Historiography

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This page contains past historical treatments of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

A Brief Overview

In their methodology and use of sources, how have the major treatments of the massacre distinguished themselves?

T.B.H. Stenhouse, Rocky Mountain Saints"

In Rocky Mountain Saints (1873),T. B. H. Stenhouse sought verification from independent sources. Thus, he relied heavily on Philip Klingensmith's affidavit with (apparent) verification from journalist Charles Wandell's unnamed source. But Wandell's source was the selfsame Klingensmith, as Klingensmith later revealed. Thus, Stenhouse's search for corroboration ended in circularity.

Other treatments during the 1870s were part of the exposé and sensationalistic crime genres. J. H. Beadle's Life in Utah; Or, Mysteries and Crimes of Mormonism (1870 and later editions) and Ann Eliza Young's Wife No. 19; Or, The Story of a Life in Bondage (1875) were two of these.


John D. Lee, Mormon Unveiled, or The LIfe and Confessions of John D. Lee

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During his lifetime, John D. Lee gave at least five statements on the massacre. His penultimate statement was in his Mormonism Unveiled; or The Life and Confessions of John D. Lee (1877). The longest militia account, it is an important primary source. It also presents serious historiographical challenges, mainly in the form of unverified accomplice accusations against others. Reliance on unverified accusations has been common, particularly in the sensationalistic crime genre.


Charles W. Penrose, The Mountain Meadows Massacre: Who Was Guilty of the Crime?

In 1884, Mormon leader Charles W. Penrose delivered an address, later published as The Mountain Meadows Massacre: Who was Guilty of the Crime? It provided a short summary of the massacre mainly from unattributed sources. A polemical work, Penrose sought to refute charges against the Mormon church. It contains many legal affidavits, then considered especially credible.


Josiah Gibbs, The Mountain Meadows Massacre

Josiah Gibbs' The Mountain Meadows Massacre was published in 1910 and was of uneven quality. In its favor, Gibbs cited the primary witnesses in the Lee trials. Then, with access to other primary witnesses, he provided at least one witness statement found nowhere else. But Gibbs also used unattributed sources and his argument was marred by a polemical tone.


Hoffman Birney, Zealots of Zion

In 1931, Hoffman Birney offered a lengthy account in Zealots of Zion. While it was a journalistic treatment based on many unattributed sources, Birney did achieve a greater degree of impartiality than previous works and took an important step toward a balanced account. Arguing for the complicity of five militiamen -- Isaac Haight, William Dame, Philip Klingensmith, John D. Lee and John Higbee -- Birney countered the view, popular in some quarters, that Lee was solely responsible. He also anticipated the conclusions of Juanita Brooks and, more recently, Walker, Turley and Leonard.


Juanita Brooks, The Mountain Meadows Massacre

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This argument was strengthened in Juanita Brooks' The Mountain Meadows Massacre (1950, revised 1962, 1970). Relying heavily on primary sources, Brooks skillfully weighed their strengths and weaknesses. In defending John D. Lee, she may have exceeded the evidence, but then she was trying to correct the popular perception (within Utah) of Lee as the massacre's sole cause. Brooks' strengths include unflinching honesty in a generally balanced narrative marked by its brevity in treating complex events.



William Wise, Massacre at Mountain Meadows: An American Legend and a Monumental Crime

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In 1976, William Wise wrote Massacre at Mountain Meadows: An American Legend and a Monumental Crime. Previously, Wise had been successful as a writer of children's literature. But he was not up to the challenge of this daunting historiographical problem. Based largely on secondary sources and full of stock heros and villains, Massacre at Mountain Meadows offers a cartoonish picture of the massacre. It is arguably the least successful of the twentieth century treatments of the massacre.



Will Bagley, Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows

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Will Bagley's Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows (2002) made a notable contribution to the relevant sources. His central inquiry was "What did Brigham Young know, and when did he know it?" Relying generally on primary sources, he was skeptical of the "murderers" and argued for the credibility of the child survivors. Yet he relied heavily on militiamen, including Lee and Klingensmith, and sometimes their unverified accusations. Opinion remains divided on whether his or Brooks' interpretation was the more judicious.



Sally Denton, American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, September 1857

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In 2003, investigative journalist Sally Denton published American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, September 1857. Denton provided an engaging narrative but made indiscriminate use of secondary sources. Ignoring other militiamen, she relied almost exclusively on Lee and Klingensmith and their unverified accusations. Perhaps unwittingly, she has brought the sensationalistic crime genre and its fascination with the massacre into the twenty-first century.



Walker, Leonard & Turley, Massacre at Mountain Meadows

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In 2008, Ronald Walker, Glen Leonard and Richard Turley published Massacre at Mountain Meadows, an semi-official volume sponsored by the historical department of the Mormon Church. They present the massacre in an economical 231 pages. But they also include four appendices with important summaries identifying the involved emigrants, emigrant property, the militiamen, and the Indians. Its most important contribution is using a framework based on four decades of study of American violence. Since the 1960s there has been a flood of scholarship studying American violence. Massacre at Mountain Meadows is the first history of the massacre to incorporate that scholarship into a framework for understanding it.


Documentary Volumes: Innocent Blood: Essential Narratives of the Mountain Meadows Massacre and Mountain Meadows Massacre: The Andrew Jenson and David H. Morris Collections

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In 2008, David Bigler and Will Bagley edited Innocent Blood: Essential Narratives of the Mountain Meadows Massacre and in 2009, Richard Turley and Ronald Walker edited Mountain Meadows Massacre: The Andrew Jenson and David H. Morris Collections. Each is a documentary volume. Turley and Walker present a collection of additional statements from Iron County militiamen, the primary witnesses to the massacre. Bigler and Bagley provide a collection of largely secondary materials. In each volume, the editors have made available materials from previously obscure sources that until now had been largely inaccessible to the general public.