Book Review: Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet by John G. Turner

September 10, 2012 | 32 comments
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I suspect that John G. Turner’s Brigham Young:  Pioneer Prophet will be the definitive biography of Brigham Young for the next few decades.  Overall, this is a good thing.

But it may also be a troubling thing, at least for some people. I wholeheartedly recommended the recent Joseph Smith, David O. McKay, and Spencer W. Kimball biographies to all members of the Church.  Sure, they are a little less sanitized than we are used to, but the picture in each one of those works is of a prophet of God who had some flaws, with far more emphasis on the “prophet” part than on the “flawed” part.

This book?  Not so much.  I have serious reservations about recommending it to the average church member; if you need your prophet to be larger than life, or even just better than the average bear, this book is not for you.  I think there is a substantial risk that people raised on hagiographic, presentist images of prophets would have their testimonies rocked, if not shattered, by this book. Perhaps this is just an idiosyncratic reaction, but I felt an increased appreciation for Joseph Smith, David O. McKay, and Spencer W. Kimball after reading their biographies.  I can’t say the same for Brigham Young; I liked him–and respected him–less.  Much less. [ftnt 1]

Maybe that’s Brigham Young’s fault for doing some deeply creepy stuff [ftnt 2].  Maybe that’s the Church’s fault for presenting such an unremittingly hagiographic portrait [ftnt 3] of our leaders that any subsequent brush with reality feels like getting tackled. [ftnt 4] Maybe it is Turner’s fault for not giving the reader a sense of why people would have followed Brigham Young. (That is, I think, the main weakness of this book:  you are not left with any reason as to why people would have made the enormous sacrifices that were part of believing that Brigham Young was a prophet.)  Maybe it is some combination of the above.  I don’t know.

But if we choose to bracket that concern, we are left with a truly excellent book.  Turner has leveraged his access to the Brigham Young Papers into a readable [ftnt 5], fascinating biography.  The work’s main strength is how it puts into context Brigham Young in particular and Mormonism in general, based on Turner’s expertise in 19th century American religious history.  For example, he points out that belief in prophets, speaking in tongues, and angelic visions were common (page 29).  This changes the question from “what’s up with angels in America?” to “why did Mormonism survive when all of these other movements with angelic visitations didn’t?”  I think the Deseret alphabet looks a little looney today, but Turner nuances the story when he points out that “Young was not the first noteworthy American to promote such ideas” (page 249). Turner’s explanation that the kinds of attacks levied against the church were very similar to the kinds of anti-Catholic sentiment of the era (page 302) is a helpful corrective to the narrative that is sometimes promulgated that the LDS were the only Americans ever picked on for their religion.

His reading of the Mountain Meadows massacre is on par with that of Massacre at Mountain Meadows:  Brigham Young was not personally, directly responsible for ordering the massacre, but his violent rhetoric encouraged those who did (page 280).  (Further, his knowledge of the wrongdoers but lack of punishment of them led many inside and outside the church to conclude that he did not condemn their actions.)  Once again, Turner does a great job of contextualizing the situation by indicating the extent of 19th century vigilantism.  He does note that a mass murder directed at white Protestants was most unusual; African Americans and Native Americans were far more likely to be victims of this type of action in 19th century America (page 279). There are many more instances where Turner’s provision of context helps the reader better understand what was and what was not exceptional in 19th century Mormonism.

Turner, unlike the authors of the Smith, McKay, and Kimball biographies, is not LDS.  There’s actually a benefit to the Church in this:  there are many instances where we can take his explanation of the larger context of events at face value, whereas we might have dismissed it as a misguided efforts at apologetics had the very same point been made by an LDS scholar. (I realize that this is not fair.  But that doesn’t make it any less true.  Read some of the mainstream reviews of Rough Stone Rolling if you don’t believe me.)   If an LDS author wrote about Brigham Young’s early suspicions of John C Bennett (page 82), we might be a little suspicious.  When Turner explores other instances of 19th century intolerance for outsiders alongside Brigham Young’s (fairly shocking) statements about Gentiles (page 171), we have no reason to see Turner as biased. [ftnt 6]

There were a few points where I wondered whether Turner’s non-LDS status led him to miss certain things that a church member would have seen.  For example, Turner says in the introduction that “Mormons venerate their ancestors” (page 3).  That’s language that makes most Mormons bristle, but I don’t think Turner intended to offend here.  At one point, he described the early work of Joseph Smith:  “Smith and his followers spoke of the ‘restitution of all things’” (pages 23-24).  Mormons are very familiar with the phrase “restoration of all things,” but we don’t say “restitution of all things.”  Perhaps Joseph Smith did say that (once?  frequently?  always?), but I have no idea and there is no information in the text to help me figure out what is going on here. Similarly, when Turner describes early temple rituals (page 86), I can’t tell if the differences between those and modern practice are actually differences, or slight misunderstandings as to what is happening.  At one point, he refers to Joseph Smith’s political “stratagems” (page 89), a loaded word for any student of the Book of Mormon (see Alma 43:30).  He also calls Brigham Young Mormonism’s “chief priest” (page 131).  That is language not familiar to modern LDS and I wonder if he is misunderstanding (or perhaps speaking metaphorically, which is a bad move when talking about a group like 19th century Mormons who take pretty much everything literally) or if Brigham Young (or the people around him) used that title.  Another example:  he describes Brigham Young preparing the people with seven years’ supplies at the time of the Utah War and he makes the connection to the biblical Joseph and Egypt but not to the Nephites in 3 Nephi 4:4 (page 273), which is a much closer parallel because of the context of war.

I do think that his non-member status left him free to frame things in a way that most LDS historians would not.  (Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is, I suppose, up to the judgment of the reader.) For example, he regards Zion’s Camp as a physical failure but a spiritual success.  That is, I think, the standard LDS reading, but what is not standard is to summarize the event by saying that “in practical terms, Zion’s Camp was a predictable failure” (page 37) or that “by mustering an armed force to ‘avenge’ the Lord of his ‘enemies,’ Smith had associated his church in the minds of many Americans with violence and vigilantism” (page 38).  Clearly, the banking business in Kirtland was a disaster, but when you put the word “misguided” (page 49) on it, you raise some really touchy questions about who was doing the guiding. (He also calls it an “unmitigated disaster” [page 54].) But, once again, Turner’s contextualizing is helpful by pointing out that issuing banknotes without a charter was “not all that unusual” (page 49) at that time and neither were bank failures (page 52).  Again, if an LDS historian said that, I think we’d all be likely to dismiss it as being excessively apologetic.  (Turner points out that the banking debacle was the one time that Brigham Young doubted Joseph Smith, before quickly abandoning that thought.)  I also cannot imagine an LDS historian writing this about polygamy:  “Whether Smith was motivated by religious obedience or pursued sexual dalliances clothed with divine sanction cannot be fully resolved through historical analysis” (page 88).  He later describes Joseph Smith’s plans in Nauvoo as reflecting “growing desperation” (page 105).  When he writes that “it remains unclear whether Young or only lower-ranking church leaders like Turley had sanctioned the [counterfeiting] operation in Nauvoo” (page 127), he’s being, I think, fair-minded and yet not open to the accusations of soft-pedaling that an LDS writer would be.  When describing the use of handcarts for emigrants, I think the standard LDS story of the handcarts is “this was a basically good program with one big tragedy.”  Turner’s take is that this was a basically terrible idea that had a few successes before Brigham Young realized it was a bad idea and canned it (page 260).  There are other instances where an LDS author would have been nicer.  Again, whether that is a good or bad thing is in the eye of the reader.

And yet there are some ways in which Turner is extremely sympathetic to Brigham Young.  There are times when he could have made hay but chose not to.  To wit:  Brigham’s son Joseph was born eight months after his parents’ marriage license was issued and seven months after the marriage certificate date, but not only does Turner not point this out (I had to do the math all by myself!), he notes that “a church marriage may have preceded the license date” (page 36).  Similarly, Turner does not flinch from showing Brigham Young’s dictatorial side, but he usually explains it in terms of his not wanting to repeat the problems in Nauvoo by allowing apostasy to flourish and allowing enemies to get a foothold.  Turner reads Young as stamping out every indication of heresy and responding in kind to enemies in order to avoid repeating Joseph Smith’s fate.  (Page 332).  He mentions this multiple times, and he easily could have omitted this charitable explanation for Brigham’s iron fist.  Turner’s fair-mindedness also comes out in his thinking about Brigham Young and women:  he writes that there simply is no way to smooth out the conflicting evidence, given the contradictory statements he made:  “Over the thirty years of his church presidency, Young said so many different things about women that with selective quotations from his discourses one could turn him into either a misogynist or a proto-feminist.  Neither portrait is accurate”  (page 379). Turner also describes a Brigham Young who softens a little with age (toward dissenters, toward women; page 264 and 360).  It would have been easy for him to skim over these changes in Young if he had wanted to make him out to be an ogre.

So, here’s the Readers’ Digest version of my review:  this book is a real treat, but it might completely destroy your testimony if you can’t handle a fallible, bawdy, often mistaken, sometimes mean, and generally weird prophet.  [ftnt 7]

[1]  Which doesn’t mean that he wasn’t deeply awesome in some ways.  Here’s Brigham Young rejecting a man’s divorce petition:  “[you] took her for better or for worse, and had no right to ill use her, and if she shit in the bed and laid in it until noon; [you] must bare it” (page 242).  Also on the same topic:  “similarly, Young told another man that ‘if you have drawn a red hot iron between your legs and scorched yourself bear it without grunting.’ He observed that he offered such advice against his pecuniary interest, as he charged ten dollars for a certificate of divorce.”  And:  Brigham Young said that he had tried bathing every week, but concluded that he “was well aware that this is not for everyone” (page 256).

[2] Dubious financial practices?  Check (page 52). Knife fights in the temple?  Check (page 53). Making false statements?  Check (pages 59, 76, and 153).  Polyandry?  Check (pages 94, 136, 376).  Lying about polygamy?  Check (page 97). Extra-judicial violence, killing, and castration?  Check (pages 122, 186, 188, 259, 285).  Racism?  Check (pages 124, 218, 222, 362). Sexist language?  Check (page 158). Secretly ordaining his pre-teen sons as apostles?  Check (page 382). Violent rhetoric?  Check (page 349 and 350).  Foul language?  Check (pages 173, 305, and 320).  Blood atonement?  Check (pages 186 and 258). False prophecies?  Check (page 197). Paying bribes?  Check (page 369).  Major hypocrisy?  Check (page 400).  Members of the Quorum of the Twelve questioning his use of church funds and his doctrinal teachings?  Check (page 410).  (Irrelevant side note:  I don’t know why people act as if polyandry is somehow worse than polygamy;  I think they are just being sexist and don’t even realize it.)

[3] As recently as 1997, the Church was publishing materials that conveyed the impression that Brigham Young did not practice polygamy.  See the timeline here.

[4] I can see one potential bright spot here:  if we were to be more frank about the yucky parts of our history and the mistakes of our leaders, we might create a space where people who struggle with various doctrinal and policy issues today feel that they can stay in the Church.  The thinking would go something like this:  Brigham Young was comically wrong-headed in some of his comments about (for example, race).  But he was still the prophet and still led the Church.  So perhaps today, the leaders of the Church could be wrong about [insert troubling doctrine here] and still be prophets.  So maybe, just maybe, I should stick around.  Some people will see that as capitulation or faithlessness; others will see it as keeping the sheep in the fold.  Turner quotes Brigham Young as saying later about the Kirtland banking disaster, of Joseph Smith:  “He was called of God.  God dictated him, and if He had a mind to leave him to himself and let him commit an error, that was no business of mine” (page 54).  Is that an attitude that the modern LDS reader could take toward Brigham Young himself?  Or perhaps what Amasa Lyman writes about polygamy could be helpful:  “we obeyed the best we know how, and, no doubt, made many crooked paths in our ignorance” (page 156).

[5] He does have a tendency to put “and thus we see”-type sayings at the end of paragraphs.  He either stopped doing it in the middle of the book, or I had acclimated to it and it no longer bothered me.  But at first, I kept thinking, “Hey, Mormon [=the editor of the Book of Mormon], quit telling me what to think!”

[6] Of course, it is not impossible for a LDS to present herself as a credible source:  in some ways, Turner does for the 19th century what Joanna Brooks is doing for the 21st, which is presenting facts about Mormonism to outsiders in a manner more credible than most outsiders assume that a Newsroom employee, BYU professor, historian on the payroll of the church, or even just an average member is capable of doing.  I won’t dwell on the irony that people with Brooks’ or Turner’s status are able to do things to defend the church that orthodox insiders are unable to do. Make of that what you will.

[7] One more thing:  You know the picture on the cover?  It is a detail from this picture.  In the original, Brigham Young is sitting with his arm around one of his wives.  Her face has been scratched out.  Someone needs to write a book about Mormon women with this photo on the cover.


32 Responses to Book Review: Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet by John G. Turner

  1. Ben S on September 10, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    Excellent work! I haven’t finished it yet, and will make add more commentary when I do.
    I confess the most surprising thing for me is also in competition for the the most irrelevant and unimportant; Brigham was a redhead.

  2. wondering on September 10, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Here’s Turner’s upcoming speaking schedule. I’m happy to see he’s even making an appearance at BYU!

    http://johngturner.com/2012/09/09/utah-trip/

  3. wondering on September 10, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    BTW, the phrase “resitution of all things” is from the New Testament, and appears many times on lds.org.

    https://www.google.com/search?q=%E2%80%9Crestitution+of+all+things%E2%80%9D+site%3Alds.org

  4. Ben P on September 10, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    Nice review, Julie! Perhaps it’s just a sign of how inoculated I am, but I came away from the biography with more respect for BY. (My respect wasn’t so high before, having known most of the negatives without the powerful framework that made sense of them.) I’ll be participating in a big roundtable on the volume at Juvenile Instructor soon, but I’ll just say that I absolutely loved the volume and felt it one of the best-written biographies in a field (Mormon history) littered with too many biographies. I thought his treatment of polygamy was especially powerful, and felt his handling of Nauvoo polygamy was much better than Bushman’s.

    As for some of the lingo you point out will be unfamiliar with LDS readers, I agree that it is mostly the case of speaking the language of a different community. “Restitution of all things,” for example, is the phrase from acts that we somehow overlook in favor of “restoration”; Turner only had access to early temple documents which are not only somewhat different than today but shrouded through both public discourse on a private practiced and jaded/misremembered accounts from ex-mormons/outside observers; Turner probably plucked “Chief Priest” out of the BoM, and it mostly fits the academic religious discourse of ecclesiastical jurisdictions; etc. I agree with you that these can be somewhat discomfiting for an LDS audience, and are part of the perils of trying to address different types of people with one text.

    Fully agreed that the book can be tough to handle; but so was Brigham, and we need to come to grips with that. I think Turner did a very laudable job of presenting the complex, head-scratching, yet towering figure in a sympathetic yet frank manner.

  5. shenpa warrior on September 10, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    No ebook version? *Vader voice*: Nooooooooooooooo!

  6. Ben P on September 10, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    Here you go, SW: http://nooooooooooooooo.com/

  7. shenpa warrior on September 10, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    Ha! I feel better! It worked, thanks!

  8. Aaron Brown on September 10, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    Thanks for this, Julie. Looking forward to reading this book.

  9. Cameron N on September 10, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    I’m interested in (#4) Ben P’s comment. I would guess that I’m in an equally innoculated position, as I separate all knowledge or purported knowledge from my catalogue of undeniable spiritual confirmations and ongoing experiences.

    I imagine I’d get something similar out of the book to Ben P as well. Too often, it is easy for use to understand how ancient prophets were able to make such mistakes and muddle through outrageously difficult circumstances and trials, and understand how God let them muddle, but when it comes to a modern-day or recent prophet, it becomes much more difficult to do so. That’s why I focus on following the Spirit–it will confirm what the Prophet says if we seek that confirmation for ourselves. Then, it’s irrelevant when imperfections are made known.

    I’ll have to pick this up, but sad about no e-book version.

  10. danithew on September 10, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    Definitely want to see a Kindle version and assuming eventually there will be one.

  11. Adam G. on September 10, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    if we were to be more frank about the yucky parts of our history and the mistakes of our leaders, we might create a space where people who struggle with various doctrinal and policy issues today feel that they can stay in the Church.

    You’ve got to be kidding. Or a bunch of people will wonder why they bothered so much in the first place. We’ve gotten rid of Whig history, but Whig meta-history is still with us, I guess.

    Your fn. 2 is awesome, by the way. I’m guessing mine is not the typical reaction but my respect for Brother Brigham is much increased if even half these allegations are true. I’ll have to hotfoot it to a bookstore.

  12. Kristine on September 10, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    I love your irrelevant side note!

  13. John on September 10, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    “Too often, it is easy for use to understand how ancient prophets were able to make such mistakes and muddle through outrageously difficult circumstances and trials, and understand how God let them muddle, but when it comes to a modern-day or recent prophet, it becomes much more difficult to do so. That’s why I focus on following the Spirit–it will confirm what the Prophet says if we seek that confirmation for ourselves.”

    Hi Cameron. First off I admire that you are able to wade through such difficult information with your testimony in tact. I agree that we give ancient prophets a lot more wiggle room than the modern ones. However, one thing about the LDS framework is very disturbing to me, namely that “the Spirit will confirm what the Prophet says if we seek that confirmation for ourselves.” Now for a good part of my life I believed that -and I understand the sincere place that comes from. In general I don’t believe that a modern Mormon Prophet will ever tell us to kill someone or start placing burning angel Moronis on our neighbors’ lawns! However, I am no longer able to simply wait for “the Spirit” to confirm everything I don’t agree with that happened in our church. i.e. polygamy, Blacks in the priesthood etc. Now, I don’t want to ever attack someone’s beliefs and don’t think my particular issue is suffered by everyone in the church. But what would you do if a Prophet commanded you to do something you were morally and ethically opposed to doing? It’s an honest question, and one I am struggling to figure out. I know this is a comment that is unrelated a bit to the book, but to tie it in, I think it does relate to the kind of faith Brigham, Joseph and other prophets required of early Saints. I think for me if I were required to say, take on an additional wife, that particular commandment would be a deal breaker.

  14. rah on September 10, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    Thanks for the review. My Sunday reading time looks like it will be taken up for awhile!

    I agree that hagiography has really put the church in a corner and Brigham Young even more than Joseph pushes the boundaries between how he is presented in the church and how he really was, not because we don’t acknowledge that BY had some “rough edges” but because his rough edges were so much more extreme than your average Mormon as learned to uneasily laugh off. Hopefully, this book will continue the trend toward making us revisit not only how we present our history but also how we interpret our history to make sense of how to best take the church forward. We need a more honest approach to defining the relationship between God, our leaders and we as members of the church. Here is hoping for some communal, honest introspection within the institutional church that goes beyond the (great) work done on the bloggernacle.

    I wonder if CES directors are going to ban this book from their instructors reading lists? Anyone heard how it is being approached in CES. My understanding is that RSR was very divisive with some CES directors giving out copies to their instructors and others directing their instructors never to read it. Curious to see how this one goes down.

  15. Stephen R Marsh on September 10, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    Does he go over the role embezzlement had in the banking failure?

  16. Cameron N. on September 10, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    @ John (13)

    I believe Brigham had a similar reaction when he was taught about polygamy. For something that challenging, I would surely apply the same test, that one would probably take days, weeks, or even months for me, I think. In fact, I think the original quote comes from Brigham Young, about receiving a witness about his teachings, probably because he knew he was fallible (see Elder Christopherson’s talk from this past April).

  17. Adam G. on September 10, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    It’s an honest question, and one I am struggling to figure out. I know this is a comment that is unrelated a bit to the book, but to tie it in, I think it does relate to the kind of faith Brigham, Joseph and other prophets required of early Saints. I think for me if I were required to say, take on an additional wife, that particular commandment would be a deal breaker.

    In the Screwtape Letters, Lewis suggests that God does not ease our hypothetical burdens, only the actual ones.

  18. Sam Brunson on September 10, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    Thanks, Julie. I was going to read this sooner or later, but, after reading your review, it’s moved from the “sometime” to the “as-soon-as-Amazon-can-deliver-it” category.

  19. n8c on September 10, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    Excellent Julie! I read excerpts of this to my wife. She said: “Wow, I will never read that!” Which is typical of she and I—I am ordering this book now (and excited to do so). She then likened it to her 1st reading of the Old Testament: “I think it would be like reading the Old Testament when I wanted a greater testimony of it, but after reading it the first time that was not exactly what happened.”

    I guess we are just different in what we expect to know about our prophets before we can accept the faith we have in their callings.

  20. DavidH on September 10, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    ” (Irrelevant side note: I don’t know why people act as if polyandry is somehow worse than polygamy; I think they are just being sexist and don’t even realize it.)”

    Amen Julie.

  21. Michael H. on September 10, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    Just a couple of things to note:

    The Deseret Alphabet, designed by Young’s secretary, was actually in part based on another attempt to create an English phonological alphabet (Pitman English Phonotypic Alphabet – http://www.omniglot.com/writing/deseret.htm ), so its weirdness isn’t only Mormon!

    Also, the “restitution of all things” is the language used in Acts 3:21, so it’s not pulled out of nowhere :)

  22. J. Stapley on September 11, 2012 at 12:08 am

    I’m a huge fan of this volume (also in full disclosure, John is a friend, and an all around great guy). I think John’s handle on the Nauvoo temple liturgy and associated cosmological, political and liturgical dynamics is excellent. Specifically, his discussion of BY becoming the Church’s Chief Priest is absolutely brilliant and one of the best contributions of the book.

  23. unknown on September 11, 2012 at 7:54 am

    Turner’s work is excellent! Well-researched, well-written and very fair.

    My only minor criticism (which is consistent with Julie’s) is that Turner did not focus enough on evidence of the softer side of Brigham’s character. Many people did fear Young, but is also abundant evident from contemporary accounts that many viewed him as a deeply spiritual, lovingy and fatherly figure as well.

    For example, I don’t recall Turner noting that Brigham wept when he met arriving handcart companies. Rather, he spent a few paragraphs discussing how Brigham tried to minimize his responsiblity for the problems. Both facts are well-documented, however.

    Thus, I agree with the jacket recommendation that states that this biography, when read in concert with Arrington’s prior work, presents a very complete picture of the man. I don’t think that either work does the entire job alone.

  24. J. Stapley on September 11, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Also a quick note regarding the ebook. Apparently, the digital version will be available near the official release date of the book: September 20.

  25. Ziff on September 11, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Thanks for this excellent review, Julie!

  26. Raymond Takashi Swenson on September 11, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    Obviously, Brigham Young was a man of many parts. High Nibley was very enamored of his sermons and of his insight into the foibles of modern materialist culture.

    As to the handcart companies, the disaster of 1856 could have happened just as easily with a conventional wagon train that left too late in the year. Handcarts were used through 1860 without any major problems, and were replaced by the “down and back” wagon trains that started empty in Utah and went to Omaha to pick up pioneers.

    As to Brigham’s racial attitudes, I wonder if Turner has addressed the contrast between Young’s opposition to ordination of blacks, and his support of the missions to the Indians and to Tahiti and Hawaii, while other missionaries took the more conventional journey to Europe. My recollection is that in 1872, the Japanese ambassador and his company of 50 people were stuck in Salt Lake for a month because of snow blocking the railroad connecting San Francisco to Washington, so they were hosted by Young and the Saints, and it was where Lorenzo Snow got the idea to someday send missionaries to Japan (which he did in 1901).

    Young led a Church that was much larger in numbers and much more far-flung than the one led by Joseph. He had done much proselyting in England personally, and apparently did not scare off the investigators. The Saints chose him and the apostles to succeed Joseph in 1844, and then followed them through all the travails of the westward journey, and stuck with it despite the call of the gold discovery in Utah and the more hospitable climate in Oregon and California. So what persuaded a lot of good people to follow such a rascally character?

    Incidentally, I agree that massacres were common in the 19th Century, and what made the Mountain Meadows unusual was the white people as victims of other white people. Soon after the Army troops sent to Utah in 1857-58 arrived, and were told they could not attack the Mormons, they wiped out an Indian village and about 100 people. On the other hand, in August 1863, Quantrill’s Raiders, a confederate militia from Missouri, attacked Lawrence, Kansas, in a continuation of the slaveholders versus free staters border war that had already killed some 60 people (icnluding several murdered by abolitionist John Brown), and they killed over 150 civilians. One wonders how many other hate killings were conducted under the guise of the Civil War, outside the forms of chivalry that governed military officers on both sides who were often classmates at West Point. No doubt there are people who live in Western Missouri or Arkansas who are descendants of both the Raiders and the victims of Mountain Meadows. The line between being a victim or a perpetrator can be very thin, as was the case with the Mormons who carried out the attack in Utah and had some experience of the Missouri persecutions. I wonder if anyone has done a comparative study of these and other white-on-white mass murders in America. Of course, mass killings in the Old World were a common feature of history, with a crescendo in the 20th Century.

    Considering the role of Brigham’s fiery rhetoric in the attack in southern Utah, I compare it to the fact that the same rhetoric led to no killing of any US Army soldier by Lot Smith and his armed Nauvoo Legion, even though that was the principle enemy in Brigham’s rhetoric, and they were conducting military operations against the material resources of the troops for months.

    Finally, does the biography address the relationship between Joseph and Brigham? Brigham had led many of the Missouri refugees into Illinois while Joseph was imprisoned. I assume the Saints were very aware of their relationship before they endorsed Brigham as Joseph’s successor. If Joseph trusted Brigham with much of the effective leadership of the church he created and led, isn’t that a positive thing for Brigham’s resume?

  27. David T on September 12, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Great review, Julie. I agree with it on many levels. I just finished the book myself, and put up my own review yesterday, here: http://improvementera.com/2012/09/review-and-musings-brigham-young-pioneer-prophet/ – It has definitely caused me to think. That is never a bad thing, IMO.

  28. Clean Cut on September 12, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    Great review, and great side thoughts!

    My copy arrived from Amazon about a week or so ago (they must have copies before the official release date?). Your review confirmed what I was expecting and I look forward to reading it.

  29. Ryan Lindgren on September 14, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    Have to quibble with your use of Polygamy in footbnote 2. It’s polyandry vs polygyny, Which both fall under the tent of polygamy. Also curious, had you read Leanord J Arringtons Brigham Young bio before this?

  30. Julie M. Smith on September 14, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    “Also curious, had you read Leanord J Arringtons Brigham Young bio before this?”

    Yes, but please don’t ask the obvious follow-up question to that, because I have a terrible memory and it has been many years since I read it. :)

  31. Adam G. on September 25, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    Here’s an interview with the author at National Review, of all places:

    http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/328465/american-moses-john-j-miller

  32. Marc E. on October 11, 2012 at 12:25 am

    I heard John Turner speak at USU about his motives for writing the book. He said he pondered how BY could have changed from being a deeply spiritual (speaking in tounges) to a leader that would ridicule and belittle a petty criminal (Off with his head!). I got the feeling that John intended to portray the unpleasant side of BY, yet I bought and read the book anyway, and I’m glad I did. To me, it is more evidence of the truthfulness of the Church. If leaders like BY did the kind of things they did and the Church survived, even thrived, then it must have a divine destiny independent of the personalities and actions of its leaders.