Question: Did Brigham Young order that the Mount Meadows monument be destroyed?

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Question: Did Brigham Young order that the Mount Meadows monument be destroyed?

Neither Wilford Woodruff, nor John D. Lee said anything in their journals about Brigham Young ordering the destruction of the monument

The critical book One Nation Under Gods claims that when Brigham Young visited the Mountain Meadows Massacre site in 1860 and saw the monument, that he "ordered the monument and cross torn down" and demolished. [1]

If Brigham Young had ordered the monument's destruction, this would be an unfortunate example of the fallibility of mortal prophets. The ability of Lee and others to hide their crimes for a time is not unexpected given LDS doctrine (DC 10:37).

Wilford Woodruff (and John D. Lee) said nothing in his journal about Brigham Young ordering—or desiring— the destruction of the monument. Waite's book reports a rumor, and Leavitt's account is frank to admit that all Brigham did was "raise his arm to the square" (this gesture is used, for example, during LDS baptisms to indicate that the priesthood is being invoked, and a covenant made). Leavitt presumes that Brigham wanted the monument destroyed, but this was his supposition. It is completely unsupported by Woodruff, and it is completely inconsistent with Lorenzo Brown's witness of three years later that the monument was still standing.

The author's claim that Wilford Woodruff's journal supports the destruction of the monument is absolutely unsupportable. It is certainly not a historical certainty that Brigham Young ordered the monument destroyed. The Leavitt account tells us only that some Church members interpreted Brigham's actions in that manner—we thus cannot rule out an intention by Brigham to have the monument destroyed, but historians are less skilled at mind-reading than even Dudley Leavitt would have been.

One Nation Under Gods gets the date and reference to Woodruff's diary wrong—the reference is to 1861, not 1860. But, there are more serious lapses.

Woodruff journal: There is no mention of Brigham Young tearing down the cross or demolishing the monument

The quote from Woodruff's journal reads simply:

25 A vary Cold morning. Much Ice on the Creek. I wore my great Coat & mittens. We visited the Mountain Meadow Monument put up at the burial place of 120 persons killed by Indians in 1857. The pile of stone was about 12 feet high, but begining to tumble down. A wooden Cross was placed on top with the following words: Vengence is mine and I will repay saith the Lord. President Young said it should be Vengence is mine and I have taken a little.

There is no mention of Brigham Young tearing down the cross or demolishing the monument—Woodruff noted that the monument was already "begining [sic] to tumble down," but said nothing about Brigham ordering it torn down.

Brooks: the monument was still standing three years after Brigham's first visit to the monument

The Brooks account is more on point. In favor of the claim that Brigham had something to do with the monument's destruction, Brooks cites:

  1. her grandfather, Dudley Leavitt, to one of his sons, who recorded it: "‘I was with a group of elders that went out with President Young to visit the spot in the spring of ’61. The soldiers had put up a monument, and on top of that a wooden cross with words burned into it, ‘Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay.’ Brother Brigham read that to himself and studied it for a while and then he read it out loud, ‘Vengeance is mine saith the Lord; I have repaid.’ He didn’t say another word. He didn’t give an order. He just lifted his right arm to the square, and in five minutes there wasn’t one stone left upon another. He didn’t have to tell us what he wanted done. We understood.’"
  2. Catherine Waite's book (which has a footnote which quotes from General Carlton) states that "this monument is said to have been destroyed the first time Brigham visited that part of the Territory" (Waite, The Mormon Prophet and his Harem, 71).

Brooks also cites the Lorenzo Brown diary from July 1, 1864 wherein he states that he passed by, and saw the monument still standing. This was three years after Brigham's first visit to the monument. It is possible that this was a rebuilt monument, but the description is strikingly similar:

went past the monument that was erected in commemoration of the Massacre that was committed at that place by officers & men of Company M Calafornia volunteers May 27 & 28 1864 It is built of cobble stone at the bottom and about 3 feet high then rounded up with earth & surmounted by a rough wooden cross the whole 6 or 7 feet high & perhaps 10 feet square On one side of the cross is inscribed Mountain Meadow Massacre and over that in smaller letters is vengeance is mine & I will repay saith the Lord. On the other side Done by officers & men of Co. M Cal. Vol. May 27th & 28th 1864 Some one has written below this in pencil. Remember Hauns mill and Carthage Jail….’[2]

Brigham H. Roberts adopted a similar view, writing, "later was destroyed either by some vandal’s hand or the ruthless ravages of time…. The destruction of this inscription is unjustly connected by the judge with President Young’s first visit to southern Utah after it was erected (1861)."[3]

Uncited material: John D. Lee says nothing about demolishing the monument

One Nation Under Gods does not mention the John D. Lee diary, which contains a second-hand account of Brigham Young proceeding "by way of Mountain Meadows." Lee says nothing about demolishing the monument.[4] He was to record Brigham's words as preserved by Woodruff six days later, so he clearly had an interest in the matter. An order for destruction or the actual event of destruction of the monument would arguably have been something he would have recorded had he heard about it.

Regardless of whether the Mormons actually dismantled the monument, later that same year (1861) there was torrential rain and snow that devastated parts of southern Utah and actually changed some of the landscape. If the monument was still standing prior to the heavy storms, it may not have been after the storms. In the following years, the monument was built up and torn down by various groups of people passing through.[5]

Notes

  1. Richard Abanes, One Nation Under Gods, Endnote 103, page 567 (hardback); page 565 (paperback)
  2. Typescript of the Lorenzo Brown Journals is at Brigham Young University, page 294 of transcript; cited by Turley, Walker and Leonard, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, ?..
  3. {CHC1|vol=4|pages=176, note}}; also cited by Turley, Walker and Leonard, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, [citation needed]..
  4. Robert Glass Cleland and Juanita Brooks, eds., A Mormon Chronicle: The Diaries of John D. Lee 1848-1876, 2 vols. (San Marino, California: The Huntington Library, 1955. Reprinted Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1983), 1:311-312.(dated May 25th [24th, 1861]).
  5. James G. Bleak, Annals of the Southern Utah Mission (25 December 1861 and January-February 1862), 113-114.