September Dawn (2006)

 

 

 

Director:    Christopher Cain.

Starring:     Terence Stamp (Brigham Young), Trent Ford (Jonathan Samuelson), Krisinda Cain (Young Woman), Shaun Johnston (Captain Fancher), Franklin E. Levinson (Captain Baker), Jon Gries (John D. Lee), Lolita Davidovich (Nancy Dunlap), Jon Voight (Jacob Samuelson), Taylor Handley (Micah Samuelson), Daniel Libman (Reverend Grant Hudson), Tamara Hope (Emily Hudson), Barbara Gates Wilson (Martha Hudson),  Huntley Ritter (Robert Humphries),  Dean Cain (Joseph Smith),  Ron Webber (Hyrum Smith). 

Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857 in which Mormons massacre a wagon train of settlers

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

July 30, 1875. Salt Lake City.

Brigham Young  is being asked a series of questions in court. Brigham Young is 75 years old. He cannot travel to Beaver because he has been for some time an invalid. In the year 1857 he was Governor of the Territory, ex-officio Superintendent to Indian Affairs and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

March 23, 1877. Mountain Meadows, Utah Territory. A man and a woman drive out in a wagon to look at the meadow. The woman says the last time she was here she was just six months old.

Flashback. Pioneers are coming across Utah Territory. Ahead of them are six men on horseback. The leaders of the wagon train ride up to them. They are Captain Alexander Fancher and Captain John Baker. The six men want to make sure that the pioneers do not stop here but keep going. They will not help the wagon train in any way. A woman named Nancy Dunlop rides up to them from the wagon train. Then General Jacob Samuelson and his two sons, Jonathan and Micah, come riding up in a wagon. Samuelson is the Bishop of the Church, the General of the local militia and the town mayor.

The General says they have had a lot of trouble with emigrants on the trail here. He talks about Christian charity, but wants to check out the wagon train before he decides to help them or not. The General and his sons ride past the wagons looking at each one and at the people. One of the Generalís son, Jonathan, notices a pretty blonde girl (named Emily) and she notices him. Most of the emigrants are from Arkansas and Missouri. The General says they can stay for no more than two weeks in a place where they will be safe from hostile Indians. As the General drives home he tells the boys that he wants them to be spies checking on every aspect of the emigrants and the wagon train.

Micah already has two wives and the General says he should take a third. Jonathan has no wives as of yet. The General says the lad is a little too particular.

Back at the wagon train Emily helps Robert care for his child. He recently lost his wife in child birth and has to care for the child alone.

The General prays and thanks God for delivering the Gentiles into their hands. He prays: "Surely these people are cursed beyond hope of redemption. . . . Curse all the people from Missouri who drove us from our land. May these children of Satan go to hell! Amen."

Nancy speaks with Alexander telling him that she has a bad feeling about this place. She says it isnít a safe place and they should move on as soon as possible. Her children have only her to depend upon, since her husband Lorenzo got sick. Alexander reassures her by pointing out that she has an entire wagon train to help her.

The General will be gone for several days so he puts Jonathan in charge of his brother. Jonathan rides out to the wagon train. Alexander shows him their selection of horses. The horses are some of Kentuckyís finest. When they get to California they want to raise race horses.  One of the horses is said to be unmanageable. They only keep him for breeding purposes. Jonathan loves a challenge and goes over to the horse very slowly.  Emily watches him. The horse gets very excited, so Jonathan turns his back to him. The horse calms down.  Jonathan is what they call a "horse whisperer". Emily tells Jonathan: "Very impressive." Emily suggests that Jonathan try to ride the horse. Alexander tells him to come back tomorrow so he can have a go at it.

The General has flashbacks of the harassment of the Mormons back in Missouri. An armed mob of 100 men kills the leader, Joseph Smith, as well as other Mormons.

Jonathan comes back to ride the horse. While preparing the horse, Jonathan sees Emily with a baby and is shocked. Jonathan takes the saddle off the horse. He is soon up and riding. When he looks around for Emily he sees that she has gone.

Brigham Young preaches to his congregation that Joseph Smith himself used what we would call "vigilantes" to punish those who have committed a sin. Night riders go out and cut off a manís testicles and nail them to the door. The sins of some are so great that they know they will not get into heaven. But by the shedding of their own blood they may be saved. (A justification for vigilantism, if there ever was one.)

Emily comes out to watch Jonathan again. She congratulates him on his success with the horse. He tells her that she has a beautiful baby and she tells him that she is only helping to baby-sit. Robert comes down and says that Emily has been a great help to him. He challenges Jonathan to take the horse outside the little corral. Jonathan accepts the challenge. He has the horse jump over the fence and heads out with him with no problem.

Brigham Young says that President Buchanan is sending out troops to kill all the Indians and all the Mormons. He will remove him (Brigham) as Governor and give the Kingdom to the Mericats. He is declaring martial law. He adds: "We will not be run out. This time, we will stand and fight." He curses the Gentiles.

Alexander gives the horse to Jonathan. They shake hands. Emily is there. Jonathan tells her that she is different from any girl he has ever met. He refers to her as a Gentile, which causes some concern for Emily. She wants to know why people like her are called Gentiles. He tries to explain that it is not meant as an insult. Jonathan quickly adds that he likes the idea that she is different from the other girls around here. He also says she is the prettiest girl he has ever seen.  His father, however, does not like different girls. He doesnít approve of Nancy Dunlop who wears menís clothing and carries a gun. Jonathan says the General sees Nancy as an abomination.

The General tells others about the bounty held by the emigrants, including a trunk filled with gold. Another man says that he has heard that there are a bunch of Missouri wildcats on the wagon train that brag about killing Joseph Smith and that carry the very gun that killed him. Some want to join the army and exterminate the Mormons. He adds that the emigrants could be killed as common enemies.

The General says that Mountain Meadows is a perfect place for an ambush and a siege. In the room at the head of the table is none other than Brigham Young. Brigham says that he used to protect the emigrants, but now he will loose the Indians upon them and ". . . if any miserable scoundrel comes here to our Zion, cut his throat." He adds that all this must be kept absolutely secret and will not be discussed even among their own people.

Nancy warns Emily about the Mormons who are "different". Then Robert tells Emily that no good will come of her relationship with Jonathan. He adds that sheíll be just one of Jonathanís many wives.

A rider tries to chase Jonathan down. The rider turns out to be Micah. Jonathan asks his brother why is he spying on him? Because father is a little worried about him. Micah asks Jonathan if Emily would convert? Jonathan says maybe he will be the one to convert. He rides away.

Father comes in to speak with Jonathan. He wants to know where the horse came from and he wants to know why. Jonathan tells his dad that he has the emigrants figured out all wrong. They are just going on to California. The emigrants donít even know who Joseph Smith was.  It is apparent that Jonathan has a great deal of distrust and dislike for his father. He claims that dad let the Apostle take his mother away and let him kill her. He starts choking the General. Micah pulls him off their father.

The General returns with all his older sons. Jonathan is being taken to Temple even without a "recommend". Emily looks for Jonathan everyday, but he does not come. When others take the oath, Jonathan just stands there.  At night by the river Jonathan comes to see Emily. He lifts her up onto his horse. They kiss. He says he will always come back to her and that he loved her from the first sight of her. She asks Jonathan how many wives does his father have? 18. Brigham Young has 27. But Jonathan says if he married someone like Emily, why would he want to marry anyone else? Emily suddenly screams. There is a dead body floating in the river. Itís Nancy Dunlop. Alexander tells Jonathan itís best that he leaves. Robert doesnít put it so nicely.

Jonathan sleeps by one of the big rock outcrops. Emily finds him. She says that they are moving out by morning. He says he is coming with her to California. He wants to marry her. She presents him with her crucifix necklace as her commitment to marry her. He gives her his locket with a picture of his mother in it. They kiss. He has to get back, but will return before first light.

The General called a meeting of the Saints. Everybody is pledged to tell no one about their plans. All the emigrants must die or they will kill us, it is claimed. Jonathan stands up to say that he spied on the emigrants and they said nothing about killing Mormons. The General has Jonathan arrested. The audience starts chanting: "Blood atonement! Blood atonement!"

Jonathan is chained. He begs his father to let him go. And begs him not to kill the emigrants. The General and other Mormons speak with the Paiute Indians to say that the emigrants want to kill both the Mormons and the Indians. The Mormons also promise the Indians guns and ammunition and help. They also say that the Indian braves will be protected by the Great Spirit and will not die.

The first emigrant to be killed is a young blonde girl. The emigrants are able to drive off the Indian attack. The chief is furious that so many of his braves were killed. He refuses to participate in a second attack.

Robert volunteers to ride to the Mormons to get help. (They still believe it is an Indian attack.) It has now been four days since the first attack. The attacking Mormons receive an order from President Haight sent by the Council at Cedar City and approved by all the highest authorities. The leader of the attackers, Brother Lee, says he cannot follow the order. It calls for the extermination of all the emigrants. "None who are old enough to talk are to be spared." is the order.

The Mormons tell all kinds of lies about the emigrants in order to put the foot soldiers into a rage to exterminate the emigrants. The men are dressed up like Indians. Now the Mormons start killing any "Gentile" they see. Robert runs into Micah and says thank God, but Micah shoots him dead. Micah comes to speak to his brother. Through the window, he tells Jonathan: "I canít do it any more. The Indians and the wagon train. Its awful, awful." Jonathan breaks the glass of the window, grabs Micah and threatens to cut his throat on the glass shards if Micah doesnít tell him what happened. "Blood atonement" says Micah. Jonathan tells his brother to release him, but Micah says that itís already too late. Micah gets Jonathan a hacksaw. He tells Jonathan to run away from this place and never look back.

September 11, 1857. The Mormons appear under a white flag. Captain Fancher breathes a sigh of relief and says: "Thank God, itís the Mormons." They let the Mormons come forward. Brother Lee pretends that they have the Indians under control. "Come with us and youíll be safe." They must give up their weapons to convince the Indians that they, the militia, have taken the emigrants into their custody. The emigrant men donít like giving up their weapons, but Lee keeps talking trying to convince them. The minister tells Captain Fancher that they must agree because they are without water, with little food and almost no ammunition. The Captain agrees. Children eight years and younger are put in separate wagons. The weapons are all placed in another wagon.

The emigrants above eight years of age are formed into a line and walked away from the wagon train. Along the way the men are separated from the women. The Mormons dressed as Indians wait in ambush in the woods to pounce on the unarmed people.

Brother Lee pulls his weapons and shouts: "Mormons! Do your duty!" A Mormon shoots a woman and her child saying: "I do this out of duty!" Everyone but the very youngest are killed. Micah dressed as an Indian slits the throats of youngsters. Emily and Robertís baby girl hide in the woods.

Jonathan arrives at the abandoned wagon train. He quickly goes to search for the survivors. He comes upon the scene of the massacre. Mormons are killing anyone wounded, but not dead yet. Some Mormons are taking anything of value from the dead.

Micah finds Emily and Robertís baby. Micah tells himself all the Brethren  must do their duty. He is about to shoot Emily when his brother Jonathan appears. He tells Micah that he will be cursed for this. Micah shouts he is already cursed. He asks Jonathan to shoot him; to put him out of his misery. He begs. He wants to atone for his sins through blood atonement. He says kill him before he kills Emily. Jonathan shoots Micah, who before he dies, says "Thank you."

The General shoots and hits Emily in the chest. Jonathan runs over to her. He tells her theyíre going to California together. She cries and says she doesnít think she will make it to California. He begs her not to die. She dies.

Jonathan puts his pistol to his head but sees Robertís baby girl.

Back to the present. The baby, now a grown woman, says that they saved each other that day.   She also says that sixteen children survived, too young to remember, too young to tell. They were taken to Mormon families to be raised. It was a year and a half before the United States Army tracked them down and returned them to their relatives.

Flashback. John D. Lee is brought to his place of execution by federal troops. Brigham Young says in court that he only heard about the massacre through floating rumors many years after the actual massacre. He says he did receive a report from Isaac C. Haight from Cedar City.

Twenty years after the fact, John D. Lee, the adopted son of Brigham Young, was the only person convicted and executed for the slaughter of 120 men, women and children at the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

To this day the Mormon Church disavows responsibility for the massacre and continues to deny that Brigham Young had anything to do with it.

 

Good movie but bad history.  From what I read about the massacre of the wagon train it was John D. Lee who organized and carried out the massacre.  And when Brigham Young learned about it he had Lee executed.  I think that the movie either is, or borders on being, very anti-Mormon and this type of religious bias thinking doesn't help any of us.  The movie really presents a conspiracy theory that the whole of the Mormon hierarchy of leadership planned and then gave out the order for a massacre.  And, as you probably already know, conspiracy theories are almost never possible to disprove, because there is always someone else in on the conspiracy behind the scenes manipulating people and events while keeping everything totally quiet.  It is only fair to dismiss the history in the movie except for the actual event itself.    There is enough religious bias in the world without adding to it with biased conspiracy theories. 

But that doesn't mean the movie wasn't interesting to watch.  It definitely kept my attention.  So watch it, but remember it ain't necessarily so. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.  

 

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