Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A hodge-podge & a movie review

Sage's photo of a homestead in the Mojave Desert, 2005.

When I’ve taken the dog out in the morning the past couple of days, I’ve noticed Orion is back in the sky, tucked in between the hemlock and the maple along the back fence. Over the next couple of months, it’ll rise earlier and also higher, so that by mid-winter the constellation will be high overhead an hour or so after dark. Just a reminder the seasons are changing.

I didn’t want to get up this morning, and I’m now breaking my rule not to say anything about work... Last night I was at a local government planning board meeting that went on and on and on, till 10:15 PM. I kept thinking, we’re paying an architect, a civil engineer, and a contractor overtime to deal with this. It’s no wonder I’ve been having weird dreams. Now, to break my other taboo:

“Daddy, the NFL is not as strong this year,” I was informed this morning.
“Why is that,” I asked.
“It’s just the first week and all these big guys are now hurt,” and she went on listing all those who are hurt, acting like they’re here best friends.
“How do you know this stuff?” I asked.

Tomorrow is 911, a tragic day in American history. I can’t believe it’s been seven years since the tragedy. Last year I noted the date with a post on the Mountain Meadow’s Massacre, which also occurred on the September 11. This was the largest massacre in the history of the west and occurred fifty miles west of where I use to live. After my post, several of you all suggested that I watch the movie “September Dawn.” I finally got around to seeing the film last weekend and here’s a review.

September Dawn, Christopher Cain, director, 2007.

The film is based on a historical event and the film maker seems to be accurate in his retelling of what happened. Of course, there’s a lot we’ll never know as the Mormon militia killed off everyone over the age of six as a way to keep the story silent. The film places much of the blame on the Brigham Young, the President and Prophet of the Latter-day Saint Church. Although Young sent word to Southern Utah to let the wagon train go (his message arrived after the massacre occurred), he seems to be responsible for setting the stage for what happened in the summer of 1857. Much of the dialogue with Young is taken from actual transcripts. Young, who was ignoring attempts by the national government to enforce laws within the Utah territory, was preparing for war with the United States. In preparation, he told those in his church not to trade with wagon trains heading for California. He also allowed his followers (and their Paiute allies) to take (steal) what they wanted from the wagon trains. It was into this setting that the Fancher Party found themselves in during that summer.

Of course, there are parts of the movie that is fiction, such as the love story between a member of the party and a local Mormon boy. This love story seemed a bit distracting, when set against the tragedy. Also, the wagon train members seem way too righteous. The train’s preacher forgives his assailant right before he is killed. In historical records, there seems to have been problem with the wagon train members bragging about having the gun that killed Joseph Smith and about being a part of the groups in Missouri who had “persecuted” the Mormons in the late 1830s. Much of this was probably a macho attitude by people desperate to trade for supplies before setting out into the Mojave Desert for California. Most of the wagon train members wouldn’t have been of age to have taken part in the events in Missouri. Another criticism I have of the movie is that the meadows in which the film was made is a lot more fertile than the one in Utah (the film was made in Canada). Of course, filming on location would have been difficult since the site is owned by the Mormon Church.

There is no doubt there is anti-Mormon bias in this film, even though I’m not sure how one could tell the story and there not be such bias. Movies like Riders of the Purple Sage (based on Zane Grey’s classic book that’s definitely anti-Mormon) have been made in which the Mormon characters in the book are portrayed to look like some Amish-like sect. Such portrayal seems weird in Grey’s story, but would be impossible to pull off in this account of an event that actually happened. Not only does the movie depict what happened in 1857, it also shows the terror brought on by the Danites, a group of thugs used by the Mormon Church leaders to keep the faithful in line and to seek vengeance upon the their enemies. The film tells about a case of a man higher up in a church being given another man’s wife, which was known to happen. The film also depicts secret Mormon temple ceremonies. Such depictions are seen as sacrilegious to the faithful; however, to understand the Mormon world-view, one must have some knowledge of what goes on in these ceremonies in which the Mormon account of creation, the fall, and salvation are reenacted.

Over all, I can’t say this was a good movie. The love story was cheesy! The leading character in the film, Bishop Jacob Samuelson (played by Jon Voight) is fiction, but because of his name and the fact his ranch is location near Mountain Meadows, he kept reminding me of Jacob Hamblin. Maybe it was because of knowing too much about the event and the history around it, that I kept thinking Samuelson was Hamblin and that the film was being unfair to him and his role in the events. But then, the screen writer needed to have a character like this, one who lived near by and had two sons, to set up the tension and the love story in the movie.

For those wanting to know more about the events, I again recommend these two books: Juanita Brooks’, Mountain Meadows Massacre or Will Bagley’s Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows.


  1. I always find it somewhat amusing (annoying?) that I took astronomy to learn about constellations, and instead learned about physics and lifetimes of stars. Boo. Therefore, it's amazing to me when people can really tell stuff just by using constellations. Cool.

    I loved the anecdote about your daughter :) Too cute!

    Never heard of the movie, but then, I'm not much of a movie goer. Or renter. Sounds like an interesting topic in history though, one of which I'm pretty ignorant.

  2. I still can't get into American Football, and probably never will. Your girl is doing much better than me :)

  3. She knows this stuff, Dad, because she's hanging out with 15 year old boys, remember?

  4. Rules are meant to be broken.

    Krakauer talked a lot about this event in his book too. Most of his references were in the two books you listed at the end.

  5. I remember that post; it was the first I had ever heard of that incident. I guess most of us had forgotten 9/11 before the planes ever hit the buildings.

    Think I'll pass on the movie. Sounds like typical Hollywood romanticizing.

  6. TC, maybe they should teach astromony as a world lit class and tie together legends with the study of the stars

    Mother Hen, I'm not a big fan of it, either (unless the Steelers are playing!)

    Murf, I don't think that's it

    Ed, yes, he did and his is a good book too

    Diesel, I don't blame you for skipping the movie, but the events leading up to the massacre are interesting.

  7. I can't believe it has been 7 years either.

  8. Seven years down the lane...its so fast, man. We take life for granted and worry a lot over unnecessary things in life. Most of us set aside the important elements of caring and tolerance, until something such as September 11 occurs, then only we come to sense the grandeur of creation - LOVE. Lets humble ourselves in this life and learn to live the life to the fullest with utmost care and love for everyone. After all we are not going to lose anything.

  9. What I know about Mountain Meadows comes from Krakauer's Under The Banner of Heaven. Krakauer maintains that John Lee led the Mormons, dressed as Paiutes, on the orders of Brigham Young to attack the train (The Fratcher Party out of Arkansas, not Missouri) because James Buchanan had declared a war on Utah to divert attention from North-South tensions. Afterward, Young sent Lee to the Colorado River to run a ferry which we now know as "Lee's Ferry."

    Fascinating stuff. I wish I'd gone up there to see the place when I spent a few days at Cedar City some years back.


  10. Kenju, time flies

    Cyclops, beautiful words

    Shermans, yes, the party was from Arkansas, but there were some in the party, that had been picked up along the way, who were from Missouri. Also, some of them bragged of having been involved in the Missouri incidents. A futher rumor was that some of them were involved in Parley Pratt's death earlier that year in Arkansas. Pratt, who was a well-known early Mormon leader, was killed by the legal husband of one of his many wives.

  11. Yes, time flies. No matter what and how we are affected by any partiular event. Yes, I am saying this at a time when I am not in the best of mood, spirits or whatever.

    I would like you to check BTT and put in your thoughts, preferably on your blog and link it there. Meanwhile, you an check my thoughts too, posted on my other blog..

    Please, for once indulge me!!

  12. What character in the homestead. Thanks for the review. I certainly hope building business runs smoothly.

  13. Great hodge podge post - I enjoyed it very much.

    I also enjoyed Under The Banner Of Heaven. It came to mind recently when I say an article on Elizabeth Smart, and recalled Krakauer's addressing that incident, as well.

  14. I can understand why you broke a couple of your rules. The first out of frustration, and the second - well just the adorableness of it all.

    Great review of the movie. I doubt I'll see it, but I learned quite a bit from your post alone.