I started reading "Massacre at Mountain Meadows" a few months ago but just couldn't get past the first chapter. Too many dates, names and places and not enough story. So early this week, I somewhat guiltily decided, "Hey this is my book, if I want to skip the first 100 pages, that is my right!" and quickly proceeded to the more captivating middle chapters. I have had my nose stuck in that book in every spare moment ever since.
It's a book about a tragic event that happened in Southern Utah in the late nineteenth century. It's tragic on so many levels...tragic for the poor folks that were so wrongfully deceived and ultimately massacred, tragic for the Indians who were put in the middle of the conflict and, later, fully blamed for the outcome and tragic for many of the those who did the deceiving and killing all in the name of following the orders of their religious and civic leaders.
To elaborate on the last point, the citizens of southern utah blindly followed their leaders without question to personal morals and what they may have personally thought was good and right. In the investigation following the massacre "one man after another said he had gone to the Meadows because of military orders". A military that was led by the religious leaders of the area. Nephi Johnson, an Indian interpreter, said that "A good many [men] objected, but they didn't dare say anything". They were told it was the right thing to do, and despite their misgivings, followed their leaders into "battle". The women left behind were instructed by Sister Haight (wife of Issac Haight who was a chief leader in the planning and execution of the massacre)
"the necessity of being obedient to their husbands" and not to be fearful in these "troublesome" and "squally" times". "We ought to attend to secret prayer in behalf of our husbands, sons, fathers, & brothers" and teach their children "the principles of righteousness, and to implant a desire in their hearts to avenge the blood of the prophets".They were told it was the right thing to do, and in the name of obedience, the Mormons in the area followed the counsel of their leaders.
Additionally, this singular event in Utah history so clearly demonstrates the dangers of the us vs. them mentality. When a group of people separate themselves so fully from another group that they honestly believe they are better and more privileged, it is a recipe for disaster. As I think about it, I am reminded of a class I had in college. The teacher had everyone stand in a line as she listed off the many things that we judge people by (and by doing so, separate ourselves from them) and for each thing (sexual preferences, religious preferences, etc. etc.) the students in the class that fit the descriptions stepped across the room, becoming the "them". It was a truly eye opening experience as I realized that people I had put in the "them" category before, were really friends, acquaintances and classmates - people who up until that point I had considered to be just like me. How could the tragic events of the massacre have turned out differently if the Mormons in the southern Utah community had attempted to get to know the families in the Arkansas train headed for California instead of considering them "their common enemies"? Surely they would have realized how similar they really were and would never have felt "justified in distroying them."
Although this event occurred over century ago the key ideas that led to this disastrous event are still prevalent today. As a society and responsible citizens we must always listen to our conscience and fight for what we believe is right, even if it is unpopular. We must embrace and celebrate our differences, instead of condemning those that are not like us.