Essay on Mormon Violence

PEACE AND VIOLENCE AMONG 19TH-CENTURY LATTER-DAY SAINTS – May 13, 2014.

This essay declares that 19th century Mormon leaders taught that certain sins are unforgivable unless the sinner’s blood was shed to atone for their sin.  They admit,

“Drawing on biblical passages, particularly from the Old Testament, leaders taught that some sins were so serious that the perpetrator’s blood would have to be shed in order to receive forgiveness. Such preaching led to increased strain between the Latter-day Saints and the relatively few non-Mormons in Utah, including federally appointed officials.”

This belief, also called “blood atonement,”[1] led to horrific threats of violence and motivated several of the acts of vengeance performed by Mormons against their perceived enemies. Anyone who left the Mormon Church or spoke out against the Church became targets of a “paramilitary group known as the Danites, whose objective was to defend the community against dissident and excommunicated Latter-day Saints… . Danites intimidated Church dissenters and other Missourians… .”  This essay goes on to explain that these Danites “were absorbed into militias largely composed of Latter-day Saints.”

These militias clashed with their Missouri opponents, leading to a few fatalities on both sides. In addition, Mormon vigilantes, including many Danites, raided two towns believed to be centers of anti-Mormon activity, burning homes and stealing goods.”

Regarding LDS Church members dealings with Indians, this essay states:

“At times, however, Church members clashed violently with Indians. … At a council of Church leaders in Salt Lake City on January 31, 1850, the leader of Fort Utah reported that the Utes’ actions and intentions were growing increasingly aggressive. …In response, Governor Young authorized a campaign against the Utes. A series of battles in February 1850 resulted in the deaths of dozens of Utes and one Mormon. In these instances and others, some Latter-day Saints committed excessive violence against native peoples.”

Next the essay discusses how the Mountain Meadows massacre was perpetuated against innocent civilian settlers who were traveling from Utah to California in 1857:

“At the peak of this tension, in early September 1857, a branch of the territorial militia in southern Utah (composed entirely of Mormons), along with some Indians they recruited, laid siege to a wagon train of emigrants traveling from Arkansas to California. … Mormon militiamen planned and carried out a deliberate massacre. They lured the emigrants from their circled wagons with a false flag of truce and, aided by Paiute Indians they had recruited, slaughtered them. Between the first attack and the final slaughter, the massacre destroyed the lives of 120 men, women, and children in a valley known as Mountain Meadows. Only small children—those believed to be too young to be able to tell what had happened—were spared.”

As can be seen in this essay, 19th century Mormons were not peaceful people. They were not able to get along with most of their neighbors, whether in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois or Utah.  Their early history of co-existence with people of other faiths and cultures was filled with accounts of lawbreaking, destruction, bloodshed and deceit.  Yet today, most Mormons are honest, law-abiding citizens and have worked hard to overcome their early history of vigilantism through collaborative, community building efforts with various political, ethnic and religious groups throughout the world.

[1] See footnote 36 of the essay.

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