10. Blood Atonement Preached and Enforced

The doctrine of blood atonement was taught by Joseph, as indicated by Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. (10th prophet):

"Just a word or two now, on the subject of blood atonement. What is that doctrine? Unadulterated, if you please, laying aside the pernicious insinuations and lying charges that have so often been made, it is simply this: Through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. Salvation is twofold: General -- that which comes to all men irrespective of a belief (in this life) in Christ -- and, Individual -- that which man merits through his own acts through life and by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.

"But man may commit certain grievous sins -- according to his light and knowledge -- that will place him beyond the reach of the atoning blood of Christ. If then he would be saved he must make sacrifice of his own life to atone -- so far as in his power lies -- for that sin, for the blood of Christ alone under certain circumstances will not avail.

"Do you believe this doctrine? If not, then I do say you do not believe in the true doctrine of the atonement of Christ. This is the doctrine you are pleased to call the "blood atonement of Brighamism." This is the doctrine of Christ our Redeemer, who died for us. This is the doctrine of Joseph Smith, and I accept it." (McConkie, Bruce R., ed. Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 1, pp. 133 - 135, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954-1955)

Brigham Young clearly explained the doctrine of blood atonement 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 man." (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 4, pp. 53-54); also published in Deseret News, 1856, p. 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 them…

"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 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, pp. 219-220)

Consider the case spoken of by John D. Lee, who was sealed to Brigham Young and was a member of Brigham'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 voice against any act committed by order of the Church authorities." (Confessions of John D. Lee, Photo-reprint of 1877 edition, pp. 282-283)

In the same book John D. Lee made this startling statement:

"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., p. 284)

Lee revealed another 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 the Priesthood.

"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 a man.'

"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 afterwards.

"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., pp. 284-286)

D. Michael Quinn found documented evidence showing that President Young supported Bishop Warren S. Snow's cruel mistreatment of the young man:

"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, pp. 250-251)

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 leaders:

"'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 terror."

"'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 after this…

"'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, pp. 301-302)

This is an important letter because it throws additional light upon 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 save people:

"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, pp. 54-55)

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, p. 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 amputation." (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. Nathaniel Case.

"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 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 hands." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 3, p. 247)

In his book, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, 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 telling lies…

"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. 246-247)

The following are some extracts from Quinn's book:

"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 throats cut.'…

"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)


Blood Atonement in the Mormon Church

Mormon Blood Atonement: Fact or Fantasy?

Apologist Response

According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, blood atonement was never official church doctrine nor was it sanctioned by the church:

"Several early Church leaders, most notably, Brigham Young, taught that in a complete theocracy the Lord would require the voluntary shedding of a murderer's blood--presumably by capital punishment--as part of the process of atonement for such grievous sin. This was referred to as 'blood atonement.' Since such a theocracy has not been operative in modern times, the practical effect of the idea was its use as a rhetorical device to heighten the awareness of Latter-day Saints of the seriousness of murder and other major sins. This view is not a doctrine of the Church and has not been practiced by the Church at any time. "Early anti-Mormon writers charged that under Brigham Young the Church practiced 'blood atonement,' by which they meant Church-instigated violence directed at dissenters, enemies, and strangers. This claim distorted the whole idea of blood atonement--which was based on voluntary submission by an offender--into a supposed justification of involuntary punishment. Occasional isolated acts of violence that occurred in areas where Latter-day Saints lived were typical of that period in the history of the American West, but they were not instances of Church-sanctioned blood atonement." (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, p. 131)


Blood Atonement