Friday, May 22, 2009

When is a Massacre not a massacre

That is a very good question. I started out using the conventional name to which we have become accustomed. In Tennessee it is most commonly called Tennessee’s Mormon Massacre. In Utah, I have heard it called the Cane Creek Massacre. Either one will work, but a poster who for some reason has decided to remain anonymous asked the question; is this really a massacre?

Massacre is a word used to evoke an emotional response. Many times that response is justified. I won’t list the Massacres known through history, but seldom have as few as five people been killed. One exception is the Boston Massacre; which helped ignite the American Revolution. Only five were killed in the riots that day. But to equate the events of August 10, 1884 to the Boston Massacre would be misleading. The events at Cane Creek did not precipitate a comparable response.

My anonymous poster described it as more like the shootout at the O.K. corral. But that is misleading too. With a few notable exceptions, Mountain Meadows, Crooked River, and at Gallatin, Missouri, Mormons have not resorted to violence. Some missionaries bluffed about carrying guns, but I have seen no records of their having to use them.

One comparison I’ve heard that seems to fit best is the Martyrdom of Joseph Smith. Some of the prisoners were armed, including Joseph, but ultimately there was no contest. The mob was too big and well armed. They killed who they wanted to kill and left when they were done.

Another comparison in Wounded Knee. Yes, I know far more people were killed at Wounded Knee, but the battle was equally one sided. And the threat posed by the Native Americans was arguably just as false.

The LDS Branch at Cane Creek was also heavily outgunned that day. Only two of the Mormons were armed that day and only one returned fire. By all accounts the Mormons only fired one shot. Compared to a mob of twelve or more vigilantes, there was little doubt this was a predominantly one sided fight. Maybe massacre isn't the best word, but I can't think of a better one.

Cane Creek Killings? Tennessee Mormon Martyrdom? Lewis LDS Lynching? I don't think so.

The earliest use of the word massacre I have found comes from a Deseret News article published in Salt Lake City on August 19th, 1884. Thereafter, it is picked up by newspapers across the U. S. and even in Europe. Before this date most newspapers used the word “Murders”, “Martyrdom” or “Tragedy”. For the sake of clarity, however, I will continue to use Massacre.


In The Doghouse said...

So, for clarity, a massacre is a fight in which one side clearly out numbers the other? Sounds accurate to me...When one team mercilessly out scores another team, it is often said, "they massacred them". If that is the case, then IMHO the term you have used is appropriate.

BruceCrow said...

Good point. Though in sports the term is usually used as hyperbole. Only the Aztecs literally killed the losing team.

I guess my unspoken question is how many murdered people does it take to qualify for a massacre. The answer, I think, is that it is pointless question. In our modern world, definitions are based on usage. We use it this way, therefore it is correct.

Ardis E. Parshall said...

I don't think numbers of the dead are the most relevant measurement. The one-sidedness of an event seems a fair criterion for judging an event as a massacre.

So does the unexpectedness of the attack, which is why "shootout" fails as an appropriate label -- the Mormon congregation did not go to church expecting to have to battle for their lives. The only weapons available to the Mormons were there only by coincidence, because the meeting was at a home; had a chapel been available, chances are there would have been nothing available for defense.

Another criterion would be the invasive nature of the attack. The attackers had no legitimate business at the Condor home and invaded the home. The Mormons present were on their own ground minding their own peaceful business in the form of singing, praying, and preaching, not attempting to interfere with any legitimate activities of non-Mormons in the area.

I understand from others of your posts, Bruce, that modern apologists who seek to absolve the mobbers of their crime view the missionaries as having invaded Tennessee and violated the sanctity of homes there. Even granting for the sake of argument that such a paranoid, inbred, backward, bigoted view had even a shred of objective truth, the Cane Creek massacre still qualifies as a massacre on the grounds of its one-sidedness: The Mormon missionaries had words, and testimony, and hymns, and the Bible. The mobbers came against them with guns, with masked faces, with overwhelming numbers, and with the blatant threat of physical violence.

I can't imagine anybody in your neighborhood agreeing to let Mormons get away with referring to "the shootout at Mountain Meadows." No Mormon would try. Cane Creek was a massacre for all of the very same reasons why Mountain Meadows was a massacre.

BruceCrow said...

Well said, Ardis. In defense of ordinary people here in Tennessee, no one I have spoken to here has ever defended the actions of the mob. Even throughout the U. S. people will only do so if they were able to do so in anonymity. Trying to justify the mob's actions is indefensible and they know it.