Mountain Meadows The Movie
The Salt Lake Tribune
Filmmaker seeks to heal wounds from
Documentary Recounts 1857 Massacre
BY SEAN P. MEANS THE SALT LAKE
When Brian Patrick
decided to make his documentary, "Burying the Past,"
about the legacy of the Mountain Meadows massacre, he knew it would not
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
"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.
|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
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