Joseph Smith was a deceiver

The Latter-day Unholy

It was an extraordinary funeral service held on September 9th in Mountain Meadows, southern Utah.

Instead of a coffin, only a simple wooden box was buried - this contains the skull of a child under ten years old. It is the last remnant of a mass murder: 160 years ago, on September 11, 1857, a Mormon militia massacred between 120 and 140 members of a migrant group. The Mountain Meadows Massacre is one of the bloodiest violent crimes in US history - yet only a few are aware of what happened.

It was only in the last two decades that the "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints", as Mormons call themselves, began to come to terms with its unholy history - after a century and a half of denial and ignoring. The descendants of the victims and the perpetrators now gathered for the funeral to commemorate them.


The Baker-Fancher settler trek from Arkansas, named after the leading families, had crossed the Utah Territory from north to south on its way to California - at an inconvenient time. US President James Buchanan had heard that the governor of the Utah Territory Brigham Young ruled his territory as Mormon president. In addition, Buchanan wanted to end the escalating polygyny of the saints. The White House therefore ordered a change of power and sent a new governor and soldiers to Salt Lake City. Shortly before the passage of the settlers' trek, a Mormon apostle was also murdered in Arkansas, which further fueled hostilities and was blamed on those passing through in Utah. The church leaders heated up the situation with drastic sermons. The concept of "blood atonement", according to which the blood of the "sinner" must be shed for certain acts, was part of the self-image of the Mormons and was propagated by Young.

The settlers, who were extraordinarily well equipped for the conditions at the time and carried 800 head of cattle with them, could not replenish their provisions in Utah. Young had given his faithful the order to bunker all supplies in preparation for the expected invasion of the federal troops. The Mormons planned a scorched earth war in this case: their enemies should not be able to take over cities or the country intact. Young proclaimed martial law. Meanwhile, the settlers had passed Cedar City in southern Utah and stopped at Mountain Meadows.

Who finally gave the order to attack the trek has not yet been clarified. In any case, on September 7th, around 200 Mormon militiamen disguised as Indians and Paiute Indians under the leadership of Mormon Bishop John D. Lee attacked the settlers who were hastily turning their wagons into a defensive structure.

Seven settlers died and several were injured. The siege continued for the following days as the families' supplies ran low. The attackers, however, worried that their disguise had meanwhile been seen through. Lee, who as the US government's Indian agent was responsible for contacts with the indigenous peoples, told the settlers on September 11th that he had negotiated a ceasefire with the Paiutes: the families would be safe if they let the Indians over their cattle.

The settlers agreed, whereupon the Mormons separated them into three groups - men, women and children - and led them away. On command, the militiamen opened fire on the unarmed. Only 17 children under the age of six were spared and taken into local families. They were later taken to live with relatives in their old homeland.

It took a few weeks for news of the massacre to spread. In the years that followed, the Mormons blamed the Indians for the crime. It was not until 1872 that the church excommunicated some members for involvement in the murders. And it was not until 2007 that the church formulated an official regret towards the victims and also the Paiutes. Care was taken to assign the blame to the local church officials and not to cast a shadow over the role of Brigham Young. During an investigation into the crime scene in 1859, the US Army collected the victims' bones and buried them under stones. The murderers had only sparsely buried their victims, the wolves and coyotes scattered the remains of the corpses over long distances. The now buried child's skull was probably taken by the soldiers as evidence and ended up in the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Maryland. The temporary tomb erected by the soldiers was destroyed by the Mormons in 1861 at the behest of Brigham Young.

Late judgment

There was only one conviction in the aftermath of the massacre: Lee was tried almost twenty years later and executed at the site of the massacre. However, he left memoirs with grave allegations against his adoptive father Brigham Young: he was responsible. Lee saw himself as a pawn sacrificed to silence because of his oath.

Even if the war hysteria in Utah in the summer of 1857 was greatly exaggerated with the expectation of an apocalypse, the concern of the Mormons about government intervention was justified. Since the establishment of their religion by their Prophet Joseph Smith in 1830, the self-appointed Saints had come into conflict with the rest of the local population. As a result, the Mormons withdrew further and further west. Smith had been tarred and feathered in Ohio as early as 1832. Fraudulent financial deals eventually led the Church to go to Missouri. There the Mormons got themselves a secret group of thugs, the Danites. These were also used to intimate internal critics.

After a skirmish with a state militia and the murder of 17 Mormons, Smith was jailed for high treason but managed to escape. The Church had to move on again, this time to Nauvoo, Illinois. Here Smith founded the "Nauvoo Legion", a paramilitary unit. In addition, polygyny became an ever more pressing internal problem for the church, because this practice was by no means unanimous, especially because the prophet also pursued the women of his companions. In 1844, opponents of Smith had a newspaper printed openly criticizing his doctrines. Smith sent his Legion to destroy the printing press. With that he had gone the extra mile: soon after, he and his brother Hyrum were arrested. Before he could be tried, angry citizens stormed the prison. Smith still shot a pistol but fell out the window and was killed, as was Hyrum.

The Mormons came to the Great Salt Lake in 1847. Here Smith's successor Brigham Young wanted to establish his theocratic state "Deseret" - this should include today's states of Utah and Nevada and parts of California, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Wyoming and Oregon. The "Utah War" ended as early as 1858 with a victory for Washington, without any military battles: Young had to give up the government, not least because of Mountain Meadows, and finally also to bury his fantasies of the state of God. As a state, Utah was not admitted to the Union until 1896 - before that, the prohibition of polygamy was written into the constitution.

Polygamy for the leadership cadre

Joseph Smith introduced the principle of polygamy to himself soon after his Church was organized, but only initiated it into the most intimate circles. He was well aware that this would pose an internal ordeal for his church.

The Mormon Church would have developed differently if the many opponents had prevailed after the death of Joseph Smith. Samuel Smith would have had the best cards to follow after the death of his older brothers Joseph and Hyrum. But just a month later he died under unknown circumstances. His daughter and the last remaining Smith brother, William, later accused Brigham Young of poisoning Samuel.

Several splits of the church arose in the course of the Mormon diadoch battles. The main line was taken over by the power-conscious Young, who lived the polygamy excessively. While Joseph Smith got at least 33 women, Young got 56. In January and February 1846 alone, he married twenty women within 27 days. At his death in 1877 he had 57 children. 25 years later, the New York Times wrote that his clan already exceeded 1,000 offspring. Finally, under Young, the principle of polygamy was also taught publicly from 1852 onwards.

The prohibition of polygamy in 1890 was not followed by all Mormons. After the Mormons began responding to newly entered plural marriages with excommunication, the "Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" split off at the beginning of the 20th century. This should still have up to 10,000 members. To this day, communities in the western United States in particular live according to the principles of polygyny.

She gained widespread notoriety through the sentencing of her leader Warren Jeffs to life imprisonment for molesting minors. Jeffs took over the sect in 2002 after the death of his father Rulon Jeffs - and most of his father's wives too. While Rulon is said to have had at least 75 women and 80 children, son Warren trumped his father with at least 78 women. While in custody, Jeffs wrote his own personal gospel with revelations about Jesus Christ to him. The book is called "Message to All Races" and contains instructions for the release of Jeffs.

Repressed 9/11

Religious fanatics who commit mass murder of innocent men, women and children - merciless and unmoved because they are convinced that they are doing the will of God: this is the background for the national commemorations held in the USA every September 11th. The fact that on the very same date in 1857, enemies from within with the same basic mental and moral constitution as the al Qaeda terrorists carried out a massacre of US citizens in 2001 is a cynical footnote in history, but still not part of the collective consciousness of the US to this day population. However, dealing with the question of how religious extremism develops would definitely be worthwhile using the example of Mountain Meadows.

While the Mormons used a tactic of hushing up Mountain Meadows in the past, they are now quite offensive. Support was given to the establishment of memorials, and in 2008 a Mormon church historian and two historians from Brigham Young University published a book on the massacre. The church made its archives available for this purpose, but this also shows that it wants to continue to determine the direction of the narratives. An open-ended discussion of her own criminal history is not possible for obvious reasons: this would mean that religion, with its founding fathers Smith and Young, who are almost god-like, would have to question its own identity and origins.

In its teaching materials, the church still advocates a victim role. In a "Teacher's Guide" on the Mountain Meadow Massacre, it reads: "At the time the public sentiment was very anti-Mormon. Brigham Young and the Mormons were charged with the terrible massacre on Mountain Meadows who died in 1857 while traveling through Utah to California. The accusation was made by Utah officials who were hostile to the Church. Those killed were non-Church members. "There were some who were in the heart at the time sans for murder and boasted that they would kill any Mormon they met . "

Since the Indian version as the main culprit was not believed by anyone from the start, the more recent official line has been that local church leaders are responsible. In 2007, Mormon leader Henry Eyring stated at the memorial service at the scene of the massacre regarding the role of the Paiute: "While the extent of their involvement is controversial, it is believed that they could not be without the direction and instigation of local church leaders and - Members participated. "

In the rest of the literature, the Church's position that Brigham Young and his ruling class were not responsible for the monstrous crime is heavily questioned. Even if a direct issuing of orders for the destruction of the settlers' trek cannot be proven, the cause of the massacre is still seen in the fomenting of religious fanaticism through sermons.

In 2007, a cinematic reappraisal of the subject clearly revealed Brigham Young's guilt. However, many film critics had an equally clear negative view of "September Dawn". Director Christopher Cain used the description of Lee, who was executed for the crime, as the basis for depicting the massacre, and speeches by Brigham Young were also used. The film flopped and actor Jon Voight was nominated for a Golden Raspberry for his role as Mormon Bishop.

The most American religion

It is a common misconception to mistake the Mormons for just one of the innumerable evangelical free churches. Latter-day Saints have little to nothing to do with Christianity, which ultimately includes most evangelical sects.

The emergence of the most American of all religions is rooted in a deep longing for a more intense identity - for this a deeper history is necessary than that of the locally unrooted immigrants. The Mormons constructed a historical continuity that dates back to the Bronze Age and links the history of the Native Americans with that of the newcomers.

Seers and impostors

Mormon beliefs are based on the visions of the young Joseph Smith, who stated that in 1820, at the age of 14, God, Jesus Christ, and later many other entities appeared to him.

In the early 19th century, the belief in hidden treasures and the associated treasure hunt were widespread. With the help of a "seer stone" in a top hat, Smith tried to track down buried treasures early on. In 1826 he was fined 2 dollars and 68 cents in Bainbridge, New York, for his alleged seer skills, for causing troublemaking and imposture. In the trial documents he is referred to as "Joseph the Glasslooker". In 1830 Smith moved to Ohio when he faced legal hardship again.

From 1823 Smith the "Prophet Moroni" is said to have appeared in the form of an angel. This led him to a hill in New York, where Smith dug up "gold tablets" in 1827. According to Mormon tradition, it was said to have contained a text in a hieroglyphic script, in "Reformed Egyptian" - a script that Egyptologists have not known to this day. With the help of the two seer stones "Urim and Thummim", Smith subsequently translated the "Book of Mormon". At a time when Europe's posh societies were celebrating mummy parties and everything to do with ancient Egyptian culture was in vogue, it is easy to see where Smith got his ideas from. It was not until 1822 that the brilliant linguist Jean-François Champollion deciphered the hieroglyphs. The future prophet, of course, had no idea of ​​the ancient Egyptian language and script.

Illiterate hobby classical philologist

Smith, who allegedly could only poorly read and write, dictated his translation from behind a cloth. This is at least as bizarre as the story of the appearance of the gold plates. The Indians are said to be descendants of the ten lost tribes of Israel.

After the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II, they emigrated to North America 2,600 years ago, where they split into the believing Nephites and the unbelieving Lamanites. Jesus is said to have paid a visit to the Nephites after his resurrection. Later they were destroyed by the Lamanites, who were punished by God for having dark skin. The last Nephite, Moroni, wrote the story to be given to Smith along with tablets from his ancestors 1,400 years later.

In 1842 Smith published the "Book of Abraham", which he wanted translated from purchased ancient Egyptian papyri. When fragments of the papyri from Smith's estate reappeared in the 1960s, Egyptologists discovered that it was the "Book of Breath," part of the widespread Egyptian Book of the Dead. Even so, the Mormon Church still holds on to the "Book of Abraham" as part of its scriptures to this day.

Elsewhere, too, the Prophet made use of what was already available and tried and tested: Joseph Smith got the ideas for the secret Mormon temple ceremonies, rites and hand signals through his membership in a Masonic lodge.

And it came to pass

If Mark Twain is to be believed, the Book of Mormon is an insider tip for those with sleep problems. The author visited Salt Lake City on one of his trips and then described Joseph Smith's work as "printed chloroform" in his travelogue "Through thick and thin ". The father of American literature describes it as a "miracle" that the prophet was able to stay awake while he was writing the book. If Smith had dispensed with the recurring phrase "And it came to pass," according to Twain, it would not have become a book, just a pamphlet. This statement is incorrect in that the phrase only appears in around every fifth verse. On the other hand, around 15 percent of the verses of the Book of Mormon have been copied from the King James translation of the Bible, which, given the postulated time of origin of the gold plates, some of which are said to be older than the Bible, causes interesting time loops. But after all, the ways of the Lord are unfathomable. (Michael Vosatka, October 2nd, 2017)