Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows


Blood of the Prophets:

By Will Bagley

University of Oklahoma Press; 1st Ed. edition (January 1, 2002)

Reviewed by Jack Kettler


Author’s Bio:


“Will Bagley has written and edited more than twenty books on overland emigration, frontier violence, railroads, mining, the creation of computer search technology, and the Mormons. Some love him, some hate him, but his work has won every major prize in Western History—an Old Joe, the Spur, the Wrangler, the Caroline Bancroft, the John W. Caughey Prize for the year’s most distinguished book on the history of the American West, and the Merrill J. Mattes Award for Excellence in Writing. He is not “anti” anything: he simply tries to tell the stories and find the truth of what happened.”


Publisher’s Description:


“The massacre at Mountain Meadows on September 11, 1857, was the single most violent attack on a wagon train in the 30-year history of the Oregon and California trails. Yet it has been all but forgotten. Will Bagley's Blood of the Prophets is an award-winning, riveting account of the attack on the Baker-Fancher wagon train by Mormons in the local militia and a few Paiute Indians. Based on extensive investigation of the events surrounding the murder of over 120 men, women, and children, and drawing from a wealth of primary sources, Bagley explains how the murders occurred, reveals the involvement of territorial governor Brigham Young, and explores the subsequent suppression and distortion of events related to the massacre by the Mormon Church and others.”


A Review:


Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows by Will Bagley is an exceptionally well-crafted account of one of the most infamous and tragic events in the history of the American West. This book delves into some of the darkest corners of the American experience, exploring the roots and the aftermath of this terrible atrocity. As a historian, Bagley has a unique perspective on the massacre and its impact on the Westward Expansion of the 1800s. He thoroughly analysis historical and archival documents and interviews to investigate the event and its aftermath.


The book opens up with a riveting description of what happened at the Mountain Meadows in September of 1857—a group of over one hundred and twenty men, women, and children seeking a new life in California were slaughtered by local Mormon militia members. Bagley shares with the reader how this event shook the American West and caused much tension between members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints and the US government. He then takes us on a journey to uncover this event’s deeper meaning, what led to it, and how it has been remembered and reflected on by various parties throughout history.


The investigation into the massacre allows Bagley to track the source of dissension and violence that surrounded Utah’s new settlers during the 1850s. He explores the complex political tensions between Utah’s Latter-Day Saints and the US government and paints a vivid portrait of life during this time. Bagley’s research leads him to conclude that Brigham Young, the revered leader of the Latter-Day Saints, was ultimately responsible for the massacre because of his misplaced belief in the physical Kingdom of God now theology. 


The “Blood of the Prophets” is essential for readers interested in American West’s history. Bagley expertly weaves an engaging and informative story that explores the origins of a tragedy that still haunts the American landscape. He offers a nuanced and sensitive exploration of this dark chapter in American history that will leave readers with much to consider. In addition, the book also includes a comprehensive bibliography allowing readers to explore further the historical evidence and aftermath of this terrible event.


The interaction of Bagley with Juanita Brooks’ “The Mountain Meadows Massacre” is masterful. Bagley is indebted to Brooks but not dependent.    


Bagley and Brooks had a longstanding professional relationship. Bagley used Brooks' book as a primary source in his research for his book, "The Blood of the Prophets." They also participated in various lectures and interviews to discuss the Mountain Meadow Massacre and other events in Utah’s history. Bagley greatly respected Brooks’ work and acknowledged her as the “quintessential scholar” of early Utah history. They often disagreed in their opinions regarding the facts surrounding the Massacre. However, Brooks’ dedication to the truth and Bagley’s exploration of the records allowed their discourse to be productive and informative.


Overall, Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows is an excellent and well-researched account that provides a powerful and engulfing exploration of the violence and tension of the American West during this time. With a unique and insightful perspective, Bagley writes an engaging and comprehensive book that stands as an essential exploration for anyone interested in the history of the American West and the trials and tribulations that came with it. After twenty years since its publication, Bagley’s book is highly recommended!


End of review*


“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)


Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife, Marea, attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of 15 books defending the Reformed Faith. Books can be ordered online at Amazon.

*  Assistance from AI Chat and Grammarly