Once a year, the JER features an essay that seeks to cast fresh eyes on the study of the early American republic. Here, Sarah Barringer Gordon and Jan Shipps offer new ways of viewing the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857, that "fatal convergence" that resulted in a Mormon militia killing 120 Methodists making the westward migration through Utah. If once we saw that atrocity as clarifying sharp differences between religious groups, Gordon and Shipps seek to persuade us to change our minds. Their essay insists that we see how much the Methodists and Latter-Day Saints shared in common with regard to ideologies of slavery, empire, patriarchy, and violent dispossession—and it implies that many other Americans shared those assumptions, too. This was less a religious conflict, they explain, than a fratricide; less unique to the Wild West than exemplary of a moment in American history.
To build their case, Gordon and Shipps utilize surprising evidence. Because all records of the wagon train were likely destroyed during the massacre, they supplement conventional archival documents with family histories and memoirs—materials that historians often scorn, available on sites like Ancestry.com that we seldom engage. As Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp and Ari Kelman show in their engagements with the essay, the authors have crisscrossed a range of subfields, prodding a number of sleeping dogs, and have sought to model ways of engaging the blindnesses and fantasies of memory. Enjoy. [End Page 305]