On September 11, 1857, approximately 30 miles west-southwest of present-day Cedar City, Utah, a massacre occurred that was the single bloodiest incident of violence along any of the American pioneer trails. Mormons, possibly aided by some local Paiute Indians, murdered some 140 members of the Fancher wagon-train party - killing everyone over the age of seven years.
It took almost 20 years for anyone to be brought to justice for this mass-murder. Even then, only one man - John Doyle Lee - was executed for his part in the crime. No other persons ever received any punishment for their part in the massacre.
The Fancher party, which left Carroll County, Arkansas in late April, 1857, was made up of farmers and cattlemen seeking a new home in southern California. The trip was a tough one, meeting with the standard travails of Western travel in that time - even to an attack by Indians near Fort Bridger, where the attackers were able to drive off some 900 head of livestock. The party was able to find the raiders and recovered all but 16 of their animals. The Fancher party was made up tough pioneer stock, people who normally took care of themselves.
Nothing would prepare them, though, for the conditions that they would find when they arrived in Salt Lake City, and the rest of their trip through Utah.
Mormons, in their 'State of Deseret', were almost at open war with the United States government - over issues of Federal officials and Federal troops, and religious tenets. Religious leaders had made public declarations that there was to be no aid given to any travelers - even to the point of refusing to sell them any food or other supplies. Anyone found to have helped any 'Gentile' travelers faced immediate ex-communication from the LDS church, and expulsion from their homes (or worse).
Members of the Fancher party, finding that they could not purchase any more fresh supplies until they reached California, were quite upset about the matter. Insults and epithets were very likely traded back and forth between the travelers and the local inhabitants. Tempers were very hot, on both sides, by the time the wagon train reached Mountain Meadows, a popular resting spot for travelers, in present-day south-west Utah.
For some unexplained reason, possibly due to fatigue, the Fancher train was not formed into the normal protective circle when they reached Mountain Meadows on the evening of September 6, 1857. At first light, the next morning, gunfire suddenly poured into the camp from a nearby creek bed, killing or wounding 15 people in just a few moments. The attackers were Paiute Indians aided by several local white residents.
Over the next five days, the pioneers would put up a fierce resistance, but they were hampered by lack of food and water, and their exposed position. On Friday, September 11, they were near the end of their supplies and ammunition. Then, it seemed that their salvation had arrived. Local Mormons, under a white flag, offered to lead the travelers to safety if they would lay down their weapons and march out of camp accompanied by the local residents. Many of the Fancher party suspected treachery, but in the end their perilous situation almost demanded that they accept any chance at being saved, so they surrendered their weapons and marched out of camp.
About one mile from camp, John Lee suddenly turned and shouted, "Men, do your duty." For several minutes, the screams of the wounded and dying accompanied rifle and pistol fire. Finally, the only sound left was the crying of young children - seventeen children all seven years of age, or younger, were spared from the slaughter. All of these were adopted by local Mormon families, but were later returned to their relatives in Missouri and Arkansas.
Immediately, local leaders attempted to lay all the blame on local hostile Indian tribes. None of the Mormons were even supposed to talk amongst themselves about their parts in the murders. Still, though, with so many involved, there was bound to be some talk and gossip about the matter.
The U.S. Government attempted to investigate the massacre but was stone-walled at almost every turn by local church officials. Several hearings were conducted in an attempt to find the responsible individuals who had participated in the killings.
It would take almost 20 years before enough evidence could be gathered to convict anyone of their role in the massacre, even then requiring collusion from many high church officials. At approximately 11:00 a.m. on March 23, 1877, John Doyle Lee was executed by a firing squad. His last words were; "Center my heart, boys!" No other person was ever convicted of any role in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
Blood of the Prophets:
Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows
The Mountain Meadows Massacre
♠Clark, Robert A. (Editor)
The Mountain Meadows Massacre:
A Special Report by Brevet Major James Henry Carleton
The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, September 1857
♠Lee, John D.
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