PROVO A presentation based on a forthcoming book on the Mountain Meadows Massacre was a hot subject Saturday at the Mormon History Association's 39th annual conference.
"I think there is a collective guilt that Mormons feel about (the massacre), and the only way to cleanse it is through full disclosure," one of the book's three authors, Ronald W. Walker, said during the standing-room-only presentation.
"Our hope is to go where the evidence leads us, providing an unvarnished, full disclosure of records," said Walker, professor of history at Brigham Young University.
Walker and the book's other two authors, Richard E. Turley Jr., head of the Family and Church History Department for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Glen M. Leonard, director of the LDS Church's Museum of Church History and Art, began collaborating on the book in 2000.
The Mountain Meadows Massacre occurred in September of 1857 when some 120 California-bound emigrants from Arkansas were slaughtered in southwestern Utah by Mormon men and Native Americans. Controversy over what exactly happened at Mountain Meadows' and just how high up in the church hierarchy the order for the massacre went has surrounded the incident for nearly 150 years.
Turley had been researching the subject for several years when, after nationwide, renewed interest in the topic evolved in the 1990s, he decided he wanted to write a book on the subject. He soon asked Leonard and Walker, who he knew had also been doing Mountain Meadows research, to join him in the massive undertaking.
The authors proposed tracking down, evaluating and researching every significant piece of evidence available on the subject, including previously undisclosed LDS Church records, and disclosing their findings.
"Based on a review on what has been written (on the subject) previously, I can say that we've gathered more pieces together than anyone else," said Turley. "The magnitude of the effort has been enormous."
While the three historian-authors are respected in their field, questions of bias on the subject are raised by the fact that the LDS Church is funding the research for the book. Not to mention that all three authors are devout members of the LDS Church and are employed by the church either directly or indirectly.
In an interview following the presentation, Turley said, "We will go where the truth leads us. At the outset of the research, we entertained every possibility of where the research might lead and committed to print what we found."
Turley said church leaders share the authors' desires to get all the available evidence on the subject out in the open. "The church today is a large, international organization," he said. "It has the strength and stamina to survive whatever comes out. The issue is not a threat. The church doesn't hinge on these issues.
"The idea to do the book was ours, not theirs," Turley added. "It is an independent publication."
All three authors emphasize that no church reading committee will review the book, though they intend to ask for a response to the manuscript from LDS and non-LDS writers, historians, and descendants of the perpetrators and the victims, some of whom may include church officials.
Other books on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, including Sally Denton's "American Massacre" and Will Bagley's award-winning "Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows," were published in 2002 and 2003, respectively.