"Horrible Massacre of Emigrants!!" The Mountain Meadows Massacre in Public Discourse

About the Project

"Horrible Massacre of Emigrants!!": The Mountain Meadows Massacre in Public Discourse is a digital history project that examines public discourse surrounding the mass murder of 120 Arkansas emigrants by Mormon settlers in southwest Utah in September 1857, and how the creators of these texts represented the event and its aftermath. This project seeks to give users new tools to explore these hotly contested and often problematic representations that played a crucial role in shaping the public memory (or public forgetting) of the event. The project's advanced functions enable users to begin to develop their own understanding of the ways the massacre was reported on, ignored, contextualized, and reinterpreted. Public discourse abut the Mountain Meadows Massacre took the forms of newspaper accounts, reports from government investigations, popular depictions of Western Americana, Apostate and Anti-Mormon publications, works of fiction, and Utah and Arkansas history books.

As part of a pilot project, funded in part by a 2005-06 Layman Award from the Office of Research, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, digital tools were used to research, digitize, transcribe, encode, and then create visualizations of textual elements that suggest the significance of this discourse to the construction of public memory of the event. Editorial decisions created the concept highlighting function by encoding the documents with an intricate set of XML tags to identify numerous narrative elements in the documents that are often not literally present in the text itself but aid the user in understanding context and meaning. An interactive timeline illustrates the spread of news about the Mountain Meadows Massacre and its aftermath, while a narrative map prompts several lines of inquiry concerning reporting that introduced different narrative elements. Each color-coded box represents an instance of a concept across the corpus of documents. At a glance, this visualization prompts a variety of questions: what sources are sympathetic to the Latter-Day Saints and what sources are sympathetic to the Arkansas emigrants? Why does a particular narrative element appear or disappear from public discourse? When phase two of the project is completed it will include interpretive visualizations that will inform my ongoing research and my monograph project. In the meantime, the encoded texts will serve as a user-initiated scholarly commentary that enhance a much-needed authoritative collection of research documents on this contentious and often obfuscated topic.

This is a work-in-progress designed to be built in two phases. The first was a proof-of-concept that focused on 40 newspaper articles published immediately after the event that reported on the Mountain Meadows Massacre during the years 1857-60. Findings were shared in a paper titled "'Rumored Massacre on the Plains': Visualizing Newspaper Accounts of the Mountain Meadows Massacre," presented at the Mormon History Association annual conference in Salt Lake City, UT in May 2007. The second phase will be completed when an additional 100 newspaper articles, 22 government documents, and scores of book excerpts that treat the massacre, including 30 anti-Mormon publications, 10 LDS publications, 22 works of Western Americana, 16 Utah histories, 3 Arkansas histories, and 17 works of fiction will be integrated as fully-encoded electronic texts. The project uses several essential hardware and software technologies to create the dynamic user interface environment. The web server is running Apache Tomcat Java Servlet software to serve the 131 XML files that describe and interpret the 688 pages of documents (to date), using a W3C XML Schema with RELAX NG to define the legal building blocks of the XML files. It uses the Apache Cocoon 2.1 web application to dynamically generate content connecting to the XSLT 2.0 that renders the XML into HTML with the help of CSS and some JavaScript. The text analysis is generated by TokenX 2.0, a a text visualization, analysis, and play tool developed by Brian L. Pytlik Zillig at the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities (CDRH) at UNL.

If you have information to share about the contents of this digital archive, please contact:

Douglas Seefeldt, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of History and
Faculty Fellow, Center for Digital Research in the Humanities

Project Staff

Douglas Seefeldt — Project Director

Zach Bajaber — Digital Resources Designer, CDRH (fall 2005-spring 2007)

Karin Dalziel — Digital Resources Designer, CDRH (fall 2008-present)
Brian L. Pytlik Zillig — Digital Initiatives Librarian, CDRH
Laura Weakly — Metadata Encoding Specialist, CDRH

Graduate Research Assistants

Jaclyn Cruikshank Vogt, Department of English (fall 2010-present)
Leslie Working, Department of History (summer 2006-summer 2007)

Tonia Compton, Department of History (fall 2005-spring 2006)

Undergraduate Research Assistants

Kelsey Harris, UCARE (fall 2009-summer 2010)


Select newspaper and government document transcriptions provided by Will Bagley, The Prairie Dog Press, Salt Lake City, UT