Perspectives: Books we should write; ancestor records how he tried to avert Mountain Meadows massacre

Mountain Meadows Massacre
Memorial erected by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the site of the Sept. 11, 1857, Mountain Meadows Massacre about 36 miles southwest of Cedar City, off U.S. Highway 18, where a wagon train of emigrants traveling from Arkansas stopped in the mountain valley en route to California. They were killed by a group of Mormons with the help of Paiute Indians. Washington County, Utah, March 27, 2016 | Photo by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News

OPINION – The old adage, “Everyone has at least one good book in them,” has been a source of hope and frustration for generations of aspiring writers.

Chronic doubter Christopher Hitchens added the waggish qualifier that, “in most cases, that’s where it should stay.”

For the literal minded, the thought of producing a best-selling novel or work of nonfiction can be daunting. Simply getting a publisher to consider a manuscript used to be a monumental obstacle to overcome.

Laban Morrill Mormon Pioneer
Laban Morrill, Utah, circa 1850-1900 | Photo courtesy of FamilySearch wiki, St. George News

Today, there are plenty of pathways around the traditional gatekeepers and self-publishing has never been easier. Even so, few writers seem willing to brave the process.

It may be time to reconsider what passes for writing success.

In reality, there is a book that each of us is uniquely and eminently qualified to write. It’s our own story.

If you’ve never considered writing a firsthand account of your own life, here are a few things to ponder.

Journal keepers may not be widely published or recognized by anyone but their family members or descendants. Yet, their writings have the power to reach across the limits of time and to enlighten and create bonds with individuals they’ve never even met.

It’s surprising what can be learned from individuals who lived in very different times and places than we do.

My wife’s third great grandfather Laban Morrill was one of the pioneers who helped to settle Johnson’s Fort near Cedar City in the 1850s. He kept a very detailed personal history that was published and distributed among family members.

One of the key lessons we’ve learned from his story involved his willingness to do the right thing even when it was risky to do so.

Morrill was present at a town meeting when the Fancher party wagon train was approaching Cedar City. There was a great deal of anger and fear regarding this wagon train and a clear mob mentality was taking hold.

He stood up and vigorously opposed those who were pushing to ride out and attack the travelers. Morrill pleaded with the townspeople there to first seek counsel from Brigham Young in Salt Lake City before taking any action on their own.

Eventually, the crowd settled down and sent word to Salt Lake.

As he was traveling home that night following the meeting, Morrill had a strong impression to cut across the fields and to ride as fast as he could. He later learned that two men had left the meeting following his outspoken opposition to attacking the wagon train and were laying in wait for him near the road.

Mountain Meadows Massacre
The Siege Memorial at the site of the Sept. 11, 1857, Mountain Meadows Massacre about 36 miles southwest of Cedar City, off U.S. Highway 18, where a wagon train of emigrants in the Fancher party stopped en route from Arkansas to California and were killed by a group of Mormons with the help of Paiute Indians. Washington County, Utah, March 27, 2016 | Photo by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News

Sadly, the Mountain Meadow massacre still took place and left an indelible stain on the history of Southern Utah. But we can read in Laban Morrill’s own words how there were those who sought to avert the tragedy, even at risk of their own lives.

His story carries real weight with our family because it is told in his own words and has not been filtered through the lens of a publisher or editor with an axe to grind.

Through it, we have learned more about the good and the bad that he encountered as well as what he did as a pioneer that has helped shape the community where we live today.

So, why should the rest of us consider writing down our own life stories?

Each of us has insights that will be beneficial to someone else at some point. It doesn’t matter how mundane we may consider our day to day lives, every individual is a link in a long chain that is still under construction.

When we look back on those who came before us and are able to catch a glimpse of who they were as individuals, it helps us to appreciate how they paved the way for us. Their triumphs and mistakes provide us with wisdom to see beyond our own understanding.

Likewise, distant as it may seem, the day will arrive when each of us will have completed our life’s journey. It is an act of love and foresight to leave future generations with a connection to who we were and what we thought.

Most of us have had the opportunity to see or handle old black and white photographs of people to whom we are related but whose names and stories remain a mystery to us. Our relationship to our ancestors takes on new depth when we can read their words and share their thoughts.

It’s not about writing a best seller or becoming rich and famous.

Writing down our life’s story is a gift to those we’d want to know us.

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator, radio host and opinion columnist in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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  • BIG GUY March 28, 2016 at 8:58 am

    Excellent thoughts, Bryan. Let me add a more mundane reason to record what seem like everyday items to us in a personal history. What our grandparents, great grandparents, et al did routinely in their occupations, around the house, and for recreation, as well as where and how they traveled, and so on is interesting to us now. We can appreciate more fully how our current circumstances have changed compared to theirs.

    I’m reminded of an interview with three elderly women in 1980s. They all had personal recollections of the first movies, airplane flights, radio, television, computers and myriad other inventions. The interviewer asked them which advance they thought had the greatest impact on their lives. The answer: indoor plumbing.

    • Rainbow Dash March 28, 2016 at 1:52 pm

      I think I saw that same interview. It kind of puts things in perspective. Good comment.

  • .... March 28, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    Ha ha this is funny ! it never happened. don’t believe me ? ask a Mormon ! LOL

  • Bender March 28, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    No knowledge of Morrill or slight intended towards him Hyde, but be aware written and passed down oral stories concerning the MMM are rife with revisionism absolving family members of responsibility.

    • Brian March 28, 2016 at 2:25 pm

      The same can be said of histories coming from those with an anti-Mormon slant as well, that have an ax to grind and an agenda to push. That’s why original, period sources are so vital. That sort of varnishing and tarnishing tends to grow and morph over time. If you’re reading an original journal in the person’s handwriting, written within days of the event, you’re much more likely to be getting the truth of the day, at least as that person saw it.

  • Rainbow Dash March 28, 2016 at 2:02 pm

    ‘It’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you; it’s what you leave behind you when you go”.

    ~Randy Travis

    • Lastdays March 28, 2016 at 2:32 pm

      “hey bartender, gimme another drink. and some clothes too”

      ~Randy Travis

  • IDIOT COMMENTERS March 28, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    Young was the absolute dictator and monarch of the utah territory. To claim he didn’t authorize the siege at Mountain Meadows is just nonsense, especially when you consider the amount of resources and effort (you could even say logistics) put into the siege and massacre. Then consider how long it took for one single man to be punished for the entire massacre. To claim it wasn’t an official action condoned and sponsored by Brigham and his theocracy just is not logical.

    • RealMcCoy March 28, 2016 at 3:25 pm

      Any logic applied to mormon ‘history’ will unravel the whole story. From the pre-Columbian history of the Americas, of which there is not a shred of evidence supporting mormonism, to the Mountain Meadow massacre, of which there is no plausable way Brigham did not have his support on the murders.
      Naysayers should reference that President Joseph Fielding Smith, the tenth LDS prophet, declared that “Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground.”
      So in reality their entire history and faith hinges on blind belief and ignoring historical facts.

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