Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Quirk of Arkansas History

It was bound to come up sooner or later during the election cycle, the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  The Washington Post brought it up in an article titled Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith tangles with a quirk of Arkansas history.  Two questions need to be addressed:  What is the Mountain Meadows Massacre?  What does it have to do with the 2012 election?

What is the Mountain Meadows Massacre?

Over the years I have received a number of e-mails with questions about the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  It is not a comfortable chapter of history for Latter-day Saints.  But it is part of history and there is no denying or hiding it.

There simply is not enough space in this blog to fully discuss this chapter of history, but here are the essential facts.  In 1857, an immigrant train heading west to California passed through the Utah Territory.  It consisted primarily of immigrants from Arkansas, but also from Missouri.  After leaving Salt Lake City, the party turned south through the Utah Territory settlements.  Rumors of misdeeds proceeded them and excited settlers in the Parowan and Cedar City areas.  Emotions were already running high in the territory due to the recent murder of apostle Parley P. Pratt in Arkansas and the approach of Johnston's army commissioned by President Buchanan.  At the direction of two church leaders in those communities, a militia was formed and ultimately all the immigrants were massacred, except the young children.  It was a horrible tragedy and no excuses can be made for what happened, but placing it in its historical context provides some understanding.  I recommend two books for those that would like to learn more.  The classic work on the topic is by Juanita Brooks, The Mountain Meadows Massacre.  With the availability of additional research, Ronald Walker, Richard Turley, and Glen Leonard recently published Massacre at Mountain Meadows.

What does the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre have to do with the 2012 election?

The quick answer to this questions is: nothing.  Some, such as John Krakauer in his book Under the Banner of Heaven, have attempted to use this as evidence of a power that influences the minds of Latter-day Saints.  If that were true, then one could infer that Romney has been influenced or brainwashed and could be unpredictable.  That is a tough case to make.  The Mountain Meadows massacre was an isolated incident involving a few members of the Church.  The Latter-day Saints have been a peaceful people and have endured horrible persecution.  Most of the Missouri mobbings were taken without fighting back.  The Latter-day Saints abandoned Nauvoo, Illinois, rather than engage in conflict.  Thus, if anything, the faith of Mitt Romney has influenced him to seek peaceful solutions rather than engage in conflict. 

In my opinion, the Washington Post article is a subtle attempt to influence the minds of the voters to somehow connect a tragedy of the past to the candidacy of Governor Romney.  Without question, we are, to some degree, a product of our ancestral past.  However, the Washington Post has taken a single negative incident that had nothing to do with Romney or his ancestors.  If the Post was being objective, it would more fully consider the overall impact of Mormon history and theology on the candidate.  Additionally, if the Post was being object, it would also look at the historical background of candidate Obama.  What do we know about the ancestral history of his parents?  Were his father's ancestors involved in tribal wars or strange tribal practices?  I am not suggesting that Obama's father's background has much to do with the man Barack Obama, but the Washington Post and other media outlets have failed to look at the forces that have shaped the man.  Yet, they dig into the obscure past of candidate Romney's faith in a subtle attempt to connect him to a strange legacy. 

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