Save the Emigrants: Joseph Clewes on the Mountain Meadows Massacre

Occasionally a major, previously published document such as this one falls between the historical cracks and becomes virtually forgotten. Although Joseph Clewe’s statement on the Mountain Meadows Massacre was published in 1877 and was widely discussed at the time, current scholars have been little or no use of it. Their omission is unfortunate.

Clewe’s statement has its limitations. It was written twenty years after the massacre and was therefore subject to the vagaries of memory. Also, like many of the several dozen affidavits made by people who participated in the massacre, it is self-serving in its attempt to minimize or avoid personal responsibility. Still, it is a pivotal piece of evidence. Most importantly, it contains details of the massacre not found elsewhere, including information that helps us construct a sequence for the five-day-long event. Clewe’s statement also allows scholars to evaluate the conflicting claims of other eyewitnesses, in part because Clewes seems so credible: his details fit a logical pattern, and they are convincingly told. Apparently no longer associated with the Church at the time of the statement, Clewes made no effort to justify his former neighbors or the institution of Mormonism. Rather, his narrative is straightforward and neutral in tone.

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