Interview with Jacob Samuelson from September Dawn
Jacob Samuelson, having lived a long life marred by his role in the infamous Mountain Meadow Massacre, approaches Death with understandable trepidation. Promised a celestial crown for his role in the massacre, he stands before the Judge with resignation. An attorney has been appointed to defend his life and character while a fiendish figure gloats and rubs his hand gleefully.
Judge: Mr. Prosecutor, you are salivating. The court orders you to stop rubbing your hands. You know by now that such an act is a fire hazard.
Prosecutor: Yes, your honor.
The Judge peers at the defendant and rustles his papers while clearing his throat.
Judge: Mr. Samuelson. It says here you were criminally involved in the Mountain Meadow Massacre.
Jacob: mumbles so softly no one can hear him.
Judge: Speak up, speak up. You certainly had no problem speaking up when you were whipping the brethren into a frenzy.
Jacob: Ah, yes, your honor.
Judge: Yes, you are guilty?
Jacob: Yes and no.
Defense attorney: What my client means to say is “Not guilty.”
The prosecutor begins to laugh.
Judge: I warn you, there will be no laughing, cackling or snickering in my courtroom.
Prosecutor: Excuse me your honor, but really, a not guilty plea is ridiculous.
Judge: All not guilty pleas are ridiculous.
The judge looks at Jacob. His eyes are not unkind.
Judge: No one who comes before me is innocent…unless…
Jacob: (hopefully) Unless what?
Judge: (clears his throat and looks down) Well now, you’ve already rejected that way haven’t you? Therefore it is the court’s decision that you must stand trial on your own merits. Now, why did you take part in the slaughter?
Jacob: I was just following the brethren.
Prosecutor: (hooting, slaps his thigh) OOOO! I’ve heard that one before!
Judge: (pounding his gavel) Order in the court! (turns to Jacob) What brethren were you following?
Jacob: The Prophet of the only true church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints ordered the brethren to put away the emigrants.
The judge looks around and frowns.
Judge: Well, where is this Prophet? Why does he not come and testify for you?
Jacob: I don’t know. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I was promised a celestial crown and my own planet.
Prosecutor: (jumping up and down) I knew it! I knew it! Another blind fool! (sneers) I don’t suppose you were promised seventy virgins too?
The Judge pounds his gavel.
Judge: Order in the court! I am losing my patience with you.
Defense: Your honor, the man was only doing what he thought was right. He believed and trusted his leaders.
Prosecutor: What a stupid excuse! Ask him! Did he spill blood?
The prosecutor turns to look at Jacob and cackles.
Prosecutor: You did! You did! You killed your son’s one true love and destroyed his only hope for happiness! Deny it!
Jacob: (hangs his head) Guilty as charged.
Defense: He thought the wagon train from Arkansas was his enemy.
The defense turns to the Prosecutor.
Defense: It was you who tricked him. You tricked them all.
Prosecutor: I can’t help it if some people follow the leader without checking things out for themselves first. That is their problem. Everyone is always in a rush and always so eager to believe a good lie. Why don’t they study their doctrine and their leaders first?
Celestial crown, your own planet! Why, this man was overtaken by greed! He wanted to be a god!
The defense points to the Prosecutor.
Defense: There is the real enemy!
Prosecutor: He was his own enemy.
Defense: This man tried to do the right thing.
Prosecutor: Trying isn’t good enough! He’s mine! He’s mine! He killed innocent blood. He plotted the murder of 120 men, women, and children.
Judge: Did you really think you would get a celestial crown for the massacre?
Judge: Did you really think you would become a god?
Jacob nods again.
Judge: Did you think you were doing the right thing?
Jacob squeezes his eyes shut and nods once more.
Judge: And now?
Jacob looks up at the judge and shakes his head.
Jacob: I was brainwashed! The church leaders told me that it wasn’t my business whether a thing be right or wrong I was just to follow the brethren and not ask questions.
Prosecutor: Always blaming others. Typical. Who put the words in your mouth when you exhorted the brethren to commit murder?
Defense: I object. The witness has already said he was brainwashed so it doesn’t matter what he said.
Judge: Overruled. Answer the question. Did you or did you not persuade the brethren to commit murder?
Jacob: It was the Prophet…I was just a tool in his hand.
Prosecutor: A walking, talking, murdering tool.
Defense: (jumping up) Argumentative!
Judge: You’re out of order again. Witness, answer the question.
Jacob hangs his head: I did. But I didn’t realize what I was doing.
Prosecutor: You told the brethren they would get celestial crowns for murder! You were the Bishop! You weren’t the town idiot! You were a respected leader!
Jacob: I only repeated what the Prophet said!
Judge: (shaking his head) That is no excuse. You still said it.
Jacob: I did.
Judge: And now that you’ve had a lifetime on earth to reflect on what you did, what is your conclusion?
Jacob looks around.
Defense: You don’t have to answer that.
Jacob shakes his head.
Jacob: I want to. I’ve spent my entire life haunted by the events of September 11, 1857. Like John D. Lee, I felt betrayed. All of us who participated were left to pay the price. We paid in different ways. I was angry for most of my life because of it. But now, standing here, realizing that my entire life was a lie, I know that telling you that I was only following orders isn’t an excuse. I alone pulled the trigger. I persuaded the brethren. It is time for me to stop running away and excusing what I did.
Judge: What would you say to your friends and family?
Jacob: I would say to them, do not blindly follow any man. There was only one man worth following and he was murdered too. But unlike the poor victims of the massacre, he died for a purpose…that we might be saved. I would tell the people I loved that in the end they will stand alone and have to answer for what they did.
Jacob shakes his head.
Jacob: In our hearts, we know what is right and what is wrong. And yet we often do the thing we don’t want to do.
Judge: Is there anything else before I pronounce judgment?
Jacob: Yes. Forgive me.
The Prosecutor screams and runs out of the room.
Prosecutor: Forgive, forgive! I hate that word! I hate that word!
Judge and Defense: We forgive you seventy times seven.