THE HIGHEST MASONIC DEGREE
Easter was approaching and one quiet morning I was at home recuperating from the second operation when the doorbell rang. It was a special delivery letter from the Supreme Council in Washington, notifying me that I had been selected for the 33rd Degree.
I could hardly believe it was true! This honor is one most Masons never even think of receiving. It was too much, too far out of reach, beyond limits of reality. It was unreal to think I had actually been selected. It was an honor just to be considered for this ultimate degree and I had actually been selected, chosen by that small and powerful group, the Supreme Council of the 33rd Degree.
I called Bonnie to share the good news with her. In talking with her, I surprised myself by asking her if she thought I should accept it “What a strange thing to ask her,” I thought. But before I could contemplate it she said, “Why, sure you should accept it. You have worked so hard for so long to get there – by all means you should accept it.”
So I returned my acceptance immediately and began making plans for the trip.
I MADE IT ON MY OWN
With plenty of time to reflect, I thought about my long climb up the mountain of Masonry in search of light. I thought about the odds against anyone’s ever making it to the 33rd Degree. I realized that in my case the odds have been even greater. I had made it by hard work and dedication alone. Some men have an edge on selection because of their wealth, political power or prominence. I had none of these.
Like the day I had carried the man all the way to the top of “Shaw Hill” between Camp Butner and Raleigh, I had made it to the top of the Masonic mountain because I was willing to make the effort required and refused to quit. Thinking of this, I felt particularly good about it and wished my mother could know.
I had come a long way since leaving the front gate that terrible day so many years ago. I had come the distance with no help from Uncle Irvin. Who would have thought that the lonely walk, begun so many years ago by that frightened 13-year-old boy, would have led to this point? I had reached the pinnacle – made it all the way to the top.
Some of the most prominent and influential men in the world would undoubtedly be there to participate when I was given this ultimate degree – for me – little Jimmy Shaw, who had gone to work at age five and made it alone since age 13. They would be there to give the 33rd Degree to me. It was really a bit difficult to take it all in.
3 DAYS AT THE MOUNTAIN TOP
In order to receive the 33rd Degree it was necessary to go to Washington. D.C. The initiation and related functions were to last three days.
Since Bonnie could participate in practically none of the things I would be doing each day, she decided not to go along. We were both excited as I made preparations to leave. But I was not as excited as I expected to be. The edge was taken off the excitement because, in me, it was mixed with a considerable amount of conviction. Way down deep there was a growing restlessness, an increasing conflict, produced by the things the doctor had been sharing and by all the Scripture I had been reading. Preparing to receive this “ultimate honor” was not as thrilling as it might otherwise have been.
ARRIVING AT THE HOUSE OF THE TEMPLE
I flew into Washington National Airport and took a taxi to the House of the Temple on Northwest 16th Street. Upon arriving at the Temple I was met by a receptionist who asked if I were there to receive the 33rd Degree. I was surprised to find a women in those sacred Masonic precincts, but said that I was and showed her my letter from the Supreme Council. She then told me that in order to receive the degree, I would be expected to make a “minimum donation” of a very large amount of money (at least it was a “very large” amount for me). This took me completely by surprise for there had not been a word about any such “minimum donation” in the letter sent me by the Supreme Council. I didn’t carry that much money with me and had left my checkbook at home but was able to borrow the money from one of the other men and gave it to her. We candidates were all unhappy about this unpleasant surprise and grumbled to one another about it, but were not unhappy enough to forsake the degree over it. We were too close to the “top of the mountain” to turn back at that point.
THE TEMPLE ITSELF
The House of the Temple is quite impressive – a bit awesome, really. Standing large, grey and silent on the east side of Northwest 16th Street, between “R” and “S” Streets, it looms very wide and tall from the curb. There is a huge expanse of granite pavement in front of it, including three levels of narrowing steps as the entrance is approached. Flanking the entrance are two Sphinx-like granite lions with women’s heads, the neck of one entwined by a cobra and decorated with the “ankh” (the Egyptian symbol of life and deity).
Adorning the neck and breast of the other is an image of a women, symbolic of fertility and procreation. In the pavement, just in front of the tall bronze doors, are two Egyptian swords with curved, serpentine blades and, between the two swords, brass letters, set into stone, saying, “The Temple of the Supreme Council of the Thirty-Third and Last Degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.”
Over the tall, bronze doors, cut into the stone, is the statement, “Freemasonry Builds Its Temples in the Hearts of Men and Among Nations.” (1)
High above the entrance, partially concealed by stone columns, is an elaborate image of the Egyptian sun god, backed with radiating sun and flanked by six large, golden snakes.
Inside is elegance: polished marble, exotic wood, gold and statuary. There are offices, a library, dining room, kitchen, Council Room, “Temple Room” and a large meeting room. This room is like a luxurious theater, rather elegantly furnished and decorated.
The ceiling is dark blue, with lights set into it to give the appearance of stars. These lights can even be made to “twinkle” like stars in the sky. There is a stage, well-equipped, and it is all very nicely done. But the thing that is most noticeable is the way the walls are decorated with serpents. There are all kinds; some very long and large. Many of the Scottish Rite degrees include the representation of serpents and I recognized them among those decorating the walls.
It was all most impressive and gave me a strange mixture of the sensations of being in a temple and in a tomb – something sacred but threatening. I saw busts of outstanding men of the Rite including two of Albert Pike, who is buried there in the wall.
INTERVIEWED BY THE SUPREME COUNCIL
The first day was devoted to registration, briefings and interviews. We were called into one of the offices, one at a time, and interviewed by three members of the Supreme Council.
When my turn came I was ushered into the office and seated. The very first question I was asked was, “Of what religion are you?” Not long before this I would have answered with something like, “I believe the Ancient Mysteries, the ‘Old Religion,’ and I believe in reincarnation.” However, without thinking at all about how to answer, I found myself saying, “I am a Christian.”
Then, to my sup rise and theirs, I asked them, “Are you men born again?” The man in charge quickly stopped me by saying, “We’re not here to talk about that – we are here to ask you questions.”
After they sent me back out I sat down and thought about it. When the next man came out, I asked him, “Did they ask you if you are a Christian?” He said, “Yes, they did.”
“What did you tell them?” I asked, and he replied, “I told them ‘Hell no, and I never intend to be!’”
Then he said a strange thing to me, “They said I’m going higher,” and he left through a different door, looking pleased.
BECOMING A SOVEREIGN GRAND INSPECTOR GENERAL
The second day was the day of the actual initiation, held in the theater-like meeting room. Those of us who were receiving the degree were seated and the ceremony was “exemplified” (acted out in full costume) before us, in the same way that we had performed the lesser degrees of the Scottish Rite all those years. The parts in the exemplification were played by men of the 33rd Degree.
The representative candidate was dressed in black trousers, barefooted, bareheaded and draped in a long, black robe that reminded me of a very long, black raincoat. He had a black cable tow around his neck but was not hoodwinked. During the initiation he was led around the stage, conducted by two men with swords, as the degree was performed for us.
Instructions and signs were given. Upon the altar were four “holy books” (the Bible, the Koran, the Book of the Law and the Hindu Scriptures). At one point the “candidate” was told to kiss the book “of your religion” and, representing us all, he leaned forward and did so. I remembered the First Degree initiation, when I was told to kiss the Bible, and at that moment something came full cycle. It was the final such kiss to be a part of my life.
WINE IN A HUMAN SKULL
When it was time for the final obligation we all stood and repeated the oath with the representative candidate, administered by the Sovereign Grand Inspector General. We then swore true allegiance to the Supreme Council of the 33rd Degree, above all other allegiances, and swore never to recognize any other brother as being a member of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry unless he also recognizes the Supreme authority of “this Supreme Council”.
One of the Conductors then handed the “candidate” a human skull, upside down, with wine in it. “May this wine I now drink become a deadly poison to me, as the Hemlock juice drunk by Socrates, should I ever knowingly or willfully violate the same” (the oath).
He then drank the wine. A skeleton (one of the brothers dressed like one – he looked very convincing) then stepped out of the shadows and threw his arms around the “candidate.” Then he (and we) continued the sealing of the obligation by saying, “And may these cold arms forever encircle me should I ever knowingly or willfully violate the same.”
The Sovereign Grand Commander closed the meeting of the Supreme Council “with the Mystic Number,” striking with his sword five, three, one and then two times. After the closing prayer, we all said “amen, amen, amen,” and it was over.
PROMINENT MEN TOOK PART
There were some extremely prominent men there that day, including a Scandinavian King, two former presidents of the United States, an internationally prominent evangelist, two other internationally prominent clergymen, and a very high official of the federal government, the one who actually presented me with the certificate of the 33rd Degree. Some made only brief appearances; others stayed much longer. However, they didn’t do much mixing or socializing with us, except for those whom they already knew. Even though these celebrities weren’t extremely “brotherly,” it was still quite an experience for me just to be associated with them. It was easily the largest gathering of such prominent and influential men of which I have ever been a part.
The third day there was a banquet to celebrate our becoming “Grand Inspectors General. 33rd Degree.” The banquet was a little anticlimactic, at least for me, and I was anxious to get it over with so I could return home. It was good to be a 33rd at last. But it wasn’t as exciting or fulfilling as I had thought it would be during all those years in the Craft. I guess this was because of the profound changes going on down deep within me.
I returned home as soon as the 33rd Degree award and related social functions were finished, for it was time for my next appointment with the doctor. After he had examined my eyes he said they were healing fine, that he felt good about the way they were looking, and as usual he spoke with me about the Lord. I told him that I planned to come to his church the next Sunday and that I had been reading the Bible.
Obviously pleased, he said, “Good. Keep studying, and your sight will soon be much better.” By this time I knew what he meant – he was speaking of my spiritual sight.
In the Scottish Rite the Thursday before Easter, “Maundy Thursday,” is an important day. On this day we always performed a special service of Communion in the local Scottish Rite Temple. At this time I was Wise Master in the Chapter of Rose Croix and it was my job to preside over the exemplification (dramatization) of the ceremony. I had done this many times and was known for my knowledge of the service and for “doing a good job” of putting it on.
THE WORDS HAD MEANING NOW
On Thursday evening we gathered at our home Temple and dressed for the ceremony. It was always a most solemn occasion and seemed a little awesome, even to those of us who had done it many times.
Dressed in long, black, hooded robes, we marched in, single file, with only our faces partly showing, and took our seats.
There was something very tomb-like about the setting. The silence was broken only by the organ, playing mournfully in the background, and there was no light except for the little that came through the windows. After the opening prayer (from which the name of Jesus Christ was conspicuously excluded), I stood and opened the service.
As I had done so many times before, I said, “We meet this day to commemorate the death of our ‘Most Wise and Perfect Master,’ not as inspired or divine, for this is not for us to decide, but as at least the greatest of the apostles of mankind.”
As I spoke these words that I had spoken so many times before, I had a strange and powerful experience. It was as if I were standing apart, listening to myself as I spoke, and the words echoed deep within me, shouting their significance. They were the same words I had spoken so many times before, but had meaning for me now. They made me sick, literally ill, and I stopped.
The realization of what I had just said grew within me like the rising of a crescendo. I had just called Jesus an “apostle of mankind” who was neither inspired nor divine! There was a silent pause that seemed to last a very long time as I struggled with a sick smothering within.
When I was finally able, I continued with the service and we gathered around a large table across the room in marching order. The table was long, shaped like a cross, and covered with a red cloth which was decorated down the center with roses.
A BLACK COMMUNION
Once we were assembled at the table, I elevated (lifted high) the plate of bread, took a piece, put my hand on the shoulder of the man in front of me, gave him the plate and said, “Take, eat, and give to the hungry.”
This continued until all had partaken of the bread. Then I lifted up the goblet of wine, took a sip, and said, “Take, drink, and give to the thirsty.”
Again, this continued until all had partaken of the wine.
Then I took the bread, walked over to the first row of spectators and served it to the man previously chosen for the honor of representing the rest of the Lodge
As I handed it to him I again said, “Take, eat, and give to the hungry.”
In like manner I served the wine to him saying, “Take, drink, and give to the thirsty,” and he sat down.
After this we took our places at the table shaped like a cross and sat down. The setting was dark, our long, sweeping robes were solid black, our faces nearly concealed in the hoods, and the mood was one of heavy gloom. The Christ-less prayers and the hymns we sang fit right in. The one word that would describe the entire event would be “black.” It was, indeed, a Black Communion – a strange Black Mass.
EXTINGUISHING THE CANDLE
There was a large Menorah (candlestick with seven candle holders) in the center of the room, with seven candles now burning.
Standing again, I said, “This is indeed a sad day, for we have lost our Master. We may never see him again. He is dead! Mourn, weep and cry, for he is gone.”
Then I asked the officers to extinguish the candles in the large Menorah. One by one they rose, walked to the center of the room, extinguished a selected candle and left the room.
Finally, with only the center candle still burning, I arose, walked sadly to the Menorah and extinguished the last candle – the candle representing the life of Jesus, our “Most Wise and Perfect Master.” We had dramatized and commemorated the snuffing out of the life of Jesus, without once mentioning his name, and the scene ended with the room in deep silent darkness. I walked out of the room, leaving only the darkness and the stillness of death.
Once again, the single word best to describe it would be “black.”
All through the service I was shaking and sick. I have never felt so sad. I had stumbled over the words but, somehow, I made it to the completion of the ceremony and went back to the dressing room. I still didn’t know much about praying but felt that I had been sustained by the Lord through it all.
THE FINAL PARTING
Back in the dressing room we hung up our black, hooded robes, put our street clothes back on and prepared to leave. Less than two hours had passed since I arrived. But what had happened in that period of time had changed my life forever.
Still sick in my heart, I changed clothes without a word to anyone. The others asked me what was wrong. But I couldn’t reply.
They reminded me that I had acted as Wise Master so many times before, that I was known for my smooth performance of it, and they asked what had gone wrong.
I was choking on the awful reality of what we had said and done, the way we had blasphemed the Lord, and the evil, black mockery we had made of His pure and selfless death. With weeping welling up within me. I could only shake my head in silence and walk out.
Mike was waiting for me at the door, expecting to get a ride home, and he asked, “What’s the matter, Jim? Are you sick?”
Finally able to speak, I quietly replied, “No, Mike, I’m just sick of all this.”
“IT ISN’T RIGHT”
I started down the wide steps in front of the large Scottish Rite Temple, realization and conviction growing within me, reached the bottom step and stopped. Turning around, I looked back at the huge, granite building and slowly studied the words, carved in the stone across the top of the entrance: “ANCIENT AND ACCEPTED SCOTTISH RITE OF FREEMASONRY.”
Something came clearly into focus in my understanding and I made a decision. This crisis point in my life, one which had required so many years for me to reach, passed in seconds. The truth was revealed and the choice was made – a choice that would be the difference between darkness and light, death and life, one that would last for eternity. Looking up at those words I had walked under so many times, words of which I had been so proud, I spoke to myself out loud. It was as if I were the only man in the world as I heard myself say, slowly and deliberately, “It isn’t ancient, it isn’t Scottish, it isn’t free, and it isn’t right!”
INTO THE LIGHT
I turned away and walked into the parking lot, knowing that I would never return. As I walked into the deepening darkness of that springtime night, I was walking into the growing light of the living God. As the natural darkness closed around me, the supernatural light welled up within me. With every step I took, as the Temple receded behind me, I was more free.
“I will never return,” I thought with each step. “I will never return, I will never return….”
The decision was made, the die was cast. From that night onward I would serve the true and living God, not the Great Architect of the Universe. I would exalt and learn of Him, not Osiris, Krishna or Demeter. I would seek and follow Jesus, not the will–the-wisp of “hidden wisdom.”
I was walking, after such a long time, out of the darkness and into the light.
This statement is an interesting contradiction with the Temple it adorns, as well as with the thousands of other such Masonic temples built around the World at a total cost of many billions of dollars.
A PERSONAL WORD FROM JIM
As this true story is closed, I would be greatly remiss if I did not make it clear that in my pre-Christian life I truly loved Freemasonry. I loved the men with whom I was associated in the Lodge and the men with whom I worked so hard in the degrees and bodies of the Scottish Rite. Most of all, I was so very sure that I was doing what was right and pleasing in the sight of the Great Architect of the Universe.
Never in all my years of dedicated service to Masonry did anyone in the Lodge witness to me about the love and saving grace of Jesus. The Lodge attended a church once each year as a group. Each time the pastor (who was himself a Mason) would introduce us to the congregation and then exalt the Craft, telling them about all our wonderful works. We usually left the church thinking of how wonderful we were and feeling sorry for all those in the church who were not Masons, participating in all our good deeds.
After having been witnessed to by my ophthalmologist for some time I read those simple, wonderful words of Jesus, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” These words, so short and so sweet, went right through my heart. I looked in the Bible for more and I found blessed assurance everywhere I looked. Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, really loved me as a real Brother! He will do the same for you.
– Jim Shaw
Freemason Albert Pike, Islam Will Be Used To Destroy The West!
The True Story Of Joseph Smith And Brigham Young
As with the formation of Judaism and the creation of Islam, the earliest years of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints were similarly infinitely more interesting than the comparative first years of the Christianity upon which it is based.
Today the world knows this, one of its newest established religions, as the Mormons. However, criminal action, political intrigue, civil unrest among the Saints, and persecutions leading to the murder of its founder, Joseph Smith, as well as many other deaths informed the years of wandering before the Saints found a home in Utah and established a great society there.
But once the Saints’ homeland – their Zion of Prophet Joseph Smith’s revelations – was made real through the leadership of acolyte Brigham Young there was a blood debt to collect. Hostilities with the United States government, and with the people who had wronged the Saints in Missouri and Illinois and other places, came to a head on September 11, 1857, when Mormons (disguised as generally peaceful Paiute Indians) slaughtered, without provocation, an entire wagon train of settlers bound for California.
The only survivors were children that had not yet learned to speak; the Mormon militia killers (part of a mercenary arm of the Church called “Danites”) felt they could be spared since they were young enough to probably not recall specifics of the events or to identify the murderers of their parents.
Today, the Church reluctantly acknowledges this blight on its history. Previously, however, a code of silence and misdirection insured that for decades anyone even remotely aware of the massacre believed Native Americans were solely responsible. In the end, though, only one white man was convicted for his role in the slayings.
In either 1821 or 1822, Smith claimed an angel named Moroni appeared to him. This angel advised Smith there was a trove of ancient, mystical writings conveniently buried in a hill (named Cumorah) near his home. These writings were engraved upon plates of gold and had allegedly been written by ancient prophets. The plates described the migration of lost Israelites to America. Smith said Moroni told him to keep a rendezvous every year at the hill on September 22. Smith allegedly did this and was given further revelations. In 1827, a few years after Moroni first appeared he told Smith exactly where the golden plates of text were buried. Smith was instructed (coincidentally) to show them to no one, however. Moroni directed Smith to translate these plates (written in a lost-glyph language called “Reformed Egyptian”) into English.
Smith’s translation method was a bit unorthodox. He had what he called a “seer stone” that he placed into a hat. By gazing into the hat at the stone he was able to “translate” the writings on the golden plates. The texts, though, he dictated to others for posterity – no one ever saw the plates themselves except Smith (certain editions of The Book of Mormon do contain printed facsimile affidavits claiming the truth of their existence, almost all signed by people surnamed “Smith” – obviously relatives – thus bringing the veracity of the affidavits clearly into question). [Smith’s earliest scribe, Martin Harris, later made the claim he had seen the tablets briefly, “fastened together in the shape of a book by wires
Credit: wiki commons, 21st c interpretation”. Smith may have constructed a model to lend credence to his story. Further supporting the fraud explanation of the book’s genesis is an action by the wife of Martin Harris, Lucy Harris. She was suspicious of the “translation” and formed a pan in her mind to prove a fraud. She coaxed her husband into bringing her the original translations he had already transcribed, and she hid them (116 pages, the first section from what is now called the Book of Lehi). Her thinking was simply that Smith could “re-translate” and reproduce the same text already written. Anything less than a second verbatim translation and she could prove he was making the whole thing up. Instead, upon learning of the loss of the completed text, Smith reported he had suddenly been stripped of his ability to translate; according to him a period of “atonement” must pass before he could resume the work. When he did, in 1829, he claimed he had been advised by Moroni to take up the work in another section of plates. Thus, he thwarted Lucy Harris’ plan to expose his fraud. Those 116 pages remain missing to this day – Lucy may have destroyed them or simply lost track of where she’d hidden them.]
Credit: lds.orgwhen he was finished translating) is a strange volume called The Book of Mormon (written in an amazing burst of writing by another scribe, Oliver Cowdery, from April–June 1829). It and the common Old and New Testaments form the trilogy of tenets from which the religion draws its base faith. The Book of Mormon was first sold in a bookstore on March 26, 1830. It is a dense and oblique work – its less-than-dynamic narrative was commented upon wryly by Mark Twain as “chloroform in print” (for its contrived phrasing and stupefying prose).
The simple truth is that the religion was most likely founded as a “long con” (a scam of very lengthy time investment but guaranteed to pay off in huge dividends at the end of the con). It was probably created from whole cloth by a self-absorbed, self-centered man with a charismatic personality. He later used his power within the Mormon community to justify multiple affairs with congregant women (some married to other men) creating the polygamous practice for which the Mormon faith has become most notorious. However, the polygamy with which the group has been most identified is not a sanctioned position in Church doctrine today, and it is as embarrassing a chapter to the Mormons as the Mountain Meadows Massacre is.
Regardless of Joseph Smith’s secular motivations for creating it, the fact remains that today the faith has attracted many adherents, has evolved into a legitimately recognized world religion, and globally is one of the world’s fastest growing Christian faiths.
Joseph Smith was strikingly handsome (six feet tall, piercing blue eyes) and was extremely magnetic. However, he was probably fundamentally dishonest. When his followers and he were harassed out of New York State, he settled them – based on a revelation – into a place he thought of as their “Zion”, a village in Ohio. Smith and some of his cronies founded a bank that issued Mormon scrip (this when there was no official federal currency – banks issued their own paper money which was generally only accepted in specific locales). As a way to attract investors to sink working capital into the venture Smith often showed potential backers currency chests filled with gold coins. The reality, however, is that only the tops of the boxes carried the coins – beneath the attractive glitter the chests were filled with nuts, bolts, nails, and sand.
Smith and his followers, ahead of bilked investors, sought safety further west in Missouri. Their lives were no better there than they had been in Ohio, and in fact some of their own behaviors ensured they would be continually persecuted. Under orders from Joseph Smith and another zealous acolyte, bands of Mormon militias (formed for the purpose and named “Danites”) raided and pilfered from their “Gentile” Missouri neighbors. The Danites invaded fields, stole foodstuffs from outdoor root cellars, and occasionally resorted to cattle, chicken, pig, and turkey thefts.
These criminal acts did not endear them to the Missouri roughnecks who were victimized by the thievery. In 1838, after many more skirmishes with locals resulting in several deaths among the Gentiles and the Mormons, Missouri’s governor, Lilburn Boggs, issued an expulsion order that also carried an extermination proviso in its text. All Mormons, except for those in Missouri’s prisons, were ordered out of the state immediately – any who did not voluntarily comply would be hunted and killed. Meanwhile, Smith and two of his henchmen had traveled to Washington, DC, to seek redress against their persecutions from President Martin Van Buren (term of office: 1837-1841). Van Buren refused the Mormons any special protections, and from that moment forward Smith and the Mormon community regarded the United States as enemies.
Leaving Missouri, Smith and his group crossed east into Illinois, stopping very near the Mississippi River’s eastern bank. There, a new Mormon community was founded in Hancock County. It was called “Nauvoo”. [The naming of this town was but more gibberish from Smith. He claimed the word meant “beautiful plantation” in “Reformed Egyptian” or Hebrew; there is no such thing as “Reformed Egyptian”; the Hebrew language has no such word, either. The town still exists under that name, however].
In Nauvoo, Smith’s likes for other women, even the legal wives of other men, led him to finally bring polygamy to the fore as a divinely inspired doctrine. Credit: lds.orgHe worked out the revelation in 1843 with the help of another man (who transcribed it), and Smith had this man “break the news” to Smith’s current – and only legal – wife at the time, Emma Hale Smith. Emma was notpleased with this revelation, and it took a long time for her to grudgingly accept other women in her home as sister-wives. Once introduced, though, almost every man in the Mormon community, some more zealously than others, accepted the practice. Originally, the practice was purely voluntary. Later, it became a mandate – there came a time when it was frowned upon, and a man would be castigated and ostracized, if he failed to procure more than one wife.
Originally, the Illinois people near the Mormon community of Nauvoo welcomed their new neighbors. Over time, though, the Mormons alienated the locals. Some Mormons, vehemently disagreeing with the new polygamy doctrine, left the Church. [Later, in Utah under Brigham young’s iron-fisted despotism these people were called “apostates”; the “crime” of apostasy was one that could get a defector killed by a Mormon death squad, quietly and without warning.]
Still stinging from Missouri’s rejection of their community, an unknown assailant attacked Governor Lilburn Boggs at his home on May 6, 1842. He was shot four times (once in the throat, swallowing the slug!) as he sat reading an evening paper. He survived, and although Joseph Smith was believed complicit in the assassination attempt, no proof to bring him in could be found. The weapon, a revolver using ball shot, had been dropped nearby in haste. Within a short time, a Danite militia man and aide-de-camp for Smith named Orrin Porter Rockwell was arrested for the attempt on Governor Boggs’ life. He was held in Missouri without trial for over a year, and when his day in court finally came he was released on a technicality.
There was much disaffection within the Nauvoo community. In 1844, The Nauvoo Expositor, a small-press newspaper run by dissident Mormon’s, ran headlining stories exposing some of Joseph Smith’s more secular and underhanded activities. His polygamy practices were also vilified in the press. Smith was outraged by this continued editorial (and public) assault, and he destroyed the paper’s printing press.
Illinoisans had been looking for a reason to rid themselves of the Mormons in Nauvoo. In the United States at that time a free press was considered inviolate; Smith’s destroying the Expositor’s printing press was taken as an act of sedition. Illinois’ governor issued a warrant for Smith’s arrest, and he and his brother Hyrum were taken into custody and housed in the Carthage, Illinois, jail (about 25 miles southeast of Nauvoo).
A mob stormed the jail, Smith was shot, and he tumbled out a second story window and died. He was 39 years old. His brother Hyrum was likewise killed. Brigham Young took up the mantle of Mormon leadership (after successfully repressing a rival’s claim to the title of Church President and Prophet).
In perhaps the most rousingly successful of all westward migrations the well-oiled machinery of Mormon industry insured that the masses traveling to their new Zion arrived not only at a leisurely pace but were well provisioned and well protected en route. The exodus from 1846 to 1848 proved beyond any doubt the tenacity and spirit of this group of outsiders was a sincere force with which not to trifle.
Advance scouting groups and migrants, led by selected elders, moved ahead into Iowa and established what the Mormons called “Winter Quarters” (until 1852, known as Kanesville, and now Council Bluffs, Iowa). This was the Mormon jumping off point for their trip to The Promised Land. Advance parties moved ahead and built cabins along the trail the groupCredit: public domain would follow. They planted corn and other food crops as well. This ensured the survival of all latecomers – regardless of season, the Nauvoo exodus would go along with little hardship.
The site chosen as the new Zion by Brigham Young was in the high-mountain desert, an unwanted scrubland in the Wasatch Mountain Valley, a place believed secure from the Gentiles. Nearby was a dying lake and inland body of salt water many times saltier than the oceans. The lake was named for its obvious feature – Salt Lake. The industrious Mormons, under Brigham Young’s increasingly despotic fist, built an oasis on the shores of that lake called Salt Lake City. It was their homeland.
The territory into which the Mormons had moved was an amorphous region they originally called Deseret (a “word” from The Book of Mormon that allegedly translates into “honeybee”, the symbol of hard work and industry adapted by the Mormons). In 1849, the Mormon leaders had presented the US Government with a proposed definition of the Deseret
lands that encompassed all of what is now Utah, Nevada, and Arizona, and parts of six other states. The US Government, however, was unwilling to concede such a large area to a group as suspect as the Mormons; the territory they occupied was renamed the Utah Territory in 1851 (for the resident Ute Indians) and truncated to the current state of Utah, most of Nevada, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming. Brigham Young was appointed the first territorial governor for the new Utah lands.
In 1852, the practice of polygamy (“unofficially” sanctioned by the Church since 1842) was officially made public as part of the Mormon faith. By 1857, animosity between the Mormons and what they called “the States” and their “Gentile” population reached a peak of hostilities. The United States Government had developed an intolerance for the unofficial practice of polygamy. Also, Brigham Young’s little kingdom in the Utah desert was increasingly perceived by Washington, DC, as potentially treasonous – the Mormons were said to be stockpiling foodstuffs and armaments to wage a war against the United States. [The Mormons truly were stockpiling, but it was from fear of an invasion by the US Army to make them suppliant.]
President Franklin Pierce furthermore refused to hear a petition for the Utah Territory being granted statehood which left the Mormons fearful their lands and properties would be taken from them. Matters came to a head in early 1857. Having just taken office on March 4 of that year, President James Buchanan began receiving reports that federally appointed judges and some Indian agents in the Mormon territory had been driven from their posts or were otherwise thwarted in their efforts to work within Young’s theocracy. Rumors spread quickly, and Buchanan’s belief that the Mormons were now in full-blown and open rebellion against the United States (when, at the same time, South Carolina had already started rattling the saber of secession that would lead to the Civil War) he took a disastrous course of action. He planned to send troops to Utah to remove Brigham Young from office and restore order, order that was not in disarray as reports of insurrection were falsely exaggerated.
Within the higher ranks of the Church was an Indian agent (appointed by the federal government to that position) named John D. Lee. Lee, a true believer in “building his kingdom” through polygamy (the directive given by the Church to all men) ultimately had 14 wives and 64 children. He was also the head of the Mormon militia group, the Danites, and he took orders directly from Brigham Young.
On August 5, 1857, Young learned the US Army was coming to Utah (1500 troops had been mobilized in the summer of 1857 by President Buchanan and were en route). In conjunction with this news he learned that a large wagon train headed toward the territory, too. One captain of the immigrant train was a man named Alexander Fancher; another was named John T. Baker. The group came to be called the Baker-Fancher Parry. Young’s first inclination was to believe this train was a cover for a US Army invading force, but he found out soon enough it was exactly what it claimed to be: a wagon train headed to California.
Travelers westward had come to rely upon the Mormons as fair dealers and as the last people from whom to obtain quality and quantity in supplies sufficient to finish the trip west. The Mormons benefited as well, trading for otherwise unobtainable goods from the East. Most travelers, knowing the Mormons always were well-stocked in all things, had taken to only gathering up enough supplies to get them as far as Salt Lake City. There, normal procedure was to buy or trade for enough material to sustain the party for the balance of the westward trek.
The Baker-Fancher Party approaching the Mormon’s lands in late summer 1857, however, had several things that insured it was not going to merely cross the desert without incident. It had the misfortune to be very well stocked in terms of personal wealth in ways most were not. It consisted of 137 or 138 emigrants, including Alexander Fancher (the wagon master) and his family. There were almost a thousand head of cattle being driven along with the train. There were several hundred horses as well, including one stallion valued at $2800 (an enormous sum in the 1850s). . The women carried their jewels on their person. The wagon train’s value has been estimated at about $70,000 in mid-19th Century money (exceeding $1.8 million dollars by today’s standards).
In addition to the wealth they carried, the settlers in the train were from Missouri, Illinois, and Arkansas. The Mormons still held grudges against Missourians and Illinoisans for their persecutions years earlier. The Arkansawyers came in for a special kind of vendetta: a popular Mormon elder named Parley P. Pratt had been killed in Arkansas recently after Pratt convinced his killer’s wife to run away with him. Death came for Pratt at the hands of the woman’s legal husband (a man named McLean) – he knifed Pratt in the stomach by ambush.
Brigham Young issued a directive to all Mormons to neither sell to nor trade with this group moving into the Utah Territory. He did not explain that this was to keep their own supplies as a hedge against an expected invasion from the US Army; he just made it clear no one was to offer the incoming train with any comestibles or other trade goods. This puzzled many as normally the Saints expected to traffic with transients passing through. However, knowing what the punishment might be for disobedience they obeyed; the wagon train masters were shocked to find that not only would they receive no help in Salt Lake City, no amount of money or other goods could entice the merchants there to give them any supplies. Furthermore, they were told they could not stay in Salt Lake City – they were unwelcome and forced to move on.
The hundreds of head of cattle being driven along with the settlers were in desperate need of feed. There was not enough grazing land available along the route and watering holes were in short supply. Fancher held out hope for the Mormons of Cedar City (at about 250 miles south of Salt Lake City it was the last stop on the regular California trail) to supply them sufficiently to make it over the mountains of Nevada and into California.
At Cedar City, Fancher was thwarted as he’d been in Salt Lake City. The local merchants refused to sell or trade. One miller, however, did agree to grind up some wheat for the party – the price for his beneficence of a few bushels was a whole cow. Disgusted at this treatment members of the train began agitating against the Mormons. They made threats
about what would happen to the Saints “when the US Army came in” and incendiary remarks of that nature. One member allegedly claimed he had the gun that had killed Joseph Smith in Illinois in 1844 (this story was circulated afterward as a mitigation for the bloodbath to follow). Fancher did what he could to keep the peace.
The train tried to camp near town but they were told to keep moving as they were unwelcome. They were directed, instead, to an area a few miles southwest of Cedar City. Fancher was told there was a freshwater spring there; the place was called Mountain Meadows, and it sounded as if it would be an ideal spot for the immigrant train to settle in for a few days, rest, regroup, and try to figure out how to survive the rest of the way.
Watching them leave, two members of the Mormon Militia from the area, Col. W.H. Dame and Lt. Col. I.C. Haight, decided the party should never leave Utah.
In preparation for their last leg to California the group had conducted an inspection the night before their planned departure. On the early morning of September 7, 1857, however, all sense of normal plans were laid to waste when gunfire from the ridges above the valley floor were heard, and almost immediately random members of the emigrant group dropped dead. In a panic, Fancher and the rest of the drivers managed to arrange the wagons into a rough rectangular enclosure, leaving their cattle and horses outside to mill about. They believed they were under attack by Native Americans (in this case, the Paiutes of Southern Utah). Closer conning of the ridges revealed Natives in war gear hanging about on the craggy ridges, taking potshots into the wagon fortress.
Fancher had all the wagons’ wheels locked into place, chaining them together and to other wagons. Furthermore, he and many of the men threw up a breastwork, digging out an area in the center of their lockdown spot and throwing the dirt against the wagons’ wheels, raising a dirt shield to keep Natives from firing beneath the wagon beds.
Fancher and the group watched helplessly as some Natives swarmed down from the ridges and culled cattle and horses from the settlers’ herds. Emigrant sharp shooters took up positions where they could and sniped several Paiutes. The Natives dragged their dead away and continued raiding cattle.
The biggest problem was water. Under siege the emigrants ran low soon enough. In desperation after a few days of being pinned down, one woman took it upon herself to range forth and milk a cow milling just beyond the safety of the wagon fast hold. She was shot almost as soon as she left the safety of the makeshift fort.
They were shot dead as soon as they cleared the wagon train – it was then the travelers knew their persecutors were not Native Americans.
Lee advised them of his role as an Indian agent, and he told them they had been targeted for massacre by the local Indians who wanted their livestock. He claimed he had negotiated an agreement with the Indians to allow the settlers to leave peaceably under escort from Lee and his men.
There were two conditions for this flight, though: the emigrants had to leave their cattle and horses behind for the Indians in exchange for safe passage, and had to turn over their firearms to Lee and his men. Though somewhat suspicious of the second condition, the men, relieved to be so cordially treated and with the hope of rescue decided to go along with the demand. In desperation the settlers agreed to these terms. One wagon carrying young children and another with a few wounded men aboard set out ahead of the pack. Behind it came the women and older children on foot. Lastly, the disarmed men, each accompanied by an armed Mormon, were marched out into the meadow lands.
In 1870, with public pressure being brought to bear, Mormon leaders excommunicated both Haight and John D. Lee, the instigators of the massacre. This started the machinery rolling for further inquiries and ultimately John D. Lee in 1876, after two trials, was scapegoated into being the only person prosecuted for the massacre.
On March 23, 1877, Lee was taken out to the massacre site and executed by firing squad. This meant at least there was a public acknowledgment of Mormon involvement, but the final truth would not be known for several more decades.
Diligent research revealed that though Lee and Haight were the real initiators of the ruse leading to the massacre, Mormon Territorial Governor Brigham Young was aware of the action and aided in the subsequent cover-up. As a result, the Church readmitted Lee posthumously in 1961, realizing that he alone was not the sole party responsible for the massacre.
Today, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints enjoys a respected place in the pantheon of the world’s Christian religions. This particularly ugly skeleton in their closet has been belatedly acknowledged on the landscape out in the Mountain Meadows with a memorial, though the passive wording on the monument unfortunate is vague and does not clearly define who the aggressors were:
The oblique nature of the wording probably leaves most visitors inferring that Native Americans, and not white men, were solely responsible for the “massacre”. That would be an incorrect reading.