Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Church News covers Mountain Meadows

As was announced at the Mormon History Association, the Church News will begin writing articles dealing with controversial aspects of the church. This week, it covered the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  I'm not aware that the church has admitted it's involvement in the massacre.  If so, it has been rare and sparse.  However this article is honest, frank and to the point.

The Church News is only partially available online (  Here is an excerpt as quoted at

On Memorial Day weekend, some 85 Mormon history enthusiasts paused at the site of the Mountain Meadows Massacre to remember what may be the most troubling event in the Church's turbulent 19th century past — troubling because it involved Church members not as victims but as perpetrators of atrocities that claimed the lives of at least 120 men, women and children….

This is the sesquicentennial year of the massacre, which occurred Sept. 11, 1857.

On that day in 1999, President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated a monument at the Mountain Meadows grave site….An informational marker…gives a brief account of the event:

"Led by Captains John T. Baker and Alexander Fancher, a California-bound wagon train from Arkansas camped in this valley in the late summer of 1857 during the time of the so-called Utah War. In the early morning hours of September 7th, a party of local Mormon settlers and Indians attacked and laid siege to the encampment…. A contingent of territorial militia joined the attackers. This Iron County Militia consisted of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) acting on orders from their local religious leaders and military commanders headquartered thirty-five miles to the north in Cedar City…."

In the initial attack [on the Arkansas emigrants], Isaac Haight, a stake president and militia leader in Cedar City, endeavored to incite Paiute Indians to attack the emigrant train because he had been denied permission by militia commander William Dame to use white men. The plan faltered, Brother Turley said, "in part because this was not the Paiutes' fight. They're promised some horses and guns, but they quickly withdraw."

The intent from the start was to blame the attack on the Indians, "but it was quickly determined that it was impossible to have it happen that way," he said, "so they brought in white men to finish up the job."

"After the initial attack, the emigrants pulled their wagons into a tight circle," he said.

The defensive action made them fairly invincible, Brother Turley explained, and they were able to drive off attackers. Running low on ammunition and being cut off from access to water, he said, "may have been a factor in their decision to accept what, in many ways, was a very bizarre set of terms for leaving the emigrant encampment."

Four days later, militia men marched down to about a half-mile from the encampment and were standing in a line, he said. John D. Lee (the only man ever tried and executed for his role in the massacre) went into the camp under a white flag to negotiate the terms under which the emigrants would be allowed to leave.

"He said, in effect: 'I've come to save you. You've been under attack by Indians. We've negotiated with them. They're angry at you, especially your men who've fired back at them and brought casualties to them. They're not angry at the women and children.'"

The terms were that the emigrants, supposedly to avoid a sign of aggression to the Indians, would put all their weapons in militia wagons, then load in wounded and younger children, and the militia would drive the wagons out first at the head of the line. Next, the women and older children would follow. Finally, the men would emerge, and each unarmed emigrant man, supposedly for protection, would line up next to an armed militia man.

"Those terms were not agreed to easily," Brother Turley noted. "The emigrants were suspicious. They already thought there was white participation. But if you look at it from their perspective and ask, 'What choices did they have?' you can see why they ultimately capitulated to the terms."

They proceeded north toward Jacob Hamblin's ranch house. When the women were on the east side of present-day Highway 18 and the men on the west, John Higbee gave the order "Halt!" At that pre-arranged signal, each militia man turned to the emigrant man on his left and shot him at close range, Brother Turley said.

It was anticipated that some of the captors might run, so horsemen were situated whose role was to herd the escaping emigrants so they could be butchered, he said.

He added that white men did most of the killing and that later, the numbers of Indians involved was exaggerated. "Phillip Klingensmith said that after he fired his piece at a man, a woman came running toward the men, and one of the men near him shot and killed the woman."

Once the firing began, he said, people started running, and they were being chased down and attacked. "Just a horrendous atrocity," he exclaimed….

Speaking the previous evening on the campus of Southern Utah University, where the tour members had gathered for dinner, Brother Turley's fellow author, Brother Walker, read portions from the upcoming book.

He thus laid out a scenario in which the Cedar City residents were caught up in a militant spirit fueled by memory of relatively recent wrongs against the Latter-day Saints while they were in Missouri and Illinois and by fear of the rumored approach of federal army troops toward the territory.

Other news came of an advancing emigrant train. "After the massacre, the participants and their neighbors, trying to explain what had happened, told stories of what they had heard about the Fancher train before its arrival," Brother Walker read. "They said the company included some of the saints' former persecutors from Missouri and Illinois, who abused Mormon settlers and the Indians along the trail, and intentionally poisoned an ox in some springs at Corn Creek."

The charges are difficult to sustain because of a scarcity of surviving contemporaneous records, Brother Walker noted….

"To sum up what happened," Brother Walker said, "emigrants come through Cedar City. There are confrontations. The local authorities hope to retaliate, to strike back at the emigrants. They are refused that option by military authorities in Parowan. And then they resort to a plan to use the Native Americans to effect a 'brush' upon the emigrants."

Events escalated from there.

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