In search of punishment : Mormon transgressions and the Mountain Meadows Massacre
University of Leicester
The Mountain Meadows Massacre occurred in 1857 on a now infamous 11 September when Mormons and Paiute Indians massacred an emigrant train from Arkansas. The central topic of this thesis is not the massacre itself, but rather the creation of a discourse that sought to describe the massacre as an incursion on expanding American civilization. Though Mormon polygamy received the lion’s share of attention, the scrutiny that Americans placed on Mountain Meadows in the second half of the nineteenth and into the twentieth century demonstrated that polygamy was not Mormonism’s only offence. The massacre lurked on the edges of the “Mormon Problem.” This thesis examines the American quest for punishment through official legal channels and in the popular press from the 1850s to the 1920s. It also explores the relationship between efforts to convict individual perpetrators and punitive endeavours aimed at a minority religion. As the legal investigation and prosecution of the massacre proceeded in the decades following the massacre, reports in the popular press spread across the United States becoming more specific and more elaborate as time went on. The story of the massacre catalogued a multitude of Mormon sins focusing on race, savagery, manhood, and theocracy— specific junctures where Mormons breached widely held American sensibilities about civilization. Tailor-made for the explosion of sensational literature, the story of the meadows became a tool to encourage government action against the Mormons or to warn against the “Mormon Menace” and played a notable role as Mormons battled for complete enfranchisement in the American citizenship conflicts of the latter half of the nineteenth century. Closely examining the relationship between the prosecution for the massacre and the popular story of the massacre, this thesis illuminates both a notorious moment in Mormon History and the Americans who told its story.