OREM, Utah — Discussing one of the darkest events in Utah's history in a civil manner was one of the goals of a panel discussion at Utah Valley University on Thursday evening. Will Bagley, an independent historian; Forrest Cuch, executive director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs; and Richard E. Turley Jr., assistant LDS Church historian participated in "Perspectives on a massacre: A panel discussion on Mountain Meadows."
Moderator Alex Caldiero, poet and scholar in residence at UVU, illustrated the problems inherent in such a discussion when he began the evening by reading three different versions of "just the facts."
Then it was the panelists' turn. Each gave a 15-minute presentation on their perspective of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The massacre occurred in 1857 west of Cedar City, Utah, when Mormon settlers attacked a California-bound wagon train, killing 120 people.
Turley focused on the events leading up to the massacre. Like the book "Massacre at Mountain Meadows" that he co-authored with Ronald W. Walker and Glen M. Leonard, he placed the massacre in the context of studies of group violence and the process that leads to such atrocities. "Demonizing (the victims), authority, obedience, peer pressure, ambiguity, fear and deprivation — all were present in southern Utah in 1857," Turley said.
Turley rejected the search for scapegoats, but also emphasized that none of the conditions and nothing the victims did justified the massacre. "Unless human beings choose to resist powerful forces, otherwise good people under certain circumstances can commit the unthinkable," he said.Bagley rejected the idea that the massacre can be compared to other atrocities. "This is a singular event," he said. "To dismiss the bloodshed at Mountain Meadows as a typical act of Western violence is trying to hide an orange in a bushel of apples."
For Bagley, as the name of his book on the subject, "The Blood of the Prophets," implies, blame rests with church President Brigham Young. He quoted one of Juanita Brooks' conclusions in her landmark book "The Mountain Meadows Massacre" where she said church leadership's rhetoric helped set up the social conditions that made the massacre possible. "Everything else is just inside baseball," Bagley said.
Both Bagley and Turley agreed that it was a terrible act to blame the massacre on the Paiute Indians. Cuch, who wrote the book, "A History of Utah's American Indians," lamented the pain such accusations caused — including his own pain he experienced when in about seventh grade. A teacher told his class that the full blame for the massacre belonged to the Native Americans. "Most of us Indian kids looked at each other and then we looked at the white kids who were staring at us, and luckily we had enough numbers to hold ourselves off. But it was a very uncomfortable situation — even today," Cuch said.
Cuch disputed that any Native Americans participated — relying on statements from the Paiutes and oral traditions concerning the massacre. "The most that they could identify were two Paiutes who may have participated. More than likely if there were any more than that, they were probably renegade from other tribes — possibly even some Utes, my people."
Cuch said the victims of the massacre and the Paiutes still await an apology from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
After the preliminaries, the panel discussion began. At first it was almost entirely between Turley and Bagley — sparing over a passage in Bagley's book that was the lynchpin for placing blame on Brigham Young. Part of the passage included a mistranscription by Bagley where he substituted "raise alliances" for "raise grain."
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