Burying the Past – Legacy of the Mountain Meadows Massacre

By Brian Patrick

Reviewed by Bill McKeeverBurying the Past

The 1857 massacre of 120 emigrants by Mormons in southern Utah has always been a blight on Mormon history. How the LDS Church has handled this issue has been just as troubling.

Burying the Past, a film produced and directed by Brian Patrick, once again brings to the surface what many Mormons would rather forget. In this 86-minute documentary, Patrick retraces the tragic events leading up to, including, and following America’s first “9/11.”

I have visited the Mountain Meadows several times and I must confess, it is a sobering experience. Every time I’ve stood on Sill hill that overlooks the valley, I’ve tried to imagine what must have been going through the minds of the victims as they were being mercilessly killed by people they thought were going to help them.

Explaining all of the details surrounding the massacre is a complex problem. Most of the information we have available today has been provided by the perpetrators so it is difficult to know for sure the motives behind this act. Patrick does a good job with what is available to piece together the event.

Utilizing the thoughtful and candid insight of historians such as Gene Sessions and Will Bagley was a bonus to the film. However, LDS Church historian Glen Leonard’s interview struck me as nothing more than guarded responses from someone who was trying hard to protect his church’s image.

The film recreates what we know about the killings to give the viewer a visual understanding of the treachery used by local LDS leaders to lure the California –bound members of the Fancher-Baker wagon train out of their defense pits and into open country, making it easy to slaughter all but a handful of young children.

A significant amount of the documentary looks at the descendants of the Fancher-Baker party. After all this time there is still much that they, and all of us, don’t know. For years only a vague marker on a rock cairn stood as a memorial to the victims. Patrick examines the controversy surrounding this marker and the efforts by the descendants of the victims to see that a proper memorial, one that gives more details of the event, be placed on the property.

The LDS Church owns the land where the massacre took place so if a fitting memorial was to be made, it would have to go through church channels. How was this to be done honestly without making the LDS Church look culpable?

Burying the Past is aptly titled since it looks at how the LDS Church has covered up this tragic event. It also pointedly demonstrates how the LDS Church is still reluctant to admit to any guilt in the matter. To this day the LDS Church has yet to offer the one thing the descendants want to hear — an apology.

When church officials met with descendants in 1999 to dedicate a new monument, President Hinckley was careful not to implicate the upper church hierarchy with any complicity.

I agree with those who think it is incredibility unfathomable that local LDS leaders would go so far as to execute 120 fellow Americans without orders from on high. However, there appears to be no “smoking gun” that definitely implicates Brigham Young. If evidence ever did exist that tied Young to the murders, we can be sure it has long been destroyed.

I think Brian Patrick has done a great service to the public with this film and I highly recommend Burying the Past (in our bookstore section) to anyone who wants to better understand this segment of LDS history.