It is a well-known fact that the early Mormons suffered
a good deal of persecution at the hands of the Gentiles--i.e., non-Mormons.
The prophet Joseph Smith and his brother were murdered by a cowardly
mob that took the law into their own hands. A number of Mormons
lost their lives during these early years. Unfortunately, however,
many Mormon historians have overlooked the other side of the story.
During the early years of Mormonism it was frequently
alleged that the leaders of the church sanctioned the practice of
putting both Gentiles and Mormon apostates to death. In 1969-70,
we made a detailed study of the charges and published our conclusions
in a book entitled, The Mormon Kingdom, Vol. 2. The evidence that
we marshalled convinced us that many of the claims were genuine.
Since doing this research we found even more evidence
to verify that there was a conspiracy to destroy dissenters and
other people that the Mormon leaders hated.
While many Mormon scholars would like to scoff at
those who have seriously studied this matter, there is incontrovertible
proof that Brigham Young, the second prophet of the Mormon Church,
publicly preached a doctrine called "blood atonement."
Although one might think that the name of this doctrine came from
the atonement of Jesus on the cross, the truth of the matter is
that it relates to people being put to death. Brigham Young explained
this in a sermon given on September 21, 1856:
There are sins that men commit for which they
cannot receive forgiveness in this world, or in that which is
to come, and if they had their eyes open to see their true condition,
they would be perfectly willing to have their blood spilt upon
the ground, that the smoke thereof might ascend to heaven as an
offering for their sins; and the smoking incense would atone for
their sins, whereas, if such is not the case, they will stick
to them and remain upon them in the spirit world.
I know, when you hear my brethren telling about cutting people
off from the earth, that you consider it is strong doctrine; but
it is to save them, not to destroy them....
And further more, I know that there are transgressors, who, if
they knew themselves, and the only condition upon which they can
obtain forgiveness, would beg of their brethren to shed their
blood, that the smoke thereof might ascend to God as an offering
to appease the wrath that is kindled against them, and that the
law might have its course. I will say further; I have had men
come to me and offer their lives to atone for their sins.
It is true that the blood of the Son of God was shed for sins
through the fall and those committed by men, yet men can commit
sins which it can never remit.... There are sins that can be atoned
for by an offering upon an altar, as in ancient days; and there
are sins that the blood of a lamb, or a calf, or of turtle dove,
cannot remit, but they must be atoned for by the blood of the
Sermon by Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 4,
pages 53-54; also published in the Mormon Church's Deseret
News, 1856, page 235
On another occasion Brigham Young made this chilling
statement regarding a person's obligation to spill the blood of
those who committed serious sins:
Now take a person in this congregation who has
knowledge with regard to being saved... and suppose that he is
overtaken in a gross fault, that he has committed a sin that he
knows will deprive him of that exaltation which he desires, and
that he cannot attain to it without the shedding his blood, and
also knows that by having his blood shed he will atone for that
sin and be saved and exalted with the Gods, is there a man or
woman in this house but what would say, 'shed my blood that I
may be saved and exalted with the Gods?'
All mankind love themselves, and let these principles be known
by an individual, and he would be glad to have his blood shed.
That would be loving themselves, even unto an eternal exaltation.
Will you love your brothers and sisters likewise, when they have
committed a sin that cannot be atoned for without the shedding
of their blood? Will you love that man or woman well enough to
shed their blood? That is what Jesus Christ meant....
I could refer you to plenty of instances where men have been righteously
slain, in order to atone for their sins. I have seen scores and
hundreds of people for whom there would have been a chance...
if their lives had been taken and their blood spilled on the ground
as a smoking incense to the Almighty, but who are now angels to
the Devil... I have known a great many men who have left this
Church for whom there is no chance whatever for exaltation, but
if their blood had been spilled, it would have been better for
This is loving our neighbor as ourselves; if he needs help, help
him; and if he wants salvation and it is necessary to spill his
blood on the earth in order that he may be saved, spill it....
if you have sinned a sin requiring the shedding of blood, except
the sin unto death, would not be satisfied nor rest until your
blood should be spilled, that you might gain that salvation you
desire. That is the way to love mankind.
Sermon by President Brigham Young, delivered in the Mormon Tabernacle,
February 8, 1857; printed in the Deseret News, February
18, 1857; also reprinted in the Journal of Discourses,
Vol. 4, pages 219-220
These are only two of many "blood atonement"
sermons preached by Mormon leaders. Sandra Tanner, one of the authors
of this newsletter who is also the great-great-granddaughter of
Brigham Young, was greatly shocked when she read Young's sermons.
This, in fact, was an important factor in her decision to leave
the Mormon Church.
In 1958, Gustive O. Larson, Professor of Church
History at the church's Brigham Young University, acknowledged that
blood atonement was actually practiced. He related the following:
To whatever extent the preaching on blood atonement
may have influenced action, it would have been in relation to
Mormon disciplinary action among its own members. In point would
be a verbally reported case of a Mr. Johnson in Cedar City who
was found guilty of adultery with his stepdaughter by a bishop's
court and sentenced to death for atonement of his sin. According
to the report of reputable eyewitnesses, judgment was executed
with consent of the offender who went to his unconsecrated grave
in full confidence of salvation through the shedding of his blood.
Such a case, however primitive, is understandable within the meaning
of the doctrine and the emotional extremes of the [Mormon] Reformation.
Utah Historical Quarterly, January, 1958, page 62, note
This may be the same case spoken of by John D.
Lee, who was sealed to Brigham Young and was a member of Young's
secret Council of Fifty:
The most deadly sin among the people was adultery,
and many men were killed in Utah for the crime. Rasmos Anderson
was a Danish man who came to Utah... He had married a widow lady
somewhat older than himself... At one of the meetings during the
reformation Anderson and his step-daughter confessed that they
had committed adultery... they were rebaptized and received into
full membership. They were then placed under covenant that if
they again committed adultery, Anderson should suffer death. Soon
after this a charge was laid against Anderson before the Council,
accusing him of adultery with his step-daughter. This Council
was composed of Klingensmith and his two counselors; it was the
Bishop's Council. Without giving Anderson any chance to defend
himself or make a statement, the Council voted that Anderson must
die for violating his covenants. Klingensmith went to Anderson
and notified him that the orders were that he must die by having
his throat cut, so that the running of his blood would atone for
his sins. Anderson, being a firm believer in the doctrines and
teachings of the Mormon Church, made no objections... His wife
was ordered to prepare a suit of clean clothing, in which to have
her husband buried... she being directed to tell those who should
inquire after her husband that he had gone to California.
Klingensmith, James Haslem, Daniel McFarland and John M. Higbee
dug a grave in the field near Cedar City, and that night,
about 12 o'clock, went to Anderson's house and ordered him to
make ready to obey Council. Anderson got up... and without a word
of remonstrance accompanied those that he believed were carrying
out the will of the "Almighty God." They went to the
place where the grave was prepared; Anderson knelt upon the side
of the grave and prayed. Klingensmith and his company then cut
Anderson's throat from ear to ear and held him so that his blood
ran into the grave.
As soon as he was dead they dressed him in his clean clothes,
threw him into the grave and buried him. They then carried his
bloody clothing back to his family, and gave them to his wife
to wash... She obeyed their orders.... Anderson was killed just
before the Mountain Meadows massacre. The killing of Anderson
was then considered a religious duty and a just act. It was justified
by all the people, for they were bound by the same covenants,
and the least word of objection to thus treating the man who had
broken his covenant would have brought the same fate upon the
person who was so foolish as to raise his voce against any act
committed by order of the Church authorities.
Confessions of John D. Lee, Photo-reprint of 1877 edition,
In the same book John D. Lee made this startling
I knew of many men being killed in Nauvoo...
and I know of many a man who was quietly put out of the way by
the orders of Joseph and his Apostles while the Church was there.
Ibid., page 284
Lee also revealed another very cruel practice which
took place both in Nauvoo, Illinois, and in early Utah:
In Utah it has been the custom with the Priesthood
to make eunuchs of such men as were obnoxious to the leaders.
This was done for a double purpose: first, it gave a perfect revenge,
and next, it left the poor victim a living example to others of
the dangers of disobeying counsel and not living as ordered by
In Nauvoo it was the orders from Joseph Smith and his apostles
to beat, wound and castrate all Gentiles that the police could
take in the act of entering or leaving a Mormon household under
circumstances that led to the belief that they had been there
for immoral purposes.... In Utah it was the favorite revenge of
old, worn-out members of the Priesthood, who wanted young women
sealed to them, and found that the girl preferred some handsome
young man. The old priests generally got the girls, and many a
young man was unsexed for refusing to give up his sweetheart at
the request of an old and failing, but still sensual apostle or
member of the Priesthood. As an illustration... Warren Snow was
Bishop of the Church at Manti, San Pete County, Utah. He had several
wives, but there was a fair, buxom young woman in the town that
Snow wanted for a wife.... She thanked him for the honor offered,
but told him she was then engaged to a young man, a member of
the Church, and consequently could not marry the old priest....
He told her it was the will of God that she should marry him,
and she must do so; that the young man could be got rid of, sent
on a mission or dealt with in some way... that, in fact, a promise
made to the young man was not binding, when she was informed that
it was contrary to the wishes of the authorities.
The girl continued obstinate.... the authorities called on the
young man and directed him to give up the young woman. This he
steadfastly refused to do.... He remained true to his intended,
and said he would die before he would surrender his intended wife
to the embraces of another.... The young man was ordered to go
on a mission to some distant locality... But the mission was refused...
It was then determined that the rebellious young man must be forced
by harsh treatment to respect the advice and orders of the Priesthood.
His fate was left to Bishop Snow for his decision. He decided
that the young man should be castrated; Snow saying, 'When that
is done, he will not be liable to want the girl badly, and she
will listen to reason when she knows that her lover is no longer
It was then decided to call a meeting of the people who lived
true to counsel, which was held in the school-house in Manti...
The young man was there, and was again requested, ordered and
threatened, to get him to surrender the young woman to Snow, but
true to his plighted troth, he refused to consent to give up the
girl. The lights were then put out. An attack was made on the
young man. He was severely beaten, and then tied with his back
down on a bench, when Bishop Snow took a bowie-knife, and performed
the operation in a most brutal manner, and then took the portion
severed from his victim and hung it up in the school-house on
a nail, so that it could be seen by all who visited the house
The party then left the young man weltering in his blood, and
in a lifeless condition. During the night he succeeded in releasing
himself from his confinement, and dragged himself to some hay-stacks,
where he lay until the next day, when he was discovered by his
friends. The young man regained his health, but has been an idiot
or quite lunatic ever since....
After this outrage old Bishop Snow took occasion to getup a meeting...
When all had assembled, the old man talked to the people about
their duty to the Church, and their duty to obey counsel, and
the dangers of refusal, and then publicly called attention to
the mangled parts of the young man, that had been severed from
his person, and stated that the deed had been done to teach the
people that the counsel of the Priesthood must be obeyed. To make
a long story short, I will say, the young woman was soon after
forced into being sealed to Bishop Snow.
Brigham Young... did nothing against Snow. He left him in charge
as Bishop at Manti, and ordered the matter to be hushed up.
Ibid., pages 284-286
Mormons today would be appalled if such a dastardly
deed was committed and would demand that the persons responsible
be severely punished. Brigham Young, however, approved of many violent
acts perpetrated by those he put in authority. Interestingly, D.
Michael Quinn found documented evidence showing that President Young
supported Bishop Warren S. Snow's cruel mistreatment of the young
In the midsummer of 1857 Brigham Young also expressed
approval for an LDS bishop who had castrated a man. In May 1857
Bishop Warren S. Snow's counselor wrote that twenty-four-year-old
Thomas Lewis 'has now gone crazy' after being castrated by Bishop
Snow for an undisclosed sex crime. When informed of Snow's action,
Young said: 'I feel to sustain him...' In July Brigham Young wrote
a reassuring letter to the bishop about this castration: 'Just
let the matter drop, and say no more about it,' the LDS president
advised, 'and it will soon die away among the people.'
The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, Vol. 2, pages
On November 30, 1871, T. B. H. Stenhouse received
a letter by an individual who was present at a meeting in Provo,
Utah. The letter indicated that Bishop Blackburn was also strongly
pushing for the emasculation of men who were disobedient to their
'Dear Stenhouse: I Have read carefully the accompanying
statement about the "Reformation."... If you want to
travel wider and show the effect in the country of the inflammatory
speeches delivered in Salt Lake City at that time, you can mention
the Potter and Parrish murders at Springville, the barbarous castration
of a young man in San Pete, and, to cap the climax, the Mountain-Meadows
massacre... Threats of personal violence or death were common
in the settlements against all who dared to speak against the
priesthood, or in any way protest against this "reign of
'I was at a Sunday meeting in the spring of 1857, in Provo, when
the news of the San Pete castration was referred to by the presiding
bishop--Blackburn. Some men in Provo had rebelled against authority
in some trivial matter, and Blackburn shouted in his Sunday meeting--a
mixed congregation of all ages and both sexes--"I want the
people of Provo to understand that the boys in Provo can use the
knife as well as the boys in San Pete. Boys, get your knives ready,
there is work for you! We must not be behind San Pete in good
works." The result of this was that two citizens, named Hooper
and Beauvere, both having families at Provo, left the following
night... Their only offence was rebellion against the priesthood.
'This man, Blackburn, was continued in office at least a year
'The qualifications for a bishop were a blind submission and obedience
to Brigham and the authorities, and a firm unrelented government
of his subjects.
The Rocky Mountain Saints, by T. B. H. Stenhouse, 1873, pages
This is a very important letter because it throws
additional light upon President Brigham Young's knowledge regarding
emasculation in early Utah. According to Wilford Woodruff's journal,
not long after Warren S. Snow's cowardly attack on Thomas Lewis,
President Young discussed the matter of castration being used to
I then went into the president office & spent
the evening. Bishop Blackburn was present. The subject Came up
of some persons leaving Provo who had Apostatized. Some thought
that Bishop Blackburn & President Snow was to blame. Brother
Joseph Young presented the thing to presidet Young. But When the
Circumstances were told Presidet Brigham Young sustained the Brethren
who presided at Provo....
The subjects of Eunuchs came up... Brigham Said the day would
Come when thousands would be made Eunochs in order for them to
be saved in the kingdom of God.
Wilford Woodruff's Diary, June 2, 1857, Vol. 5, pages 54-55
In 1861, Apostle Orson Hyde met with Wilford Woodruff
and indicated that he believed Warren Snow was guilty of stealing.
Wilford Woodruff wrote the following in his journal:
He spoke of his mission in sanpete and the unwise
Course of Bishop Warren Snow, & George Pecock his first councillor.
They have squandered a large amount of tithing funds, County taxes
&c & Brother Hyde thinks from Testimony guilty of stealing
Ibid., Vol. 5, page 554
It is astounding to think that the prophet of the
Mormon Church would allow such a man as Warren Snow to function
as a bishop in the church. Unfortunately, however, President Young
went so far as to give him a special blessing. Wilford Woodruff
recorded the following in his journal under the date of April 1,
Warren Stone Snow was Blessed By Presidet Young
who gave him a very good Blessing.
Ibid., page 571
Moreover, in 1867, he was given the opportunity
to preach in the Mormon Tabernacle (see Vol. 6, page 319). In a
public discourse President Young acknowledged that the church had
use for some very mean devils who resided in early Utah:
And if the Gentiles wish to see a few tricks,
we have 'Mormons' that can perform them. We have the meanest devils
on the earth in our midst, and we intend to keep them, for we
have use for them; and if the Devil does not look sharp, we will
cheat him out of them at the last, for they will reform and go
to heaven with us.
Journal of Discourses, Vol. 6, page 176
Orrin Porter Rockwell was certainly one of Brigham
Young's "meanest devils." Rockwell, who had served as
a bodyguard for Joseph Smith, did not hesitate to shed blood....
Bill Hickman was another ruthless man who killed many people. In
his book Brigham's Destroying Angel, Hickman confessed that he had
committed murders for the church.
In 1858, an extremely grotesque double murder was
committed. Henry Jones and his mother were both put to death. These
murders were obviously the direct result of Brigham Young's doctrine
of "blood atonement."
Two months before Henry Jones was actually murdered,
he was viciously attacked. Hosea Stout, a very dedicated Mormon
defender, wrote the following regarding the first attack on Jones:
Saturday 27 Feb 1858. This evening several persons
disguised as Indians entered Henry Jones' house and dragged him
out of bed with a whore and castrated him by a square & close
On the Mormon Frontier; The Diary of Hosea Stout, Vol.
2, p. 653
One would think that this would have ended the
vendetta against Jones. Unfortunately, this was not the case. On
April 19, 1859, the newspaper Valley Tan printed an affidavit by
Nathaniel Case which contained a statement implicating a bishop
and other Mormons who lived in Payson:
Nathaniel Case being sworn, says: that he has
resided in the Territory of Utah since the year 1850; lived with
Bishop Hancock (Charles Hancock) in the town of Payson, at the
time Henry Jones and his mother were murdered... The night prior
to the murder a secret council meeting was held in the upper room
of Bishop Hancock's house; saw Charles Hancock, George W. Hancock,
Daniel Rawson, James Bracken, George Patten and Price Nelson go
into that meeting that night.... About 8 o'clock in the evening
of the murder the company gathered at Bishop Hancock's... They
said they were going to guard a corral where Henry Jones was going
to come that night and steal horses; they had guns.
I had a good mini rifle and Bishop Hancock wanted to borrow it;
I refused to lend it to him. The above persons all went away together...
Next morning I heard that Henry Jones and his mother had been
killed. I wnet [sic] down to the dug-out where they lived... The
old woman was laying on the ground in the dugout on a little straw,
in the clothes in which she was killed. She had a bullet hole
through her head... In about 15 or 20 minutes Henry Jones was
brought there and laid by her side; they then threw some old bed
clothes over them and an old feather bed and then pulled the dug-out
on top of them....
The next Sunday after the murder, in a church meeting in Payson,
Charles Hancock, the bishop, said, as to the killing of Jones
and his mother he cared nothing about it, and it would have been
done in daylight if circumstances would have permitted it.--
This was said from the stand; there were 150 or 200 persons present.
He gave no reason for killing them. And further saith not.
Sworn to and signed before me this 9th day of April, 1859.
John Cradlebaugh, Judge 2nd Judicial District.
Those who murdered Henry Jones and his mother may
have remembered President Brigham Young's sermon which was delivered
just two years prior to these murders:
Suppose you found your brother in bed with your
wife, and put a javelin through both of them, you would be justified,
and they would atone for their sins, and be received into the
kingdom of God. I would at once do so in such a case; under such
circumstances. I have no wife whom I love so well that I would
not put a javelin through her heart, and I would do it with clean
Journal of Discourses, Vol. 3, page 247
In his book, The Mormon hierarchy: Extensions of
Power, Vol. 2, pages 241-261, Dr. Quinn presented compelling evidence
showing that "blood atonement" was endorsed by church
leaders and actually practiced by the Mormon people. Quinn gave
the names of a number of violent men who served as "enforcers"
for Brigham Young. In addition Quinn wrote:
During this period Brigham Young and other Mormon
leaders also repeatedly preached about specific sins for which
it was necessary to shed the blood of men and women. Blood-atonement
sins included adultery, apostasy, 'covenant breaking,' counterfeiting,
'many men who left this Church,' murder, not being 'heartily on
the Lord's side,' profaning 'the name of the Lord,' sexual intercourse
between a 'white' person and an African-American, stealing, and
Some LDS historians have claimed that blood-atonement sermons
were simply Brigham Young's use of 'rhetorical devices designed
to frighten wayward individuals into conformity with Latter-day
Saint principles' and to bluff anti-Mormons. Writers often describe
these sermons as limited to the religious enthusiasm and frenzy
of the Utah Reformation up to 1857. The first problem with such
explanations is that official LDS sources show that as early as
1843 Joseph Smith and his counselor Sidney Rigdon advocated decapitation
or throat-cutting as punishment for various crimes and sins.
Moreover, a decade before Utah's reformation, Brigham Young's
private instructions show that he fully expected his trusted associates
to kill various persons for violating religious obligations. The
LDS church's official history still quotes Young's words to 'the
brethren' in February 1846: 'I should be perfectly willing to
see thieves have their throats cut.' The following December he
instructed bishops, 'when a man is found to be a thief, he will
be a thief no longer, cut his throat, & thro' him in the River,'
and Young did not instruct them to ask his permission. A week
later the church president explained to a Winter Quarters meeting
that cutting off the heads of repeated sinners 'is the law of
God & it shall be executed...' A rephrase of Young's words
later appeared in Hosea Stout's reference to a specific sinner,
'to cut him off--behind the ears--according to the law of God
in such cases.'...
When informed that a black Mormon in Massachusetts had married
a white woman, Brigham Young told the apostles in December 1847
that he would have both of them killed 'if they were far away
from the Gentiles.'
The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, Vol. 2, pp.
While we do not have room for extensively quotations
from Quinn's book, the following are some extracts:
In September 1857 Apostle George A. Smith told
a Salt Lake City congregation that Mormons at Parowan in southern
Utah 'wish that their enemies might come and give them a chance
to fight and take vengeance for the cruelties that had been inflicted
upon us in the States.' Smith had just returned from southern
Utah where he had encouraged such feelings by preaching fiery
sermons about resisting the U.S. army and taking vengeance on
anti-Mormons. Just days before his talk in Salt Lake City, members
of Parowan's Mormon militia participated in killing 120 men, women,
and children in the Mountain Meadows Massacre....
Although most accounts claimed that the militia killed only the
adult males and let their Indian allies kill the women and children,
perpetrator Nephi Johnson later told an LDS apostle that 'white
men did most of the killing.' Perpetrator George W. Adair also
told another apostle that 'John Higbee gave the order to kill
the women and children,' and Adair 'saw the women's and children's
As late as 1868 the Deseret News encouraged rank-and-file Mormons
to kill anyone who engaged in sexual relations outside marriage....
Under such circumstances the Mormon hierarchy bore full responsibility
for the violent acts of zealous Mormon[s] who accepted their instructions
literally and carried out various forms of blood atonement. 'Obviously
there were those who could not easily make a distinction between
rhetoric and reality,' a BYU religion professor has written....
It is unrealistic to assume that faithful Mormons all declined
to act on such repeated instructions in pioneer Utah.... Neither
is it reasonable to assume that the known cases of blood atonement
even approximated the total number that occurred in the first
twenty years after Mormon settlement in Utah.... LDS leaders publicly
and privately encouraged Mormons to consider it their religious
right to kill antagonistic outsiders, common criminals, LDS apostates,
and even faithful Mormons who committed sins 'worthy of death.'
The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, Vol. 2, pp.
251-53, 56-57, 60
On pages 804-805, of the same book, Quinn reported
concerning a murder committed in 1902:
5 Apr., 'Clyde Felt has confessed to cutting
the throat of old man Collins, at his request. The old man was
a moral egenerate. The boy is a son of David P. Felt.' Grandson
of former general authority, Clyde Felt is fourteen. Despite this
blood atonement murder, LDS leaders allow [the] young man to be
endowed and married in temple eight years later.
Although we cannot be certain, this may be the
last known case of "blood atonement" committed by Mormons.
It should be noted, however, that at least two groups (the Lebarons
and the Laffertys) broke off from the Mormon Church and still hold
to Brigham Young's teaching of "blood atonement." Consequently,
they committed a significant number of "blood atonement"
murders between 1972 and 1988.
While Dr. Quinn's book, The Mormon Hierarchy:
Extention of Power, presents plenty of evidence to establish
the fact that "blood atonement" murders were committed
by the early Mormons, Quinn did not have the space to deal at length
with this important issue. To compliment Quinn's excellent work
we highly recommend our book, The Mormon Kingdom, Vol. 2.
In this book we have actual photographs from the church's Deseret
News confirming that church leaders strongly supported the doctrine
of "blood atonement."