SALT LAKE CITY — For the past 27 years, historians have identified William Edwards as a participant in the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre. But forensic document examiners now say the 1924 affidavit that implicated Edwards is a forgery linked to convicted bomber Mark Hofmann.
The affidavit was part of a collection of documents acquired in 1983 by the Utah Division of State History. It purported to be a notarized affidavit of Edwards — a confession of sorts. Edwards allegedly stated in the affidavit that in September 1857 he "accompanied about 30 men and older boys to Mountain Meadows where, we were told, an Indian massacre of an emigrant train had been consummated, and our services needed to bury the dead."
But when 15-year-old Edwards arrived on the scene, the affidavit continues, the emigrants were not yet dead and John D. Lee was planning the massacre. Edwards claims in the affidavit that he refused to discharge his weapon.
Three books — "Massacre at Mountain Meadows" by Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley Jr. and Glen M. Leonard; "Blood of the Prophets" by Will Bagley; and "Innocent Blood: Essential Narratives of the Mountain Meadows Massacre" by Bagley and David L. Bigler — all quoted from and referred to the affidavit.
"The only thing that really makes (this affidavit) different is the age in which Edwards said that he was at the meadows, which is 15," Bagley said.
Except the affidavit appears to be a Hofmann forgery.
Philip F. Notarianni, state history director, said the affidavit was acquired either from Hofmann directly or from Lyn Jacobs who often represented Hofmann. It was sold or traded to the society with letters from historian Charles Kelly, a legal document signed by the outlaw Matt Warner, a document signed by Brigham Young and papers of the first non-Mormon mayor of Salt Lake City, Montgomery Scott.
Almost all these documents sounded familiar to Brent F. Ashworth, owner of B. Ashworth's Rare Books and Collectibles, and a victim of Hofmann's forgeries. Ashworth said he sold everything but the Kelly letters and the affidavit to Hofmann.
Ashworth also sold Hofmann a collection of documents from Carbon County that included similar looking affidavits. If Ashworth's memory is correct, one of those documents had the name of a notary public named F. E. Woods — the same notary that appears on the alleged forgery. He believes that if Hofmann created the affidavit, he used the Carbon County documents as a model.
"It sure looks a lot similar to some of the notary things he got," Ashworth said.
But one thing Ashworth is sure of, he did not sell Hofmann an affidavit about the massacre.
"I don't remember anything from Mountain Meadows. I would have jumped on any affidavit. It wouldn't have gone to Hofmann, I would have hung onto it," Ashworth said.
Hofmann's connection to the affidavit was forgotten until Polly Aird reviewed "Innocent Blood" in the Spring 2010 Journal of Mormon History. She mentioned that the affidavit had been acquired by the historical society through Hofmann. This led Turley and Brian D. Reeves of the LDS Church History Department to investigate the affidavit's authenticity.
Turley and Reeves sent a letter to Notarianni summarizing their findings (the letter and the affidavit are posted onhistory.utah.gov). They said that historical sources indicate that Edwards' family moved from Salt Lake to Parowan in 1857 or 1858. The affidavit, however, placed him in Cedar City. No one from Parowan participated in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
So why then would a forger choose to frame Edwards in an affidavit? The key may be in the book "Mormonism Unveiled" by John D. Lee. The book has Lee trying to remember the name of a messenger he sent to Cedar City to get reinforcements: "either Edwards or Adair." That "Edwards" ended up in the end of the book on a list of participants.
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