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Hallowed Ground

I sat in the car, my blood pressure rising by degrees each time the car seemed to sink deeper in the Missouri mud beneath.  The kids squirmed restlessly in their seats.  I couldn’t blame them.  I was squirming in mine.  I wanted to turn the car around and abandon the search we were on.  It was wet and cold and time for lunch.  I
had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I dreaded the proximity we were in the elusive historical marker that told the story of the massacre that still haunted my dreams.  We were on our annual pilgrimage to the counties in the north to visit the sites that told the story of our faith.  Here we were stuck in the mud after following the directions of the elderly missionary couple at Adam ondi Ahman.  We’d followed the spider web of back country roads to finally view the marker for the Haun’s Mill Massacre.
I’d wanted to see the site since I was a teenager when I had first heard of the heinous act perpetrated by the Missouri Militia.  A surprise attack had sent the residents of the small Mormon settlement scattering for safety.  The women and most of the children headed across the frigid waters of Shoal Creek.  The men and a few boys stayed behind, many seeking refuge in the small blacksmith shop.  The militia continued the assault for the space of an hour, eventually shooting the men and boys through the walls of the blacksmith shop like fish in a barrel.
It made my heart sick to think of the terror that must have cut through those men, especially the little boys.  I cringed when I thought of the women in the creek.  Their hearts must have stopped beating each time they heard another rifle report.  When I first read the details of the massacre, I pictured them, mothers, wives, sisters, crouched on the damp grounds, desperately clinging to the little ones.  I saw them searching for safety in the chilly October wind, fighting against cold and panic with each shot fired.
The small settlement on the Missouri prairie played out in my mind like the quaint streets of Nauvoo where we took our family to visit the tourist shops depicting life in the early days of the Church.  I still had the ring made from a nail in the blacksmith shop.  It was that scene that I wrestled with in my mind, images of men on horseback, point guns and firing past log homes, fresh wash strung on the line, small toys left by tiny hands grabbed in a moment’s desperation.
Part of me wanted to see the marker as if to finally behold proof that the people of my home state, my people, could have attacked the people of my faith with such vengeance.  I knew the history, had shaken the hand with the governor who had finally rescinded the infamous Extermination Order in 1976.  It used to strike me as odd that I was actually born to an LDS mother just a couple of years prior to the removal of the order.
I got out of the car and pretended to offer help to free the terribly stuck tires.  Really, I just needed air.  It was fall and the colors on the trees had begun their dramatic transformation from green to the warm colors of fall.  Golds, yellows, and deep reds painted a landscape across the Missouri forests, often belying the crisp temperatures outside.  I didn’t care if it was cold.  I hated looking at the colors through glass.  I’ve always had this funny notion that I had to see the world with my own eyes.  I want nothing to stand between me and the real view.
We made it out of the mud and eventually picnicked at Far West, where the kids could stretch their legs.  I loved sitting on the cornerstones at the Far West site.  Left alone I could have sat there for hours pondering as I looked out across the prairie.  I loved the peaceful gardens.  I had a passion for history and loved to visit the sites that I had read so much about.  I wanted to touch the things I had read about, to stand upon the same ground that the forbearers of my faith had once walked.
I had always wanted to visit another historical site, the site of the Mountain Meadows Massacre in southern Utah.  I had learned about the tragedy during the Church History year in Seminary.  It wasn’t until I was an adult that it occurred to me that I had gotten some inaccurate information about the history of that horrid event.  I had always been under the impression that it was the Mormons who were massacred there as well.  Now that I know the truth about the story, I have more questions than I ever did about the real story.  I doubt I will ever know the full truth.  And that makes me mad.
More than makes me sad.  I felt the cold when I first heard the true account.  I was chilled to the bones that such black hearts could have killed so indiscriminately.  The planning, so meticulous and methodical, is one of the most unnerving pieces to the puzzle.  Who could plan mass murder with so little compassion?
How could members of my faith, my tribe, have done such a thing?
Heinous violence is repulsive.  The colors of the flag, whether of the victim or the cold blooded killers, matters little in the end.  Loss is loss; murdering innocent children is an inexcusable act of cowardice that should never be swept under the dust of carefully written history books.  I still cling to the idea that the best view of history is that which has not been altered to mitigate the appearance of blame.  Someday, I plan to stand in those places again.  I want to see for myself the ground where these events took place.
Truth should be revealed, no matter how painful it is to examine.  How can we ever expect to rise above the dark moments of the past?  How do we teach future generations better?  We do it by opening up the vaults of history and laying them out in the open, bare and raw, to be beheld in full daylight.
Anything that is worth fighting for should be able to stand against the past.  I want to see it, know it, and understand it.  I wish I had been trusted enough to decide for myself what was right for me.  Somehow I think that would have made all the difference.  I like to think I would have chosen to fight for the side that stood for love.  Now, that part of my history will never be known.


Kiley said...

I often wonder if I would still be in the church if the history had not been such a shock. Like you, I wish that it had all been open and bare from the beginning so that it did not feel like betrayal to find that it had been held back.

What a beautiful post. So well written. It pulled me in immediately.

Ron aka Diogenes said...

My ggggrandfather was a participant at MMM and later testified against JD Lee. I had another ggggrandfather that was at Haun's mill and left for dead but did not die. This is a very striking link of these two incidences--provocative and sobering. The effects of both still have their effect on my family. I learned just a few months ago from my 91 year old mother how much MMM darkened her side of the family for generations and created a distrust (now I see as healthy) of authority. I now have a greater compassion and understanding of my mother's side of the family. Appreciate the title of this web site. thank you

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