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AMERICAN MASSACRE by Sally Denton Kirkus Star


The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, September 1857

by Sally Denton

Pub Date: June 25th, 2003
ISBN: 0-375-41208-5
Publisher: Knopf

A superbly crafted, blood-soaked tale of “the largest civilian atrocity to occur on American soil” until the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995.

The Mormons had not been in Utah long, writes Mormon-descended journalist Denton (The Money and the Power, 2001), when dark warnings swept across the countryside that the “Gentiles” beyond were bent on continuing the persecution that had led to church founder Joseph Smith’s murder in Illinois in 1844. Determined to remain independent of the US and to keep outsiders away, leader Brigham Young let it be known through his lieutenants that any immigrant wagon train that crossed into Utah would be “used up”—“a euphemism,” Denton writes, that “all Mormons understood to mean slaughtered.” In 1857, one such train, bound for California, did make its way across Utah; comprising hundreds of cattle and a couple hundred men, women, and children, carrying finery and gold along with the usual supplies, it had nearly crossed into what is now Nevada when a party of Mormon militiamen, disguised as Ute Indians, attacked it and killed all but some 20 children under the age of eight, “young enough to be considered ‘innocent blood’ in the Mormon faith.” When federal troops arrived at the scene of what came to be called the Mountain Meadows Massacre, they found a field two miles long in which “the skulls and bones of those who had suffered” lay scattered. Young disavowed all knowledge of the action, though, under pressure from the authorities, he eventually ordered its organizer, John D. Lee, to surrender; Lee was executed, though he predicted beforehand that Young would die within a year as expiation for the crime. Young indeed died, writes Denton, perhaps poisoned by Lee’s sons, and the Mormon church has busily tried to hush up the massacre ever since—and, Denton writes, tried to acquire the site of the crime from the federal government as recently as 2000, presumably to keep visitors away.

By far the best and most complete account of the incident in print—and sure to cause a stir in Salt Lake City and beyond.