“Lesson 25: The Utah War and the Mountain Meadows Massacre,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Manual (2015)
During the 1850s, tension and miscommunication between Latter-day Saints and officials of the United States government led to the Utah War of 1857–58. In September 1857, some Latter-day Saints in southern Utah Territory and members of an emigrant wagon train on their way to California came into conflict, and the Latter-day Saints, motivated by anger and fear, planned and carried out the massacre of about 120 emigrants. This atrocity is now known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
Tension built between early Latter-day Saints and the United States government
Distribute a copy of the handout at the end of the lesson to each student. Ask a student to read aloud the handout section titled “Growing Tension Led to the Utah War.”
If you had been a Latter-day Saint in 1857 and had heard that a large army was approaching your city, what concerns might you have had? (Students might mention that the Saints had been violently driven from Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois; many had lost valued possessions and land; and some had been killed or had died during these persecutions. News of the approaching army caused some Saints to worry that such events might also occur in Utah.)
Invite a student to read aloud the handout section titled “Preparing to Defend the Territory.”
Conflict arose between some Latter-day Saints and members of an emigrant wagon train
Display a map similar to the one shown here, or draw one on the board.
Invite a student to read aloud the handout section titled “Conflict with the Emigrant Wagon Train.”
Invite students to think of times when they have experienced conflict with another person or a group of people. Invite a student to read 3 Nephi 12:25 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for a principle Jesus Christ taught that can guide us when we experience tension with others.
What do you think it means to “agree with thine adversary quickly”?
To help students understand this phrase, you may want to ask a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder David E. Sorensen of the Seventy:
“The Savior said, ‘Agree with thine adversary quickly … ,’ thus commanding us to resolve our differences early on, lest the passions of the moment escalate into physical or emotional cruelty, and we fall captive to our anger” (“Forgiveness Will Change Bitterness to Love,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2003, 11).
How would you summarize the Savior’s teaching in 3 Nephi 12:25? (As students respond, write a principle similar to the following on the board: If we resolve conflict with others in the Lord’s way, then we can avoid the harmful effects of contention.)
How could those who plotted to harm the members of the wagon train have applied this principle?
Have a student read aloud the handout section titled “Escalating the Confrontation.”
What should the Cedar City Church leaders have done when William Dame counseled them not to use the militia? What did rejecting counsel then lead them to do? (After students respond, write the following principle on the board: If we ignore counsel to do what is right, then we become more susceptible to making poor and even sinful choices. You might also point out that there is great wisdom in the system of councils by which the Church is governed.)
Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud the handout section titled “Attack on the Emigrants,” and invite students to look for how Cedar City leaders continued to make sinful choices after ignoring the counsel they had received.
What resulted from the Cedar City leaders’ decision to disobey the counsel of William Dame, the militia commander?
At this point, what choices did those responsible for the attacks have? (They could confess what they had done and receive the consequences, or they could try to hide their crimes and sins.)
Invite students to ponder the following questions:
What do you do when you do something wrong? Do you confess what you have done wrong and receive the consequences, or do you try to hide the sin through deception?
Some Latter-day Saints planned and carried out the Mountain Meadows Massacre
Explain that the Church members involved in the attacks against the emigrants chose to try to hide their sins. Invite the class to listen for what occurred as a result of this decision as students take turns reading aloud the handout sections titled “The Mountain Meadows Massacre” and “Tragic Consequences.”
Explain that the choices of some Latter-day Saint leaders and settlers in southern Utah Territory led to the tragic Mountain Meadows Massacre. In contrast, Church and territory leaders in Salt Lake City resolved the conflict with the United States government through peace talks and negotiations in 1858. During this conflict—later called the Utah War—the United States troops and Utah militiamen engaged in acts of aggression but never in battle.
How would you summarize the choices that led to the Mountain Meadows Massacre?
What principles can we learn from this tragedy? (Students may identify various principles, including the following: Choosing to hide our sins can lead us to commit further sins. Choosing to hide our sins can bring regret and suffering.)
Assure students that if they have started down a path of mistakes and sin, they can prevent future heartache and regret by turning to the Lord and repenting of their sins.
Invite a student to read aloud the handout section titled “Church Leaders Learned of the Massacre.”
Explain that because a number of local Latter-day Saints were responsible for planning and carrying out the Mountain Meadows Massacre, some people have allowed this event to negatively affect their view of the entire Church.
Why is it important to realize that the wrong actions of some Church members do not determine the truthfulness of the gospel?
Invite a student to read the statement by President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency found in the handout section titled “150th Anniversary of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.”
How should we respond when we learn of instances when Church members have failed to live according to the teachings of Jesus Christ?
Invite a student to read Helaman 5:12 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what we can do to develop and maintain our testimonies so that during difficult times, such as when we learn of instances when Church members have failed to live according to the teachings of Jesus Christ, our faith will not be shaken.
According to Helaman 5:12, what can we do to develop and maintain our testimonies? (After students respond, you may want to write the following principle on the board: We can develop strong testimonies by building our faith on the foundation of Jesus Christ.)
To illustrate this principle, display the following and invite a student to read it aloud:
“James Sanders is the great-grandson of … one of the children who survived the massacre [and is also a member of the Church]. … Brother Sanders … said that learning his ancestor had been killed in the massacre ‘didn’t affect my faith because it’s based on Jesus Christ, not on any person in the Church’” (Richard E. Turley Jr., “The Mountain Meadows Massacre,” Ensign, Sept. 2007, 21).
How can our faith in Jesus Christ strengthen us when we learn of instances when Church members have failed to live according to the Savior’s teachings?
What do you do that helps you build your faith on the foundation of Jesus Christ?
Testify of the importance of living the Savior’s teachings and basing our faith on Him and His gospel. Invite students to ponder how they might better build their faith on the foundation of Jesus Christ and to set a goal to do so.