Why another book about the Mountain Meadows Massacre? The topic has been thoroughly scoured in recent and past books, with another now available since August 2008 (see the reviews of Brian Q. Cannon and Jared Farmer in this issue). What new does Novak bring to the discussion of this most horrific event in Utah’s past? The answer is a unique data set: a sample of the skeletal remains of the victims. How she came to have access to these remains requires some explanation.
In February 1999, Glen Leonard, then director of the Museum of Church History and Art, contacted the Office of Public Archaeology (OPA) at Brigham Young University regarding the construction of a new monument at the Mountain Meadows Massacre site by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Construction of the new monument required some ground disturbance, and the archeologists’ task was to make every effort to avoid disturbing human remains. To accomplish this they employed state-of-the-art techniques (ground penetrating radar, infrared aerial photography, soil chemistry testing, and others) as well as a thorough walk-over of the area. Despite these efforts, backhoe work exposed a shallow mass grave near the old monument. Following the requirements of their state antiquities permit, OPA archaeologists carefully removed the bones and obtained the services of a qualified anthropologist to perform basic analysis; that anthropologist was Shannon Novak.