Criticism of Mormonism/Books/American Massacre/Chapter 12

Table of Contents

Response to claims made in Chapter 12: "Camp Scott, November 16, 1857"

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 12.jpg

Response to claims made in American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, "Chapter 12: Camp Scott, November 16, 1857"

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Response to claim: 165 - Brigham Young had "seen to it that Van Vliet heard nothing of Mountain Meadows"

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

The author claims that during meetings with U.S. Army Quartermaster Captain Stewart Van Vliet, Brigham Young had "seen to it that Van Vliet heard nothing of Mountain Meadows," and that the "Mormon leaders worried that if van Vliet relayed news of the situation to Johnston, an invasion of Utah Territory would be expedited."

(Author's sources: No source provided for this particular claim, although the following citation is Van Vliet quoted in T.B.H. Stenhouse, Rocky Mountain Saints: a full and complete history of the Mormons, from the first vision of Joseph Smith to the last courtship of Brigham Young (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1873), 357.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

It was virtually impossible for anyone in Salt Lake to have heard of the Massacre (which happened on 11 September) by the time Van Vliet left on 14 Sept, or last met with Brigham Young on 13 Sept.



Question: Did Brigham Young hide knowledge of the massacre from Captain Stewart Van Vliet?

The claim is impossible: The timeframe and distances involved simply don't work

Robert D. Crockett:

Army Quartermaster Captain Stewart Van Vliet came to Salt Lake City on 8 September and left after midnight on 14 September 1857 to arrange for the advancing army's provisions. Denton tells us that Brigham Young carefully shielded Van Vliet to hear nothing of the massacre, because if Van Vliet came to know about it, "an invasion of Utah Territory would be expedited" (p. 165). There is no historical support for this claim. The claim is also impossible to support. Because the massacre was not over until 11 September 1857,23 there is no possibility that Brigham Young could have known of the massacre before his last meeting with Van Vliet on 13 September 1857." [1]


Response to claim: 165 - Brigham did not preach the sermon at the church meeting attended by Van Vliet because he was "too furious to conduct the service"

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

The author claims that Brigham did not preach the sermon at the church meeting attended by Van Vliet because he was "too furious to conduct the service."

(Author's sources: No source provided. Likely Stenhouse.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is a falsehood - The author has disseminated false information

Brigham actually did preach two sermons that day (13 September 1857).

Reviewer Robert Crocket notes, "Denton’s failure to know of Young’s sermons suggests a rather light review of her secondary sources. On 13 September 1857, in the Bowery, Brigham Young indeed said he was too angry to preach but then filled the day with two lengthy sermons nonetheless. Regardless of who spoke, I would have imagined that anybody writing about this event would have taken time to examine the Journal of Discourses to see what was actually said with Van Vliet in attendance." [2]



Response to claim: 165 - Brigham made an "oblique but unrecognized reference to the massacre at Mountain Meadows" to Van Vliet"

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

The author claims that Brigham made an "oblique but unrecognized reference to the massacre at Mountain Meadows" to Van Vliet when he said "if the government dare to force the issue, I shall not hold the Indians by the wrist any longer...you may tell the government to stop all emigration across the continent, for the Indians will kill all who attempt it."

(Author's sources: Bancroft, 505.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is a falsehood - The author has disseminated false information

The author just said earlier that Brigham had "seen to it that Van Vliet heard nothing of Mountain Meadows." Now she's saying that Brigham made an "oblique but unrecognized reference" to it!




Response to claim: 167 - "any man who defied Young's orders would be put to death"

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

The author states that "any man who defied Young's orders would be put to death was made evident in his statement 'When the time comes to burn and lay waste our improvements, if any man undertakes to shield his, he will be sheared down.'"

(Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The author uses a secondary source, when she could have easily verified Brigham's words in the Journal of Discourses. In context, Brigham's word assume a different tone. Immediately following the phrase quoted by the author, Brigham says "Now the faint-hearted can go in peace; but should that time come, they must not interfere." This is not a threat of death to those who would not participate.



Question: Would those that defied Brigham Young be "sheared down" and put to death?

Those who make this claim quote only a fragment of Brigham's speech: He was speaking of military necessary in the event of retreat before the invading U.S. Army

It is claimed that "any man who defied Young's orders would be put to death was made evident in his statement 'When the time comes to burn and lay waste our improvements, if any man undertakes to shield his, he will be sheared down.'" The quote is taken from its context. Brigham was speaking of military necessary in the event of retreat before the invading U.S. Army.

As is typical in such cases, those who make this claim quote only a fragment of Brigham's speech. The more complete text reads:

...I have told you that if there is any man or woman that is not willing to destroy anything and everything of their property that would be of use to an enemy, if left, I wanted them to go out of the Territory; and I again say so to-day; for when the time comes to burn and lay waste our improvements, if any man undertakes to shield his, he will be sheared down; for "judgment will be laid to the line and righteousness to the plummet." Now the faint-hearted can go in peace; but should that time come, they must not interfere. Before I will suffer what I have in times gone by, there shall not be one building, nor one foot of lumber, nor a stick, nor a tree, nor a particle of grass and hay, that will burn, left in reach of our enemies. I am sworn, if driven to extremity, to utterly lay waste, in the name of Israel's God....
I naturally dislike to have any trouble, and would not, were I not obliged to; but we are obliged to defend ourselves against the persecution of our oppressors, or have our constitutional rights rent from us, and have ourselves destroyed.... If the people prefer it, they may stop their improvements and take care of their wheat, and cache a supply of grain, flour, &c., where no other persons can find it; though we can raise grain here all the time,—yes, all the time....We have no desire to kill men, but we wish to keep the devils from killing us....I am not speaking of the Government, but of the corrupt administrators of the Government.[3]

Brigham was anticipating the need for a 'scorched earth' policy against the invading U.S. army.

Brigham makes the following statements that the critics ignore:

  • Those who do not wish to destroy their property before the army arrives may leave in peace.
  • Those who remain will be left alone, if they do not interfere with the military necessity of scorched earth, should it be necessary.
  • This would only happen "if driven to extremity."
  • Brigham does not want trouble or war, or killing, but he fears violence against his people—for which they had ample precedent.
  • Brigham provides the option of caching their goods out of the army's reach rather than destroying them.
  • Brigham's quarrel is not with the United States, but with "corrupt administrators."

The only threat made is to those who, under military conditions, actively seek to resist the legal order of the territorial governor and militia commander to refuse aid and supplies to a military enemy. The property could not be preserved in such a case, because it would either be destroyed or appropriated by the enemy army. Military and militia commanders in all ages would have done nothing less, and Brigham's stance was moderate and merciful—no one was compelled to remain, no one was compelled to destroy anything.

But, if retreat became necessary, he would not allow supplies or shelter to fall into the hands of the enemy, which could cost Utahan lives if the war turned hot. This is not a dictatorship or megalomania; it was simply military prudence.


Response to claim: 172 - "droves of Saints leaving California for Utah" and "a matching number leaving Utah of a crisis of conscience spurred by the events of Mountain Meadows"

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

The author claims that "droves of Saints leaving California for Utah" and "a matching number leaving Utah of a crisis of conscience spurred by the events of Mountain Meadows" were "doomed to pass over the site of the slaughter."

(Author's sources: No source provided.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author needs to provide some evidence for this supposed "crisis of conscience."



Response to claim: 172 - Ann Eliza Young claims that she "knew instinctively, as did many others, that something was being hidden from the mass of the people"

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

Ann Eliza Young claims that she "knew instinctively, as did many others, that something was being hidden from the mass of the people."

(Author's sources: Ann Eliza Young, Wife No. 19, or the Story of a Life in Bondage...(Hartford, Conn.: Custin, Gilman & Company, 1876), 229.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

So now, Ann Eliza's intuitions are serving as evidence. Ann Eliza was writing later in life as an anti-Mormon lecturer, and used all the anti-Mormon tropes.
  • See Hugh W. Nibley, Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass: The Art of Telling Tales About Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Vol. 11 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by David J. Whittaker, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991),413–468. ISBN 0875795161. GL direct link GL direct link



Response to claim: 173 - It is claimed that Brigham Young instructed John D. Lee to write a letter laying the blame for the massacre on the Indians

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

It is claimed that Brigham Young instructed John D. Lee to write a letter laying the blame for the massacre on the Indians.

(Author's sources: No source provided.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

As noted on the notes for p. 142, local leaders had planned to blame the Indians long before Brigham Young even knew of their intentions, or instructed them to leave the immigrants alone.



Response to claim: 173 - Brigham is claimed to have told Chief Walker's successor Arapeen to "help himself to what he wanted" of the "spoils of the slaughter"

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

Brigham is claimed to have told Chief Walker's successor Arapeen to "help himself to what he wanted" of the "spoils of the slaughter."

(Author's sources:
  • Dimick B. Huntington Journal, September 20, 1857.
  • Compare treatment in Blood of the Prophets: p. 170a.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The author again follows Bagley completely uncritically, and makes the same errors.




Response to claim: 176, 180 - Colonel Thomas Kane is portrayed as arrogant, effeminate, a hypochondriac, and with delusions of fame

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

Colonel Thomas Kane is portrayed as arrogant, effeminate, a hypochondriac, and with delusions of fame.

(Author's sources: Compare treatment in Blood of the Prophets: p. 198.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author seems to rely heavily on Bagley's treatment here.



Question: Did Colonel Thomas Kane attempt to cover up the Mountain Meadows Massacre?

The claim that Kane was responsible for covering up the massacre finds no support in history

Critics who use the Mountain Meadows Massacre to attack the Church often mention non-LDS Col. Thomas Kane. Kane was a good friend to the Mormons prior to Joseph Smith's death, and he was also briefly involved in the Massacre issue. There are two issues raised by critics in conjunction with Kane:

  1. some blame Kane for helping Brigham Young to cover up the Massacre
  2. some paint Kane as ridiculous, vain, or foolish—this is apparently done on the theory that anyone who likes or helps the Mormons must either be evil or a dupe.

Noted one reviewer:

The claim that Kane was responsible for covering up the massacre (p. 47) finds no support in history, nor does Denton cite primary sources for her view other than Kane's participation in advising Young to respond to federal inquiries in 1858 (p. 208). As I point out in my review of Bagley's Blood of the Prophets, the massacre investigation spanned decades and involved sitting presidents, cabinet members, attorneys general, federal district attorneys, federal marshals, territorial marshals, and more. Kane was out of the picture shortly after the massacre." [4]

Negative portrayal

Denton's American Massacre portrays Kane as arrogant, effeminate, a hypochondriac, and with delusions of fame. Wrote one reviewer of her portrait:

Denton's discussion of Kane is mercilessly out of context. Biographies and journals of nineteenth-century 'Renaissance' men reveal that many accomplished men adopted what appear today to be affectations of self-importance and prolixity. Stenhouse, no advocate of Brigham Young nor necessarily fair with his sources when discussing Mormonism, treated Kane respectfully in his nineteenth-century work, Rocky Mountain Saints. Stenhouse tells us that 'in the relations of Col. Kane with the Mormons at that time, there was exhibited evidence of the highest Christian charity and personal heroism of character.'" [5]


Response to claim: 186 - Prior to the massacre, George A. Smith is claimed to "have carried orders to Cedar City leaders to incite their people to avenge the blood of the prophets"

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

Prior to the massacre, George A. Smith is claimed to "have carried orders to Cedar City leaders to incite their people to avenge the blood of the prophets."

(Author's sources: No source provided. (Likely Bagley))

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is a falsehood - The author has disseminated false information

There is no evidence to support this claim.



Question: Did apostle George A. Smith carry orders for the Mountain Meadows Massacre?

There is no evidence to support this claim

Some wish to make Brigham Young and apostle George A. Smith complicit in the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Thus, it is claimed that prior to the massacre, George A. Smith is alleged to "have carried orders to Cedar City leaders to incite their people to avenge the blood of the prophets" (Denton, 186).

John D. Lee is wrong on those events which we can verify, and no other evidence supports this claim.

One reviewer dismissed the thin evidence upon which this claim rests:

"This argument assumes Brigham Young had formulated the plan for destruction when the Fancher train was still in Salt Lake City on 5 August 1857. There is no evidence of material provocation by the Fancher train at this early stage except from persons with no reliable basis upon which to provide testimony....Nobody has ever offered any believable evidence that George A. Smith gave instructions to Haight and Lee to massacre the train. John D. Lee is the only person who purported to offer evidence of these instructions," and Lee had a clear motive to lie to save his own skin and make his memoirs more marketable. "Lee's claim that George A. Smith met Lee in southern Utah on 1 September 1857 (an approximate date deduced from Lee's text) with orders of destruction was impossible because Smith was hundreds of miles away in Salt Lake City on that very day, as well as the day before. [6]


Response to claim: 186 - George A. Smith was "sent south not to learn the truth, but to devise an explanation for church leaders could provide to external enemies..."

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

George A. Smith was "sent south not to learn the truth, but to devise an explanation for church leaders could provide to external enemies..."

(Author's sources: Will Bagley, Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows (University of Oklahoma Press, 2002), 212.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

This is simply speculation on the part of the author and her source.




Notes

  1. Robert D. Crockett, "The Denton Debacle (Review of: American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, September 1857)," FARMS Review 16/1 (2004): 135–148. off-site
  2. Robert D. Crockett, "The Denton Debacle (Review of: American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, September 1857)," FARMS Review 16/1 (2004): 135–148. off-site
  3. Brigham Young, (13 Sept 1857) Journal of Discourses 5:232.
  4. Robert D. Crockett, "The Denton Debacle (Review of: American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, September 1857)," FARMS Review 16/1 (2004): 135–148. off-site
  5. Robert D. Crockett, "The Denton Debacle (Review of: American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, September 1857)," FARMS Review 16/1 (2004): 135–148. off-site
  6. Robert D. Crockett, "A Trial Lawyer Reviews Will Bagley's Blood of the Prophets," FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 199–254. off-site