Massacre at Mountain Meadows meticulously describes the historical circumstances that led up to the massacre, still one of the most controversial events in LDS history. Written by LDS Church historians, this latest entry in Mountain Meadows scholarship attempts to escape the common approach of saying the Fancher Party were simply innocent victims on the journey west. Using new archival research, Walker, Turley, and Leonard strive to accurately represent the historical context surrounding the event.
The Mountain Meadows Massacre occurred on September 11, 1857, during a time when the LDS Church was on the brink of war with the US government. However, the book opens with the arrival of Mormon pioneers in July 1847 in the Salt Lake Valley. Descriptions of the violence in Missouri and Nauvoo, Illinois, significantly add to current understanding of the events that led up to Mountain Meadows in which 120 people were killed, including women and children. Photographs bring to life the LDS men involved in the violent act so that they stand as real characters. The research incorporates testimonials from the time period and evaluates their historical accuracy, a move that will prove useful for historians.
In the preface, the authors clearly define their goal as not simply providing a response to other histories that have already studied the massacre. The authors write, "Rather, we would take a fresh approach based upon [End Page 87] every primary source we could find" (x). The book is distinctive because of their painstaking search through the LDS library and archives. According to the authors, church leaders supported their research by offering full disclosure. Walker, Turley, and Leonard situate their entry in the Mountain Meadows canon within the continued fascination surrounding the event. A recent movie and a documentary have further fueled public interest in the massacre.
Walker, Turley, and Leonard's research is most notable for including Assistant Church Historian Andrew Jenson's field notes. Jenson was responsible for collecting accounts of the massacre in 1892. However, the authors' attempt to place the massacre within the psychological analysis of group violence needs more than the passing references they give. Nonetheless, the book is a must-read for scholars of the Mountain Meadows Massacre and LDS history. Framing the history in a narrative style makes the information approachable for non-academic readers as well.