AMERICAN MASSACRE: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, September 1857

Sally Denton, Author . Knopf $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-375-41208-0

Like September 11, 2001, another September 11, in 1857, reverberates in American history as a date when the dangers of violent religious extremism became obvious, for it was then that a party of Mormons (and possibly Paiute Indians) attacked a pioneer party passing through southern Utah, killing all but the youngest children. Denton, an investigative journalist (The Bluegrass Conspiracy, etc.), is not the first interpreter to take on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, but she adds a new twist. Whereas historians Juanita Brooks and Will Bagley emphasized the Mormons' religious motivations, Denton latches onto a more base explanation: greed. The Baker-Fancher party, she writes, was rich, with hundreds of livestock and a ready supply of cash, and their wealth proved irresistible to the Mormon attackers. At times, she overreaches her sources, asserting as fact what is not attested to in the historical record, e.g., that Brigham Young struck a deal with a prosecuting attorney to fix the conviction of John D. Lee, the only attacker convicted of murder. She also wrongly claims that Brigham Young became fatally ill six months to the day after Lee's execution (it was five months later) in order to make Young's death fit a prophetic legend. Although not as nuanced a historian as Brooks or Bagley, Denton is a marvelous writer who keeps this work of popular history as fresh and engaging as any novel. (June)

Forecast:Denton's interpretation will hardly be the last in the ongoing debate about Mountain Meadows. Prodded in part by critical investigations like hers and Bagley's, three LDS historians will jointly offer their own interpretation, which Oxford will publish next year. 40,000 first printing, six-city author tour.

Correction: The May 19 PW review of Juan Goytisolo's Forbidden Territory & Realms of Strife neglected to mention the previous editions of Peter Bush's English translations, published in the U.S. by North Point in 1990.

Reviewed on: 06/30/2003
Release date: 06/01/2003
X
Stay ahead with
Tip Sheet!
Free newsletter: the hottest new books, features and more
X
Only $18.95/month for Digital Access
or $20.95 for Print+Digital Access!
X
Only $18.95/month for Digital Access
or $20.95 for Print+Digital Access!
X
Email Address

Password

Log In Lost Password

PW has integrated its print and digital subscriptions, offering exciting new benefits to subscribers, who are now entitled to both the print edition and the digital editions of PW (online or via our app). For instructions on how to set up your accout for digital access, click here. For more information, click here.

The part of the site you are trying to access is now available to subscribers only. Subscribers: to set up your digital subscription with the new system (if you have not done so already), click here. To subscribe, click here.

Email pw@pubservice.com with questions.

Not Registered? Click here.