History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do. It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations.
James Baldwin wrote those words for an August 1965 essay in Ebony magazine with the title, The White Man’s Guilt.
Fifteen years prior, in 1950, Juanita Brooks, a Utah teacher, wrote the most comprehensive book-length history about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ involvement in the Mountain Meadows Massacre. A decade after Mormons arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, a wagon train of 127 immigrants from Missouri and Arkansas were slaughtered in southern Utah by Mormon zealots. Seven were spared: all children. Only one man, John D. Lee, was ever tried for the crime. The jury did not reach a unanimous verdict in his first trial, but when he was retried he was convicted and executed.
Two-Headed by Julie Jensen, Pygmalion Theatre Company. Haley McCormick and Brenda Hattingh.
Playwright Julie Jensen, who was born and raised in Beaver, Utah, not far from where the massacre occurred, recalls how many feared Brooks’ book. “No one wanted to talk about it, much less read it,” Jensen says in an interview with The Utah Review. She adds that a copy, which was purchased in Denver, was passed among family members who wanted to read it, if they dared. The book was taboo but it is clear 70 years after its publication, Brooks had reset the compass for legitimate Mormon historiography.
Nearly twenty years after its premiere, Jensen’s award-winning play Two-Headed, directed by Fran Pruyn, is being staged as the season opener for the Pygmalion Theatre Company in a run from Nov. 8 to Nov. 23 in the Black Box Theatre of the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts.