Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows

Book Review
Author: Will Bagley
Journal: 42:1

Although Frank James Singer, a successful California businessman, hired Will Bagley to rewrite the story of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, Bagley says Singer did not influence his interpretation. Drawing upon his literary skills as editor of several volumes in Western history and as a columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune, Bagley presents his story by dramatically weaving the massacre into such themes as blood atonement, vengeance for the blood of the prophets, the second coming of Christ, absolute obedience to priesthood authority, deception, abuse of power, conspiracy, cover-up, and rebellion against the United States. "For Brigham Young and his religion," Bagley charges, "the haunting consequences of mass murder at Mountain Meadows are undeniable." Bagley accuses Young of destroying incriminating evidence and soliciting testimonies that he had nothing to do with it; despite these efforts, Bagley claims, Young "could not change the past. He knew the full truth of his complicity in the crime. The Mormon prophet . . . initiated the sequence of events that led to the betrayal and murder of one hundred twenty men, women, and children."

Bagley sees nineteenth-century Mormons as zealots who embraced millennialism, polygamy, and communalism with "total submission to a leader they considered ordained by God." When government officials, immigrants, and news editors challenged Mormon theocracy, the American ideals of individual freedom and thought clashed with the utopian dreams of Church leaders and created "a cycle of escalating violence." Bagley asserts that persecution produced a spirit of revenge, which became an overriding Mormon trait. Sermons declaring "a war of extermination" became the pattern. In Illinois, Joseph Smith laid the foundation for "his theocratic state [that] would govern both spiritual and temporal affairs." Striking at freedom of speech, Bagley alleges, Smith destroyed the press and burned the Expositor, which had condemned him for advocating polygamy, seducing women, counterfeiting money, and forming a theocracy.