Mountain Meadow, Oregon photo via marieTweet
The Mountain Meadows massacre was a series of attacks on the Bakerâ€“Fancher emigrant wagon train at Mountain Meadows in southern Utah. The attacks culminated on September 11, 1857, with the mass slaughter of most in the emigrant party by members of the Utah Territorial Militia from the Iron County district, together with some Paiute Native Americans.
The wagon trainâ€”composed almost entirely of families from Arkansasâ€”was bound for California on a route that passed through the Utah Territory during a turbulent time period, later known as the Utah War. After arriving in Salt Lake City, the Bakerâ€“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 cover of the August 13, 1859 issue of Harper’s Weekly illustrating the killing field as described by Brevet Major Carleton “one too horrible and sickening for language to describe. Human skeletons, disjointed bones, ghastly skulls and the hair of women were scattered in frightful profusion over a distance of two miles.” “the remains were not buried at all until after they had been dismembered by the wolves and the flesh stripped from the bones, and then only such bones were buried as lay scattered along nearest the road”.
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 militiamenâ€”disguised as Native Americansâ€”in an attack. During the militia’s first 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 likely discovered the identity of their attackers. As a result militia commander William H. Dame ordered his forces to kill the emigrants.
By this time the emigrants were running low on water and provisions, and allowed some approaching members of the militiaâ€”who carried a white flagâ€”to enter their camp. The militia members assured the emigrants their protection and escorted them from the 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 and to prevent reprisals to 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 the 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, sentenced to death, and executed.
Today historians attribute the massacre to a combination of factors, including war hysteria about possible invasion of Mormon territory, and strident Mormon teachings against outsiders. Scholars debate whether senior Mormon leadership, including Brigham Young, directly instigated the massacre or if responsibility lay with the local leaders in southern Utah.
Source: National Geographic, Wikipedia