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American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, September 1857 Hardcover – June 17, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

In September 1857, a wagon train filled with gold was attacked, and the 140 Arkansas emigrants on their way to California in the wagons were slaughtered as they passed through Mountain Meadows, Utah. After the massacre, the Mormon church began to place the blame on John D. Lee, a discredited Mormon, and on the Paiute Indians. Denton, of Mormon descent, draws on oral histories, diaries, and depositions of the descendants from historical societies in Arkansas; from U.S. government files at the National Archives; Mormon records; newspaper accounts; and other sources. These documents bolster Denton's contention that the Mormon church's leader, Brigham Young, was responsible for the massacre because of what she describes as "the church's financial crises." Despite scientific evidence to the contrary, over the years the church has steadfastly denied any responsibility for the tragedy. Denton's extensively researched account of this atrocity is both convincing and chilling. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (June 17, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375412085
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375412080
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #482,827 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sally Denton is an investigative reporter, author, and historian who writes about the subjects others ignore--from a drug conspiracy in Kentucky to organized crime in Las Vegas; from corruption within the Mormon Church to the hidden history of Manifest Destiny; from one of America's bitterest political campaigns to the powerful forces arrayed against Franklin D. Roosevelt. She has an extensive background in print and broadcast journalism, including newspapers, magazines, and television, and is the author of seven books of narrative history. While the subjects of her books at first glance seem disparate, they are actually unified by a central theme of the exploration of subjects in American history that have been neglected or marginalized. What she has done in her 30-year career is to explore the unmentioned truths about America--what the eminent scholar Daniel Boorstin called "Hidden History." She is a Guggenheim fellow,a Woodrow Wilson public scholar, a Hoover Institute Media Fellow, the recipient of two Western Heritage Awards, and has been inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame. She was born and raised in Nevada, where she began her journalism career in 1976.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The purpose of this review is to politely correct a misleading assertion made by another reviewer (review from 8/13/03). This reader claimed the book lacked footnotes.
In reality, there are about 35 pages of endnotes (pp 245-279), and also a bibliography listing well over 200 sources including books, U.S. government documents, periodical and newspaper articles, LDS church documents, papers, diaries, manuscripts, and letters.
Technically true, there aren't footnotes (it would indeed be nice to see the sources at the bottom of the page where they're referenced). However, prospective readers should know that the book provides an abundance of documentation for its claims.
This is the first book I've read about Mountain Meadows, so I don't feel qualified to talk about whether or not Ms. Denton draws fair conclusions from her sources, or whether she makes use of the most appropriate sources.
In conclusion, I recommend this book to other readers, as long as they know this book provides only one of several opposing viewpoints about this chapter in U.S. history.
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44 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Eric Hoff on December 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
SEPTEMBER 11, 1857
The book, "American Massacre" by Sally Denton is an excellent coverage of one of our country's most notable occurrences, worthy of recognition on a grand scale. To this day in Utah, the event has been avoided by the LDS like a "Hot Potato", Why?

During my 30+ years within the walls of the LDS church I did not hear mention of the massacred and blood atoned. I heard mostly about how members were persecuted by gentiles. In fact I knew little of the truth regarding the rich history of "Loving your neighbor" as Brigham so carefully taught at the pulpit.

"THIS IS LOVING OUR NEIGHBOR AS OURSELVES; if he needs help, help him; and if he wants salvation and it is NECESSARY TO SPILL HIS BLOOD on the earth in order that he may be saved, SPILL IT..." (Sermon by Brigham Young, delivered in the Mormon Tabernacle, Feb. 8, 1857, printed in the Deseret News, Feb. 18, 1857; also reprinted in the Journal of Discourses, Vol. 4, pp. 219-220)

Brigham Young also taught: "I know, when you hear my brethren telling about CUTTING PEOPLE OFF FROM THE EARTH, that you consider it is strong doctrine, but it is to SAVE them, not to destroy them.... (Sermon by Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses,Vol. 4, pages 53-54; also published in the Deseret News, 1856, page 235)

Some have passed off such as a "myth", but as I am separating myself from Mormonism in search of truth, the substance of the foundation is unfolding.

Mountain Meadows Massacre was the largest wholesale murder of unarmed, innocent men, women and children (performed by Americans) in American History, unparalleled until the recent bombing of the Federal building.
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39 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Alison A. Shurtleff on August 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
After finishing Jon Krakauer's amazing "Under the Banner of Heaven," I turned to Denton's book for a fuller account of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. I wasn't disappointed. This book is absolutely incredible. Anyone who reads it will be shaken up by the history of the Mormon Church and what it has sanitized. How many Mormons today know of Brigham Young's atrocities? If they knew, would they still worship this faith based in the bloodshed of innocent Americans? Mormonism isn't very old. There is very recent history of torture and cruelty by the Mormon people. This history isn't biblical; it's pre-Civil war. Pretty hard to believe anyone could not acknowledge the abomination that was Brigham Young. But back to the book: Ms. Denton is an amazing writer--perhaps among our best today. Her attention to detail, her chronicling of history is beyond praiseworthy. She merits more distinction than she is getting, considering that this book is never talked about. But then again, the media seems to have swept Krakauer's book under the rug, as well. What is the press afraid of? Whatever the reasons, anyone wanting to educate him or herself about Mormon history--or anyone ignorant to its roots--should read this book as a companion to Krakauer's. And all should cry at the fate of the doomed Fancher party.
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38 of 50 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Political thriller, historical drama, crime and coverup, love and hate, disaster and redemption--Sally Denton's fast-paced, beautifully written account of the Mountain Meadow Massacre has it all. For a century-and-a-half, the worst atrocity of its kind in American annals went so little or marginally written about that it was one of our history's dirty secrets. But now Denton, a nationally-honored author and investigative journalist, gives it the definitive book it deserves--an achievement all the more impressive because of the courage and wisdom it took in a woman who is herself a descendant of Mormon pioneers. Terrorism and religious fanaticism hardly began with Islamic radicals September 11, 2001. It's as American as apple pie and massacre in a lovely Utah meadow. No history is more relevant to understanding our world, our America. Don't miss this one!
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58 of 78 people found the following review helpful By charles falk VINE VOICE on August 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Two books have recently been published about cold-blooded murders in Utah, and figuring prominently in both is the LDS church -- the Mormons. Jon Krakauer's UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN is about recent murders and the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart committed by Mormon Fundamentalists who, though excommunicated by LDS authorities for practicing polygamy and other deviation, claim to be following the original teachings of church founder Joseph Smith. Sally Denton's subject in AMERICAN MASSACRE is the near-annihilation of the Fancher-Baker wagon train at Mountain Meadows in southern Utah on 9/11/1857. That barbarous act, the slaughter of 120 men, women, and children may have been authorized by church leaders was was certainly carried out by Mormons who believed they had official sanction for their acts.
The two authors display contrasting strengths as writers. Krakauer is the better prose stylist, but Denton has put together a more unified story. Krakauer succeeded in getting members of the Fundamentalist Mormon community (including the murderous Laffertys) to talk freely about the murders they say God told them to commit. He gives the reader an unspairing, intimate view of the crime and the criminals, like that of Mailer in THE EXECUTIONER'S SONG. Krakauer admits readily in interviews that he relied heavily on secondary sources (like historian D Michael Quinn)for his depiction of the historical aspects of Mormonism. Denton has done far more original historical research for her book; from reading diaries and oral histories in Arkansas (where the Fancher party originated) to combing through the National Archives, US Army records, and those of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
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