Mountain Meadows Massacre: 3 perspectives argued by panel

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OREM, Utah -- Discussing one of the darkest events in Utah's history in a civil manner was one of the goals of a panel discussion at Utah Valley University on Thursday evening. Will Bagley, an independent historian; Forrest Cuch, executive director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs; and Richard E. Turley Jr., assistant LDS Church historian participated in "Perspectives on a massacre: A panel discussion on Mountain Meadows."

Moderator Alex Caldiero, poet and scholar in residence at UVU, illustrated the problems inherent in such a discussion when he began the evening by reading three different versions of "just the facts."

Then it was the panelists' turn. Each gave a 15-minute presentation on their perspective of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The massacre occurred in 1857 west of Cedar City, Utah, when Mormon settlers attacked a California-bound wagon train, killing 120 people.

Turley focused on the events leading up to the massacre. Like the book "Massacre at Mountain Meadows" that he co-authored with Ronald W. Walker and Glen M. Leonard, he placed the massacre in the context of studies of group violence and the process that leads to such atrocities. "Demonizing (the victims), authority, obedience, peer pressure, ambiguity, fear and deprivation -- all were present in southern Utah in 1857," Turley said.

Turley rejected the search for scapegoats, but also emphasized that none of the conditions and nothing the victims did justified the massacre. "Unless human beings choose to resist powerful forces, otherwise good people under certain circumstances can commit the unthinkable," he said.

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