Blood Atonement and the Mountain Meadows Massacre

Did violence in Utah have a correlation to Mormon doctrine?

Reference Links

Brigham Young and Blood Atonement
Blood Atonement Sins and Murders
The Mountain Meadows Massacre

Video Transcript

In the 1850’s Mormonism experienced a ‘reformation’, when there was a concerted effort to encourage faithfulness. Conversely, there was also a movement to actively discourage apostasy and sin, this was the distinctly anti-biblical doctrine of blood atonement.

Brigham Young taught that there were certain sins that could not be atoned for, or forgiven, by the blood of Jesus Christ, but only by slaying the sinner. These sins included adultery, theft, apostasy, and interracial marriage. He also taught that carrying out this blood atonement was “loving thy neighbor as thyself“.

Even as late as the 1950’s LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that the doctrine was true, but not practiced. In the 1970’s Apostle Bruce McKonkie wrote that it could not be practiced as long as there is a separation between church and state.

But it was practiced in the 1850’s. Records from some people living in Utah at the time indicate that many were killed, and several specific accounts of murders inspired by Young’s environment of violence survive.

One account is the slaughter of the Aiken party, a group of six wealthy cattle buyers passing through Utah who were accused of being spies. Several Mormons requested to camp with them, and then murdered them in their sleep. Brigham Young’s destroying angel, Bill Hickman, admitted that Young personally commissioned him to hunt down and kill the last survivor.

That same year, a similar event took place on a much larger scale. A wealthy wagon train of about 130 people was passing through Utah on their way to California. Tensions mounted because the Mormons refused to sell to the immigrants, and some of the immigrants supposedly boasted about the death of Joseph Smith, a sin requirinf blood atonement.

Brigham Young offered all of the wagon train’s cattle to the local Indians if they would do away with the party. But they were unable to, so some soldiers from Young’s Nauvoo Legion arrived to solve the problem. They offered the immigrants safe passage from the Indians, but then betrayed and slaughtered some 50 unarmed men, 20 women, and 50 children.

17 children under the age of 6 were allowed to live. When the government stepped in to return the children to family members back east, the Mormons billed the government thousands of dollars for taking care of them. All of the property from the wagons was taken and sold by the Mormons.

Of the dozens of Mormons who participated in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, only one was ever brought to justice, a former Danite named John D Lee. Right before his execution, he stated that Brigham Young was leading the people astray to destruction.

A grave marker set up for the murdered people bore the inscription, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord”. When Brigham Young visited the site, he reportedly suggested that it should read “Vengeance is mine, and I have taken a little.” He then had the marker destroyed. Find out more at