Col. M. L.
Cummins' brief statement on this incident is taken out of context. The
following is provided to give some background to this regrettable episode
in American history.
MOUNTAIN MEADOWS MASSACRE
Old marker at Mountain Meadows, c. 1900
In April 1857 a California-bound wagon train estimated at 40 wagons, 120 to 150 men,
women, and children, and as many as 900 head of beef cattle, in addition to draft and
riding animals, assembled near the Crooked Creek, approximately four miles south of
present-day Harrison, Arkansas. Most of these emigrants were from northwestern Arkansas
and were families, relatives, friends, and neighbors. Also included in the group may have
been some from Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Tennessee, and northeastern Texas.
When they began their journey, their wagon train was identified by some as the Baker
train. En route it was known as the Perkins train; in Utah it became known as the Fancher
train. However, there were probably individuals and perhaps elements of other wagon trains
that joined the Fancher train along the way. The emigrants arrived in Salt Lake City on or
about 10 August--a most crucial stop. There they had to refurbish their equipment, refresh
themselves and their stock, and replenish their supplies. They also had to decide whether
to take the shorter, cooler northern route or the longer, warmer southern route to
California. The lateness of the season was the determining factor.
They started on the
northern route and then retraced their steps to take the southern route.
Their arrival in Utah could not have been at a more critical time.
The once friendly
Mormons, usually eager to trade agricultural commodities for manufactured goods, were now
hostile and reluctant to trade. War hysteria permeated the area. President Buchanan had
secretly dispatched an expedition to Utah to suppress what he believed was a rebellion.
Governor Brigham Young subsequently issued a proclamation of martial law on 5 August
(reissued on 15 September) which, among other things, forbade people from traveling
through the territory without a pass. The citizens of Utah were discouraged from selling
food to immigrants, especially for animal use.
The territorial militia (affectionately, the Nauvoo Legion), which included every
able-bodied man between the ages of eighteen and forty-five, was on full alert.
officers, who were also church and civic officials, were dispatched to every settlement
under their command to explain and enforce militia decisions. George A. Smith, who
commanded all of the southern militia units, arrived in Parowan on 8 August and began the
task of preparing the people psychologically, militarily, and materially for war.
units of the Tenth Regiment of the territorial militia were mustered and drilled, and the
impending battle plan was explained. Smith, an effective orator and founder of Iron and
Washington counties, made several impassioned speeches and apparently accomplished his
purpose. The people were convinced that they were in a state of war and were ready to take
As the Fancher train moved south without a pass from the Mormons, contact with the local
settlers became more abrasive. Stories of both fact and fancy were embellished with each
telling. By the time the wagon train reached Cedar City, reports of gross misconduct were
believed. The old troubles in Missouri and Illinois were rehashed.
The murder of beloved
apostle Parley P. Pratt in May of that year in northwest Arkansas was also remembered.
Several meetings were held in Cedar City and Parowan to determine how the "War
Orders" should be implemented. The militia decided that the Fancher train should be
eliminated. Cooler heads prevailed temporarily and an express rider was sent to Salt Lake
City to solicit Brigham Young's advice. The round trip--more than 500 miles--took six
days. In the meantime, things got completely out of hand. Orders and counter-orders were
misinterpreted, deliberately or otherwise.
The Fancher train moved westward from Cedar City with hungry bellies, injured feelings,
and jaded stock to Mountain Meadows, a well-known and much-needed campsite on the old
Spanish Trail/California Road used by travelers to and from California until well into the
present century. It was on the edge of the much-feared desert area between Utah and
California. It is located in the southwest corner of Utah, about thirty-five miles
southwest of Cedar City via the old pioneer road (fifty-four miles via the current paved
highway), and thirty-two miles northwest of St. George.
The shape of the meadows area
resembles an elongated diamond, approximately six miles long and one and one-half miles
wide; it is divided into northern and southern halves by a low bald ridge, which John C. Fémont identified as the south rim of the Great Basin and measured at 5,280 feet above
sea level. This ridge is almost imperceptible and divides the drainage area--the south
half of which eventually reaches the Pacific Ocean via the Colorado River.
surround the meadows.
At that time, the Meadows were covered with a variety of grasses fed by numerous springs
of clear water, and the area was considered by Parley P. Pratt to be one of the most
delightful places on the entire route. The Fancher train, and other travelers who may have
joined or followed them, arrived there the first week in September, anticipating a few
days of recuperation. Some of the emigrants probably continued another four and one-half
miles south to Cane Springs, the site of present-day Central. At dawn the following
Monday, 7 September, the Fancher train was brought under siege by Indians and militiamen
disguised as Indians. Those camped at Cane Springs were also attacked and evidently
retreated to the Mountain Meadows. The wagons were drawn into a circle with their wheels
chained together, and then were lowered to the ground; firing pits were dug and the dirt
thrown under and into the wagons, making a strong defensive barrier.
Seven were killed and
sixteen wounded in the first assault; however, the party resisted the siege for five days
although they were pinned down and isolated from firewood, water, game food, and outside
help. By Friday, 11 September, low on water and ammunition, they were in a helpless
Under a flag of truce and led to believe the militiamen had arrived to save them, the
emigrants were made an offer to leave all of their possessions to the Indians and be
conducted safely back to Cedar City. They accepted the conditions and began their trek.
Seventeen children too small to walk to Cedar City, some mothers, and the wounded were
placed in the wagons. These wagons were followed by the women and older children walking
in a group; they were followed by the men, walking alongside their armed militia
After traveling approximately 1.5 miles, strung out and separated by a small rise in the
ground and shrubbery, isolating each group from the others, the emigrants were massacred
by Indians and militiamen. The only known survivors were the seventeen small children, who
were taken into Mormon homes. The remains of the victims were hurriedly thrown into
shallow depressions and ravines and covered with whatever was available.
were subsequently scattered over the immediate area by storms and wild animals.
The messenger so urgently sent to Salt Lake City for Young's advice returned on Sunday,
two days after the massacre, with Young's advice to let the wagon train pass and not
molest them. The estimated number of victims ranged from 100 to 150; the exact number may
never be known. Appalled by what had been done, and in fear of possible repercussions, an
effective cover-up plan was put into force. It blamed the entire episode on the Indians,
and continued to be maintained for the next few years in the face of outside outrage and
Eighteen months after the massacre, prompted by relatives in Arkansas demanding an
investigation, an army payroll escort passed through the area and reinterred the remains
of the victims that could be found and erected stone cairns over the mass graves--
two at the massacre site and one at the siege site. The U.S. Army forces at Camp Floyd
helped return the seventeen small children to relatives in Arkansas; the children arrived
in Carroll County on 15 September 1859, two years after the massacre.
government prosecuted only one man, John D. Lee, major of the Fourth Battalion of the
militia at Harmony. He was convicted, some say unjustly, and executed at the siege site on
23 March 1877 for his role in the affair. The Mormon Church earlier excommunicated Lee and
a few others believed to have been responsible.
Unsuccessful attempts were made by various groups and individuals to erect a more suitable
monument at Mountain Meadows but no one assumed maintenance responsibility.
enduring was a wall which still stands at the siege site.
It was erected in 1932 and
surrounds the 1859 cairn. On 23 July 1988 a bipartisan meeting was held at the siege site
to discuss the possibility of erecting a more adequate memorial to those who lost their
lives. Two independent and parallel efforts resulted--one by people in southern Utah and
one by Francher party and John D. Lee descendants. Eventually these two groups merged and
cooperatively completed a new granite memorial. It was financed by the state of Utah and
by contributions from private sources. It is situated near the highway (U-19) and
overlooks the siege and massacre sites; and it was dedicated 15 September 1990.
State Division of Parks and Recreation is now responsible for its maintenance.
See: Nels Anderson, Desert Saints (1966); Juanita Brooks, Mountain Meadow
Massacre (1950); Norman F. Furniss, The Mormon Conflict, 1850-59 (1960);
John D. Lee, Mormonism Unveiled and Confessions of John D. Lee (1892).
Morris A. Shirts