Looking back at Mt. Meadows massacre

By By Parker Williams

By Parker Williams

Unbeknownst to most Americans, Sept. 11 marks the anniversary of an American tragedy not related to al-Qaida terrorists that took place 150 years ago — the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

On Sept. 11, 1857, Mormon militiamen and Paiute Indians slaughtered a group of about 120 unarmed, California-bound emigrants in a meadow roughly 35 miles southwest of Cedar City, historians say.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long taken criticism for possible involvement in the attack. Today, the LDS Church maintains that the attack was perpetrated by Indians and local LDS leaders. The LDS Church also maintains that Brigham Young, the prophet of the LDS Church at the time, had no knowledge of the event until after it happened.

Many films about the massacre, each offering varying opinions, have been produced during the past 50 years.

In 1998, U film professor Brian Patrick began work for his own film about the massacre, “Burying The Past: Legacy of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.”

Patrick’s film, which took six years to make, goes beyond just telling the story of the massacre.

In 1998, Patrick read The Salt Lake Tribune article about the reconciliation efforts of two groups: descendants of settlers killed at Mountain Meadows and descendants of John D. Lee, the only person convicted for the massacre. The descendants formed the Mountain Meadows Association. Patrick was inspired to make the film after seeing the healing and reconciliation fostered by the MMA.

The newest film about the massacre, “September Dawn,” is directed by Christopher Cain.

In The Chicago Sun-Times, film critic Roger Ebert described the film as “strange, confused and unpleasant.”

“The Mormons are presented in no better light than Nazis and Japanese were in Hollywood’s World War II films,” Ebert wrote.

Patrick’s film embraces efforts to resolve tensions between descendants of the victims and Lee, but he said “September Dawn” focuses on the obvious violent aspects of the massacre.

“I thought it was a very superficial rendering of a very complex, difficult story,” Patrick said. “They’ve taken a very complex, absolutely fascinating story, and made it into this one dimensional, clich-ridden story.”

Richard Reading, an instructor at the LDS Institute of Religion, said producing an unbiased film about the massacre is difficult.

“There will always be a bias of some kind,” Reading said. “Even a person who doesn’t know anything about it?as he or she researches something, based on what they read, they will lean one way or the other.”

Patrick thinks the makers of “September Dawn” were influenced by his film.

“I believe that they probably took my film and maybe some books and wrote their screenplay,” Patrick said.

Patrick has a copy of a PayPal receipt showing that the director’s son, Dean Cain, who is also an actor in “September Dawn,” purchased Patrick’s film in October 2004 — roughly nine months before “September Dawn” began shooting.

Patrick said producers of the film deny taking ideas from Patrick’s film.

After “September Dawn” was finished, the filmmakers flew Patrick to Hollywood to get his opinion on the film. Patrick advised them to “consider toning the film down and making it less mean-spirited.” Patrick said his advice was ignored.

Patrick’s film, which has received positive reviews from both LDS Church members and descendants of the massacre victims, will have a special screening Sept. 11 at the Tower Theatre at 7 p.m.

For more info about Patrick’s film, visit www.buryingthepast.com.

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U film professor Brian Patrick, who created the documentary “Burying the Past