Brigham Young/Prosecution of Mountain Meadows Massacre

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Prosecution of the Mountain Meadows Massacre

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Question: Did Brigham Young block prosecution of the individuals responsible for the Mountain Meadows Massacre?

Brigham Young's presidential office journal (and other items) makes it clear that federal prosecutors are the most responsible for not bringing the perpetrators to justice

Critics charge that Brigham Young blocked prosecution of those who committed the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

LaJean Purcell Carruth deciphered Brigham Young's presidential office journal (and other items) written in Deseret Alphabet. This newly discovered information makes it clear that federal prosecutors —not Brigham Young!—-are the most responsible for not bringing the perpetrators to justice.[1] Thomas Alexander writes:

On July 5, 1859, after the public knew that Cumming had received word from Washington placing the army under the governor’s control, Young met with George A. Smith, Albert Carrington, and James Ferguson. They discussed the “reaction to the Mountain Meadow Massacre.” Young told them that US. attorney Alexander Wilson had called “to consult with him about making some arrests of” the accused.[95]

On the same day, Wilson had met with Young. Young told him “that if the judges would open a court at Parowan or some other convenient location in the south, .. . unprejudiced and uninfluenced by. . . the army, so that man could have a fair and impartial trial He would go there himself, and he presumed that Gov. Cumming would also go . . . ” He “would use all his influence to have the parties arrested and have the whole. . . matter investigated thoroughly and impartially and justice meted out to every man.” Young said he would not exert himself, however, “to arrest men to be treated like dogs and dragged about by the army, and confined and abused by them,’ presumably referring to the actions of Cradlebaugh and the army in Provo. Young said that if the judges and army treated people that way, the federal officials “must hunt them up themselves.”[96]

Wilson agreed that it was unfair “to drag men and their witnesses 200 or 300 miles to trial.” Young said “the people wanted a fair and impartial court of justice, like they have in other states and territories, and if he had anything to do with it, the army must keep its place.” Wilson said he felt “the proposition was reasonable and he would propose it to the judges.”[97]

Now confident that the army would not intrude and abuse or murder Mormons, and that the US. attorney and governor would support them, the church leaders lent their influence to bringing the accused into court. On June 15, 1859, to prepare the way for the administration of justice, Brigham Young had told George A. Smith and Jacob Hamblin that “as soon as a Court of Justice could be held, so that men could be heard without the influence of the military he should advise men accused to come forward and demand trial on the charges preferred against them for the Mountain Meadow Massacre” as he had previously done. Then he again sent George A. Smith and Amasa Lyman south, this time to urge those accused of the crime to prepare for trial and to try to suppress Mormon-authored crime[98].[2]

However, Utah's governor felt that any such crimes would be covered by the post-Utah war amnesty.

Did the Mormons try to block prosecution?

A deal with Brigham Young and the Church?

Was prosecution blocked by the Church?

Summary: Critics charge that actions of the institutional Church and/or local Mormons prevented federal officials from prosecuting those guilty of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.



  1. This section is derived, with permission, from David Keller, "Thomas Alexander’s Arrington Lecture on the MMM," fairblog (16 January 2008). Due to the nature of a wiki project, it may have had alterations and additions since that time.
  2. Thomas G. Alexander, Brigham Young, the Quorum of the Twelve, and the Latter-Day Saint Investigation of the Mountain Meadows Massacre: Arrington Lecture No. Twelve (Arrington Lecture Series) (Utah State Special Collection, 2007), ISBN 0874216877. Alexander's footnotes are below:
    • [95] Historian’s Office Journal. July 5, 1859, Carruth transcription of Deseret Alphabet entry.
    • [96] Ibid..
    • [97] Ibid.
    • [98] Historian’s Office Journal, May 25, June 18, and July 5, 1859, Carruth transcription of Deseret Alphabet; George A. Smith so William H. Dame, June 19, 1859, Historian’s Office Letterpress copybooks 1854—1879, 1885—1886, 2:127, LDS Church Archives; Lee, Mormon Chronicle, 1:214 (August 5[6], 1859).