This historical novel about the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre is sub-titled “America’s First 9/11” which although strictly accurate, in the sense that it was an atrocity perpetrated upon American citizens by representatives of a religious minority group on a September 11th, the story is sufficiently dramatic to have no need of that particular comparison.

Popular culture today retains little memory of this incident, although it was notorious during much of the last half of the 19th century, and still colors the way that Mormons, or the LDS church was seen in popular fiction like Zane Grey’s “Riders of the Purple Sage”. Generally it has fallen out of mind exactly how much a separate and isolated country to itself was the Mormon colony-state in Utah, for the first three or four decades after it’s founding under the iron rule of Brigham Young in the mid 1840s. But it was exactly that, and contented bitterly with the established United States… from which many of the original Mormon settlers had removed themselves. As the westering urge and the Gold Rush poured more and more American emigrants to California and Oregon, they came into contention again, since much of the established route to California led through Mormon settlements in the Great Basin.

At a point when the LDS settlers in Utah were most particularly aggrieved with the United States, a prosperous and well-equipped wagon-train party from Arkansas, had the extraordinary ill-luck to be passing through, intending to take the southern trail (which follows the present day I-15) from Salt lake City towards California. Near present-day Cedar City, they were attacked by Piute Indians and besieged for five days. At that point, they appeared to be rescued by the local Mormon communities’ militia unit. They accepted the protection offered, laid down their arms, and escorted by the militia members began to walk towards the nearest settlement. But at a signal, the Mormon militiamen turned their weapons on members of the wagon party. They either executed, or allowed their Indian allies to execute all of the wagon-train travelers but for a number of small children and babies.

“White Flag” tells the story of the massacre and the aftermath, covering much the same territory and identifying the same parties responsible for the massacre and the resulting cover-up as Will Bagley’s “Blood of the Prophets”. Capurro’s retelling starts almost classically with two venturesome brothers, Cao and Henry, and the injured survivor of the siege staggering into their wilderness camp. The brothers and Molly Anderson, the Mormon girl who Cao loves, are then launched into a tangled story of murder, betrayal, and massacre, as the narrative alternates between their journey to find out the truth, and the forces and individuals surrounding the doomed camp at Mountain Meadows. The characters are well-drawn, especially the guilt-ridden Phillip Klingensmith (the authors’ great great grandfather), and Ira Hatch, the scout and enforcer… both of whom know very well that what they are about to do will have unbearable repercussions. The general tone is grim and realistic, but some descriptions of the massacre itself, especially the incidents involving the Indians, seem to be a little more lurid and melodramatic, too much like a contemporary Victorian novel. The final denouement is also sketchily developed. The actions of Molly Anderson are more told-about, than described and allowed to develop naturally… so her vengeance at the end of the story rather comes as a surprise. It might also made a much cleaner story arc to have omitted some of the other murders, and concentrated on the Massacre and it’s aftermath. But “White Flag” is still a very readable account of a little-remembered episode in the history of the American West.

“White Flag” is available here, and from the publisher, Author House. The authors’ website is here.

Sgt. Mom is a freelance writer who lives in San Antonio, and blogs at The Daily Brief. Her most recent book is available here, and more about her other writing projects is at www.celiahayes.com

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