Thursday, June 30, 2011

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar Designates The Mountain Meadows Massacre Site As A National Historical Monument At The Behest Of The LDS Church

On June 30th, 2011, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the site of the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre is among 14 new sites designated national historical monuments. The inclusion of the Mountain Meadows site, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was with the active blessing of the Church; LDS Church officials actually nominated it for inclusion, beginning their efforts back in March 2008. The designation imposes no additional regulatory requirements on the Church. The site was already on the National Register of Historic Places.

The St. George News lists all 14 new sites designated for inclusion. Access a complete list of all national historical landmarks HERE.

Secretary Salazar issued a statement: “Each of these landmarks represents a chapter in the story of America, from archaeological sites dating back more than two millennia to historic train depots, homes of famous artists, and buildings designed by some of our greatest architects. By designating these sites as national landmarks, we help meet the goals of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative to establish a conservation ethic for the 21st century and reconnect people, especially young people, to our nation’s historic, cultural, and natural heritage.”

Assistant Church Historian and Recorder Richard E. Turley Jr., told KTVX Channel 4 that the historical designation is a good thing. "This is the result of a multi-year collaboration between the Church, the Mountain Meadows associations and the federal government," said Turley. "We have nothing but appreciation for all those whose efforts made this possible." He further explained that it's important to remember what happened at the site, even for members of the Church, condemning the massacre as a terrible and significant thing that happened in U.S. and Church history.

The LDS Church has been criticized for many years for allegedly failing to memorialize the site sufficiently. In 1999, the LDS Church and the Mountain Meadows Association collaborated to construct a memorial on the site. The national historical designation represents the final step sought by many.

The details of the massacre are simply too exhaustive to discuss in one post. What people on both sides of the argument agree upon is that on September 11th, 1857, 120 men, women and children from the Baker-Fancher wagon train were attacked and murdered at Mountain Meadows by Cedar City-area church and militia leaders, along with some American Indians. The wagon train was bound for California when their stopover in the meadows turned deadly. Only 17 children survived the attack; they were initially taken into local homes and cared for, then ultimately returned to their own extended family members. The political environment was already inflamed by a threatened federal military invasion of Utah, and it took just one match to spark the flame.

There remains considerable disagreement on the extent of the Church's involvement, whether Brigham Young could have done more to avert the attack, and whether or not the Church originally did all it could to punish the perpetrators. According to this timeline graphic, only two people were ever held formally accountable for the massacre. LDS Stake President Isaac Haight and John D. Lee were both excommunicated from the LDS Church in 1870, and Lee was tried and executed by firing squad in 1877. Critics of the Church believe Lee was selected to be the scapegoat.

A number of sources provide further information on the Massacre. There's an official Mountain Meadows Massacre site HERE. Richard Turley published a detailed article in the September 2007 issue of Ensign Magazine. Wikipedia account HERE. Also of interest is a conference at Utah Valley University on March 5th of this year, when UVU hosted a panel discussion on the Mountain Meadows Massacre featuring Rick Turley, Will Bagley, and Forrest Cuch and was moderated by Alex Caldiero, which can be read at the Juvenile Instructor.

In contrast, Frank Kirkman's website, although packed with information, has an anti-Mormon cast to it. Kirkman strongly believes that Brigham Young was involved in the Massacre, although the bulk of records from that time indicate he was not involved. Kirkman fails to understand that Brigham Young was preoccupied with preparing for a possible invasion and attack of the Salt Lake Valley by a Federal army, and could not supervise Utah Territory as much as he would have liked.

Judging historical actions through the advantage of 154 years of hindsight is easy. But is it really fair to judge the actions of the past through the morality of the present? Perhaps our time is more productively occupied making our current history as judgment-proof as possible.

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