Danites and the Mountain Meadows Massacre
The Tribe of Dan, one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and one of the Lost Tribes, was known both as Israel’s defender and for seafaring. The Danites of the 19th century were a secret society of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) dedicated to preserving the Mormons by force formed in 1838.
Danites fought against the United States in the Mormon War (1857-1858). The U.S. Forces, at the very end of a long logistical tether, did not come off well at all. There are actually three events known as Mormon Wars: the one listed above, the Illinois War (1844-46) and the Missouri War (1838). Wherever the Mormons went they formed militias frightening their neighbors. They voted as a block electing Mormons and excluding their neighbors from political office while using office to the benefit of fellow Mormons. The 1857-58 war in Utah was triggered the Morons sent the appointed territorial governor packing. They selected Brigham Young as prophet/governor of a theodemocracy wherein God gave the prophet his orders and he told everyone else what to do.
In Illinois, the governor welcomed the Mormons. The Grand Master of Freemasons in Illinois made their first leader, Joseph Smith, a mason-on-sight. This is a rare event and the power to make such a determination is solely that of a Grand Master. It recognizes a person of such high moral character that they have already achieved what other Freemasons spend years learning from their brethren as they proceed through the degrees. Joseph Smith, with neither power nor authority, began making all Mormon males master masons on sight, taking them through the degrees in a day. He adopted Masonic symbols which appear in Mormon ceremonies and on their temple undergarments to this day. They are said to have adopted a corrupted form of Masonic Ritual as their own. The Grand Master told Smith to desist; he did not. And so, Joseph Smith was expelled from the Masons.
The Danites certainly had some degree of legitimacy as a militia, but there was a rumored darker side. There were persistent claims of total numbers of kills for their holy gunmen that would have left Billy the Kid and John Wesley Hardin envious. It is hard to know what is true or fair. The Church of Latter Day Saints has used its great influence to obscure and distort much of its history. One supposes its enemies may have also distorted history to some degree.
The Danites became enforcers for Brigham Young responsible for Blood Atonement. There were certain religious crimes so evil that one could not possibly atone for them in a lifetime. The only way one who had committed such a crime could have his eternal soul saved was for someone else to spill their blood, that is, murder them. One such crime was apostasy, leaving the faith.
The Mountain Meadows Massacre, September 11, 1857, was the worst wagon train massacre in U.S. history, leaving approximately 130 Americans dead.
The Fancher Party crossed Utah in 1857 en route to southern California. It was a wealthy party taking, among other things, race horses to the coast. It was customary to make purchases to replenish supplies at such places as Fort Bridger, but the Mormons were at war with the U.S. and had driven Bridger out of his fort and they denied supplies to the wagon train. The situation persisted as the train passed through Utah and finally they were directed to Mountain Meadows by Mormons as a place, on the western border of Utah, where they could rest and let their stock feed before they crossed the deserts.
While there they were attacked. On the first day, some Piutes friendly to the Mormons may have participated. After several days with the Fanchers low on ammunition and water and with many wounded, Mormons offered to negotiate with the ‘Indians.’ The party was to load wounded in one wagon, all their weapons in another and children in a third. Each adult male would be accompanied by an armed Mormon. So organized, they began their departure from Mountain Meadows.
The Mormon leader signaled, “Mormons! Do your duty!” Each Mormon shot and killed the man with him. Then they started on the wounded and the women. The youngest children, deemed unable to remember or report, were taken into Mormon homes. Fancher property was distributed among the Mormons. My friend, Gene Baker, who is often mentioned on my Facebook Page, had a great aunt who was one of these children. Major James Carlton investigated for the U.S. government in 1859 after rumors of the massacre leaked out. Only John D. Lee, who said he had opposed the Mormon leadership, was ever punished for this great crime.
I didn’t write this to be the ultimate source on Mormon Danites or on the Mountain Meadows Massacre. This is a very brief summary of the history behind my novel and not a comment on LDS theology which changed drastically after the death of Brigham Young. What happened during Young’s tenure is hidden from most Mormans and the church has tried to hide it from the rest of the world. This is history, not theology. If you are interested in more of this history, I suggest to try: Bigler, David L. and Bagley, Will, The Mormon Rebellion: American’s First Civil War 1857-1858, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2011.