Many of the locals grew up hearing denunciations of Mormonism from the pulpit on Sundays, and tales of the massacre from older relatives who considered Mormons “evil.”
“There have been Fancher family reunions for 150 years, and the massacre comes up at every one of them,” said Scott Fancher, 58, who traces his lineage back to 26 members of the wagon train, which was known as the Fancher-Baker party. “The more whiskey we drunk, the more resentful we got.”
There aren’t many places in America more likely to be suspicious of Mormonism — and potentially more problematic for Mitt Romney, who is seeking to become the country’s first Mormon president. Not only do many here retain a personal antipathy toward the religion and its followers, but they also tend to be Christian evangelicals, many of whom view Mormonism as a cult.
And yet, there is scant evidence that Romney’s religion is making much difference in how voters here are thinking about the presidential election and whether they are willing to back the former Massachusetts governor.
“I think the situation right now is more anti-Obama than any other situation,” said Dave Hoover, chairman of the Carroll County Republicans.
It is impossible to know how Romney’s faith will play out in the November election. Polls point to a persistent skepticism about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and not just among evangelical Christians. Thirty-five percent of Americans in a Bloomberg News poll in March said they had an unfavorable view of the church, while 29 percent had a favorable view.
But it may not have a major impact on their vote: Eight out of 10 Republicans and Democrats said Romney’s faith was not a major reason to support or oppose him, according to an April Washington Post-ABC News poll. And a recent study by the Brookings Institution found that Romney’s religion may actually increase his support from conservative voters, including white evangelicals.
Indeed, many here say their political values will be more important to their vote than religion or history. A rural and deeply religious community, many cite the cultural issues of abortion and gun rights as foremost on their minds. The weak economy has deepened their dislike of President Obama, who received less than 40 percent of the vote in Arkansas in 2008.
Still, Romney’s candidacy has prompted some soul-searching in this area, where a historical group estimates that more than half the residents can trace their ancestry back to the wagon train.