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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mountain Meadows Massacre

On September 11th, our country came together to remember the almost 3,000 lives who were lost due to the terrorist attacks. Some remembered the lives of about 120 men, women and children who also lost their lives in on that day in 1857. Mountain Meadow Massacre began on September 7th and extended to September 11th.

The Fancher-Baker wagon train led by Captains John T. Baker and Alexander Fancher left Arkansas for California. Along the way, they picked up several families and by the time they entered the Utah territory, there were roughly 140 members. The wagon train stopped in Salt Lake City to replenish their supplies. These emigrants picked the wrong time to travel, especially through Utah. Since the founding of their church, Mormons had been heavily persecuted and fear of war hung in the air. Theocratic leader Brigham Young allegedly told his Mormon brethren not to sell supplies to non-Mormons, especially guns and ammunition. When the emigrants attempted to buy supplies in Salt Lake City, they were turned away out of fear of aiding the enemy.

Without the much needed goods, the wagon train continued on the Old Spanish Trail and at some point encountered Mormon missionary and Indian agent Jacob Hamblin. Hamblin suggested they rest their cattle and spend the night in Mountain Meadows, a traditional stopping point on the Old Spanish Trail and adjacent to his homestead. Hamblin and company continued to Salt Lake City leaving the emigrants to their fates. Rumors spread about the so called "bad behavior" displayed by members of the wagon train. They were accused of using abusive language and robbing hen roosts as well as poisoning Corn Creek. These rumors may have attributed to the massacre.

On the morning of September 7th, local Mormon militiamen dressed as Native Americans were aided by Paiutes Indians in attacking the Fancher wagon train led by John D. Lee and Isaac C. Haight. The emigrants encircled and lowered their wagons. Then dug shallow trenches and chained wheels together for protection. During the five day siege, fifteen emigrant men were killed. Fresh water and food along with ammunition slowly depleted. On September 11th, Lee along with two other militiamen entered the encirclement under a white flag. Lee told them he would negotiate a truce with the Paiutes and escorted them safely to Cedar City. All the emigrants had to do was turn over their livestock (approximately 800 cattle) and their supplies to the Native Americans. They accepted their terms.

Women and children were escorted out first. Then the men and boys followed, each with n armed militiaman at their side. They walked about a mile. With a signal, the militiamen fired upon the men and boys, killing them one by one. The Paiute Indians came out of hiding and attacked the women and children. About a hundred and twenty men, women and children were murdered. Their bodies were left decomposing on the open plains for two years before given a proper burial by U.S. Army Brevet Major James Henry Carleton's troops. Their possessions were auctioned off. Only seventeen children under the age of eight were allowed to live possibly because they were thought to be too young to remember or tell anyone of the events that had transpired. They were distributed and adopted by local Mormon families until 1859 when they were reunited with their extended families in Arkansas by the U.S. Government.

The actual reasons for the massacre remain unknown though some believed it was a mixture of politics and religion. The mass murder was initially blamed on the Native Americans. When word reached Brigham Young, he was appalled by what had taken place and began an investigation. In the first trial, nine men of the Utah Territorial militiamen of the Tenth Regiment "Iron Brigade" were indicted for murder or conspiracy in 1874: Maj. John D. Lee, Issac C. Haight, Maj. John H. Higbee, Philip Klingensmith, William C. Stewart, Samuel Jukes, Ellott Willden, George Adair, Jr. and W. H. Dame. Klingensmith agreed to testify and escaped prosecution. Cases against Dame, Willden and Adair were not pursued. Bounties of $500 each were posted for the capture of Haight, Higbee and Stewart who went in to hiding. Lee's first trial ended with a hung jury. He was convicted after the second one. He was executed by firing squad at Mountain Meadows in 1877.

On the spot were so much blood was shed sits a memorial. Have the emigrant souls found peace? Possibly not. Some have reported unexplained sorrow upon visiting the memorial site. Voices are heard at the nearby creek. Perhaps they want to keep the invasion alive. Whether the site is really haunted or not, it's a burial site. Therefore, sacred ground and should be treated with the up most respect.
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