Just one more thing… about the Mountain Meadows Massacre

How would Columbo deal with a true mormon murder mystery (Sources and a list of events on the days in question are on the timeline):

[update 3:19 p.m. Jan 20th, 2015 – The actual Columbo was named “U. S. District Judge John Cradlebaugh” and much of what we know about the Mountain Meadows Massacre is due to his diligence and willingness to push and poke and ask questions where people were very unwilling to co-operate.  It was, in fact, his similarity to Columbo that inspired me to write this piece.  His wikipedia entry still decries him for “high handedness” and agitation of the neighbors as well as disapproval from his superiors, things that could all be said of Columbo by those he pursues]

Scene 1 – The Massacre

Individuals are guided by members to camp in a location.  Those members, dressed up as indians along with a tribe of genuine indians strike the camp and two men are killed.  The wagon train surrenders and the white mormons dressed as indians slit the throats of the men, women, and children over the ages of eight.  Those under the age of eight are placed in mormon homes for as adopted children to be raised.

Scene 2 – Brigham Young gets the report of the massacre.

Scene 3 – Columbo, his hair the usually mess, his trench coat unbuttoned, cigar in hand is surveying the temple construction site., still far from completion.  He begins to hang around Brigham, Travels to Cedar City and meets John D. Lee, Brigham’s Bodyguard for years.  Returns to Salt Lake City.

Cut to the end for sake of brevity:

Columbo: The thing is, sir, that I don’t understand is “Why did the Indians slit their necks from ear to ear?”  It’s a grisly way to kill a person.  And not just the men, no the women and children too.

Brigham:  I think you’ll find, Columbo, that the children were spared.

Columbo:  See that’s just it sir.  That’s what I keep asking myself.  These Indians see any male under the age of about twelve as a child, that ‘s when the children enter a rite of passage to become a man.  But no, whoever committed these murders, and they are grisly murders, sir; had to consider anyone above 8 as an adult.  They killed anyone older than eight.  Now do you know anyone who considers eight to be a significant age for making adult-like decisions.

Brigham:  I see what you’re getting at Columbo,  You think that the Indians weren’t Indians, and that it may have been a member of my faith because we see eight as the age of accountability?

Columbo: See, that’s why the call you a prophet.  You must have foreseen that or had God tell you.  That would make sense, then sir wouldn’t it.  I hadn’t thought of that, but you’re right.  You’re faith considers kids who are eight old enough to make eternal decisions and contracts.  And some of the members of the area could have dressed up as Indians.  Thank you, sir.  Thank you.

But ya know, there is just one thing that bothers me.


Brigham:  What is that?

Columbo:  The members are the ones who told them where to sleep that night.  Did you know that?

Brigham:  I don’t see what you’re driving at.

Columbo: Well, it could very well be the very same members who told them where to sleep who would have committed the murders.   That would have been very convenient.  Given they wanted to kill a whole lot of people, you would want them where you could find them and gather a party big enough to attack.


Brigham: So?

Columbo:  So, you see sir, the person who told them where to stay was John D. Lee.  And I’ve spoken to Mr Lee.  He’s very loyal sir, but not a great big thinker on his own.  Whenever I speak to him, he talks about what leader told him to do where.

::Watches for Brigham’s response, Brigham remains cool::

Columbo: Yessir, everything he does he has an explanation of what leader he was following.  Now he is loyal sir, no doubt.  I’d even say Loyal to a fault.


Brigham: But he didn’t tell you a leader sent him to do this murder, did he Columbo.  Or else we wouldn’t be having this conversation.


Columbo:  Nossir, he did not.  It’s like it was the first original thought in his head his whole life, sir.  He talks about getting Gold for the apostles, and dodging lawmen left and right, because he is clever sir, but always doing it for some leader, and under instruction, until it comes to the massacre of a hundred men women and children.  Suddenly it’s all his idea.


Brigham:  I can tell you’re trying to tie it back to me, Columbo, but you’ll find no trace.


Columbo: Not directly, but I did find Parley P. Pratt’s widow sir.  She is here in Salt Lake City.  She arrived on X day, which is recorded in Y journal.  That’s fascinating because she would have to have taken the express to get here, sir.  And a widow like that wouldn’t have the money to pay for an express coach, which means someone paid for her to come here in a hurry.


Brigham:  Yes, I did.  I paid for her to come.

Columbo: And she didn’t come and go directly to a family member’s house.  No she came right to you while you were giving that big “independence” speech on July 4th.  The night before she was there with you telling you about how Parley died, wasn’t she, sir?


Brigham:  Yes, yes she was.

Columbo: And then you sent a man south.  A man who was making haste to convey a message to the saints in the south, and a massacre happens.


Brigham:  But you cannot prove I sent the order.

Columbo:  No sir, I cannot.  But I can prove that you pushed the people to the point were they would receive such an order.

I didn’t understand sir, how the Mormons think.  I thought it was like other religions where pastors spoke to the parishioners and each man wrote his own sermon.  And it is kinda like that sir, but there is something that is very different about Mormons, sir.


Brigham:  What are you driving at, Columbo; there are records of the local leaders making speeches that could cause a lone man to take up this action.

Columbo: Oh sure sir,  and one of those local leaders was your son even, if I’m not mistake.  But, uh, sir; the United States has had a history of fiery pastors throughout history, sir.  And very few congregation members take up a weapon and kill someone.  Even fewer do something this grisly.

No, sir, the thing that is different about the Mormons is known as the temple.  And let me tell you, it is difficult to get anyone, even exmormons to talk about what goes on in that building.


Brigham:  It is a place of instruction and learning, where we seal ourselves to our wives.  As you know we don’t even have one in Salt Lake City, we just have an endowment house.

Columbo:  Yessir, that’s true.  But there is a ceremony sir, called the endowment.  And it turns our asking enough questions around what goes on in there, I learned sir, there is something called the “oath of vengeance” sir.  That any Mormon who wants to go to heaven must take this oath at the very end of the temple, sir.  Now after what happened here today, I could understand if one day, later on, the Mormons were to remove the “oath of vengeance”, but here, today, when this massacre happened, each and every faithful Mormon swears to get vengeance upon the heads of those who killed Joseph Smith.  Isn’t that right sir?


Brigham:  The temple is filled with sacred things, I do not wish to discuss it.

Columbo: And it also has members swear to get vengeance against the U.S. Government.  Well sir, this oath of vengeance, that doesn’t sound like God to me sir.  No this “endowment” is supposed to be eternal, sir; but it wouldn’t make sense for Adam and Eve to swear to get vengeance on Joseph Smith’s killers would it, sir?  Or Abraham, or Peter the apostle, or Saint Augustus, sir?  No it would have to be written in by a man, probably someone close to Joseph, who loved him so dearly, that he could write in the requirement that everyone who listened to him would need to get revenge on a fallen friend.  What was it you said when you visited the graves of the people massacred in South Utah?  “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord”.  Isn’t that right sir.  You see, I have it here in my notebook sir,  Several people swear that you said that.

And that’s it sir.  Once you had the “Oath of Vengeance” in place, sir; you wouldn’t have to say much to have a massacre like this happen.  No, just the word that one of the killers of Joseph Smith was in the party.  Oh, maybe you intended to just have one or two people die, those directly responsible, but you see, the law doesn’t work like that sir.  If you set up a situation to kill one person, and a whole host die because of that, you’re culpable for creating the situation.

So I may not have proof that you ordered the massacre, sir, but I can show that all it would take is for you to tell your rider to the south that a killer of Joseph Smith was in the wagon train, and the rest would happen.  Because I have it on record, sir, that those responsible believed that a killer of Joseph Smith was in the train.  And certainly people around the killer of Parley P. Pratt.  That’s why you paid the express carrier to bring her here so fast, wasn’t it sir?  So that you’d have the justification and verification that individuals connected to the Death of Joseph were in that wagon train.


Brigham:  You’ll never get it to stick Columbo, I was pardoned of all war crimes when I surrendered to Johnson’s army.

Columbo:  Maybe not, sir.  But maybe I can get the court of popular opinion to do what the criminal court cannot.

Epilogue: By 1860, with the Union ready to split apart, interest in prosecuting the Mountain Meadows case waned.  Governor Cumming saw little reason to press for prosecution, especially in a territory where the law put jury selection entirely in the hands of Mormon officials.

“God Almighty couldn’t convict the butchers unless Brigham Young was willing,” Cumming said.

Cradlebaugh’s efforts, however, were frustrated when the federal case is essentially dropped after the U. S. marshal declared his unwillingness to execute arrest warrants without federal troops to protect him from local citizens–and that help was not provided.

This entry was posted in Mormon Murder Mysteries, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.
Last edited by Mithryn on February 9, 2015 at 8:28 pm

6 Responses to Just one more thing… about the Mountain Meadows Massacre

  1. pangwitch84 says:

    as a mormon history noob..

    was there actually a killer of joseph smiths in the wagon party?

    im missing the relevance of the pratt widow. although i know she had info on pratt being killed, why rush her to utah?

    • Mithryn says:

      The fact is, she was rushed to Utah. There is a record of her being there. Will Bagley speculates on “Why” but I just include it because them knowing the Pratt’s widow’s story before the wagon train was murdered might have incited people.

      I don’t think a killer of Joseph Smith was actually in the party, but it was a belief at the time. It shows up in several contemporary sources.

  2. Jim says:

    Might work a bit better if you learn how spell Grisly in instead of Grizzly.

  3. Brad says:

    Four months previous to this Parley P. Pratt was killed in Arkansas by an angry husband for stealing his wife. The Baker-Fancher wagon party was from Arkansas. Of course they were taking vengeance.

  4. Jean says:

    Well done Mithryn. I especially like the way you exposed the issue of ‘age eight’.

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