Historians Focus on "Utah War" as Defining Time for Utah

KSL TV, Utah/April 26, 2006

Will Bagley, Independent Historian: "History in Utah is like water, it's for fighting over."

And few things in Utah history have provided more fuel for historical fights than the so-called "Utah War" and the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Two events, one bloodless and one tragically bloody, centered on the year 1857.

A committee of historians is planning a series of Sesquicentennial events over the next couple of years -- lectures, field trips, publications-- is focusing on the Utah War when federal troops marched on Utah driven by concerns that Brigham Young was running a theocracy. Mormons prepared for bloody combat.

Gene Sessions, Historian, Weber State Univ.: "The two sides exchanged fire. One Mormon lost his hat. Another fellow had his horse shot out from under him."

Just as it might have exploded into a real shooting war, Brigham Young backed down, surrendering some of his power and the Mormon dream of independence.

Gene Sessions, Historian, Weber State Univ.: "The Utah War, bloodless as it may have been, certainly changed that forever, and Utah was brought dramatically and suddenly into the mainstream of western history."

But historian Will Bagley is concerned that the official Sesquicentennial planners aren't paying enough attention to the Mountain Meadows Massacre. It was a mass murder of wagon train pioneers traveling through Utah. Historians agree the killing was driven at least in part by Mormon paranoia and zeal at a time when they felt under attack from outsiders.

Will Bagley, Independent Historian: "The Mountain Meadows Massacre is part of the Utah War. It was part and parcel, and if you try to separate them, it's like taking somebody's brain out."

Gene Sessions: "The Mountain Meadows Massacre certainly is part of the Utah War episode. Our committee is anxious not to have it be the all-consuming issue as we look at this episode."

All historians agree, the two events of the 1850's profoundly altered the course of Utah history. Mountains Meadows left wounds that have never healed. The clash with the federal government left a political aftertaste.

Will Bagley: "The legacy has been our contentious relations with the federal government."

It was certainly a turbulent era with aftershocks still reverberating.

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