Criticism of Mormonism/Books/American Massacre/Chapter 5

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Response to claims made in "Chapter 5: Salt Lake City, August 24, 1849"

A FairMormon Analysis of: American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, a work by author: Sally Denton
Claim Evaluation
American Massacre
Chart american massacre chapter 5.jpg

Response to claims made in American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, "Chapter 5: Salt Lake City, August 24, 1849"

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Response to claim: 67 - The author notes that several new federal officials fled the Utah Territory because they felt threatened

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

The author notes that several new federal officials fled the Utah Territory because they felt threatened.

Author's sources:
  1. House Exec. Doc. 25, 15 quoted in David L. Bigler, Forgotten Kingdom: The Mormon Theocracy in the American West, 1847–1896 (Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1998), 59. (bias and errors) Review

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

There is no evidence that the first federal appointees were threatened or at risk of their lives.
  • This claim is also made in One Nation Under Gods: p. 227-228 . Both authors rely upon the same source for this claim.

Question: Did federal officials flee Utah because they feared for their lives?

There is no evidence that the first federal appointees were threatened or at risk of their lives

Some, despite disagreeing with the Mormons and their administration, did not flee Utah, and suffered no consequences as a result. The St. Louis Republican criticized those who had left as having abandoned their posts, and noted that the judges' report did not suggest that any laws had been broken:

It will, at the first reading, strike everyone that the defense of these returning officers is fatally insufficient in the outset, in this: there is no overt act or crime charged or alleged to have been committed. The judges of the United States court go there, are well received, and from the time of their arrival to their coming away, no attempt is alleged to have been made, to infringe upon their jurisdiction, or refuse obedience to their decisions. On the contrary, as far as the statements go, there seems to have been a disposition to submit to their decisions, as in the case of the secretary and the funds in his hands (italics in original).[1]

Critics of Mormonism rely on the early testimony of some of the first federal officials appointed to Utah territory, and accept their testimony uncritically, despite the fact that virtually all historians' opinions are against the conclusion drawn.

Identifying the actors

  • Lemuel H. Brandebury - federal judge and territorial court chief justice
  • Perry Brocchus - federal judge and member of territorial supreme court
  • Broughton D. Harris - territorial secretary, had "$24,000 of territorial funds, as well as the seal and records of Utah."[2]

Secondary players

  • Henry R. Day - territorial Indian subagent
  • B. D. Harris - secretary of state
  • Jacob H. Holeman - territorial Indian agent

Things with the new federal appointees began badly

Young's relationship with the non-Mormon officials was damaged from the start when he began a census and called for an election of legislators before the arrival of the non-Mormon officials. Since the Secretary of State was supposed to supervise the census-taking and certify the validity of the election, Young appeared to have acted precipitously.

However, the non-Mormon territorial officials were slow in arriving. Chief Justice Brandebury arrived on 7 June 1851, and Secretary Harris, with Indian agents Stephen B. Rose and Henry R. Day, reached Salt Lake on 19 July, accompanied by Mormon representatives Almon W. Babbitt and John M. Bernhisel. Unwilling to wait for Secretary Harris's arrival, Young instructed his assistants to begin taking the census on 14 March 1851. He felt this was necessary in order to establish legislative and judicial districts and was anxious that an election be held so that territorial representatives could travel to Washington before inclement weather developed. Although the first Monday in August had been designated as election day, Young suggested that the election be held in May in Iron County while he was visiting there. He recommended that Bernhisel be named territorial representative, which recommendation was followed.[3]

Judge Brocchus was also disappointed in his desire to become territorial representative, and was upset to learn that John M. Bernhisel had already been elected.[4]

Historians have not been kind to these first federal appointees

Historian Howard Lamar described Brandebury and Brocchus as "political hacks" and concluded, "Had Fillmore searched the length and breadth of the land he scarcely could have found men less suited to deal with the Saints than the two non-Mormon judges" (Larson 1971, 8 n. 18). Brocchus, the last of the officials to arrive in Utah, arrived on 17 August 1851. In early September he was invited to speak at a general conference of the church. He showed a severe lack of tact by chastising the congregation for their religious beliefs and practices for nearly two hours, until in reaction the congregation became disorderly.[5]

Hubert Howe Bancroft wrote:

The authorities were kindly received by the saints; and had they been men of ability and discretion, content to discharge their duty without interfering with the social and religious peculiarities of the people, all would have been well; but such was not their character or policy. Judge Brocchus especially was a vain and ambitious man, full of self-importance, fond of intrigue, corrupt, revengeful, hypocritical.[6]

Judge Brocchus' speech

After Judge Brocchus' two-hour harangue of the Mormons, during which he attacked their beliefs and insisted that they should appeal to state governments for redress (though they had already done so for Missouri and Illinois and failed), Brigham Young replied:

Judge Brocchus is either profoundly ignorant, or willfully wicked, one of the two. There are several gentlemen on this platform who would be glad to prove the statements referred to in relation to him, as much more, if I would let them have the stand. His speech is designed to have political bearing. If I permit discussion to arise here, there may be either pulling of hair or a cutting of throats. It is well known to every man in this community, and has become a matter of history throughout the enlightened world, that the government of the United States looked on the scenes of robbing, driving, and murdering of this people and said nothing about the matter, but by silence gave sanction to the lawless proceedings. Hundreds of women and children have been laid in the tomb prematurely in [p.212] consequence thereof, and their blood cries to the Father for vengeance against those who have caused or consented to their death....I love the government and the Constitution of the United States, but I do not love the damned rascals who administer the government.

I know [U.S. President] Zachary Taylor, he is dead and damned, and I cannot help it. I am indignant at such corrupt fellows as Judge Brocchus coming here to lecture us on morality and virtue. I could buy a thousand of such men and put them into a bandbox. Ladies and gentlemen, here we learn principle and good manners. it is an insult to this congregation to throw out such insinuations. I say it is an insult, and I will say no more.

After some reflection, a mellowed Young sent the judge a conciliatory letter suggesting an exchange of apologies...:

Dear Sir, —Ever wishing to promote the peace, love, and harmony of the people, and to cultivate the spirit of charity and benevolence to all, and especially towards strangers, I propose, and respectfully invite your honour, to meet our public assembly at the Bowery, on Sunday evening next, at 10 A.M., and address the same people from the stand that you addressed on the 8th inst., at our General Conference; and if your honour shall then and there explain, satisfy, or apologize to the satisfaction of the ladies who heard your address on the 8th, so that those feelings of kindness which you so dearly prized in your address can be reciprocated by them, I shall esteem it a duty and a pleasure to make every apology and satisfaction for my observation which you as a gentleman can claim or desire at my hands.

Should your honour please to accept of this kind and benevolent invitation, please answer by the bearer, that public notice may be given, and widely extended, that the house may be full. And believe me, sir, most sincerely and respectfully, your friend and servant,...

P.S.—Be assured that no gentleman will be permitted to make any reply to your address on that occasion.

Brocchus refused the invitation, asserting that his speech "in all its parts were the result of deliberation and care" and that he did not feel he had said "anything deserving the censure of a justminded person."[7]

The federal officials leave Utah

Soon thereafter, many of the appointees would leave the state, including Brandebury, Brocchus, Harris, and Day:

Brocchus decided to vacate the territory but before leaving told the governor [Brigham Young] that he wanted to "bury the hatchet, shake hands and forget the past." He also asked Young to apologize to those whom he might have offended. Young announced the apology in a meeting the following day, 28 September, and two days later informed Brocchus by letter that his apology would be accepted if he agreed to control his tongue and cease to vilify "those who must everlastingly be your superiors."[8]

Said Brigham later:

The expression, "Old Zechariah Taylor is dead and in hell, and I am glad of it," which the returning officers, in their Report, alleged was said by me, I do not know that I ever thought of, until I heard Brocchus himself mention it on the stand in the Old Bowery. When he made the statement there, I simply bore testimony to the truth of it. But until then, I do not know that it ever came into my mind whether Taylor was in hell or not, any more than it did that any other wicked man was there. I suppose he is where all the ignorant wicked are gone, and where they will continue to go.[9]

Inconsistencies in the stories

Brandebury, Brocchus, Harris, and Day would leave Utah, and later claim that they left because of "the lawless and seditious conduct of the inhabitants of Utah, and Day said specifically that he could 'no longer take the abuse that was being given to the United States and its officials by the Mormons.'"[10]

However, Holeman remained, and while he "complained of the Mormons taking Indian lands [and] also accused Young of using his office and government funds to further Mormon colonization," he seems to have been in no fear for his life.[11]

Brigham Young's office journal would also report on August 18, 1860 of a member's visit to the east:

Bro[ther] G. Cannon observed that many persons of distinction whom he had seen were favorable to mormonism. he had seen Brandebury who was when here associated with Brochus and Harris, he believed Brandebury repented of the course he had taken when in Utah.

There would be no reason for Cannon to lie; the journal was not for public consumption or public-relations purposes. Why would Brandebury have something of a 'change of heart,' if his life had been threatened while in Utah?

The appointees' report that the Mormons were seditious and threatening their lives certainly affected attitudes in the east

But, the new president (Millard Fillmore) did not seem to accept that the appointees were being entirely truthful, and worked with Utah's territorial representative to find appointees that would better interface with the Mormons.[12]

Note on secondary source: Bigler

Some critics of Mormonism rely frequently on Bigler's Forgotten Kingdom: The Mormon Theocracy in the American West, 1847—1896 (Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1998).

Bigler's work has a prevalent anti-Mormon bias and presentist approach. As one reviewer noted:

Bigler claims that previous historians, presumably LDS ones, have been "too close to the events [of Utah history] to treat them without bias" (p. 16). If this is the case, Bigler does not correct bias so much as invert it....Forgotten Kingdom's assertions apply a seemingly inequitable bias or go contrary to established understandings of well-scrutinized historical patterns. In every instance, Bigler's interpretive choices paint an unfavorable portrait of Latter-day Saints.

Forgotten Kingdom seems to display a problematic interpretive bias in the opposing ways in which it interprets specific similar historical events. In cases where Mormon actions might seem questionable, the worst possible interpretations are often given and Mormons are condemned. In cases where the actions of federal officials might seem questionable, the best possible motives are often assumed and Bigler provides friendly justification.[13]

Also see use of Bigler with similar misrepresentation in:


Response to claim: 68-69 - Blood atonement

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

Blood atonement

Author's sources:
  1. Gunnison, 83.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

Blood atonement was taught, but not practiced.


Question: What is "blood atonement"?

If a person thereafter commits a grievous sin such as the shedding of innocent blood, only by voluntarily submitting to whatever penalty the Lord may require can that person benefit from the Atonement of Christ

From the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

The doctrines of the Church affirm that the Atonement wrought by the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is efficacious for the sins of all who believe, repent, are baptized by one having authority, and receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. However, if a person thereafter commits a grievous sin such as the shedding of innocent blood, the Savior's sacrifice alone will not absolve the person of the consequences of the sin. Only by voluntarily submitting to whatever penalty the Lord may require can that person benefit from the Atonement of Christ.

Several early Church leaders, most notably Brigham Young, taught that in a complete theocracy the Lord could require the voluntary shedding of a murderer's blood-presumably by capital punishment-as part of the process of Atonement for such grievous sin. This was referred to as "blood Atonement." Since such a theocracy has not been operative in modern times, the practical effect of the idea was its use as a rhetorical device to heighten the awareness of Latter-day Saints of the seriousness of murder and other major sins. This view is not a doctrine of the Church and has never been practiced by the Church at any time.

Early anti-Mormon writers charged that under Brigham Young the Church practiced "blood Atonement," by which they meant Church-instigated violence directed at dissenters, enemies, and strangers. This claim distorted the whole idea of blood atonement-which was based on voluntary submission by an offender-into a supposed justification of involuntary punishment. Occasional isolated acts of violence that occurred in areas where Latter-day Saints lived were typical of that period in the history of the American West, but they were not instances of Church-sanctioned blood Atonement.[14]

Reports of "blood atonement" having occurred were exaggerated and sensationalized

As one historian noted,

That the doctrine [of blood atonement] was preached by high officials is a matter of record; the intent of the sermons became a matter of conjecture; and the results therefrom set vivid imaginations working overtime. Blood fairly flowed through the writing of such men as Beadle in Life in Utah or the Mysteries of Mormonism and Polygamy, in Linn's The Story of Mormonism, and even Stenhouse's anonymous chapter on Reformation and Blood Atonement in his Rocky Mountain Saints. Numerous killings, including the Mountain Meadows massacre, were credited as the fruits of the doctrine....

Omitted from quotations used by the anti-Mormons were restraining clauses such as follow from Brigham Young:

. . . The time has been in Israel under the law of God that if a man was found guilty of adultery, he must have his blood shed, and that is near at hand. But now I say, in the name of the Lord, that if this people will sin no more, but faithfully live their religion, their sins will be forgiven them without taking life.

The wickedness and ignorance of the nations forbid this principle's being in full force, but the time will come when the law of God will be in full force.

The doctrine of blood atonement which involved concern for the salvation of those to be subjected to it, could have little meaning in the [p.62] Mountain Meadows massacre, or any other of the murders laid unproved on the Mormon threshold (emphasis added).[15]

There is evidence that some crimes were considered worthy of death, even in the apostolic age among Christians

Despite the critics' claims, there is evidence that some crimes were considered worthy of death, even in the apostolic age among Christians:

Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him....[Chapter 5] If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death. We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not" (1 John 3:15; 1 John 5:16-18) (italics added).


Response to claim: 69 - The author claims that apostasy and adultery were punishable by beheading

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that apostasy and adultery were punishable by beheading.

Author's sources:
  1. Gunnison, 72.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

This is total nonsense.


Question: Did the concept of "blood atonement" include a long list of crimes that were considered "worthy of death"?

The historical record shows that in reality people were not being killed for committing the crimes listed by the critics

Critics have created a long list of crimes for which they claim the 19th century church required death through blood atonement. The critics conflate blood atonement with capital punishment in order to promote the idea that the 19th century church was willing to kill anyone who disobeyed the law.

There is no doubt that Brigham Young had strong words for those who committed crimes. One should note, however, that although Brigham had very distinct (and rather harsh) opinions on what should be done, he always deferred to God's opinion. The historical record shows that in reality people were not being killed for committing the crimes listed by the critics. Critics wish to conflate the concept of "blood atonement" with a variety of comments mined from various sources in order to portray the 19th century church as a bloodthirsty, violent organization.

Blood atonement: what is it?

Main article: Blood atonement

Blood atonement is a concept taught by Brigham Young and several other early Church leaders. It states that:

1. There are certain sins of apostasy that may not be covered by Christ's atonement. Such apostasy would involve church members who had already been endowed and made covenants in the temple.

2. That a person willing to repent of such sins might need to be 'willing allow their own blood to be shed to do so.

Critics expand "blood atonement" to include a list of unrelated crimes

Critics of the Church like to mine statements from early church leaders to make it appear that "blood atonement" was being applied to others for a variety of crimes against their will. The following table lists the crimes that the some claim were "worthy of death," and the sources that they use to support this assertion.

Crime that some claim was "worthy of death" Critics' use of sources
Murder History of the Church, 5:296. Volume 5 link; Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 136. Mormon Doctrine, [1st ed.] 1958, p.314
Adultery and immorality JD 3:247. .wiki; JD 7:20. .wiki; JD 6:38. .wiki; JD 7:19. .wiki; JD 1:97. .wiki
Stealing Times and Seasons, vol. 4, pp.183-84; History of the Church 7:597; JD 1:108-9. .wiki; JD 1:73. .wiki
Using the name of the Lord in vain Journal of Hosea Stout, vol. 2, p.71; p.56 of the typed copy at Utah State Historical Society
Not receiving the Gospel JD 3:226. .wiki
Marrying an African JD 10:110. .wiki; Wilford Woodruff's Journal, January 16,1852; Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1973, p.26
Lying "Manuscript History of Brigham Young," December 20, 1846
Counterfeiting "Manuscript History of Brigham Young," February 24,1847
Condemning Joseph Smith Quest for Empire—The Political Kingdom of God and the Council of Fifty in Mormon History, p.127; Daily journal of Abraham H. Cannon, December 6, 1889, pp.205-6


Response to claim: 70 - Brigham said that Adam was God and was a polygamist

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

Brigham said that Adam was God and was a polygamist.

Author's sources:
  1. According to the author, this was said by Brigham Young at "an emergency conference of Young's apostles organized in August 1852."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event


Question: What is the Adam-God Theory?

Brigham Young taught that Adam, the first man, was God the Father

Brigham Young taught that Adam, the first man, was God the Father. Since this teaching runs counter to the story told in Genesis and commonly accepted by Christians, critics accuse Brigham of being a false prophet. Also, because modern Latter-day Saints do not believe Brigham's "Adam-God" teachings, critics accuse Mormons of either changing their teachings or rejecting teachings of prophets they find uncomfortable or unsupportable.

Brigham never developed the teaching into something that could be reconciled with LDS scripture and presented as official doctrine

Brigham Young appears to have believed and taught Adam-God, but he never developed the teaching into something that could be reconciled with LDS scripture and presented as official doctrine. Therefore, we simply don't know what Brigham Young meant, and modern leaders have warned us about accepting traditional explanations of Adam-God. Since the Church has rejected it, we won't be able to answer the question until the Lord sees fit to reveal more about it.

The Church's official position is that Adam-God is not the doctrine of the Church

Regardless of which approach the reader prefers to accept, the Church's official position on Adam-God is clear: as popularly understood, Adam-God (i.e., "Adam, the first man, was identical with Elohim/God the Father") is not the doctrine of the Church. If there are any particles of truth to anything surrounding the Adam-God doctrine, one would expect those things to harmonize with what has already been revealed. Only further revelation from the Lord's anointed would be able to clear up many points surrounding that doctrine.


Response to claim: 73 - Brigham is said to have threatened to "unsheathe" his bowie knife against the Gladdenites

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

Brigham is said to have threatened to "unsheathe" his bowie knife against the Gladdenites.

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Although the author provides no source, this reference is found in Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 1:83. Brigham's statement was rhetorical. He was describing a dream that he had. Brigham says,

I say, rather than that apostates should flourish here, I will unsheath my bowie knife, and conquer or die. [Great commotion in the congregation, and a simultaneous burst of feeling, assenting to the declaration.] Now, you nasty apostates, clear out, or judgment will be put to the line, and righteousness to the plummet. [Voices, generally, "go it, go it."] If you say it is right, raise your hands. [All hands up.] Let us call upon the Lord to assist us in this, and every good work.



  1. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 3:535-537. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  2. Michael W. Homer, "The Judiciary and the Common Law in Utah Territory, 1850-61," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 21 no. 1 (Spring 1998), 98-99.
  3. Eugene E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-1869 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1998), 210.
  4. Eugene E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-1869 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1998), 210.
  5. Edwin Brown Firmage and Richard Collin Mangrum, Zion in the Courts : a Legal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830–1900 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 215. ISBN 0252069803.
  6. Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Utah (San Francisco, CA: The History Company, Publishers, 1890), 465.
  7. Campbell, 211-12.
  8. Campbell, 213.
  9. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 1:185.
  10. Campbell, 105.
  11. Campbell, 105.
  12. Campbell, 218-220.
  13. Eric A. Eliason, "Review of: Forgotten Kingdom: The Mormon Theocracy in the American West, 1847–1896," FARMS Review of Books 12/1 (2000): 95–112. off-site
  14. Lowell M. Snow, "Blood atonement," Encyclopedia of Mormonism.
  15. Gustave O. Larson, "The Mormon Reformation," Utah Historical Quarterly 26/1 (January 1958): 60-62.