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


Report on Utah Affairs. 

We are indebted to General Bidwell, M. C. from California, for a printed copy of a communication from the Secretary of War, transmitting the Report of Brevet Brig. Gen. Babcock. The Report covers a large space, including the observations of the writer at the several military posts from the Missouri river to the Pacific Ocean. We cannot say that it impresses the reader with either the profundity or literary ability of the author, while is self-assurance and perhaps pardonable egotism may be said to be very manifest. Referring to the selection of a site for a new Post, in lieu of Hullock, he says:

When in Denver the Quartermaster showed me the plans of the proposed military post on the Big Laramie plain; also plot of reservations and wood lot. Major General Sherman had spoken of this, and thought it a fine selection. I reached Big Laramie plains (the State station a little way from the reservation). A glance convinced me that it was no place for such a post as we wish to establish.

General Sherman, it may be inferred, though tolerably competent to lead an army "from Atlanta to the Sea," don't understand the requirements for a Post in the Indian country. A glance from Babcock's critical eye is sufficient to settle that question. His attention, he says, was called to a locality on the North Platte by one of the employees of the Mail line, who, he believes, is perfectly disinterested! Notwithstanding his earnest protest, General Pope, it seems, agreed with General Sherman, to Babcock's intense disgust,and went on with his Post at Laramie. Thereupon he breaks out in the following style:

I am now informed the post has (sic) or will be built at Big Laramie; that Major General Pope does not agree with me about the two places.

And then, with the peculiar modest of this young man, he arraigns the Department Commander in the following manner:

I have only to say, I cannot see how General Pope forms his opinion, as he has never seen either place, and has no report of Big Laramie alone, except my own. * * * This injudicious selection of posts is what entails the army with such exorbitant expenses at frontier stations. * * * I reported to General Sherman my opinion of Big Laramie and North Platte, suggesting the change, and telegraphed to General Grant same day.

It is astonishing what obstinate chaps these old army officers are. Pope, Sherman and Grant seem to have been unmoved by the sage opinion of the Inspector, formed "at a glance."

After all this, we were not entirely unprepared for the graphic and lucid exposition of Utah affairs found in the "Report." Much the large portion of this intensely interesting document is devoted to this subject. While in St. Louis the write reported to general Sherman, (we don't exactly understand how it happened that Sherman didn't report to him, but it seems he didn't,) and he was shown that lively telegraphic correspondence between General Sherman and Brigham Young, last Spring.

He (Sherman) informed me that it was possible the Government might e compelled to force these people to obey the laws of the land. he wished me to remain in the valley of Great Salt Lake at least four weeks, to talk freely and often with Mormons and Gentiles—thus, if possible, to collect such information as would suggest a policy toward these people. I reached Great Salt Lake City June 19, and remained until the 20th of July. I met many of the Mormon people, as well as the Gentiles, and was treated with civility by both. Perhaps a detailed account of these people will be of interest. The sect known as Mormons is well known in the United States. The marked peculiarity of their religion is the claim of a religious right to have a plurality of wives. In other respects their religion does not offend public opinion. The present head of the church is Brigham Young, whom the Mormons believe inspired at times, through whom God reveals his wishes. he is acknowledged the head of the church and styled President, and is the "Trustee in trust of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

The Report then at considerable length re- the coming to Zion of the Saints, their devotion to agriculture, their industry in a dry and salt land, and tells us that the Mormons claim a population of 150,000, to which he very adds an interrogation mark, thus (?). We are informed that the Territory has much mineral wealth, gold, silver, lead, iron, coal, etc.; and he puts it very mildly when he adds, "but Brigham has kept their (the Mormon's) attention to cultivation of the soil." The Saints are the most industrious, quiet and peaceable people the writer ever passed four weeks with. He discovered that the Anti-Polygamy law of Congress had never been enforced, because Brigham believes it to be unconstitutional and no Mormon jury will convict a fellow for bigamy.

Judge Titus, I believe a very upright man,of no prejudice in favor of the Mormons, informed me that but about one-tenth (!) of the Mormons are polygamists; that he knows of cases (!) where Mormons have been prevented from taking more wives by the law of 1863 (!), and others on account of that law have separated from all but one, of their wives.

The author of the Report, in the foregoing extract evidently indulges a fertile imagination. We have the best reasons for knowing that General Babcock totally misapprehended the conversation referred to, or his memory has been very defective. What Judge Titus did say was, "that in his opinion about three-tenths are practical polygamists; that he only knew of one instance where a man had put away his second, after providing for her comfort; and that if anyone had been restrained from taking more wives by the Act of 1862, he did not know it. That the law was practically a dead letter, and if it could not be enforced, it was worse than force to keep it on the Statute book."

Referring to Mormon outrages in the past, the Report dubiously says:

In earlier days, when these people were more isolated, that some of them perhaps, to the knowledge of the church, committed very grave crimes, I have no doubt, among the worst the Mountain Meadow massacre of 1858. I think our government, in justification of its laws and the opinion of its people, should investigate these and place the stigma where it belongs. During the rebellion I have no doubt but these people had but little sympathy with the government, which they look upon as their persecutor.

Nevertheless, he has no doubt that if called upon they would have furnished troops to put down the Rebellion "with as much promptness as any call that was made."

He opposes coercion and recommends that civilization and education be permitted to fight out the battle with the "twin relic" —if it takes all Summer. recommends four companies at Bridger and four companies at Camp Douglas, to look after Government property and take care of Indians.

On the whole, the Report is decidedly a non sequitur, and interesting rather from the main subject which is its topic than for any other reason.