Chicago Tribune 7/6/03 [Excerpts from More literary woes for Mormon elders]: It has been a difficult literary summer for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Not only has the celebrated writer Jon Krakauer parsed the church’s violent history in Under the Banner of Heaven, but so have two lesser-known authors—Sally Denton in American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows and Dorothy Allred Solomon in Predators, Prey, and Other Kinfolk: Growing Up in Polygamy
The Krakauer book in particular has so disturbed Mormon elders that last week they took the unusual step of issuing an early broadside, hoping to discredit the book even before it was published. Krakauer said in response to the Mormon elders…the church has “long endeavored to retain proprietary control over how [its] history is presented to the world....” In evidence Krakauer quotes Apostle Boyd Packer, second in line to head the church, as declaring in 1981 that “some things that are true are not very useful...In the Church we are not neutral....There is a war going on, and we are engaged in it.”
One ongoing battle is over what, before Sept. 11, 2001, was called the worst religious atrocity ever committed in America: the slaughter in 1857 of 140 Arkansas emi-grants in a wagon train at a Utah pass called Mountain Meadows. [In addition to the book on the subject by Krakauer]…Sally Denton (herself of Mormon descent) is the latest writer to contend—persuasively in her case—that the responsibility did not lie just on an outcast Mormon named John Doyle Lee and the Indians he led. The ultimate onus, she writes, belongs to Brigham Young, the absolute monarch of Utah who, pressured by financial crises and increasing scrutiny from the federal government, incited the attack himself.
“We were ACTING UNDER ORDERS from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Lee said in a confession just before his execution by a firing squad. “The horrid deeds then committed were done as a duty which we believed we owed to God and our Church.” This carefully documented book also explores how today’s Mormon church has refused to acknowledge Young’s culpability….
History plagues the Mormons in other ways, especially the offshoots of the church that still practice polygamy. “I am the daughter of my father’s fourth plural wife, twenty-eighth of forty-eight children—a middle kid, you might say, with the middle kid’s propensity for identity crisis,” begins Dorothy Allred Solomon’s Predators, Prey, and Other Kinfolk.
After a series of FBI raids in the 1950s, Solomon’s physician-preacher father, Rulon Allred, was sentenced to prison. His family was scattered to Mexico, Las Vegas and Montana. In 1977 he was shot to death by members of a rival sect of polygamists.
The people Solomon tells us about are not hairy, wild-eyed monsters but fully fleshed, sometimes obstinate, often admirable human beings caught in the grip of religious absolutism. She shows brilliantly how we can loathe what they believe but also hope for their eventual enlightenment.