I would never in a million years vote for a Mormon.
The Mountain Meadows massacre was a series of attacks on the Baker–Fancher emigrant wagon train at Mountain Meadows in southern Utah. The attacks culminated on September 11, 1857, with the mass slaughter of the emigrant party by the Iron County district of the Utah Territorial Militia and some local Native Americans.
The wagon train—composed almost entirely of families from Arkansas—was bound for California on a route that passed through the Utah Territory during a turbulent period later known as the Utah War. After arriving in Salt Lake City, the Baker–Fancher party made their way south, eventually stopping to rest at Mountain Meadows. While the emigrants were camped at the meadow, nearby militia leaders, including Isaac C. Haight and John D. Lee, made plans to attack the wagon train. The militia, officially called the Nauvoo Legion, was composed of Utah's Mormon settlers (members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or LDS Church). Intending to give the appearance of Native American aggression, their plan was to arm some Southern Paiute Native Americans and persuade them to join with a larger party of their own militiamen—disguised as Native Americans—in an attack.
During the initial assault on the wagon train, the emigrants fought back and a five-day siege ensued. Eventually fear spread among the militia's leaders that some emigrants had caught sight of white men, and had probably discovered who their attackers really were. This resulted in an order by militia commander William H. Dame for the emigrants' annihilation. Running low on water and provisions, the emigrants allowed a party of militiamen to enter their camp, who assured them of their safety and escorted them out of their hasty fortification. After walking a distance from the camp, the militiamen, with the help of auxiliary forces hiding nearby, attacked the emigrants. Intending to leave no witnesses of complicity by Mormons in the attacks, and to prevent reprisals that would further complicate the Utah War, the perpetrators killed all the adults and older children (totaling about 120 men, women, and children). Seventeen children, all younger than seven, were spared.
Following the massacre the perpetrators hastily buried the victims, leaving their bodies vulnerable to wild animals and the climate. Local families took in the surviving children, and many of the victims' possessions were auctioned off. Investigations, temporarily interrupted by the American Civil War, resulted in nine indictments during 1874. Of the men indicted, only John D. Lee was tried in a court of law. After two trials in the Utah Territory, Lee was convicted by a jury and executed. Today historians attribute the massacre to a combination of factors including both war hysteria and strident Mormon teachings. Scholars still debate whether senior Mormon leadership, including Brigham Young, directly instigated the massacre or if responsibility lies with the local leaders of southern Utah.
Main article: Baker–Fancher party
In early 1857, several groups of emigrants from the northwestern Arkansas region started their trek to California, joining up on the way to form a group known as the Baker–Fancher party. The groups were mostly from Marion; Crawford; Carroll; and Johnson counties in Arkansas, and had assembled into a wagon train at Beller's Stand, south of Harrison, Arkansas, to emigrate to southern California. This group was initially referred to as both the Baker train and the Perkins train, but after being joined by other Arkansas trains and making its way west, was soon called the Baker–Fancher train (or party) after "Colonel" Alexander Fancher who, having already made the journey to California twice before, had become its main leader. By contemporary standards the Baker-Fancher party was prosperous, carefully organized, and well-equipped for the journey. They were subsequently joined along the way by families and individuals from other states, including Missouri. This group was relatively wealthy, and planned to restock its supplies in Salt Lake City, as did most wagon trains at the time. The party reached Salt Lake City with about 120 members.
Interactions with Mormon settlers
See also: War hysteria preceding the Mountain Meadows massacre
At the time of the Fanchers' arrival, the Utah Territory was organized as a theocratic democracy under the lead of Brigham Young, who had established colonies along the California Trail and Old Spanish Trail. President James Buchanan had recently issued an order to send troops to Utah. Rumors spread in the territory about the motives for the troop movement. Young issued various orders, urging the local population to prepare for the arrival of the troops. Eventually Young issued a declaration of martial law. The Baker–Fancher party chose to leave Salt Lake City and take the Old Spanish Trail, which passed through southern Utah. In August 1857, Mormon apostle George A. Smith, of Parowan, set out on a tour of southern Utah, instructing the settlers to stockpile grain. While on his return trip to Salt Lake City, Smith camped near the Baker-Fancher party on August 25 at Corn Creek, (near present-day Kanosh) 70 miles (110 km) north of Parowan. They had traveled the 165 miles (266 km) south from Salt Lake City and Jacob Hamblin suggested that the wagon train continue on the trail and rest their cattle at Mountain Meadows which had good pasture and was adjacent to his homestead.
While most witnesses said that the Fanchers were in general a peaceful party whose members behaved well along the trail, rumors spread about misdeeds. Brevet Major James Henry Carleton's report, the first federal investigation of the incident, records Jacob Hamblin's account that the train was alleged to have poisoned a spring near Corn Creek that killed 18 head of cattle and resulted in the deaths of two or three people who ate the dead cattle. Carleton, who interviewed the father of a child who allegedly died from this poisoned spring, did not doubt the sincerity of the grieving father. However, Carlton also included a statement from an investigator who did not believe the Fancher party was capable of poisoning the spring, given its size. Carleton asked readers to consider a potential explanation for these stories, noting the general atmosphere of distrust for strangers at the time, and that some locals appeared jealous of the Fancher party's wealth.
Conspiracy and siege
Main article: Conspiracy and siege of the Mountain Meadows massacre
The Baker-Fancher party left Corn Creek and continued the 125 miles (201 km) to Mountain Meadows, passing Parowan, and Cedar City; southern Utah communities led respectively by Stake Presidents William H. Dame and Isaac C. Haight. Haight and Dame were, in addition, the senior regional military leaders of the Mormon militia. As the Baker-Fancher party approached, several meetings were held in Cedar City and nearby Parowan by the local Latter Day Saint (LDS) leaders pondering how to implement Young's declaration of martial law. In the afternoon of Sunday, September 6, Haight held his weekly Stake High Council meeting after church services, and brought up the issue of what to do with the emigrants. The plan for a Native American massacre was discussed, but not all the Council members agreed it was the right approach. The Council resolved to take no action until Haight sent a rider, James Haslam, out the next day to carry an express to Salt Lake City (a six-day round trip on horseback) for Brigham Young's advice; as Utah did not yet have a telegraph system. Following the Council, Isaac C. Haight decided to send a messenger south to John D. Lee. What Haight told Lee remains a mystery, but considering the timing it may have had something to do with Council's decision to wait for advice from Brigham Young.
The somewhat dispirited Baker-Fancher party found water and fresh grazing for its livestock after reaching grassy, mountain-ringed Mountain Meadows, a widely known stopover on the old Spanish Trail, in early September. They anticipated several days of rest and recuperation there before the next 40 miles (64 km) would take them out of Utah. But, on September 7, the party was attacked by Mormon militiamen dressed as Native Americans and some Native American Paiutes. The Baker-Fancher party defended itself by encircling and lowering their wagons, wheels chained together, along with digging shallow trenches and throwing dirt both below and into the wagons, which made a strong barrier. Seven emigrants were killed during the opening attack and were buried somewhere within the wagon encirclement. Sixteen more were wounded. The attack continued for five days, during which the besieged families had little or no access to fresh water or game food and their ammunition was depleted. Meanwhile, organization among the local Mormon leadership reportedly broke down. Eventually fear spread among the militia's leaders that some emigrants had caught sight of white men, and had probably discovered who their attackers really were. This resulted in an order to kill all the emigrants, with the exception of small children.
On Friday, September 11, 1857, two militiamen approached the Baker-Fancher party wagons with a white flag and were soon followed by Native American agent and militia officer John D. Lee. Lee told the battle-weary emigrants that he had negotiated a truce with the Paiutes, whereby they could be escorted safely the 36 miles (58 km) back to Cedar City under Mormon protection in exchange for turning all of their livestock and supplies over to the Native Americans. Accepting this, the emigrants were led out of their fortification. The adult men were separated from the women and children. The men were paired with a militia escort. When a signal was given, the militiamen turned and shot the male members of the Baker-Fancher party standing by their side. The women and children were then ambushed and killed by more militia that were hiding in nearby bushes and ravines. Members of the militia were sworn to secrecy. A plan wasset to blame the massacre on the Native Americans. The militia did not kill some small children who were deemed too young to relate the story. These children were taken in by local Mormon families. Seventeen of the children were later reclaimed by the U.S. Army and returned to relatives in Arkansas.
Leonard J. Arrington, founder of the Mormon History Association, reports that Brigham Young received the rider, James Haslam, at his office on the same day. When he learned what was contemplated by the militia leaders in Parowan and Cedar City, he sent back a letter stating the Baker-Fancher party were not to be meddled with, and should be allowed to go in peace (although he acknowledged the Native Americans would likely "do as they pleased"). Young's letter supposedly arrived two days too late, on September 13, 1857.
Some of the property of the dead was reportedly taken by the Native Americans involved, while large amounts of their valuables and cattle were taken by the Mormons in Southern Utah, including John D. Lee. Some of the cattle were taken to Salt Lake City and sold or traded. The remaining personal property of the Baker-Fancher party was taken to the tithing house at Cedar City and auctioned off to local Mormons.
Investigations and prosecutions
Main article: Investigations and prosecutions relating to the Mountain Meadows massacre
An early investigation was conducted by Brigham Young, who interviewed John D. Lee on September 29, 1857. In 1858, Young sent a report to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs stating that the massacre was the work of Native Americans. The Utah War delayed any investigation by the U.S. federal government until 1859, when Jacob Forney, and U.S. Army Brevet Major James Henry Carleton conducted investigations. In Carleton's investigation, at Mountain Meadows he found women's hair tangled in sage brush and the bones of children still in their mothers' arms. Carleton later said it was "a sight which can never be forgotten." After gathering up the skulls and bones of those who had died, Carleton's troops buried them and erected a cairn and cross.
Carleton interviewed a few local Mormon settlers and Paiute Native American chiefs, and concluded that there was Mormon involvement in the massacre. He issued a report in May 1859, addressed to the U.S. Assistant Adjutant-General, setting forth his findings. Jacob Forney, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Utah, also conducted an investigation that included visiting the region in the summer of 1859 and retrieved many of the surviving children of massacre victims who had been housed with Mormon families, and gathered them in preparation of transporting them to their relatives in Arkansas. Forney concluded that the Paiutes did not act alone and the massacre would not have occurred without the white settlers, while Carleton's report to the U.S. Congress called the mass killings a "heinous crime", blaming both local and senior church leaders for the massacre.
A federal judge brought into the territory after the Utah War, Judge John Cradlebaugh, in March 1859 convened a grand jury in Provo, concerning the massacre, but the jury declined any indictments. Nevertheless, Cradlebaugh conducted a tour of the Mountain Meadows area with a military escort. Cradlebaugh attempted to arrest John D. Lee, Isaac Haight, and John Higbee, but these men fled before they could be found. Cradlebaugh publicly charged Brigham Young as an instigator to the massacre and therefore an "accessory before the fact." Possibly as a protective measure against the mistrusted federal court system, Mormon territorial probate court judge Elias Smith arrested Young under a territorial warrant, perhaps hoping to divert any trial of Young into a friendly Mormon territorial court. When no federal charges ensued, Young was apparently released.Further investigations, cut short by the American Civil War in 1861, again proceeded in 1871 when prosecutors obtained the affidavit of militia member Phillip Klingensmith. Klingensmith had been a bishop and blacksmith from Cedar City; by the 1870s, however, he had left the church and moved to Nevada.
During the 1870s Lee, Dame, Philip Klingensmith and two others (Ellott Willden and George Adair, Jr.) were indicted and arrested while warrants were obtained to pursue the arrests of four others (Haight, Higbee, William C. Stewart and Samuel Jukes) who had gone into hiding. Klingensmith escaped prosecution by agreeing to testify. Brigham Young removed some participants including Haight and Lee from the LDS church in 1870. The U.S. posted bounties of $500 each for the capture of Haight, Higbee and Stewart, while prosecutors chose not to pursue their cases against Dame, Willden and Adair.
Lee's first trial began on July 23, 1875 in Beaver, before a jury of eight Mormons and four non-Mormons. This trial led to a hung jury on August 5, 1875. Lee's second trial began September 13, 1876, before an all-Mormon jury. The prosecution called Daniel Wells, Laban Morrill, Joel White, Samuel Knight, Samuel McMurdy, Nephi Johnson, and Jacob Hamblin. Lee also stipulated, against advice of counsel, that the prosecution be allowed to re-use the depositions of Young and Smith from the previous trial. Lee called no witnesses in his defense. This time, Lee was convicted.
At his sentencing, as required by Utah Territory statute, he was given the option of being hanged, shot, or beheaded, and he chose to be shot. In 1877, before being executed by firing squad at Mountain Meadows, Lee professed that he was a scapegoat for others involved. Young stated that Lee's fate was just, but not a sufficient blood atonement, given the enormity of the crime.
Criticism and analysis of the massacre
Media coverage about the event
Main articles: Mountain Meadows massacre and the media and Mountain Meadows massacre and Mormon public relations
The first published report on the incident was made in 1859 by Carleton, who had been tasked by the U.S. Army to investigate the incident and bury the still exposed corpses at Mountain Meadows. Although the massacre was covered to some extent in the media during the 1850s, the first period of intense nation-wide publicity about the massacre began around 1872, after investigators obtained Klingensmith's confession. In 1867 C.V. Waite published "An Authentic History Of Brigham Young" which described the events. In 1872, Mark Twain commented on the massacre through the lens of contemporary American public opinion in an appendix to his semi-autobiographical travel book Roughing It. In 1873, the massacre was a prominent feature of a history by T. B. H. Stenhouse, The Rocky Mountain Saints. National newspapers covered the Lee trials closely from 1874 to 1876, and his execution in 1877 was widely covered.
The massacre has been treated extensively by several historical works, beginning with Lee's own Confession in 1877, expressing his opinion that George A. Smith was sent to southern Utah by Brigham Young to direct the massacre. In 1910, the massacre was the subject of a short book by Josiah F. Gibbs, who also attributed responsibility for the massacre to Young and Smith. The first detailed and comprehensive work using modern historical methods was The Mountain Meadows Massacre in 1950 by Juanita Brooks, a Mormon scholar who lived near the area in southern Utah. Brooks found no evidence of direct involvement by Brigham Young, but charged him with obstructing the investigation and for provoking the attack through his rhetoric.
Initially, LDS Church denied any involvement by Mormons, and was relatively silent on the issue. In 1872, it excommunicated some of the participants for their role in the massacre. Since then, the LDS Church has condemned the massacre and acknowledged involvement by local Mormon leaders. In September 2007, the LDS Church published an article in its publications marking 150 years since the tragedy occurred.
Historical theories explaining the massacre
Historians have ascribed the massacre to a number of factors, including strident Mormon teachings in the years prior to the massacre, war hysteria, and alleged involvement of Brigham Young.
Strident Mormon teachings
Main article: Mountain Meadows massacre and Mormon theology
Mormons, such as John D. Lee, who participated in the Mountain Meadows massacre, felt justified by strident Mormon teachings during the 1850s. However, historians debate whether that justification was a reasonable interpretation of Mormon theology.
For the decade prior to the Baker–Fancher party's arrival there, Utah Territory existed as a theodemocracy led by Brigham Young. During the mid-1850s, Young instituted a Mormon Reformation, intending to "lay[ing] the axe at the root of the tree of sin and iniquity", while preserving individual rights. Mormon teachings during this era were dramatic and strident.
In addition, during the prior decades, the religion had undergone a period of intense persecution in the American Midwest, and faithful Mormons moved west to escape persecution in midwestern towns. In particular, they were officially expelled from the state of Missouri during the 1838 Mormon War, during which prominent Mormon apostle David W. Patten was killed in battle. After Mormons moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, the religion's founder Joseph Smith, Jr. and his brother Hyrum Smith were assassinated in 1844. Just months before the Mountain Meadows massacre, Mormons received word that yet another apostle had been killed: in April 1857, apostle Parley P. Pratt was shot in Arkansas by Hector McLean, the estranged husband of one of Pratt's plural wives, Eleanor McLean Pratt. Mormon leaders immediately proclaimed Pratt as another martyr, and many Mormons held the people of Arkansas responsible.
In 1857, Mormon leaders taught that the Second Coming of Jesus was imminent, and that God would soon exact punishment against the United States for persecuting Mormons and martyring Joseph Smith, Jr., Hyrum Smith, Patten and Pratt, all of whom were considered by Mormons to be prophets. In their Endowment ceremony, faithful early Latter-day Saints took an oath to pray that God would take vengeance against the murderers of the prophets. As a result of this oath, several Mormon apostles and other leaders considered it their religious duty to kill the prophets' murderers if they ever came across them.
The sermons, blessings, and private counsel by Mormon leaders just before the Mountain Meadows massacre can be understood as encouraging private individuals to execute God's judgment against the wicked. In Cedar City, the teachings of church leaders were particularly strident.
Thus, historians argue that southern Utah Mormons would have been particularly affected by an unsubstantiated rumor that the Baker-Fancher wagon train had been joined by a group of eleven miners and plainsmen who called themselves "Missouri Wildcats", some of whom reportedly taunted, vandalized and "caused trouble" for Mormons and Native Americans along the route (by some accounts claiming that they had the gun that "shot the guts out of Old Joe Smith") They were also affected by the report to Brigham Young that the Baker–Fancher party was from Arkansas, and the rumor that Eleanor McLean Pratt, the apostle Pratt's plural wife, recognized one of the party as being present at her husband's murder.
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