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Dave Wood's Book Report, Sept. 17, 2008

Two years ago, I watched the long PBS special on Mormonism. I was shocked to learn of the Mormons' massacre of 120 non-Mormon settlers who had moved into Utah in 1857. The reportage was just a small part of the PBS special and I longed to hear more.

My wishes were recently fulfilled with a new book, "Massacre at Mountain Meadows," by Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley and Glen M. Leonard (Oxford University Press, $29.95).

It's a scholarly work by three historians from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including Turley who is currently assistant church historian, and Leonard, former director of the Latter-day Saints Museum of Church History and Art.

It's a shocking story, well-documented, neither an expose or a cover-up. The Mormon militia slaughtered the settlers under a flag of truce, killing even their children, except for the youngest, and inciting Paiute Indians to help in the massacre, a ploy Mormons had earlier used in the upper Midwest on their trek to Utah.

How could this have happened? The historians point to the long persecution of Mormons back in Illinois, President James Buchanan's sending federal troops to Utah, personal vendettas, and Brigham Young's rhetorical skills.

Another 19th century figure that suffered slings and arrows was Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller. A new book in the University of Iowa Series, "Writers in Their Own Time," should put some questions about fuller to rest. It's "Fuller in Her Own Time," by Joel Myerson (University of Iowa Press, n.p.)

"I feel I know my way around old Beldenville; it may no longer be what it once was, but it is well worth knowing that things did happen in Beldenville."

Thus writes Dan Giester in his new book: "Pierce County's Heritage: Volume Nine," edited by Ursula Peterson (Pierce County Historical Association, n.p.) .

Giester speaks the truth. When you drive through Beldenville these days there's not too much there. The saloon, the garage, a few houses, the surveyor's building.

I've been driving through for 11 years now and I felt I knew my way around Beldenville, too. But then I read Giester's very big coffee table book, chock full of old photographs, news about the Woman's Library Society, the town's many factories which made barrels, chairs, sauerkraut and other items needed by the pioneers. Beldenville had two churches, four area schools and about 800 people.

The Pierce County Historical Association is to be congratulated for taking on the task of covering the county's history like a blanket.

A few years back I read an earlier volume, which centered in El Paso, which is still a booming little burg, especially during El Paso Days.

Also to be congratulated are Geister, whose father began the project, and Ursula Peterson who did a great job editing and arranging the copy. The amount of work that went into the research -- with biographies of most of the town's citizens, where they came from and where they went -- must have been enormous. Hats off to the project and its toilers.

More good news from the region. More than 20 years ago, University of Wisconsin-Superior English prof Anthony Bukoski appeared on the literary scene when Bill Truesdale at Minneapolis's New Rivers Press published Bukoski's first book, a collection of Short Stories, "Twelve Below Zero," which dealt with love and hardship in Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Since then Bukoski has published several books, has received the Cristopher Isherwood Award, has heard his work read at Symphony Space in New York, has become a cult figure in Europe.

Next week, Holy Cow! Press will re-issue his first book, now entitled "Twelve Below Zero: New and Expanded Edition." (Paper, $14.95).

Dave Wood is a past vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. E-mail him at