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You are here: Greater Things > Topical > Mountain Meadows Massacre > Intro Rebuttal by Shane Baker

Correction of Factual Errors Regarding 1999 Archeological Research on MMM Site

From: Shane Baker
Sent: Friday, November 22, 2002 12:22 PM
Subject: GT Contact

Dear Mr. Allan:

It has recently come to my attention that your “Greater Things” web site includes a segment containing information on the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  Please note that there are several factual errors in your introductory statement regarding this historic site.  I refer in particular to your discussion of the 1999 archaeological research at the massacre site conducted in conjunction with the construction of the new monument. 

The introduction includes the statement “a BYU team’s backhoe accidentally uncovered some bones from a known grave site.”  This is incorrect in several regards.  The remains were in fact uncovered by a private construction company that was hired to construct the new monument.  Brigham Young University did not have anything whatsoever to do with the hiring or operation of the backhoe.  Archaeologists from our office were asked to monitor for archaeological materials during a portion of the construction process, but we were not present when the remains were uncovered by the backhoe and had no direct involvement in that discovery.  The discovery was made by construction workers who had no relationship with the university.  The Office of Public Archaeology at BYU was subsequently asked by the LDS Church to handle the archaeological issues created by the accidental discovery, and we therefore conducted an archaeological dig following the discovery in order to recover the balance of the remains contained in the partially disturbed burial pit.

It is also a distortion of the facts to state that the location where the remains were found was “a known grave site.”  The actual locations of the graves (there were clearly more than one) of the victims of the massacre has proven to be an issue that is not clear from the historical records or any other information that was available prior to the construction of the new monument.  The fact of the matter is that intensive non-invasive archaeological research conducted prior to the construction failed to confirm that there were any graves present in the immediate area of the 1932 monument.  Although this kind of data can never be 100% conclusive, it did not give any support to the suggestion that graves were in fact present.  The human remains were actually uncovered at a spot located on the very edge of the deep arroyo at the site OUTSIDE the boundaries of and some distance away from the 1932 marker, which was held by some to mark the original location of a grave created by the US Army about a year after the massacre (an assumption that was also not defensible in light of very ambiguous and contradictory historical information).   

You also make the statement that “With pressure from the LDS church and Governor Leavitt, the bones were in short order reburied without the tests being done on them as are called for by Utah Law.”  This is also factually incorrect.  Without trying to explain the complicated legal issues involved (with which you are clearly not familiar) I can simply state that there is NO Utah law prescribing any kind of scientific tests on human remains recovered from private property.  Since the project to construct a new monument was being conducted with private money on private land, the only law that applied is the Utah State Body Desecration Act, which requires that the remains be removed by someone authorized to do so under the law (a mortician, law enforcement officer, archaeologist, etc.).  Cemeteries and human remains on private land are frequently moved without the involvement of any kind of archaeologists or the completion of any kind of studies.  The LDS Church chose to voluntarily apply for a permit through the Utah Division of State History to have our office remove the remains, and by so doing voluntarily agreed to abide by the recommendations of the State Archaeologist that a more complete study of the human remains be undertaken.  I wish to stress that a relatively thorough study WAS in fact completed prior to the reburial of the human remains.  The LDS Church took absolutely NO ACTION that I am aware of to interfere with this process.  What did happen is that private individuals with no LDS affiliation sought to bring pressure to bear on the executive branch of the state government.  These individuals suggested that a public disturbance would be created in the event that the bones were not all reburied prior to the dedication of the new monument.  Governor Leavitt moved to truncate the scientific investigation in order to try and minimize the trauma caused to some of the family members of the victims who were opposed to the studies which had been requested by the State Archaeologist.  From a professional standpoint I can tell you that there is no agreed upon “standard” battery of tests that have to be completed in every study of this kind.  The work done on a set of remains like this could be protracted almost indefinitely (if time and money allowed), but such studies are also often completed to lesser degrees of detail than what was undertaken on the Mountain Meadows Massacre victim’s remains.  So it is not accurate to say that the bones were reburied without being “tested.”   A forensic examination was completed and a report has been released of the findings.

The assertion that the events surrounding the forensic examination and the Governor’s decision to not protract the studies constituted some sort of “sloppy cover up” is absurd, and also incorrect.

I would respectfully request that you take measures to correct these inaccuracies as contained in your web page.  If you have any questions about the archaeological studies completed in conjunction with the construction of the new monument, would be happy to answer them.

Shane A. Baker
Archaeologist
Office of Public Archaeology
Brigham Young University
240 ALLN
Provo, UT  84602
(801)  422-0023

 

See also

Reburying the Dead of Mountain Meadows Massacre - index of MMM related material.

 

Posted by SDA Nov. 25, 2002

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