Mountain Meadow Massacre—160 years later

By Craig Bennett

Iron County Today

Controversy seems to continue surrounding the events leading up to, during and after the Mountain Meadow Massacre that occurred about 50 miles southwest of Cedar City Utah on September 11, 1857.

The massacre began with a wagon train of immigrants traveling from Arkansas to California. On the route through Utah, they traveled through Fillmore, Cedar City and then into Mountain Meadow near Pinto.

Descendents, LDS Church officials and others gathered at the site of the 1857 massacre for a specific burial on Saturday, September 9 in a music-filled ceremony.

After being held for almost 160 years in a museum collection, the skull of one of the children killed in the massacre was laid to rest. The remains of the child traveled from what became the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Maryland back to the site of the massacre. The remains were buried at the meadow where the remains of the other doomed Arkansas immigrants were also buried.

The remains were from one of 37 known children killed in the massacre. Seventeen children, all under the age of 7, were allowed to survive. All of the adult men and women in the wagon train were killed.

Saturday’s yearly memorial also marked the anniversary of the five-day siege that culminated in the deaths of the 120 California-bound immigrants.

The Mountain Meadows massacre was a series of attacks on the Baker-Fancher emigrant wagon train. The attacks began on September 7 and culminated on September 11, resulting in the mass killing of the emigrant party by members of the Utah Territorial Militia from the Iron County District together with some Paiute Native Americans. The militia was composed of southern Utah’s Mormon settlers or members of the LDS church.

While the emigrants were camped at the meadow, nearby militia leaders, including Isaac C. Haight and John D. Lee, (who would become the only person involved in the ordeal that was tried by a court of law, convicted and executed by firing squad for the massacre), joined forces to organize an attack on the wagon train.

Intending to give the appearance of Native American aggression, the militia’s plan was to arm some of the Southern Utah Paiute Native Americans and persuade them to join the militiamen in the attack by offering them some of the trains possessions. During the first assault on the wagon train, the emigrants fought back and the five-day siege ensued. The order was finally given by militia commander W H. Dame to kill the emigrants.


By this time the emigrants were running low on provisions, and allowed some members of the militia to approach carrying a white flag. The militia assured the emigrants they were protected and if they would disarm they would be escorted out of the meadow safely and allowed to go on they’re way.

After a short distance from camp, the militiamen, with the help of auxiliary forces hiding nearby, attacked the emigrants and killed all of them that they believed were old enough to be potential witnesses to the attack.

Following the massacre, the perpetrators hastily buried the victims, leaving the bodies vulnerable to animals and the climate. Local families took in the surviving children. Eventually all of the children were located and returned to relatives in the Arkansas area.

Two years after the massacre, a U.S. Army unit commanded by Major Carleton was sent in to the meadow to investigate. Some remains of the victims were located and the first monument for the emigrants was a simple cairn built over the gravesite of 34 of the victims. It was topped by a large cedar cross. The monument was later found destroyed but again replaced by the U.S. Army in 1864.

The controversy continues even today as to where the actual gravesite is located. An archaeologist from California believes he may have found the two mass graves that hold the bodies of men, women and children. Everett Bassett said that after reading U.S. Army documents from 1859 about the burials and visiting the site holding the graves, he determined the current burial locations were incorrect. He presented his findings to the Mountain Meadows Massacre Foundations meeting in Harrison, Arkansas. However, the graves aren’t on the land the LDS Church purchased in order to memorialize the victims. The graves are believed to be on privately owned land nearby.

The Mountain Meadows Association, an association of relatives of the victims and others dedicated to the memory of the emigrants, is trying to come to an agreement with the landowner for conservation of the sites.


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