"Legacy of the Mountain Meadows Massacre"

A Documentary Feature Film by Brian Patrick

Mountain Meadows The Movie

The Salt Lake Tribune
Date: 02/20/2003
Filmmaker seeks to heal wounds from 1857 massacre;

Documentary Recounts 1857 Massacre

When Brian Patrick decided to make his documentary, "Burying the Past,," about the legacy of the Mountain Meadows massacre, he knew it would not be easy.
   When he first told descendants of the southern Utah pioneers involved in the 1857 massacre about his movie, "their statement was, 'Oh, you're trying to keep this alive, and not bury it,' " Patrick said.
   Patrick's aim for his film  --  which will have its premiere Friday and Saturday at 7:30 each night, at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts on the University of Utah campus  --  is "to heal some of the wounds." Fittingly, it was the efforts at healing between descendants of the massacre's victims and perpetrators that sparked Patrick's desire to make the film.
   In 1998, Patrick read a Salt Lake Tribune article that chronicled efforts by two groups  --  descendants of the 121 settlers from Arkansas who were killed at Mountain Meadows, and descendants of John D. Lee, the frontiersman and adopted son of Brigham Young who was convicted and executed for leading the massacre  --  who had come together to form the Mountain Meadows Association.
    "There was a spirit of friendship and forgiveness and reconciliation that you rarely ever see in these age-old warring battles," said Patrick, who is associate chairman of the U.'s film studies department.
   Using re-enactments, a rare first-person account of the massacre and interviews with three historians  --  Weber State University professor Gene Sessions; author Will Bagley, whose Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows caused a stir last year; and Gene Leonard, director of the LDS Church Museum of History and Art (who is now co-writing a church-sanctioned history of the event)  --  Patrick constructs what may be the first documentary to focus on Mountain Meadows.
   Beyond the history, the movie chronicles the Mountain Meadows Association's efforts to get a long-neglected Mountain Meadows monument 40 miles southwest of Cedar City rebuilt  --  efforts spurred when LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley got behind the project.
   Patrick contacted association members and attended reunions of the survivors' families in Arkansas.
    "They seem more interested in telling people about the story and the details of the actual massacre," Patrick said. "Very few of them seem to have a deep-seated hatred or resentment. But as I got more and more into it, I found that those people were out there  --  and these were people who didn't really want anything to do with the church rebuilding the monument. They had this story in their ancestry, and they weren't going to give it up."
   Back in Utah, Patrick attended a couple of reunions of the Lee family, who regard their ancestor as "a scapegoat who was not the main culprit or the main perpetrator," he said.
   What made the movie "leap out of the history books and into reality for everybody," Patrick said, was the slip of a backhoe.
   In August 1999, during construction of the new monument, crews accidentally unearthed about 30 pounds of human remains. The LDS Church sent the bones to archaeologists at Brigham Young University  --  the last place many of the Arkansas descendants would want their ancestors' remains to go.
    "All of a sudden, all these lines of aggravation and dissension started cropping up," Patrick said.
   Patrick proudly notes he is the only person to get videotape of the bones, and the movie shows University of Utah forensics experts piecing skull fragments  --  and proving that some of the massacre victims were shot in the back of the head.
   That footage "is a sore point for the descendants of the people in Arkansas, because they feel very strongly that this is their ancestors," Patrick said, "yet they seemed to have forgiven me about it."
   Bagley has screened "Burying the Past," and calls it "brilliantly honest, and it manages to capture all the different perspectives of it."
   He is curious to see how audiences will react to the film. "No matter how you deal with this, there will be people who will denounce it as anti-Mormon," he said.
   Bagley experienced such a reaction when his book came out last year.
    "The official reaction from paid Mormon sources to my book has been virulently hostile, but the personal reaction of the Mormons I've talked to is very accepting," he said. "They know what happened, they've not been fooled by the preposterous frauds that have been perpetuated as history in this case. They're ready for the truth, so let it roll."
   Patrick, who is going on the film-festival circuit and hopes to find a national TV audience for the movie, agrees that talking about the events at Mountain Meadows is important because, he said, "I don't think it will ever go away, and I don't think it will ever be put to bed. . . . When we talk about these things, these issues of the past, it's better than having them still simmer in the background. I hope to think [my movie] will have some positive effect in healing.

Massacre on Film
Burying the Past,: Legacy of the Mountain Meadows Massacre: a documentary by Brian Patrick.
When: Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Utah Museum of Fine Arts auditorium on the University of Utah campus.
Tickets: $10.

Mtn. Meadows film debuts at U.

By Carrie A. Moore
Deseret News religion editor

      A new documentary film about the aftermath of the Mountain Meadows Massacre had its genesis in attempts to heal emotional wounds held over from the 19th century tragedy.
      The film debuts tonight at the University of Utah.
      In a world where yesterday's conflict is used as an excuse for today's inhumanity, Brian Patrick found solace in the fact that descendants of both the victims and the perpetrators of Utah's most infamous murders came together for healing in 1998.
      That's when Patrick of the University of Utah film studies department decided to document not only a metaphor for healing the world's pervasive religious and political conflicts, but the tragedy itself. His object was to "get people talking. It's silence that lets the conflict continue," he said.
      He realizes that in Utah, where nearly 70 percent of residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, talk of the killings that historians say were perpetrated by LDS members is an explosive topic. And he knows some will assume because he's even broached the subject, he must have "Mormon-bashing" among his motives.
      Yet Patrick maintains that healing and openness about a subject many have considered taboo are his motivators. The 1857 massacre of some 120 Arkansas immigrants in southern Utah by LDS settlers there has often been called the darkest moment in the state's history, particularly considering the fact that Latter-day Saints had themselves immigrated west to escape mob violence.
      The stigma of the murders left a cloud over descendants of John D. Lee, a Latter-day Saint and the only man ever convicted and executed for the crimes. At one point in the film, at a reunion for Lee's descendants, a woman describes "what it used to be like, how they were outcasts and their children were not allowed to go to school."
      Yet they were able to come together with descendants of the Arkansas Fancher party to form the Mountain Meadows Association "in a spirit of friendship and forgiveness," Patrick said.
      "To me that's such an unusual thing in today's world, where you have all these warring camps and factions that keep this endless cycle of vengeance and hate going on. This is different in that it has sort of a positive outcome, and that's such a hard thing for people to do."
      The film examines how difficult it has been for descendants of the victims to give up their traditional oral history and stories and come together with Lee's descendants. He credits efforts by President Gordon B. Hinckley of the LDS Church in 1999 to get people together and help rebuild the monument to the victims.
      To Patrick, watching southern Utah residents working together to rebuild the memorial was "almost like they were atoning for what their ancestors or friends of their ancestors had done."
      He credits the church for its willingness to cooperate in his efforts. "I had total cooperation from the church in this. I didn't go out asking to look at secret church records because I'm not writing a book like that. But they really were quite helpful and . . . took the attitude that we know you're making the film, it's OK and let's get it out in the open. We're going to cooperate."
      LDS historian Glen Leonard helped advise Patrick, and the church provided footage of the Mountain Meadows monument dedication, which appears in the film. Gene Sessions of Weber State University and historian Will Bagley also contributed their expertise.
      Though President Hinckley declined to be interviewed for the film, Patrick said his efforts to "break this cycle of silence and hostility or paranoia really opened it up tremendously. I think it was a wonderful thing."
      Though the parts of the film that recreate the massacre are painful by any standard, Patrick believes "if you can show people to other people you can reduce the prejudice in this world, and in this case, I hope to help heal some of those prejudices."
      "Burying the Past: Legacy of the Mountain Meadows Massacre," will debut tonight (Feb. 21) and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the new Utah Museum of Fine Arts Auditorium at the U. Tickets are $10. Call 585-6961.