Criticism of Mormonism/Books/One Nation Under Gods/Use of sources/Brigham Young ordered MMM

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Did Brigham Young order the Mountain Meadows Massacre?

A FAIR Analysis of: One Nation Under Gods, a work by author: Richard Abanes

Author's Claims

One Nation under Gods, page 245 (hardback and paperback)

  • "The prophet...already had decided the fate of the Baker-Fancher a secret meeting in Salt Lake City with several Indian chiefs."
  • Brigham "promised all the cattle in the wagon-train to the Indians if they would do away with the entire company."

Author's Sources

Endnote 86-87, page 566 (hardback); page 564 (paperback)

  • David L. Bigler, Forgotten Kingdom: The Mormon Theocracy in the American West, 1847–1896 (Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1998), 167. (bias and errors) Review
  • Dimick B. Huntington, "Dimick B. Huntington Journal," under September 1, 1857.

Related claims from other works


There is substantial evidence that Brigham Young did not order the massacre. Bagley (and, following him, the author of ONUG) have distorted the contents of the Huntington diary and ignored other evidence.

Detailed Analysis

ONUG makes two related claims:

  1. Brigham Young ordered the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
  2. The Dimick Huntington diary entry proves that Brigham offered the natives cattle to carry out the massacre.

Both of these claims are false.

Responding to Bagley (and ONUG)

The book's argument is essentially identical (if less detailed) to Will Bagley's Blood of the Prophets. Bagley's analysis has been savaged by multiple reviewers. (See "Further Reading" in main article on Mountain Meadows Massacre.)

Wrote attorney Robert Crockett of Bagley's argument:[1]

Bagley's "troubling new evidence," [which the author uses though he does not cite Bagley, since Bagley's book came out after the ONUG hardback edition] which separates his work from Juanita Brooks's, is simply a diary entry, dated 1 September 1857, in which Indian interpreter Dimick Huntington describes a meeting purportedly held between himself, Brigham Young, and twelve Indian chiefs:
Kanosh the Pahvant Chief[,] Ammon & wife (Walkers Brother) & 11 Pahvants came into see B & D & find out about the soldiers. Tutseygubbit a Piede chief over 6 Piedes Bands Youngwuols another Piede chief & I gave them all the cattle that had gone to Cal[.] the southa rout[.] it made them open their eyes[.] they sayed that you have told us not to steal[.] so I have but now they have come to fight us & you for when they kill us then they will kill you[.] they sayed the[y] was afraid to fight the Americans & so would raise grain & we might fight.[2] (cf. p. 114)
For Bagley this cryptic entry proves that "the atrocity was not a tragedy but a premeditated criminal act initiated in Great Salt Lake City" (p. 378). Blood of the Prophets tells us that "if any court in the American West (excepting, of course, one of Utah's probate courts) had seen the evidence [the Dimick Huntington diary] contained, the only debate among the jurors would have been when, where, and how high to hang Brigham Young" (p. 425 n. 42).
This scrap of evidence cannot support Bagley's conclusions, particularly in light of contemporaneous evidence. Brigham Young, if it was truly he who spoke,[3] did not refer to a specific emigrant train. Instead, on that day and on many others, as I will demonstrate, he asked Indian tribal leaders to help scatter the cattle of the army and of all emigrants on the trail in front of the army in order to completely close the trail. As historian Norman Furniss observed fifty years ago, "early in the war at least, the Church's leaders had a deliberate policy of seeking military assistance from the Indians."[4] When Brigham Young told the Indian tribes he wanted assistance in fighting the Americans, he meant only the army.[5]
Bagley tells us that the language in Huntington's diary entry for 1 September 1857 implies an instruction for attack on the Fancher train. Why then did Dimick Huntington use the same language elsewhere with Indian tribal leaders who could have had no geographic proximity to the Fancher train? For instance, two days earlier in Huntington's diary, 30 August 1857, Huntington wrote:
I [Huntington] told them that the Lord had come out of his Hiding place & they had to commence their work[.] I gave them all the Beef cattle & horses that was on the Road to CalAfornia[,] the North Rout[,] that they must put them into the mountains & not kill any thing as Long as they can help it but when they do Kill[,] take the old ones & not kill the cows or young ones.[6]
When Huntington talks about not killing anything "as Long as they can help it" he is talking about "cows." He asked the northern Indians for help to run cattle off the northern California route upon which the Fancher train would never tread. Following the massacre, Indian agent Garland Hurt -- certainly no friend of the Mormons -- noted the same requests were made to the northern Snake Indians.[7] T. B. H. Stenhouse also confirms that running the cattle off was a general strategy used successfully against the army.[8] Thus, Brigham Young's 1 September 1857 comment: "I gave them all the cattle" can only mean one thing. He offered the Indians all the cattle they could scatter that were owned by the army.
Let us look at who was present at that 1 September 1857 meeting because this bears on Bagley's theory about instructions to destroy the Fancher train. Most of the Indians present led tribes that had no geographic proximity to the Fancher train, as massacre historian and attorney Robert Briggs has pointed out.[9] Only two or three of the twelve chieftains present might have had some connection to the tribes that participated in the massacre. Tutsegabit and Youngwuds were the two Southern Paiute chiefs present in Brigham Young's office whose tribes resided in Iron County (p. 113).
Not only were the wrong people in the 1 September 1857 meeting, the participants were probably talking about a geographic area far from the location of the Fancher train. I have substantial doubt that Brigham Young's reference to the "south rout[e]" on 1 September meant anything more than the entire route south of present-day Wyoming upon which the army was advancing. With contemporaneous descriptions of the south route referring to the entire road south of Lander Pass in Wyoming, it is unreasonable to conclude that Brigham Young had some other meaning for "south rout[e]."[10]
Further, Bagley's chronology is problematic to the point of impossibility. Tutsegabit and Youngwuds did not have time to get from Salt Lake City to Mountain Meadows and return to Salt Lake City by 16 September 1857 or, as Huntington says, by 10 September 1857.[11] Blood of the Prophets tells us these Indian chiefs were surprised when they were purportedly told to massacre the Fancher train on 1 September but that they recovered from this surprise, and within five days (without horses, no less)[12] traveled three hundred miles to organize and lead the first wave of assaults, assembling for the assault on the evening of 5 September for a predawn attack the next morning. In contrast, John D. Lee claims he rushed on horseback to Salt Lake City to make a report to Brigham Young of the massacre, saying that "I was on the way about ten days," and Lee did not get started for ten days.[13] With excellent and replenished horseflesh, it took James Haslam three days to travel the same distance with Isaac Haight's request for instructions. Wilford Woodruff records Tutsegabit's presence to be ordained an elder in Salt Lake City, certainly not an emergency, five days after the massacre concluded or, as the Huntington diary says, in the middle of the massacre.[14] It is implausible to think that Tutsegabit and Youngwuds made this round-trip in such a short period of time. Moreover, neither Tutsegabit nor Youngwuds were reported to be at the massacre.
Thus, I disagree with Bagley's effort to render what is simple and relatively benign (general cattle running) to what is complex and malicious (killing emigrants). The developed law of evidence cautions against reaching conclusions about wrongful conduct from a set of facts that could explain more benign actions.[15] As Robert Briggs asks in his Sunstone essay, with twenty-five hundred troops approaching, why would Brigham Young concern himself with forty armed men in the Arkansas train?[16]

Brigham's later account

Thomas Kane, a close non-member friend of the Mormons who had often defended their interests, asked Brigham Young about the Massacre.

In 1859, U.S. Attorney General Jeremiah Black, a friend of Kane, requested through Kane a written statement from Young regarding his knowledge, as the territorial governor, of the infamous Mountain Meadows massacre, a September 1857 tragedy that occurred in southern Utah when Mormons with the assistance of a few Paiutes attacked and murdered about one hundred twenty unarmed men, women, and children. Young responded to this request on December 15, 1859, with a long letter that contained one of his few expressions regarding this terrible episode:
"Neither yourself, nor any one acquainted with me, will require my assurance that, had I been apprized of the intended onslaught at the Meadows, I should have used such efforts for its prevention as the time, distance, and my influence and facilities, would have permitted. The horrifying event transpired without my knowledge, except from after report, and the recurring thought of it ever causes a shudder in my feelings.
It is a subject exclusively within the province of judicial proceedings, and I have known and still prefer to know nothing touching the affair, until I in common with the people, learn the facts as they may be developed before those whose right it is to investigate and adjudicate thereupon. Colonel, you may think this a singular statement, but the facts of the massacre of men, women, and children are so shocking and crucifying to my feelings, that I have not suffered myself to hear anymore about them than the circumstances of conversation compelled."
The letter also outlined what Governor Young's course had been during this critical period, suggesting why he did not pursue any specific course of action. Again, Kane was a trusted confidant to whom Young could convey his deepest feelings.[17]


  1. Robert D. Crockett, "A Trial Lawyer Reviews Will Bagley's Blood of the Prophets," FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 199–254. off-site Crockett's footnotes are reproduced in the cited material below.
  2. Dimick B. Huntington, diary, MS 1419 2, Family and Church History Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter Church Archives), 13—14. Bagley interpolates "allies" where "grain" should be used. I think Bagley's conclusion is wrong. See Lawrence Coates, "Review of Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows," Brigham Young University Studies 31 no. 1 (January 2003), 153–. off-site. [Crockett's skepticism is well-founded. See conclusive evidence that Bagley misreported the contents of Huntington's journal, which read grain, not allies! Details: W. Paul Reeve and Ardis E. Parshall, "review of Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows, by Will Bagley," Mormon Historical Studies (Spring 2003): 149–157. Wiki details here.]
  3. Most historians will probably believe that "B" refers to Brigham Young. I have my doubts, but it probably makes little difference to the analysis. Wilford Woodruff verifies that a meeting occurred that day with Brigham Young, so the "B" may be "Brigham." However, nowhere else in the diary is Brigham referred to as "B" (but usually as "Brigham") and, indeed, "B" appears as someone else earlier in the diary—possibly Ben Simonds, who has been alternatively described as a Delaware Indian, a half-breed, or a white Indian trader. Huntington, diary, 1. The diary is reproduced at; search "Dimick"; select depoJournals/Dimick/Dimick.2.htm (accessed 14 January 2004).
  4. Furniss, Mormon Conflict, 163.
  5. John D. Lee purportedly recounts a conversation he translated for George A. Smith to the Indians, although Lee is not a good source for translated dialogue; one should doubt Lee's ability to complete the translation: "The General told me to tell the Indians that the Mormons were their friends, and that the Americans were their enemies, and the enemies of the Mormons, too; that he wanted the Indians to remain the fast friends of the Mormons, for the Mormons were all friends to the Indians; that the Americans had a large army just east of the mountains, and intended to come over the mountains into Utah and kill all of the Mormons and Indians in Utah Territory." William W. Bishop, ed., Mormonism Unveiled: or the Life and Confessions of the Late Mormon Bishop, John D. Lee (St. Louis: Bryan, Brand, 1877; reprint, Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, n.d.), 223. Although I have doubts about this encounter, it shows that Mormon leaders, when they referred to the Americans, referred to the advancing armies and not emigrants.
  6. Huntington, diary, 11—12.
  7. Indian Superintendent Garland Hurt determined for himself after the massacre that Brigham Young sought Indian help to run cattle off. Northern Indian tribes told him that "Dimic B. Huntington (interpreter for Brigham Young) and Bishop West, of Ogden, came to the Snake village, and told the Indians that Brigham wanted them to run off the emigrants' cattle, and if they would do so they might have them as their own." Hurt continues: "I have frequently been told by the chiefs of the Utahs that Brigham Young was trying to bribe them to join in rebellion against the United States . . . on conditions that they would assist him in opposing the advance of the United States troops." Garland Hurt to Jacob Forney, 4 December 1857, 35th Cong., 1st sess., H. Exec. Doc. 71, serial 956, p. 204. Huntington's diary account of the event and Hurt's thirdhand account conflict. Huntington's diary does not include a specific request to run off the cattle of emigrants, but appears to be limited to a request to run off the army's cattle. Hurt's thirdhand account of Huntington's statement, which Hurt reported after the massacre became public knowledge, includes a request to run off the army's cattle. Given Hurt's well-acknowledged hostility to Brigham Young, I would view Hurt's statement about emigrants' cattle as a probable exaggeration. But, it is not unreasonable to think that Huntington's vocalized strategy to the Indians was to obstruct overland traffic by running everyone's cattle off.
  8. T.B.H. Stenhouse, Rocky Mountain Saints: a full and complete history of the Mormons, from the first vision of Joseph Smith to the last courtship of Brigham Young (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1873), 378.
  9. Robert H. Briggs, "Wrestling Brigham," review of Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows, by Will Bagley, Sunstone, December 2002, 63. Wilford Woodruff, who met the Indian chiefs but was not invited to the hour-long meeting with them, noted in his journal on that date that twelve Indian chiefs from various tribes were in attendance. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985). ISBN 0941214133.
  10. For a discussion of the Fancher train's progress, see Donald R. Moorman with Gene A. Sessions, Camp Floyd and the Mormons: The Utah War (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1992), 128: "Traveling in two sections, the train weathered the journey across the plains and gave every indication that it intended to pursue the snow-free southern route to California." Federal surveyor Lander described the "southern route" in F. W. Lander to W. M. F. Magraw, 1859, 35th Cong., 2nd sess., H. Exec. Doc. 108, serial 1008, pp. 63—65. A federal surveyor described the southern route as the route from "St. Louis to Salt Lake City, as above; thence by way of Vegas de Santa Clara and Los Angeles." J. H. Simpson to Office of Topographical Engineers, Department of Utah, 22 February 1859, 35th Cong., 2nd sess., S. Exec. Doc. 40, serial 984, p. 37. Describing Simpson's report, one historian writes about the "northern route along the Oregon Trail" and all other roads to the south. W. Turrentine Jackson, Wagon Roads West: A Study of Federal Road Surveys and Construction in the Trans-Mississippi West 1846—1869 (1952; reprint, with foreword by William H. Goetzmann, New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1965), 29.
  11. Huntington, diary, 14. See also discussion of this date in Coates, review of Blood of the Prophets.
  12. As explained at the end of this review, the Paiutes were the poorest of the poor among Indians. Regarding the Paiutes and horses, as one article in the Salt Lake Tribune notes: "The Utes, who exchanged the Indian slaves they captured for horses, were known for their business acumen. But not the Paiutes. 'The Paiutes just ate them.'" Mark Havnes, "Spanish Trail Given National Designation," Salt Lake Tribune, 24 March 2003, sec. D.
  13. Bishop, Mormonism Unveiled, 252.
  14. Robert K. Fielding, ed., The Tribune Reports of the Trials of John D. Lee for the Massacre at Mountain Meadows (Higganum, Conn.: Kent Books, 2000), 297; Kenney, Wilford Woodruff's Journal, 5:98; Huntington, diary, 14.
  15. Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 25 Cal. 4th 826, 852, 107 Cal. Rptr. 2nd 841, 863 (2001).
  16. Briggs, "Wrestling Brigham," 65.
  17. David J. Whittaker, "'My Dear Friend': The Friendship and Correspondence of Brigham Young and Thomas L. Kane," Brigham Young University Studies 48 no. 4 (2009), 212. [Citation: Young to Kane, December 15, 1859. Young included in this letter a copy of George A. Smith’s letter to Young regarding the massacre, dated August 17, 1858. Both letters are in Thomas L. Kane Correspondence, Perry Special Collections.]