There’s a new movie (sort of- it was completed more than a year ago but is about to come into release) entitled September Dawn and about the events of September 11, 1857, known to history as The Mountain Meadows Massacre. Approximately 120 non Mormon men, women and children were murdered in what is now southern Utah led by a coalition of Indians and Mormons under the leadership of John Doyle Lee, a friend and adopted son (though he was only a few years younger) of Brigham Young. The movie’s great controversy (and I have not seen it, I’ve just been reading the reviews) is that it claims Brigham Young played an active role in the murders.
I used to read a lot of Mormon history. Official version is that Young did not have a direct role in the attacks. I tend to believe that one, not because I think he was incapable of murder (what powerful man is?) but because he was a brilliant statesman. There was absolutely nothing that could be gained by the murders and one helluva lot that could be lost- namely, Salt Lake City and everything else in Deseret in an act of Federal vengeance if he was discovered to have ordered the attacks.
The most damning piece of evidence against Young, imo, is that he never disavowed or condemned Lee, even performing ceremonies at some of Lee’s marriages long after the event (Lee had about 17 wives and over 60 children). He did excommunicate and condemn Lee (and reassign his wives) after his trial and conviction almost 20 years after the murders, but not until. Some see this as Lee having blackmail material over Young or as him having Young’s approbation, but I see it as Young being an extremely pragmatic man who had a use for violent underlings (Lee as Young’s Luca Brasi) and probably a real fear of going after a violent man with a huge family. I don’t absolve him: he definitely incited hatred of non-Mormons (though hard to blame- he’d lost members of his family to violence against Mormons) and he definitely covered up some of the worst aspects of the killings and Mormon involvement, but I don’t think he ordered it or wanted it to happen.
Anyway, to other Mormon and or western history enthusiasts, what’s your take?
And one hair related nitpick: Having written a large chunk of a biography of Young over the past 25 years [uncompleted and unpublished], I was annoyed at the lack of resemblance twixt Terence Stamp and BY as seen in this YouTube clip. In addition to a complete lack of natural resemblance, Young didn’t grow that famous beard until a couple of years after the Massacre. Nitpick admittedly, but still shows a lack of fidelity to research [I’d previously complained about R.E. Lee having a full gray beard in an 1860 scene of Gods and Generals when he was neither all-gray nor bearded at the time.