Monday, August 11, 2008

Guest Blog--Juanita Brooks by Levi S. Peterson

A new book about the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre is coming out this month. Massacre at Mountain Meadows written by Glen M. Leonard, Richard E. Turley, Jr., and Ronald W. Walker is scheduled for release in less than two weeks.

I read an article about the tragedy printed in the official magazine of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and have no real desire to know more about it. Richard Turley authored that article.

However, as I chatted online with family and friends about the Massacre, the name of Juanita Brooks came up. She wrote an historic book that was originally published in 1950 by Stanford University Press based on diaries and court records. It is titled The Mountain Meadows Massacre and is still in print.

One of the unique characteristics of the new book is it is written by historians associated with the LDS Church. At the time that Brooks's book was published, she was not at all sure if her written words would jeopardize her standing in the Mormon Church.

When one of my friends mentioned her son-in-law is a descendent of Juanita Brooks, I was curious about this woman and looked up information about her on the internet. She was born in northern Nevada in 1898 and grew up in a small rural Mormon community, and yet she earned a Master of Arts degree at Columbia University in New York City in 1929. Who was this extraordinary woman?

Fortunately for me, the Geisel Library has a copy of Levi S. Peterson’s book Juanita Brooks: Mormon Woman Historian. Without all of the appendices, the book is over 400 pages long, and I have faithfully read every word, rather than skimming it as my husband recommended. I have been left with the overwhelming sense that I am privileged to have become acquainted with this unusual woman.

Anyone who is Brooks's descendent can be very proud of that fact. She was an incredible individual who worked hard as a mother, wife, and historian. She never betrayed her own sense of personal integrity. She grew up in an era where LDS historians put their pioneer ancestors on pedestals. Any history or mention in a journal that would have tarnished the haloed or hallowed depiction of those ancestors was hidden away or rejected. Brooks stood fast in her efforts to edit and publish journals with all of the original misspellings and idiosyncrasies.

After reading the biography by Peterson, I realized Brooks never did accuse Brigham Young of ordering the deaths of the Franch party from Arkansas. She did, however, use documented evidence that he was complicit in the cover-up that followed the massacre of about 120 unarmed individuals.

One of my favorite quotes from Brooks is: “There is No such thing as good writing; there is only good re-writing” (p. 388). Her life was spent in constant revisions and frequent rejections. Her early years were a struggle but by the end of her life she was recognized as one of the outstanding historians in the state of Utah.


Wanna-Be Lit said...

I am very proud of you for reading all four hundred pages.

notaconnoisseur said...

She kept a carbon copy of every letter she ever wrote, I guess, so there were endless notes about what happened in her life on a daily basis. Over all though, I thought that Peterson handled the biography very well. I really got a sense of how hard she worked and how determined she was.