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Juanita Brooks, Courageous Historian of the Southwest

Last Friday marked the 112th anniversary of the birth of Juanita Brooks, premier Utah historian. Brooks was born January 15, 1898. This year also marks 60 years since the publication of her investigative masterpiece, The Mountain Meadows Massacre.

    That 1950 book gave America a nuanced investigation into the hidden story of a slaughter by Mormon settlers in southwestern Utah of a group of migrants bound for California in 1857. In it, Brooks wrote penetratingly about Utah and the people who lived there.
    A Mormon herself, Brooks uncovered long-hidden pioneer diaries while on the Writers’ Project in Utah in the 1930s. Working late at night on a typewriter in her kitchen, she continued to explore the episode for years, as recounted in her remarkable memoir, Quicksand and Cactus. Her persistence and publication defied church elders, who tried to keep the massacre hidden. Every epic about Utah from that time up to the HBO series Big Love has had to reckon with that episode of mass murder and cover-up.

    Jon Krakauer called Mountain Meadows Massacre “groundbreaking … an extraordinary work of history.” With it, noted the Salt Lake Tribune just over a year ago, Brooks provided a “painful reminder that the propensity for unspeakable violence resides in every human heart,” and began a journey that concluded recently with the Mormon church finally issuing its own report on the massacre. An example of brave exposure for this Martin Luther King Day.

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