Will Bagley — a historian who wrote clear-eyed and detailed accounts of Utah’s past, particularly in a comprehensive and controversial book about the Mountain Meadows Massacre — has died.
Bagley died Tuesday in Salt Lake City at age 71 after suffering a stroke, according to his brother, Pat Bagley, The Salt Lake Tribune’s editorial cartoonist.
Will Bagley’s best-known book was “Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows,” published in August 2002. The book updated Juanita Brooks’ legendary 1950 volume, “The Mountain Meadows Massacre,” about the murders of 120 California-bound Arkansas settlers crossing southern Utah, killed by Mormon militia men Sept. 11, 1857.
Among the most incendiary points in the book is Bagley’s argument that Young, then president and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, likely orchestrated the slaughter from Salt Lake City.
Bagley didn’t explicitly say Young ordered the attack. But he insisted that “claiming that Brigham Young had nothing to do with Mountain Meadows is akin to arguing that Abraham Lincoln had nothing to do with the Civil War.”
In her review in The New York Review of Books, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Caroline Fraser called the book “an exhaustive, meticulously documented, highly readable history that captures the events and atmosphere that gave rise to the massacre, as well as its long tortuous aftermath. Bagley has taken great care in negotiating the minefield presented by what remains of the historical record.”
Fellow historian Brigham D. Madsen praised “Blood of the Prophets” in his review in the Western Historical Quarterly: “This new account of the massacre is a remarkable re-creation of the event and the cover-up that followed. The hallmark of the book is deep and thorough research with documentation never before examined, including many items from the Latter-day Saints archives.”
News that Bagley was working on “Blood of the Prophets” was enough to prompt church leaders to commission their own book, deploying historians Ronald Waker, Richard Turley and Glen Leonard to the task. Their acclaimed book, “Massacre at Mountain Meadows,” was published in August 2008.
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