The Mountain Meadows Massacre and Its Completion as a Historic Episode, by Ralph R. Rea
No single incident that occurred prior to the Civil War had such a profound effect on the people of the Ozarks country as did the Mountain Meadows Massacre. This great tragedy, which was enacted in the southwest corner of Utah in September of 1857, took the lives of one hundred twenty men, women and children, made orphans of seventeen or eighteen infants, and seared deep in the heart of every Arkansas mountaineer a bitter hatred of everything that smacked of Mormonism.
In order better to understand this tragic story let us look briefly at the background of the people involved, see who they were, and why they were making this westward trek.
Before the Fallen Ash Military Road was built, about 1830, most settlers in the Ozarks section of Arkansas had come up the White River, and some of the first of these built their cabins at the mouth of Bear Creek and on Sugar Loaf Prairie (both of these places being in the northeastern portion of what is now Boone County.) This we know because Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, an early traveler through the Ozarks, tells of visiting with some of these families, when he traveled overland, through what is now north Boone County in the year 1818.
At first migration into the Ozarks was slow, but after 1830 the tempo increased. By 1857 the area had reached a rather high state of development, by pioneer standards, and the largest town between Batesville and Fayetteville was Carrollton, then County Seat of Carroll County. Carrollton has long since become virtually a ghost town). Probably the second oldest community in Carroll County was Crooked Creek or Beller's Stand, which lay southeast of Carrollton. Crooked Creek was the forerunner of Harrison. Another early settlement that vied with Carrollton and Crooked Creek was Osage, which was some eight miles west of Carrollton. These early communities had sprung up along the Fallen Ash Military Road, the main artery of travel that brought the great influx of people into the Arkansas Ozarks. So many people had come by this route in the first quarter century following its opening that by 1857 the population of Carroll County was nearing 9,000inhabitants. They did not include the 300 or more slaves brought in by a hundred or so of the wealthiest families. Among the slaveholders were the Fanchers, who settled at Osage and the Bakers, who settled in the vicinity of Crooked Creek. Other early families in the Carrollton Crooked Creek area were the Mitchells, the Bellers and the Dunlaps. All these were substantial families, and all had members that were to take part in the westward migration that was to end tragically at Mountain Meadows.
With the Ozarks country fast building up, the more adventuresome needed only the lure of gold to furnish impetus to send them across western deserts. The search for gold had, even before 1857, taken one member of the family on this westward trek. He was Alexander, known as "Piney Alex", who already had made two overland trips to the West Coast. However, the year 1857 found him back in Arkansas ready for the third. Thus it was that Alexander Fancher set about organizing a train for the early spring of 1857, and this train he determined was to be made up of sound, solid citizens and their families, the kind of people needed to develop the west.
Even before the last winter snow was gone a tentative date for departure had been set, and by the last week in April families that were to make the journey were gathering at the appointed meeting place.
Let us draw on imagination a bit and construct a picture of the departure at Beller's Stand a hundred years ago. It is May 1, 1857, and we can see the campfires, as they appear one by one in the pre-dawn blackness. Soon there is the smell of coffee and frying side-meat, and then young voices are heard as more and more of the children realize that at last the great day has arrived.
By the time the first gray streaks have appeared in the east there is a hubbub of activity as far down the valley as one can see.
Shouts pass up and down the line and here and there we hear the dull thud of a wooden maul as it drives a linchpin into place. Just as the eastern sky lights up there comes a booming' voice from the creek bank.
"Let's roll!" This is answered by a chorus of childish voices.
"We're goin' to Californy!"
The groans of wooden axles rise and fall above the soft swoosh of the wheels as they roll through the sand by the creek bank. Then from the little cove near the creek comes shouting of men's voices, barking of dogs, and cracking of bull whips, mingled with snorts and bellows of the protesting herd as drivers force animals to follow the moving procession.
Much in this manner the Fancher Caravan started on its westward trek to California one hundred years ago, after more than a week of preparation.
Just who were these people who made up the Fancher Caravan as it was assembled at Beller's Stand? There was Captain of the train, "Piney Alex" Fancher, with his wife and seven children; and the man second in authority, John T. Baker, of Crooked Creek. With Baker were his two grown sons, George W. and Abel. George was accompanied by his wife and four children. There were the three Mitchell brothers; two Beller children (teenagers); the Deshazo, Prewitt, Camron, Dunlap and Cecil families. These people, all from Carroll County, had been joined by another Dunlap family and the Woods and Wilson families from Marion County.
Over the mountain from Johnson County had come J. Milam Jones, Pleasant Tacket, Cintha Tacket, Peter Huff, and Josiah Miller and their families. As the caravan traveled west through Arkansas, it was joined by others. The Sorrells and the Wassons were among these. Either starting with the party or joining them somewhere en route were the Mortons, Haydons, Hudsons, Stevensons, Hamiltons, and Smiths.
Somewhere along the line William Eaten from Illinois joined the party--probably somewhere in Missouri. Later, even after the train reached Prove, Utah, a young artist, Alien Aden, from Paris, Tennessee, fell in with them. He had been painting and sketching on the desert, and decided to join in the journey to California.
The Fancher Caravan was very well equipped, having some forty wagons and several carriages (the later being used to transport the women and children). They had a thousand head of cattle and several hundred horses. The total wealth of the train was estimated at $70,000.
The trip from St. Joseph, Missouri to Utah was a pleasant one, marred only by the fact that an undesirable group fell in with them while crossing the plains. This party was from Missouri and its members called themselves "The Missouri Wild Cats." Information handed down about the Wild Cats indicates that they were properly named, for they were given to loud and boisterous conduct. No doubt their actions often cast the Fancher Party in an unfavorable light with the Mormons. Juanita Brooks of St. George, Utah, author of a recent book "The Mountain Meadows Massacre: quotes a Utah citizen, who traveled with the Fancher Party from Port Bridger to Great Salt Lake City, as saying that "the train was divided into two parts--the first a rough-and-ready set of men--regular frontier pioneers, the other a picked community, the members of which were all more or less connected by family ties." We know that some of those who left from Beller's Stand took a different route because of the conduct of the "Wild Cats." Among these were Sally Cecil, widow of Riley Cecil, together with her nine children. A relative of Mrs. Cecil has told this writer that the Widow Cecil left the party because she heard one of the Wild Cats threaten to poison a spring. This course of conduct, coupled with the fact that the Mormons were then virtually at war with the United States, created an explosive situation. The saints had even been counseled by Brigham Young that it "might be necessary to set fire to their property and hide in the mountains, and leave their enemies to do the best they could." In blind obedience to their leader's orders, the faithful in South Utah were preparing for the worst, some even going so far as to flee to the mountains and hide their food-stuff there.
On August 3 and 4, according to the minutes of the Mormon Church Council, two caravans passed through Great Salt Lake City. Both parties had large herds of livestock, and it is pretty generally agreed that these trains were the Missouri Wild Cats followed by the Arkansas group. There the train took the southern trail that passed through Prove, Springwell, on to Cedar City and then to Mountain Meadows. Beyond the Meadows lay the desert and California.
Several accounts have been written of the last days of the Fancher Caravan. About twenty years ago a story appeared in a "thriller" magazine. The story was entitled, "I Survived the Mountain Meadows Massacre," and the account was written under the name of Elizabeth Baker Terry, a survivor who spent her life in or near Harrison, except for a short stay in Utah as a child. However, Mrs. Terry did not write the story, it was taken from an interview with her by a professional writer. The following account is taken from this narrative, but those portions which were not confirmed as part of Mrs. Terry's own story were eliminated from this account, after a careful check with Mrs. Terry's daughter, who now lives in Harrison.
The confirmed portion of the story follows:
"Six months had passed when we at last camped on the Jordan River in Utah.
"Our provisions were running low. The cattle were weary and footsore, but we were jubilant. In those days pioneers looked upon Utah as a supply station for the final drive to California. At American Forks, a small settlement, attempts were made to re-provision. The Mormons met our offers with sullen shakes of their heads.
"We went through Battle Creek, Prove, Springwell, Spanish Fork, Salt Creek and Fillmore, then we reached Mountain Meadows Ever since emigrants began plying their way across the continent, the Meadows had been a resting place for travelers This five mile valley, filled a mile wide and bordered by with luxuriant grass, was low-flung mountains.
"Near the lower end the valley tapered to a mere three or four hundred yards, the gap led out to the scorched sands of the desert beyond. A spring made this section of the Meadows a natural camping ground. Here we halted to rest.
"The day before we were Most of us sought check. Every family was on rations. Most of us sought our blankets not long after sundown.
"I awoke early. A coffee aroma permeated the wagons, which had been drawn up in helter-skelter fashion.
"Suddenly there was a rattle of fire from the hillside nearest our camp
"Whooping savages tumbled down the slope and sliced off our milling stock.
"The men worked frantically, shoving the heavy schooners and carriages into the form of a huge corral. A few, armed with long rifles, stood on guard. The last wagon was in line when the main band of savages charged down the mountainside, yelling and shooting Rifles began to bark along the train. The attackers hesitated before the viciousness of the fire and fell back. The respite gave us time to dig in Under Captain Fancher's direction the wheels of the wagon corral were locked together by means of chains. Others hurried out with picks and shovels and dug feverishly to throw up a breastwork. Even the women helped.
"We were on a traveled route and it appeared that all we had to do was to stand the Indians off until help arrived.
"The sun tortured us with intense heat. By midday it was almost unbearable, and we were almost out of water. Later in the day the last of the brackish water was consumed
"On the evening of the third day the Indians made their most determined attack Crouched low, they circled about the train, shooting inaccurately The Meadows afforded little cover and our assailants felt the lash of the corral sharpshooters. Back they went to the hillside, carrying their wounded with them. The siege was on again.
"The fourth day was the worst of all. The wounded were actually dying of thirst. The entire caravan was weak from lack of water.
"The morning of the fifth day dawned. Our resistance was crumbling rapidly. Our ammunition was nearly gone. The stench of our unburied dead was in our nostrils. And always with us was the agony of thirst.
"The cry of a sentry shook us from our stupor. Two men, mounted on horses and bearing a white flag, were advancing toward us.
"In a twinkle, hope transformed our ranks. We cheered weakly. The horsemen came on at a walk, so slow I thought they would never reach the corral. A square made man with an air of authority dismounted, smiling at our greetings He left his companion with the horses. Captain Fancher stepped forward The stranger took Fancher's hand. 'John D. Lee,' he said, 'Indian Commissioner for this district.'
"Eagerly we crowded around him. He explained gravely that the Piaute Indians and difficult to handle, but he believed he could persuade them to parley. In a lengthy conference between Lee and the men of our band, he gained our complete confidence."
Here we will leave Mrs. Terry's narrative briefly, and in order better to understand Lee's visit, turn to the events that had transpired in Cedar City the days preceding the attack.
When the covered wagons and carriages passed through that city they were closely watched by four Mormon Saints. These men were Colonel William H. Dame, Isaac Haight, Philip Klingonsmith and John Higbee.
Dame was Commander of Iron Military District.
Haight was President of the Parowan Stake, and a lieutenant colonel in the Mormon Militia.
Klingonsmith was bishop of Cedar City.
Higbee was a major in the militia.
The fanaticism of these men, coupled with their memory of the martyred Joseph Smith, and their possession of information that part of the travelers were from Missouri and Illinois (these were the scenes of persecution against the Mormons) had helped move them into an unholy plot.
The Missouri Wild Cats certainly had not done anything to improve relations with the Mormons. They had
bullied and threatened, and it is authoritatively reported that one of them even claimed to be carrying the gun, which shot "Old Joe Smith."
Another incident--one that happened in Arkansas contributed to bitter feeling toward this particular caravan. Just three years before, Elder Parley Pratt, one of the devout saints, had come to Louisiana and Arkansas as the first missionary to represent his sect in these states. Among his converts was a Mrs. McLean of Louisiana, who allegedly deserted her husband to become a polygamous wife to Saint Pratt. McLean himself was away from home at the time. When he returned he opposed the changed status. Pratt had already started westward, but McLean pursued him and had him arrested. Pratt was freed on arraignment at Van Buren, Arkansas, and again started his journey west. McLean, not satisfied with the outcome of the court hearing, again followed Pratt. This time he overtook Pratt near the present town of Alma and there attacked him with a bowie knife and stabbed him to death. The word of Pratt's death soon made its way to the Mormon country, and the Mormons felt that it should be avenged.
All of these wrongs had burned deep into the hearts of the Mormon people, so that it was easy for Dame, Haight, Klingonsmith, and Higbee to whip them into a religious frenzy. Records of the Cedar City Council meeting indicate that the council developed a messianic complex, in that they felt God had actually sent the caravan to them so that blood atonement could be made for great wrongs done against Mormons in Missouri, Illinois, and Arkansas.
Dame, Haight, Klingonsmith, and Higbee were too cowardly and too hypocritical to attack the train themselves; so they decided to bribe the Piautes to do the job. This is where John D. Lee came into the picture, for as Indian agent he was on friendly terms with the various tribes in the Mormon country.
Lee was born in KasKaskia, Illinois on September 6, 1812, the son of Ralph Lee, of the Lees of Virginia--a distant cousin of Robert E. Lee. John D. Lee's maternal grandfather was John Doyle of Nashville, Tennessee. Lee was reared a Roman Catholic, but when a young man he embraced the Mormon faith. He had been a subject of the persecutions in Illinois and Missouri. Though never great in the hierarchy of the church, Lee was held in very high esteem, as is demonstrated by the fact that he was the adopted son of President Brigham Young.
The night Lee arrived in Cedar City, in response to the summons by Dame and the others, he spent in consultation with these conspirators. They convinced him that the Gentiles had stolen cattle, insulted Mormon women, threatened to burn every Mormon town in Utah, and that they even had with them the gun with which one of their number had assassinated Joseph Smith. Their anger fanned to a white heat the five then pledged themselves to wipe out the hated Gentiles. After their pledge they remained together until dawn, praying fervently. But the next day one among the conspirators talked to other Mormons, and the more sober heads in Cedar City made plans to head off the vicious plot. There was no one to whom they could appeal locally, so they decided to go to the highest recognized authority. They dispatched a messenger to Brigham Young to ask his decision. It is pretty conclusively established that Young sent the messenger back immediately with the command to give the emigrants safe passage through he Mormon Country. The messenger did not arrive until after the siege had begun, and as a matter of fact, it had almost failed because the Indians had met such stubborn resistance that they were ready to call the whole thing off.
Haight received Brigham Young's message, but the besieged caravan already knew too much, so there could be no backing up. He deliberately lied to Higbee, who in turn passed the erroneous order to Lee. The order Lee received: "Kill everyone old enough to talk."
Several of the Indians had already gone back to their homes, so Lee and Higbee recruited fifty-two fanatical Saints to help them write the last chapter of this sordid tale.
This brings us up to date with the Mormon phase of the story, for it was at this point that John D. Lee rode up under a flag of truce, dismounted from his horse, and taking Alexander Fancher by the hand, offered his services to help the caravan in their hour of need. Let us therefore, turn back to Mrs. Terry's account for the last details of this dark picture.
"When the Indian Commissioner rode off our hopes and prayers went with him. He was gone two hours.
"He came back at a gallop, a wagon following in his dust. He said, 'They've agreed to let you go if you'll surrender your arms.'
"At first the men objected, then finally agreed to the terms.
"Slowly they filed to the wagon Lee had brought with him. Rifles clattered in the bed.
"John D. Lee smiled grimly and nodded to the driver. The wagon rumbled off over the low rise. Mounting his horse Lee spurred a short distance from the corral. He rose in his stirrups and shouted, 'Do your duty!'
"Bewildered we stood there. The Indians, shrieking, shooting, yelling, tumbled down the slope triumphantly. For a moment the entire wagon train was frozen into immobility.
"I started to follow my mother and stumbled. The last I saw of her, she was running toward our carriage with little Billy in her arms. And the Indians were upon us.
"Now I could see they weren't all Indians. Whites had painted themselves to resemble their savage companions. With bloodcurdling yells they leaped on the defenseless pioneers. I sought shelter under a wagon and peered out between the spokes.
"I saw my father fall to the ground
"The Indians and their white companions killed and killed. The sight of blood sent them into a fanatical frenzy. One huge white kept shouting, 'For Jehovah!'
"The fiends slackened their butchering only when there were no more victims. Dripping blood, they stood panting, searching for any signs of life among the hacked and clubbed bodies.
"A white man took me by the hand and led me to a wagon where several other children had been placed.
"I found my sister, Sarah Frances, there.
"As we left, the Indians and whites were completing their looting. Some of the disguised Mormons were washing their paint at the spring.
"Our wagon creaked to the Hamblin ranch a mile away, where it discharged its sobbing cargo.
"We were held at the ranch for several days while the Mormons debated on how to dispose of us.
"No effort was made to give the bodies a decent preparation for burial. Not until 1859 did a passing detachment of U. S. Cavalry stop to gather the bones into one grave. A rock cairn was erected. On one stone was carved the words: 'Here lie the bones of one hundred and twenty men, women and children, from Arkansas, murdered on the 10th day of September, 1857.
"An officer painted on a cross-like beam above the cairn:
'Vengeance is mine saith the Lord. I will repay'."
Mrs. Terry's statement agrees in almost every respect with facts as they were later developed. In one minor detail the actual massacre differed from her account. Nephi Johnson, a young Mormon who was present, told in detail how the actual killing was done. His statement brought out the following facts:
When the terms were agreed upon two wagons were drawn up. Into the first were loaded the young children, along with some clothing, bedding, and guns; into the second were placed one woman and two or three wounded emigrant men. The two wagons pulled out, with Lee walking between them. A short distance behind in an unorganized and irregular group, walked the women and older children, after these had proceeded nearly a quarter of a mile the men came, single file, each unarmed beside an armed Mormon "guard." Major Higbee, on horseback, commanded the whole.
"After marching along for some time, the signal 'Halt' was given, at which time each white man was to kill the emigrant man at his side. The Indians were in ambush at the place where the signal was given, and at the signal quite a number of the posse failed to kill his man, for the reason they did not approve the killing.
"The plan was for the Indians to kill the women and children and wounded, and the white men of the posse to kill the men of the emigrants, but owing to some of the white men of the posse failing to kill their men, the Indians assisted in finishing the work. There were about 150 Indians present."
Nephi Johnson further said, "Haight asked me what I would do with the property. I asked him if he wanted to know my real feelings about it and he said yes. Then I said you have made a sacrifice of the people, and I would burn the property, and let the cattle roam over the country, for the Indians to kill, and go home like men."
The actual massacre ended within a few minutes after it had begun. Some who participated estimated that it was over in five minutes, others said it was nearer thirty. At any rate it did not last long, but the aftermath has lingered in the hearts of many for a century.
The first news that leaked out of Utah told of a terrible massacre by the Indians, and it was nor until months later that the true facts were suspected. Here we must place much of the blame on Brigham Young, for, though the best evidence seems to indicate he did not sanction the act, he did become an accessory after the fact, in that he helped conceal the crime.
When the story came to light, William W. Watkins, who was then state senator from Carroll County was sent to Washington to press for an investigation into the massacre. He secured an audience with the president, and thereby started the wheels in motion for government intervention.
In 1859 Captain James Lynch of the U. S. Army took possession of seventeen surviving children and returned them to Ft. Leavenworth where William Mitchell, who had lost three sons in the massacre, met them and transported the children to Carrollton, Arkansas.
The main credit for solving this terrible crime goes to Judge Cradlebaugh, who was federal judge for Utah Territory. When Justice Cradlebaugh's investigation brought all the facts to light, Brigham Young excommunicated Haight, Klingonsmith, Higbee and Lee. Klingonsmith turned against the others and made an affidavit placing blame on them. Haight and Higbee managed to avoid arrest and Lee alone was captured and tried.
United States Marshal William Stokes arrested Lee in 1874,seventeen years after the massacre.
Lee was tried twice. The first hearing was declared a mistrial, but on the second trial Lee was deserted by he church and left to face his crime alone. Old and broken, Lee then wrote a full confession. In his confession he said in part: "I did not act alone. I had many to assist me at the Mountain Meadows. I believe that most of those who were connected with the massacre, and took part in ?he lamentable transaction that has blackened the character of all who were aiders or abettors in the same, were acting under the impression that they were performing a religious duty. I know all were acting under the orders and by the command of their church leaders; and I firmly believed that most of those who took part in the proceedings, considered it a religious duty to unquestioningly obey the orders which they had received. I knew I was acting a cruel part and doing a damnable deed. Yet my faith in the godliness of my leaders was such that it forced me to think that I was not sufficiently spiritual to act the important part I was commanded to perform."
On second trial Lee was found guilty and sentenced to die. He chose the firing squad as the method of his execution. On March 23, 1877, twenty years after the massacre, the government had him transported to the exact spot on which the emigrants stood when Lee came to them with a white flag and guaranteed their safety. Lee sat on his coffin for a few moments then he arose and spoke with deep feeling:
"I feel resigned to my fate. I feel as calm as a summer morn, and I have done nothing intentionally wrong. My conscience is clear before God and man. I am ready to meet my Redeemer. A victim has to be had and I am the victim. I studied to make Brigham Young's will my pleasure for thirty years. See, now, what I have come to this day! I have been sacrificed in a cowardly, dastardly manner."
When Lee had finished his statement he turned to the marshal.
"Let them shoot the balls through my heart! Don't let them mangle my body!"
Then the Marshal gave the command.
"Ready! Aim! Fire!"
Five rifles roared, and the twisted, fanatical life of John Doyle Lee was snuffed out.
This officially closed the case on the Mountain Meadows Massacre. However, many intriguing stories have come out of this great tragedy. Some are real and some are pure figments of the imagination, but they add color to the over-all picture.
The most persistent legend is that there were eighteen children who were spared, instead of the seventeen that were returned to their nearest kin in Arkansas. That there was an eighteenth child is believed by most people who have studied the available material on the massacre.
One of the most common versions of this story is that the child was old enough to remember a great deal about the massacre, and that he or she made the mistake of talking about the things that had actually happened; consequently the child had to be disposed of.
Another tale that is still told in Cedar City, Utah, is that the child was a baby girl who was kept by a childless Mormon couple. The girl is said to have grown to maturity, married and reared a Mormon family.
Then there is another story that has been told in and about Harrison, Arkansas, where most of the surviving children lived. This story is to the effect that Vinia Baker, sister of Elizabeth Baker Terry, was the eighteenth child. Mrs. Terry often told of seeing this sister, who was ten or twelve years old and mature for her age, being led away by a Mormon man. Mrs. Terry always held to the belief that Vinia was forced to become a plural wife to one of the saints. All of these stories are built on mere conjecture, but there is one beautiful factual story that came out of this despicable slaughter. The young army officer, Captain Lynch, who brought the children back from Utah, later married one of the survivors. Lynch became very much attached to the seventeen children, and always referred to them as "my children." He visited with them often, and out of this association came a romance with one of the surviving Dunlap girls.
The Mormon people have paid a terrible price for their greatest error. On this point Juanita Brooks had the following to say:
"It (the massacre) was tragic for this those who were killed and for the children left orphans, but it was also tragic for the men who became murderers, and for their children who for four generations now have lived under that shadow.
"Many of them moved away. Not that they feared the law but that they could not face their neighbors. They wanted their children to grow up so far away that they would not hear of this or become connected with it. Within a year, the population of Cedar City had decreased almost half."
The people in the Ozarks, and those in Utah also, soon knew the horrible truth of Mountain Meadows; but the great and continuing tragedy of the whole affair is the fact that the Mormon Church has been silent on the subject.
It remained for the descendants of the Fancher party to make the first great overture to heal the wound. This was finally done on September 4; 1955. On that date the Richard Fancher Society unveiled in Harrison, Arkansas monument to the memory of the victims and survivors of the massacre. The program was religious in nature and the theme was one of forgiveness.
Invited to attend this ceremony was Mrs. Juanita Brooks of St. George, Utah, author and nationally recognized authority on the massacre; also invited was A R. Mortensen, Secretary of the Utah Historical Society. Mrs. Brooks accepted and made the principal address at the dedication. Mr. Mortensen, unable to attend, but in declining he wrote the following letter:
A. R. Mortensen
UTAH STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Salt Lake City, Utah
August 25, 1955
Mr. J. K. Fancher,
Dear Mr. Fancher:
I am thrilled beyond measure at your letter of August 16th, which tells of your family reunion and unveiling ceremonies to be held on September 4th, at Harrison, Arkansas. Your most cordial invitation to participate with you people on that day is particularly appreciated.
All my adult life I have been concerned with the history of the Mountain Meadows, the most tragic, vent that took place there, and the unhappy aftermath that has existed in many quarters down to our time. For a variety of reasons, one of which is paramount above all the rest, I am personally affected just as much as you by the great tragedy of September, 1857. My great grandfather died there also -- but twenty years after the massacre. His name was John D. Lee.
There is never an excuse for murder, and I have never sought one, but in the case of the Mountain Meadows Massacre there is at least an explanation which partially accounts for the actions of the fifty-three white participants A careful reading of the book by Juanita Brooks will supply the explanation I have indicated.
The spirit of your letter to me, and the spirit in which you are holding your affair, is indeed the epitome of Christianity. May I extend sincere greetings to you and your family and all those who participate with you on September 4th next, and hope that the Guardian of us all favors you with a happy and successful day.
Sincerely yours, /s A. R. Mortensen.
In her talk Mrs. Brooks admitted Mormon guilt, but attributed the actual massacre to one of those tragic incidents of mob psychology where an incited and fanatical group will commit an act that no individual within the group would ever do alone. She told something of the type of people who actually perpetrated the crime. One of her stories concerned Nephi Johnson, whom we have mentioned before as being one of those present. This story follows:
"When I was in my eighteenth year, I left home to teach school. In the town where I worked was a fine old man named Nephi Johnson, who seemed to me to exemplify Old Age at its best. There was a dignity about him, an aura of wisdom, and with it ah a gentleness. I used to wonder what he was like as a young man--how big and handsome he must have been who now was like a shock of grain, ripe unto the harvest.
"One day as I closed my school he came to my schoolroom, and after the customary greetings, he said, 'I have something I would like you to do for me. My eyes have witnessed things that my tongue has never uttered, and before I die, I want them written down.'
"I promised that I would do it; I really intended to. But at eighteen I was more interested in young men than in old ones, I put it off. There were last-day-of-school programs and reports to attend to; there were dates and dances. Soon after school closed a neighbor came to say that my old friend was ill, and that he kept asking for the little school ma'am.
"I went at once and stayed by, the three days until he died. It was the first time I had witnessed the passing of a human soul, and I was shaken by it, but more shaken by the last hours in which this ninety-year-old patriarch tossed in delirium. He sang bits of Indian songs, he preached in the Indian tongue, he mumbled incoherent 1 bits. Once he opened his eyes wide to the ceiling and shuddered. 'Blood! Blood! Blood!' he said, in a voice that made my hair crawl!
"I turned to my uncle who stood by, 'What troubles him?' I asked. 'He seems to be haunted.'
"'Maybe he is. He was at the Mountain Meadows massacre, you know.
"No, I didn't know. Nor could I understand how such a man could possibly have been involved in anything so horrible. Surely here was no man of violence, no murderer! It was my attempt to understand that led to research in this subject, and which in the end produced the book '"The Mountain Meadows Massacre'."
After the dedication service was over, J. K Fancher, head of the Fancher Society, wrote a letter to Mrs. Juanita Brooks telling her that her coming had "done much to establish a spirit of love and forgiveness."
Then the Utah Historical Quarterly (January 1956) carried a statement by Mr. Mortensen in which he said that the dedication was "in sharp contrast to the century of silence, misunderstanding, and hatred which had gone before," and "that an episode of history, three generations later is now complete."
A century has passed. Where there was bitterness there is forgiveness, and hatred has given way to love.
Rea, Ralph R. The Mountain Meadows Massacre and Its Completion as a Historic Episode. (Boone County Historical & Railroad Society.)