Mormon Church Regrets 1857 Massacre
By PAUL FOY –
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A ranking Mormon church official expressed "profound regret" Tuesday for the massacre of 120 California-bound pioneers moving through Utah on a wagon train on the 150th anniversary of the ambush.
A group that advocates for descendants of those killed said the remarks were the closest the church has ever come to acknowledging it was responsible. But church leaders declined to categorize the remarks as an apology.
Church Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve, the second tier of leadership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, addressed a memorial service at Mountain Meadows, the massacre site 35 miles northwest of St. George, Utah.
"We express profound regret for the massacre carried out in this valley 150 years ago today, and for the undue and untold suffering experienced by the victims then and by their relatives to the present time," Eyring said.
On Sept. 11, 1857, the Arkansas emigrants were tricked into laying down their arms with a promise of safe passage and then shot at close range, stabbed or beaten to death for reasons still not fully understood. The massacre occurred in a climate of war hysteria as Utah Mormons prepared for an invasion by federal troops sent to deal with a defiant Mormon theocracy under church president Brigham Young.
"He seemed to genuinely regret what happened — and that's more than we have gotten in the past," Patty Norris, president of the group Mountain Meadows Massacre Descendants. "This is as close as we've ever gotten to an apology, so for the time being, we'll take it."
Church leaders were adamant that the statement should not be construed as an apology. "We don't use the word 'apology.' We used 'profound regret,'" church spokesman Mark Tuttle told The Associated Press.
Eyring cited research by church historians that put the responsibility on local leaders and others acting under their direction. He said that Brigham Young tried to convey an order of protection for the wagon train, but that the message didn't arrive in time by horseback.
"He did point out church leaders were involved in the massacre — certainly people involved in the church. That's probably as far as he could go with it, and it's the first time the church admitted that, " Norris said.
The only person ever held accountable for the massacre was Mormon convert John D. Lee, a major in the Iron County Militia who was tried, convicted and executed at Mountain Meadows 20 years after the slaughter. A bitter Lee considered himself a scapegoat for the church.