Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows/Use of sources/Anonymous source: "Argus"

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Use of sources: Anonymous source "Argus"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows, a work by author: Will Bagley
It not only provides helpful information in evaluating the usefulness of Wandell as a source but also provides information on Bagley’s use of sources in general.
—W. Paul Reeve and Ardis E. Parshall Mormon Historical Studies
  • Critics are often less than selective in their use of historical sources. Critics who wish to exploit the Mountain Meadows Massacre to attack the Church frequently cite an anonymous source signed "Argus."

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Noted one reviewer:

The anonymous author who used the pseudonym of Argus and published a series of letters in the Corinne (Utah) Reporter lacks indicia of reliability for most of his observations. Bagley believes that Argus was later determined to be one Charles Wandell. Wandell, who lived in California at the time of the massacre, had nothing to do with it (p. 434 n. 50). When Blood of the Prophets [and, thus, Denton's derivative American Massacre] relies upon Argus, it relies upon a purveyor of thirdhand uncorroborated speculation. [1]

Two other reviewers noted of Bagley's work that:

He fails to mention that [Charles W.] Wandell [i.e., "Argus"] was not even in southern Utah at the time of the massacre and that Wandell’s information was, at best, “hearsay”—a term Bagley uses frequently to dismiss Mormon accounts.

Only after the damage is done does Bagley detail Wandell’s life and acknowledge that his information was “flawed and sometimes suspect” (269) andrefer to his articles as “a mix of fact, folklore, and propaganda” (274).

If Wandell really is such a poor source, it is difficult to understand Bagley’s favorable use of Wandell early in his book, especially given his proclivity for excluding Mormon sources on lesser grounds. Even in his description of Wandell’s break from the LDS Church, Bagley subtly changes Wandell’s own version to implicate Young. “When [Wandell] moved to Nevada in July 1866,” writes Bagley, “Young’s ‘creatures’ circulated reports at Pioche [Pioche did not exist until 1869] that Wandell was a veteran of Mountain Meadows, and they later charged that he wrote the Argus articles to exonerate himself” (269). Wandell, however, recalled it differently:

I will state that in the early days of Pioche city, a mining town situated less than 50 miles from the Mountain Meadow, some of his [Young’ s] creatures caused the report to be circulated through the Utah teamsters hauling produce to that place that I had been engaged in the Mountain Meadows massacre! And so assiduously and cunningly was this calumny circulated, and kept up with such persistency, that many of the citizens of Lincoln County, Nevada, to-day no doubt believe it to be true. I was in California and had not seen Utah when that massacre occurred. At the time this calumny was first circulated I was County officer for Lincoln County, and finally to defend myself from this clumny [sic] I wrote the “Argus” letters published in the Corrine Reporter.

Wandell, in other words, openly acknowledges that he wrote the Argus letters to defend himself. Bagley, however, again misrepresents his source to suggest that Young’s cronies perpetuated a lie against Wandell. It is an important distinction. It not only provides helpful information in evaluating the usefulness of Wandell as a source but also provides information on Bagley’s use of sources in general. [2]


Notes

  1. Robert D. Crockett, "A Trial Lawyer Reviews Will Bagley's Blood of the Prophets," FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 199–254. off-site
  2. W. Paul Reeve and Ardis E. Parshall, "review of Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows, by Will Bagley," Mormon Historical Studies (Spring 2003): 152–153.