Search of History - Mormon Rebellion (The History Channel)

The Mormon Rebellion is a 50-minute historical documentary concerning the Mormon standoff with the United States government in 1857-1858. The film did a great job explaining the historical events that led up to this confrontation, but most of the documentary was not that clear concerning what the confrontation was specifically about. The Mormon Rebellion explained how Utah became a territory of the U.S. in 1850, and was thus no longer ruled by the LDS Church. Federal officials began ruling the territory. The film then goes on to talk about the national abhorrence of polygamy, which was practiced by the Mormons at the time. President James Buchanan then sent out 2500 federal soldiers from Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas "to crush the Mormon rebellion."

But at this point in the film, the viewer is wondering what exactly were they intending to crush. It is easy enough to understand how Mormons were worried about even more persecution from outsiders, but the explicit intentions of the U.S. government were not stated in the film. Did the Mormons throw out all the federal officials in the territory, and thus they needed to be reinstated? Or did the troops intend to abolish polygamy? Recall that the LDS Church, as a condition of Utah becoming a state, did not suspend polygamy until over 30 years later.

The film then began to talk about the Mountain Meadows massacre, which happened not too long before the standoff with the federal troops from Kansas. Certain Mormons orchestrated and carried out (along with some Indians) this massacre on a wagon train from Arkansas. The train was passing through Utah on its way to California, and tragically some 120 men, women, and children were brutally murdered. (For more detail on this event and its aftermath, see Burying the Past.) This was all the Mormons needed at this point. If word got out on their culpability here, it would simply add fuel to the fire with the U.S. government.

Only after The Mormon Rebellion dealt with the terms of peace to end the standoff with the federal troops can the viewer surmise what Buchanan's intentions were. He pardoned the Mormons for treason, and the federal officials and troops were able to occupy Utah. So evidently, somewhere along the line, the feds were kicked out and they sought to reestablish themselves in the territory.

The film ends with the aftermath of the Mountain Meadows massacre. Two years after the event, an investigation was underway. Brigham Young stonewalled, but finally offered John D. Lee as the sacrificial offering to put the matter to rest. The Mormon Rebellion also briefly recaps the story of Ron Loving (a descendant of a survivor of the massacre) and Vern Lee (descendant of John D. Lee) getting together to form a new monument in commemoration of the wagon train victims.

R. M. Sivulka
Salt Lake City, UT
March 31, 2005

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