With all the controversy surrounding the massacre at Mountain Meadows on September 11, 1857, wouldn't it be nice to get firsthand accounts from the participants in that tragic event?
As Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley Jr., and Glen M. Leonard were researching their book "Massacre at Mountain Meadows: An American Tragedy" (Oxford University Press, 2008), they discovered several oral interviews, written statements, and letters from some of those participants. These documents were crucial to their research, and now they are available in a new book, "Mountain Meadows Massacre: The Andrew Jenson and David H. Morris Collections," copublished by Brigham Young University Press and University of Utah Press. This new book makes available two significant archival collections known but largely unavailable to previous researchers.
On September 11, 1857, in a highland valley in southern Utah known as the Mountain Meadows, dozens of Mormon settlers and some Paiute Indians massacred more than a hundred California-bound emigrants, most of whom hailed from northwest Arkansas. This horrific crime, which came to be known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre, is arguably the worst incident in Latter-day Saint history and one of the great tragedies of the American West.
"There can be no catharsis to this terrible tragedy without full and open disclosure," says Walker. "That has been our goal from the beginning, and this new book will carry on this process. Here readers can see for themselves the words of individuals who participated in the massacre and make their own judgments."
"During our years of research," write Turley and Walker in the book's preface, "we hoped to leave no source unturned. One bystander, hearing of our aspiration, asked where we thought we'd find the richest vein of materials. 'Perhaps here in Salt Lake City,' one of us said. That prediction proved to be accurate." These two collections were both in possession of the LDS Church, but each has its own story.
In January 1892, Andrew Jenson, a full-time employee in the Church Historian's Office, was invited to the Church President's office, where he received a startling assignment. He was asked to go to southern Utah "on a special mission to gather historical information, concerning the Mountain Meadow massacre." His nine-day, whirlwind circuit took him 620 miles, 176 of those miles by grueling wagon travel during the wintertime. "I . . . have been successful in getting the desired information for the First Presidency," he wrote upon returning to Salt Lake City. "But it has been an unpleasant business. The information that I received made me suffer mentally and deprived me of my sleep at nights."
Jenson's documents consist of both field notes from his interviews and prepared reports, expanded and polished by Jenson to present to the First Presidency. The prepared reports remained in the First Presidency's possession, while the field notes went to the Church Historian's Office, where they were separated by topic and some of them forgotten. In 2002, the Jenson material resurfaced when Church Historian's Office employees combed through collections searching for massacre references.
David H. Morris, by contrast, was an attorney and judge in St. George, Utah, who had professional, geographical, and family ties to the massacre. He lived less than forty miles from the Meadows, and he and his family knew men who had a role in the killing. After conducting official business with the old-timers, Morris would ask them privately about what had happened at the Meadows. Because he said little about his purposes, many details about Morris's collection are likely to remain a mystery. When he died in 1937, the collection fell into the hands of his foster daughter, Helen Forsha Hafen, who recognized the sensitivity of the material and gave it to the First Presidency of the LDS Church.
The Jenson and Morris collections are now available in their entirety for the first time. In "Mountain Meadows Massacre," images of the original documents are accompanied by typed transcriptions, which reproduce original spelling, punctuation, strikethroughs, and inserted words or characters. Introductory text explains in detail how each document collection came to be, how the Church came to possess these materials, and where they were archived. Brief biographical sketches introduce the individuals who provided the information that appears in the document collections.
According to historian Klaus J. Hansen, "The editorial standards employed [in this new book] are cutting-edge." He goes on to explain that "this volume is an essential contribution" to understanding this tragic event.
"While the massacre continues to shock and distress," write the editors, "we hope that the publication of these documents will be a further step in facilitating understanding, sharing sorrows, and promoting reconciliation. We are honored to present these documents as supplements to 'Massacre at Mountain Meadows.'"