Two of three scholars had plenty of praise Friday for the newest book on one of Utah's most horrific events: the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

The panel discussion on the new book, "Massacre at Mountain Meadows," by Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley and Glen M. Leonard, was held at the Salt Lake City Library Auditorium. A standing-room-only crowd packed the room for the 90-minute presentation, followed by a lengthy question-and-answer session.

Mountain Meadows is where a band of militia members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — aided by Indian allies — killed a party of California-bound emigrants, including more than 120 men, women and children, on Sept. 11, 1857, southwest of Cedar City, under a false flag of truce.

"I would like to congratulate the authors for this book," said Dr. Philip Barlow, Arrington Chair of Mormon History at Utah State University and a panelist. He also applauded the LDS Church for its cooperation in the work. "As a piece of scholarship, it is a formidable piece of work."

He believes the book itself is historic, since it probably will mean the historical department of the LDS Church will address other controversies now, too, like polygamy.

"The authors have been candid," he said, and the LDS Church made sources available that had never been available before.

"The massacre reminds us that Mormons are human" and capable of violence, Barlow said.

"This is a carefully conceived book," said Dr. Donald Fixico, professor of history at Arizona State University and another panelist.

He also believes the book does something few do — "It makes native people (Americans) part of the story" — though he acknowledged the Paiutes involved in the massacre were pawns and victims of it. "I applaud the authors for doing this."

Fixico said he feels the book raises new perspectives and questions. "It makes us think. ... This is a monumental work, a role model of scholarship, a pivotal work."

Dr. John Mack Faragher, professor of American History at Yale University, another panelist, didn't offer much direct praise for the work. He chose instead to address some of the questions the book raises, and its shortcomings.

For example, he doesn't feel the authors spent enough time addressing LDS Church authority issues or the moral sanction of legal violence by LDS leaders. But he did feel the book did a good job at portraying self-righteousness and a lust for vengeance.

Faragher also said the book underplayed how violent a place 19th century America was — especially on the frontier.

Turley, one of three authors of the book, responded to the panel's critique. He said some of the panelists lamenting missing themes would have found some of them explored in earlier drafts of the book. However, space was limited.

"We could only touch the tips of the iceberg," he said.

Turley said the book's intent was to create discomfort for readers with the reality of the massacre. He also said history notes a short distance between violent language and the act.

He said all three authors felt, "This is the most difficult subject in Mormon history." So, if it's done, any other subject can now be addressed.

• For those who missed the discussion, KCPW radio will have a podcast of it available starting Monday at www.kcpw.org.

• The new book is published by Oxford Press, is 408 pages and a soft cover copy sells for $29.95. The book only deals with the massacre itself, and not its aftermath — material for a future, second book.


E-mail: lynn@desnews.com