Mountain Meadows Massacre discussion

Mountain Meadows Massacre discussion

Date: Fri, 10 Apr 1998 07:34:44 -0600 (MDT)
From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Subject: Re: [LDS-Bookshelf] Old Mormon History

Rick’s comments on the Brigham Young-to-TLK letter of 15 December 1859 didn’t leave much to say–his com-prehensive and well-informed commentary hit that particular ball out of the park.

The appearance of this letter gave me the opportunity to compare it with the copy in the LDS church letterbooks. Kane’s copy was in an elegant hand, while the letterbook copy was much cruder. The content, however, matched up well.

Here’s some of my work on this interesting letter. It provides a good example of how persistently the subject of the Mountain Meadows Massacre arose to torment Brigham Young.

[G. Q.] Cannon had visited Thomas Kane in Philadelphia and reported that Kane was anxiously awaiting a letter from Young responding to his request for “affidavits and evidence concerning the Mountain Meadow massacre.” Kane had been “catechised [sic] by the President on these points, and Attorney General Black had both telegraphed and written to Kane “about this matter.” Kane requested that Young “write a statement in regard to it.”1

Buchanan sent a letter asking if Kane had heard from Brigham Young. Kane responded, commenting on the “character of the great man’s [Young’s] letters: ‘I preserve all that I receive from him with care and will therefore be greatly indebted by your returning me this one.'” Kane had not received the copy of G. A. Smith’s Mountain Meadows letter. See Kane to Buchanan, 15 January 1860, in Papers of Jeremiah Sullivan Black, Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress, 54008, 54010.

To protect himself, Young and his advisors devised a legal strategy that sought to turn a case of mass murder into a civil rights issue…Remarkably, Young’s cumbersome strategy paid off. By shifting the question from one of murder to one of jurisdiction, he was able to divert the attention of the crumbling Buchanan administration at a critical point. The conflict over slavery soon burst into the conflagration of the Civil War, and the struggle to preserve the Union overwhelmed any interest in the affairs of a remote and inconsequential territory. Justice delayed is justice denied, and the federal government never launched a large-scale investigation of the massacre. Young’s tactics delayed even the limited inquiries that led to federal indictments for more than ten invaluable years.

1 Cannon to Brigham Young, 13 December 1859, Brigham Young Papers, LDS Archives.

Rick–I believe that before leaving office in 1861, Black (or maybe Buchanan himself) wrote a biting letter to Utah stressing that the Federal government was determined to get the facts about the massacre. Too bad the Justice Department files for UT prior to 1870 have vanished from the National Archives–they might fill in some of the blanks.

Will Bagley

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