaged in reconciliation. There were also a lot of sites identifying one side or another, as "THE Other." They weren't helping much except that you can still find nubs of truth anywhere that can lead to answers. I was entertained by the popular, conspiracy theories blaming all on Brigham Young. Just like my disbelief of Kennedy assassination theories, I feel the same about Mountain Meadows. The lack of evidence is not evidence (although it can usually be a defense attorney's best friend). And the leaps between points of evidence serve no purpose but to aggrandize the proponent of the theory and muddy the history.

And I don't want to jump to conclusions about the disappearance of my ancestor Elinor Jenkins Vaughan Hulet (1789-1857 or . . .). The bulk of evidence still points to that unmarked grave in Springville. And as Sherlock would say about a deep thinker or researcher, "it rather encourages him to seek a complex explanation when a simpler one is at hand" (even if Study in Scarlet got a little complex circling back to the legends of the Meadow.)

Still, there I was driving by Mountain Meadow with the thought that while not likely, it was still possible that Elinor could be there. There is no "Other" when we realize the Other could be Us.

October 29, 2014

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on its lds.org Gospel Topics, had published a series of scholarly and religious articles on difficult historical issues. You can find one on Violence in Frontier Utah, including the Mountain Meadows horror here at this link.

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