9/11/1857 - A still controversial incident in the settling of the American West takes place in the Utah Territory as an emigrant train of settlers from Arkansas (and a handful from Missouri and other states) makes its way along the Old Spanish Trail, bound for Southern California ... an incident known to history as the Mountains Meadows Massacre.
Seeking a new life in California, in early 1857, a well-equipped and carefully organized wagon train of prosperous northwestern Arkansas citizens leaves Beller's Stand ... it will come to be known as the Baker-Fancher Party for the traveling Baker Family, and for its leader, farmer and cattleman "Colonel" Alexander Fancher (in charge from having made the journey to California twice before). The group consists of between 120 and 150 men, women, and children crossing the wilderness in 20 wagons, 4 carriages, and on an assortment of horses and draft animals ... one of the richest wagon trains ever put together, the party in cash, livestock, and property is worth over $100,000 and includes 900 head of cattle. Everything goes well until they arrive in Salt Lake City and discover the region is in a turmoil called the Utah War.
Their leader, Joseph Smith, tarred and feathered, imprisoned numerous times, and finally murdered, the followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints violently kicked out of both Missouri and Illinois, the isolation found in Utah that the Mormons believe will protect them from further depredations by non-believers comes to an abrupt end when thousands of pioneers beginning streaming through the territory on their way to the 1849 gold fields of California. Conflicts increasing and escalating over plural marriages, the slavery question, the United States government replacing Mormons with Federal appointees, religion trumping all in the governing of the state, and a new non-Mormon governor being sent to replace Brigham Young all result in President Millard Fillmore deciding that a force of over 1,000 soldiers (commanded by Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston, who will bleed to death as the lead Confederate general in 1862 at the Battle of Shiloh) is needed in the area to keep order ... order that the Mormon leadership of Utah says they can handle quite nicely without any Federal help. Into this powder keg of misunderstanding and bitterness, the Baker-Fancher Party arrives in Utah as Young declares martial law and sends out the territory's militia, called the Nauvoo Legion, to deal with any unwelcome invaders.
The Murder of Joseph Smith
Governor Brigham Young
Still a subject for arguing historians looking for a smoking gun, it is unknown whether Brigham Young orders what follows next, or whether over-zealous leaders of the LDS Church in the southern portion of the territory overreact to the unwanteds passing through, in Salt Lake City the wagon train party is refused stock and pushes on towards California, stopping to rest in what is now Washington County, Utah, in a high grassy valley with good grazing and water on the Spanish Trail called Mountain Meadows. There, they are suddenly attacked by Paiute Indians ... who aren't Paiute Indians at all (only a handful of Paiutes actually participate in the attack), but are actually members of the Nauvoo Legion disguised as Native-Americans ... somewhere a decision has come down to destroy the Baker-Fancher Party (and pocket all their belongings).
Mountain Meadows, Utah
The roughly 120 members of the wagon train though surprised, fight back for five days (in the opening skirmish, seven emigrants die and another sixteen are wounded) as their food and ammo supplies are used up, fighting for their lives behind a circle of turned over, chained together wagons and hastily dug ditches. Knowing they are running out of time to destroy the wagon before Federal troops might arrive in the area, and unwilling to risk losing more lives in a frontal assault on the pioneers' position, betrayal evil becomes the Mormon attackers' end game. On Friday morning, 9/11/1857, local Indian agent, militia officer, and good friend of Brigham Young, 44-year-old John Doyle Lee, carrying a white flag, rides into the circle of wagons and offers the pioneers a way out of their predicament ... in exchange for leaving their livestock and the supplies they have left to the natives, the party will be led the 36 miles back to the safety of Cedar City under the protection of the Mormon militia. Deal struck, the group marches out of its defensive position and into Hell!
John D. Lee
No witnesses, no reprisals, in less than two miles the pioneers are ambushed by hidden Mormon militia on the trail. Bullets, arrows, knives, and rape, when the butchery of the lied-to pioneers ends, every man, woman, and child over the age of seven is a corpse. Of those under seven, it is deemed they are too young to testify, unworthy of being murdered, and so seventeen youngsters are spared ... spared to undergo name changes and be sold into Mormon families. Over, the meadow is filled with dead bodies that their murderers hastily cover with any nearby covering that can be found without a lot of physical energy being extended ... which weather and animals soon remove. All participants sworn to secrecy against the promise of death for talking, the cattle and other livestock go to the Paiutes in the vicinity, and members of the Mormon militia take everything else.
Nancy Sephrona Huff - Survivor -
4 at the time of the massacre
Animal Chow at Mountain Meadows
Too many involved as predators or prey to keep the massacre a secret, as planned, when word finally leaks out about the massacre, it is blamed on the Paiute Indians. Blame begins to shift however after the Utah War between the territory and the Federal government ends and an 1859 investigation into the tragedy is begun by U.S. Army Brevet Major James Henry Carleton, who leads a party back to the site and buries 34 of the exposed bodies of the dead in a pit under a cairn of rocks topped by a large cedar cross (Carleton will state of the scene, that it is "... a sight which can never be forgotten). Progress towards the truth however becomes progress delayed when the American Civil War begins in 1861.
Interest renewed in getting to truth and bringing to justice those that planned the massacre with the war's conclusion, in 1874, nine members of the Mormon militia, John D. Lee, Isaac Haight, John H. Higbee, Philip Klingensmith, William Dame, Will Stewart, Ellott Willden, Samuel Jukes, and George Adair, Jr. go on trial for multiple murders. Trials conducted almost entirely in front of Mormon juries, only John D. Lee is found guilty and sentenced to death. Utah law allowing the executionee to chose between being hung, shot, or decapitated, Lee chooses a firing squad for his exit, which takes place after appeal attempts are denied, on March 23, 1877. He is the only person ever punished for the massacre, and goes to his grave proclaiming his friend, Brigham Young had nothing to do with the slaughter (he does take a parting shot at his former friend though for not doing more to help spare him from death, Lee's last words are, "I do not believe everything that is now being taught and practiced by Brigham Young. I do not care who hears it. It is my last word, I have been sacrificed in a cowardly, dastardly manner."). Dead at the age of 64, he leaves behind 19 wives and 56 children!
Almost Time To Go - Lee Sits Next To His Casket At Left
Leslie's Monthly Magazine - 1877 -
Article Entitled "Justice at Last"
A blot in American and Mormon history, ghosts restless, in 2011, pushed forward jointly by descendants of the murdered and the LDS Church, the site is designated a National Historic Landmark!
Rebuilt Memorial Today