by Robert H. Briggs
St. George Tabernacle
March 13, 2002
Val A. Browning Library
Dixie State College of Utah
St. George, Utah
with support from the Obert C. Tanner Foundation
Juanita Brooks was a professor at [then] Dixie College for many years and became a well-known author.
She is recognized, by scholarly consent, to be one of Utah’s and Mormondom’s most eminent historians. Her total honesty, unwavering courage, and perceptive interpretation of fact set more stringent standards of scholarship for her fellow historians to emulate. Dr. Obert C. and Grace Tanner had been life-long friends of Mrs. Brooks and it was their wish to perpetuate her name through this lecture series. Dixie State College and the Brooks family express their thanks to the Tanner Family.
by Robert H. Briggs
During the 1850s, Utah territorial officials, especially those in the federal judiciary, clashed with Mormon president Brigham Young and his followers. By 1857, some of these federal officials had spread accounts that the Mormons were in a state of rebellion. U.S. President James Buchanan appointed a new governor, Albert Cummings, to replace Brigham Young. To protect the new governor and quell anticipated Mormon resistance, President Buchanan ordered 2,500 federal troops under military command to march to Utah territory. He sent no advance word to the Mormons of these troop movements. Communications were poor in those years, it being five years before the Pony Express and over a decade before the transcontinental telegraph. Thus, the first inkling of the approach of a federal army into Utah was by floating rumor. But on the 24th of July 1857, Mormon frontiersman Orrin Porter Rockwell arrived from the east, confirming that 2,500 well-armed federal troops were approaching Utah territory and expected before snowfall.
Foremost in the minds of most Mormons was the painful collective memory of their suffering at the hands of state militias while in Missouri and Illinois. Fanning these fears were exaggerated reports from the East and California that the federal troops were coming to destroy them. Thus, after fleeing for safety to the Mountain West, the Mormons saw this federal army as the latest and most serious attempt to do them violence. They prepared to defend themselves.
Late in August 1857, Apostle George A. Smith made a tour of the southern territory and brought news of the approach of “Johnston’s Army” and the defensive measures needed to meet the challenge. At the same time, Elder Smith informed the Indian interpreters that Jacob Hamblin had been called as the new president of the Southern Indian Mission. Then Hamblin along with Chief Tutsegavit of the Southern Paiutes and other chiefs accompanied Elder Smith and his party north to the Great Salt Lake Valley to consult with Brigham Young over the crisis.
To ensure that the Indians of the Mountain West did not align themselves with federal government against the Mormons, Brigham Young forged an alliance with the Indians and implemented a war policy intended to benefit all concerned. Through his chief Indian interpreter Dimick Huntington, President Young promised the Indians the cattle of passing troops or companies on both the northern and southern routes to California. This reversed a Mormon policy of ten years standing. But it was deemed necessary because of the imminent threat of war with the federal army, which was feared to be superior to the Mormons in both troop strength and equipment.
Not fully aware of the developing crisis, an Arkansas emigrant company known as the Baker-Fancher party proceeded on the southern route through Utah, bound for southern California. There was a great war hysteria in Utah and the farther from Salt Lake City, the greater it was. When the Baker-Fancher party arrived in Cedar City, the hysteria there, one Mormon said, was at “fever heat.” As they departed Cedar City for the Mountain Meadows, some officials in Cedar perceived this passing emigrant company as the enemy.
As Smith returned from his tour of the southern Mormon settlements, he was generally satisfied with the state of readiness in the south. But he also had concerns. In fact, “there was only one thing that I dreaded,” he said, “and that was a spirit in the breast of some of the brethren to wish that their enemies might come and give them a chance to fight and take vengeance upon them for the cruelties they had inflicted upon us in the States.”
Then there were the bizarre rumors floating throughout southern Utah. During Smith’s return trip, a rumor had spread through Cedar City that 600 dragoons were approaching the city from the eastern mountains. Traveling north to Beaver, his company had heard another rumor about mysterious troop movements, again in the mountains to the east. Fortunately, the tracks had been followed and found to be those of Mormon riders in Parowan. But that did nothing to reduce the wild rumors, diminish the tensions or calm the fears of the scattered inhabitants of these isolated Mormon settlements on the exposed southern flank of the Great Basin. When in Cedar City, Smith had asked Major Isaac C. Haight of the 2nd Battalion, Tenth Regiment, (or Iron County Militia), whether Major Haight would wait for instructions from headquarters before attacking any invaders who should get so far south. Major Haight had replied, “There would be no time to wait for instructions.” Instead, Haight intended to “take his battalion and use them up before they could get down through the canyon.”
Telling a congregation in Great Salt Lake City of this incident about three weeks later, Smith expressed the hope that their brethren in the south would not get such a chance because, with God’s help, troops would never reach those southern outposts. This was September 13, 1857. Little did he know that some of his followers in the south, in their isolation and panic, had come to view a passing American emigrant train as combatants in the “war” and had used Southern Paiutes as surrogates to attack them. Then, when the situation spiraled out of control, they and the Southern Paiutes had massacred every man, woman and child—approximately 120 in all—old enough to tell the tale. It took place, Smith would come to learn, in a beautiful high mountain valley known as the Mountain Meadows. The Meadows, as it was known locally, was situated in the southern portion of Utah territory near where the Great Basin gave way to the Mojave Desert. That incident would become known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre.2
The investigation of the Mountain Meadows Massacre was conducted in three great waves. The first wave was in 1859 and included investigators from three separate departments in the Buchanan administration: Indian Agent Jacob Forney in the Interior Department, Brevet Major J.H. Carleton in the War Department, and territorial Judge John Cradlebaugh in the Justice Department. But the outbreak of the Civil War brought to a close what might be termed the Forney-Carleton-Cradlebaugh era in the investigation of the massacre. For nearly the rest of the 1860s there was little done concerning the investigation.
The second wave of investigations grew out of the post-Civil War ethos. With the triumph of northern anti-slavery forces over the southern states, the Union was not only preserved but a new reformist mood was borne which had many expressions throughout the expanding country. Over the next quarter of a century, several well-known manifestations of this reformist mood were in evidence in Utah territory. These included the campaigns against statehood for Mormon Utah, against polygamy, and against the political and economic power of the Mormon Church.3 Also, this environment lead to the second wave in the investigation of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
This wave was during the 1870s and began with federal officials procuring the affidavit of former Mormon bishop Phillip Klingensmith. It culminated in the indictment of nine Iron County militiamen for their role in the massacre, the two trials of John D. Lee and Lee’s subsequent preparation of several statements concerning the massacre.
The third wave of investigation was in the 1890s and thereafter. With statehood in 1896 and nearly forty years after the massacre, federal officials dismissed the prosecution of those who had been indicted some 20 years before. For a variety of reasons—dismissal of the federal prosecution, in reply to the Mormon Church historian’s efforts to preserve aspects of Utah history, or in response to some inner urging—some previously reticent witnesses now spoke for the first time or expanded on prior statements of the massacre. From this period, there are statements, affidavits, or third-person accounts from several militiamen. The affidavit of Nephi Johnson in 1908, more than half a century after the massacre, is probably the oldest of these of the third wave.
Since many of the accounts of the massacre come from the second wave of the investigation, let us examine it more closely.
One expression of the national reformist mood was the belated but intense efforts to bring those responsible for the Mountain Meadows Massacre to justice. In 1871 federal officials obtained the affidavit of ex-Mormon Philip Klingensmith in Nevada territory.4 Soon thereafter, passage of the Poland Bill gave new clout to the federal district courts in Utah Territory. Robert N. Baskin, a gentile lawyer in Salt Lake City and one of the founders of the Liberal Party, had been collecting information on the massacre. When William Carey was appointed U.S. Attorney for Utah territory, Baskin provided the information to Carey.5 The second federal district court of Judge Jacob S. Boreman in Beaver, Utah, had jurisdiction over the southern territory. In September 1874, a grand jury investigation originating in Judge Boreman’s federal district court issued a criminal indictment for murder against nine militia officers or participants in the massacre. The individuals and their positions within the Tenth Regiment (situated in Iron and Washington counties) of the Utah Territorial Militia as well as their civic and religious positions were:
|William H. Dame||Colonel and regimental commander of the Tenth Regiment and bishop of Parowan|
|Isaac C. Haight||Major in charge of the Second Battalion (Cedar City), territorial legislator (Council of Fifty), mayor of Cedar City and stake president of the Parowan stake|
|John M. Higbee||Major in charge of the Third Battalion (Cedar City) and counselor to Isaac C. Haight in the Parowan stake presidency|
|John D. Lee||Major in charge of the Fourth Battalion (Fort Harmony), territorial legislator (Council of Fifty), and Indian Farmer|
|William C. Stewart||Second Lieutenant, First Platoon, Company F (Cedar City) of the militia|
|Philip Klingensmith||Private, First Platoon, Company D (Cedar City) and bishop of Cedar City|
|Elliott Willden||Private, Fourth Platoon, Company F (Cedar City)|
|Samuel Jukes||Private, Second Platoon, Company F (Cedar City), and|
|George Adair, Jr.||Private, Fifth Platoon, Company I (Washington).6|
Lee, Dame, Klingensmith, Adair and Willden were eventually served with the indictment;7 the others—Haight, Higbee, Stewart and Jukes—fled and remained in hiding until their deaths or until prosecution of the indicted defendants was dropped more than twenty years later.8
The outcome for Major John D. Lee is well known. His first trial in the summer of 1875, ended in a hung jury. In his second trial in September 1876, federal prosecutors convinced an all-Mormon jury of his complicity in the massacre. Time will not allow the telling of the fascinating saga of his trials. His appeal was denied, as were his requests for clemency. In March 1877, he was secreted to the Mountain Meadows where on the 23rd he was executed by firing squad.
What about the other defendants under indictment for the massacre? Following issuance of the criminal indictment in 1874, Iron County Militia Col. William H. Dame had been served, arrested, jailed in Beaver, and then transferred to the territorial penitentiary. He remained incarcerated until May 1876, when he was finally released on bail pending trial. During 1875-76, the case against him puttered along intermittently. In September 1876, as Lee’s second trial was about to begin, the U.S. Attorney dropped the charges against Dame, due to lack of sufficient evidence to convict9
Phillip Klingensmith, the former bishop of Cedar City, was served with the indictment and later was subpoenaed to testify at the first Lee trial during the summer of 1875. Around that time, Klingensmith turned “state’s evidence” and prosecution was dropped against him. He testified extensively at Lee’s first trial. He was again subpoenaed to appear at Lee’s second trial in the fall of 1876. This time, however, he did not testify.10
Private George Adair, Jr. was arrested and incarcerated for six months until he was released on bail on May 12, 1876, along with Lee and Dame. At one time, U.S. Attorney Sumner Howard recommended to Adair that he plead guilty to the charges against him. Adair is reported to have responded, “I’ll see you in H__l first!”11 Private Elliott Willden was served with the indictment and the press makes some brief references to him. For instance, Willden was present in Beaver in September 1876.12 But the charges were never pressed against Privates Adair or Willden or, apparently, Samuel Jukes.13
Among the others under indictment, the “high-profile” defendants Majors Isaac C. Haight14 and John M. Higbee15 and 2nd Lieutenant William C. Stewart16 went into hiding and fled the territory for many years. In 1879, Judge Jacob Boreman took the unusual step of writing to U.S. Attorney General Charles Devens in the Hayes administration with suggestions for apprehending and trying the fugitives Haight, Higbee and Stewart. The justice department adopted several of Judge Boreman’s suggestions including a provision for a private award of $500 a piece on the heads of Haight, Higbee and Stewart.17 But the national moral spotlight had shifted to polygamy. The anti-polygamy campaign became a great moral crusade with substantial funding for the battle. Meanwhile, interest in the massacre had waned in Eastern halls of power. The funds to apprehend and prosecute the remaining massacre defendants were never forthcoming. The result of this flagging interest in prosecution was that Isaac C. Haight, John M. Higbee, William C. Stewart or, for that matter, anyone else connected with the massacre, were never arrested or brought to trail. Unbelievably, yet inevitably, to the continuing distress of thousands of Lee’s descendants, John D. Lee was the only person tried, found guilty and executed for the massacre.
In examining documents resulting from these lengthy investigations, the historian proceeds much like a good detective. Detectives evaluate what witnesses say based on a variety of factors. These include witness competence, coherence, character, motive or bias, and consistency with other evidence. Like an FBI statement analyst, the careful historian examines closely and gives great weight to elements, which confess or admit. Like the crime investigator, the good historian requires corroborating evidence for statements of justification of oneself or accusations of others. For statements that contain both admissions and justifications, the careful historian follows the common sense approach of accepting confessions against the witness’ self-interest. But the prudent historian treats carefully the witness’s statements against the interests of others (that is, accusing others of a crime but excluding him or herself.) Like an experienced examining magistrate, the deliberate historian will not accept accusations against others unless verified by other sound evidence.18
And like the FBI statement analyst, the historian should recall that while Adolph Hitler may have used the technique of the Big Lie, far more frequently used is the small distortion. In deception, the norm is not a Big Lie but a statement that is substantially accurate yet distorts certain elements to avoid self-incrimination. Thus, the most common form of deception is distortion of the truth. One small distortion in a statement can produce an account that is substantially accurate and yet contains a significant deception. They are especially likely to occur in exculpatory statements, those statements that excuse oneself or blame one’s accomplices.19
The primary crimes at the Mountain Meadows Massacre were murder and conspiracy. The “elements” of these crimes include the events from the first attack to the final decoy and massacre and later acts of deception to cover up the massacre. They also include the original planning and even the psychological motivation (or “state of mind”) of the conspirators. Any evidence bearing on the thoughts or actions of the conspirators during this time period is relevant to the inquiry.
Sifting the massacre narratives for confessions or admissions, the detective-historian finds that one or more of the militiamen have confessed to the key elements of murder and conspiracy before, during, and after the massacre. Here are forty-two key admissions drawn from eleven witnesses which cover all aspects of the massacre:
In these forty-three admissions, one or more of the massacre leaders or participants acknowledges all of the major elements of the massacre. Based on our rigorous method, we also know that these forty-three admissions are not merely plausible but highly reliable. They are the bedrock of our understanding of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
There is a long-standing folklore concerning the role of Native Americans at the Mountain Meadows Massacre. According to this view, bands of Southern Paiutes attacked at dawn on Monday, September 7, 1857. They continued their attacks throughout the week. The Mormons came to the scene to restrain them. But in the end, the Indians double-crossed the Mormons, ambushed the emigrants, and killed all except a few small children. So argued John D. Lee’s defense attorneys during his first murder trial and this blood libel against the Southern Paiutes still survives today.67
As we have seen, however, confessions of militia members prove that several key elements of this story are false. Indian interpreter Samuel Knight acknowledged his personal role in inciting Santa Clara Southern Paiutes to the Meadows.68 Accounts from Lee strongly suggest that the same thing occurred at Cedar City.69 Similarly, the accounts of Lee, Johnson, Klingensmith and others leave little doubt that the massacre of men, women and older children in the late afternoon of Friday, September 11, 1857 was exactly what had been planned by the militia officers during the council held on the grounds the previous evening.70
But what about the intervening four days? Strong evidence shows that during the week of September 7, 1857, a small band of Mormons, feeling desperate and panicky at the isolated edge of their southern frontier, provoked the Paiutes to besiege the emigrant camp.
Although it is sometimes assumed that Native Americans in the Mountain West engaged in extensive massacres, in fact the history of the Ute, Navajo, and Southern Paiute does not support this view. Loss of life was usually minimal.71 If some of a band or tribe were killed by Euro-Americans, they would seek to even the score by taking Euro-American lives. However, it frequently occurred that the matter was resolved by peaceful negotiations involving an exchange of livestock for their dead kin.72
Considerations of space allow only the briefest sketch of the evidence. Surveying all Indian depredations in Utah territory from 1847 to 1896, the year of statehood, nearly all Euro-American (white) deaths in Utah occurred during two major Mormon-Native American conflicts: The Walker War and the Black Hawk War. The more severe of the two was the Black Hawk War. During the Black Hawk War of 1865-70, the total number of Euro-American (Mormon) deaths in Utah during the entire conflict was approximately 70.73 During the first year of the conflict, 25 Mormons were killed in the bloodiest encounters of the war.74 However, as some indication of their true aim, Black Hawk and his followers stole roughly 2,000 head of cattle and horses.75 In other words, for every death roughly eighty head of livestock were stolen. These proportions appear to hold true during the entire conflict. The single largest Indian-lead massacre during the entire Black Hawk War was the Thistle Creek massacre in which the Given family, a family of six, was murdered.76
In our survey, we find little evidence of Indian bands engaging in direct frontal assaults. Moreover, there were a number of sustained engagements or battles, but no lengthy sieges. Few lasted longer than twelve hours and none longer than one day. A four-day siege was unprecedented in Mormon-Native American conflict in Utah. Based on the evidence, there is no historical precedent in Utah territory for a Native American-inspired four-day siege of any Euro-American militia troops, settlements or emigrant companies. Nor is there any reason to suppose that in besieging an emigrant company, Native Americans would make direct frontal attacks at great personal risk, rather than steal the emigrants’ unprotected livestock.
Examining Native Americans in southern Utah territory, the most common type of organized aggression was a form of limited warfare known as raiding. The purposes of raiding were to avenge a previous insult, to show daring, and increase wealth by obtaining livestock.77 Among those who frequented the area—the New Mexicans, Navajo, Ute, and Southern Paiute—slave taking and slave trading were also common. Of these tribes, the Southern Paiutes were the least powerful and less aggressive.78
The accounts of the militiamen at the Mountain Meadows Massacre support these conclusions. These militia narratives and those of other witnesses preserve evidence that the Southern Paiutes actually followed traditional raiding tactics while at the Mountain Meadows.
It was probably early Monday mornmg, September 7, 1857, as Jacob Hamblin’s adopted Indian son, Albert Hamblin, and John Knight, the adopted Southern Paiute son of Sam Knight, were sitting on a hill herding sheep in the Meadows, when they “saw the Indians driving off all the stock and [shooting] some of the cattle.”79 They also saw the exchange of gunfire between the Indians and the emigrants. “In this way they fought on for about a week.”80 Thus, from the very outset, the Southern Paiutes followed typical raiding tactics by driving off “all the stock” and shooting some of the cattle. By the end of the week, Albert Hamblin observed that much of the stock “had been killed to be eaten by the Indians while the fight was going on.”81
On Tuesday morning, September 8, as John D. Lee and the militia contingent from the southern settlements rode north, they passed a small band of Indians coming from the Meadows and bound for the south (probably the Santa Clara) with some eighteen or twenty head of cattle.82 Thus, within 24 hours of the first attack, small bands were leaving with their captured cattle.
There is also evidence that Indians killed some livestock to avenge the wounds to Moquetas and Bill, the two Southern Paiute sub-chiefs from near Cedar City. Lee observed that the Indians “had killed a number of the emigrants’ horses, and about sixty or seventy head of cattle were lying dead on the Meadows, which the Indians had killed for spite and revenge.”83
At daylight, probably on Wednesday, Lee states that the Indians made “a determined attack” on the train during which the Clara Indians had one brave killed and three wounded. “This so enraged that band that they left for home that day and drove off quite a number of cattle with them.”84 On Wednesday evening, William Young and about four others were approaching from the south. As they neared the Meadows they, too, met several bands of Indians “with cattle.” The Indians were “painted red” and to Young it looked like they were “angry” and “excited” and were “going to fight” or “raise a row.” One of the Indians had been shot in the shoulder and was “bleeding very bad.” But instead of a hostile encounter, the Indians “went away and led the cattle past.”85 It seems likely that the Clara bands that Lee saw leaving the Meadows sometime on Wednesday bound for their home on the Santa Clara were the same ones William Young saw Wednesday evening somewhere south of the Meadows, likewise headed toward the Santa Clara.
Thus far, the militia witnesses have confirmed the traditional raiding practices of Southwest Indians in general and Southern Paiutes in particular. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, militiamen observed Southern Paiutes leaving the Meadows with cattle. Further, if John M. Higbee is correct that 300 to 600 Southern Paiutes were present at midweek and Nephi Johnson is correct that only 150 were present for the massacre on Friday afternoon, this suggests that up to 75 percent of the Southern Paiutes had departed, undoubtedly with cattle.
Why did they leave? They left for a variety of reasons. The militia leaders’ promise that they would easily prevail against the emigrants had been dashed. The emigrants were well entrenched in their corral fortification. The element of surprise had been lost. The only means of attack was a direct approach. This was foreign to their traditions in warfare and it produced unacceptable levels of casualties. Moreover, their weapons were not on a par with those of the emigrants in their wagon fort. So some of the bands withdrew. As they withdrew, they took what to them represented an enormous increase in personal wealth: “quite a number of cattle.”
Bands of Southern Paiutes did participate in the main massacre on Friday, September 11. They acted, in R. N. Baskin’s phrase, as “an Indian auxiliary force under the leadership of John D. Lee.”86 They were incited to perform this role by a small, desperate faction in the militia command. The Southern Paiutes were involved87 but, Jacob Hamblin seemed to feel, they were not to blame. Blame attaches to the small cabal of crazed, deluded, and panicky members of the militia command who plotted and executed the plan for the massacre.
The evidence presented thus far is reliable. The next step is to construct, with the aid of contemporary documents, a reliable chronology of events before and during the massacre.88
I accept the 24th of July as the date by which the Mormons had received confirmation that 2,500 federal troops were approaching Utah in what would become know as the Utah War.89 On August 4th, Brigham Young wrote to Jacob Hamblin about Hamblin’s appointment as president of the Southern Indian Mission and about the approaching army.90 On August 5th, Brigham Young drafted a proclamation dealing with measures for war readiness.91
Meanwhile, the Baker-Fancher party arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake around August 3rd. Driving loose livestock, they traveled slowly southward through the territory, averaging roughly 10 to 12 miles per day.92
George A. Smith left the Great Salt Lake Valley for the southern settlements and was in Parowan by August 8th.93 He stayed there for a week with family. Then, accompanied by a small group including Tenth Regimental Adjutant James H. Martineau who recorded their travels, on Saturday, August 15th, Smith and his party began their tour of the southernmost settlements.
Saturday evening, August 15th, the Smith party arrived in Cedar City. Smith preached in Cedar on Sunday, August 16th, then set out for Harmony, arriving after ten that evening. The meeting in Harmony was on Monday, August 17th. Major John D. Lee and others joined his party there. They took the rough road down to the new settlement of Washington, arriving in the wee hours of Tuesday, August 18th. After arising late, they were warned by an express rider from Salt Lake City to watch for troops from the west.94
By Wednesday the 19th, they had made it to the extreme southern settlement, Fort Clara on the Santa Clara River. There Jacob Hamblin, Piede Chief Tutsegabit and several others joined the party. On Thursday the 20th, they passed through the Mountain Meadows where they stopped to dine at Hamblin’s ranch, probably the only (semi-) permanent structure in the Meadows at that time. They spent the night at Pinto. On Friday the 21st, they traveled to Cedar. Here Regimental Adjutant Martineau is less precise in recording dates, but it appears Smith was back at Cedar City on the Friday the 21st where he heard the rumor of 600 dragoons in the eastern mountains. Major Haight told him how his regiment would “use up” these supposed invaders before they got through the canyon.95 It appears that it was on Saturday the 22nd that they traveled to Parowan.96 If they stayed over in Parowan on Sunday, Smith’s southern home, it was probably Monday the 24th when they reached Beaver. Here they heard another rumor of troop movements in the mountains to the east, the direction from which the federal troops were approaching.97
It was in the evening, probably on Tuesday, August 25th, when the party of George A. Smith met the Baker-Fancher train at Corn Creek in Millard County and camped on opposite sides of the stream. There is a great deal of controversy about the encounter. But actually it was a minor event to both parties. They conversed on Tuesday evening and again Wednesday morning before going their separate ways. The train asked about grass for livestock on the road ahead; Jacob Hamblin told them of good grass at the Meadows before they descended onto the desert of the Mojave.98
It was probably on Wednesday the 26th when the Smith party reached Cedar Springs. There Captain Silas Smith said goodbye to his cousin George A. and turned about to return home to his place at Red Creek near Paragoonah. He repassed the Baker-Fancher party, probably on the 27th or 28th, at Indian Creek, six miles north of Beaver. He saw them again when they camped near his place on Red Creek near Paragoonah. This was probably some time between the 29th and the 31st.99
Meanwhile, the Smith party passed through Nephi on Friday, August 28th100 and arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake on Monday, August 31st. On Tuesday, September 1st, Hamblin and 13 Indian chiefs or sub-chiefs held a meeting with Brigham Young in which Dimick Huntington acted as interpreter for Governor Young.101 Present were Kanosh of the Corn Creek Pahvants; Ammon, another important chief, accompanied by his wife; Tutsegabit, chief of the Santa Clara band of Paiutes; and Younowuls, another “Piede” or Paiute. They had come to “find out about the soldiers.”102 As they had done in the weeks before with the northern tribes,103 Young and Huntington laid out their plans. To cement relations with these southern tribes whom they desperately needed, Governor Young, through Huntington, “gave them all the cattle that had gone to Cal the south rout.”104
The next day, Wednesday, September 2nd, the Baker-Fancher train was on the road somewhere north of Cedar.
Thursday, September 3rd. The likeliest day for their arrival in Cedar City is Thursday the 3rd.105 Some incidents, still hazy and controversial, occurred there between local settlers and the passing emigrants. A rare contemporary diary preserves the perception of some of the Mormons in Cedar City: The emigrants had been “acting very mean” and “Threatening the Bishops life.”106 Based on statements of John Hamilton, Jr., the emigrant train camped that evening at Queetsuppeh Creek, across the valley from Fort Hamilton and six miles west of Cedar.107
Friday, September 4th. This must have been a day of alert and mobilization for the Iron County militia, although this is only an inference since there is no direct evidence of activity on that day. But based on the activity on Saturday the 5th through Monday the 7th, there must have been planning on Friday. Also that day, the Baker-Fancher party moved another ten or twelve miles west of Cedar on the California road.108
Saturday, September 5th. Saturday was busy. Isaac Haight, who held the positions of town mayor, major in the militia and stake president in Cedar City, initiated various actions. He met with Captain Joel White and Bishop Philip Klingensmith at the “old field,” then ordered them to take a message to Pinto.109 That afternoon, he sent a horse messenger to Indian Farmer and Major John D. Lee at Fort Harmony with a message to come at once for consultation.110 Later that afternoon, White and Klingensmith headed west to Pinto. En route, they say they met Lee, who was riding toward Cedar City.111 Either they had words with Lee during which Lee disapproved of any leniency toward the passing train112 or, per Lee’s version, the meeting never happened at all.113 At any rate, White and Klingensmith hurried west, passing the Baker-Fancher company as it pulled up the grade toward Pinto. So the company camped somewhat east of Pinto for the night. That put them less than a day’s travel away from the Mountain Meadows. White and Klingensmith arrived several hours after dark at the small settlement of Pinto. Delivering their message, they spent the night there.114
Back at Cedar, Major Lee had arrived in town near sundown and met Major Haight. Per Lee, they consulted for a number of hours at the Cedar Iron Works. The discussion was on the war situation but mostly about the disturbance with the emigrant train that had passed two days before. They talked late into the night. Then Lee departed and began the 20-mile ride back to Fort Harmony.115
Sunday, September 6th. Lee arrived at his home at Fort Harmony before dawn, rousted his son-in-law, Indian interpreter and 2nd Lieutenant Don Carlos Shirts, told him of the decisions of the Cedar City officials, and ordered Shirts to travel to the southern settlements to incite local bands of Paiutes to gather at the Meadows.116 Evidently Shirts obeyed. Lee made preparations, and then he himself departed for the Meadows. Lee himself states, “I arrived at home in the night [i.e., Sunday before dawn] and remained till morning [i.e., Sunday morning],” implying that then he departed.117 Lee’s wife Rachel recorded a contemporaneous diary entry. Noting the threshing activity in harvesting grain the previous week, her entry for Sunday, the 6th reads: “Bro.J. D. Lee went on an expedition south [page torn]. Sunday at 2 o’clock meeting was held” and then she sketches some details of the church meeting.118 Based on Rachel Lee’s entry noting her husband’s departure on “an expedition south” before the two o’clock church meeting, I infer that Lee left no later than that. Per Lee’s own account, he may have left sometime that morning. Earlier that morning at Pinto, White, and Klingensmith started for Cedar, passing the Baker-Fancher train which was nearing Pinto.119
Probably before noon, the Baker-Fancher company entered the north end of the valley of Mountain Meadows. Samuel Knight was running cattle there. As the company passed, Knight drove his cattle onto the hillsides so the two herds would not mix.120 Four miles down the valley and near Magotsu Creek, the company rolled to a stop and established camp,121 intending to stay some days to rest and fatten their cattle before starting across the desert in the slightly cooler days of mid-September.122
Meanwhile, around four that afternoon at a meeting of the high council in Cedar City, a divisive and quarrelsome debate was held to discuss the recent troubles with the passing emigrant train. Those present—stake president Haight, his counselor John Higbee, Bishop Klingensmith and high councilor Laban Morrill among others—generally agreed on the grievances they perceived in the company that had passed the previous Thursday. The cloud of war spreading over the territory prompted open debate of such extreme measures as attacking the train. Other, more moderate options were proposed. But there was no consensus on what action to take. Morrill extracted a promise that an express rider would be dispatched immediately for Great Salt Lake Valley to get directions from Brigham Young.123
The exact time is unknown but sometime, again probably that day, Indian interpreter Sam Knight who was ranching with Jake Hamblin at the north end of the Meadows, received orders to raise the Paiute bands on the Santa Clara, about 35 miles south.124 Don Carlos Shirts, whom Lee had ordered to incite the Paiutes to the south, may have delivered the orders.125 Shirts may have visited Fort Clara and Washington via Pinto and the Meadows. In those days, the road via Pinto was considerably better than the rocky trail that descended a tortuous declivity before reaching Washington. Another possibility exists. Lee alleges that the true mission of White and Klingensmith was to convey orders to the Indian interpreters to incite the Paiutes to rendezvous at the Meadows.126 If true, then White and Klingensmith may have delivered the orders to Knight.
Regardless of who delivered them, Knight unequivocally states that he obeyed his orders, traveled the 35 miles to Fort Clara, and raised the Clara bands. Knight probably received his orders Sunday afternoon and, due to the urgency undoubtedly conveyed to him, left promptly for the small fort on the Santa Clara. Riding hard, he could have arrived late Sunday night.127
Monday, September 7th. At dawn, a large group of Paiutes hiding in the hills surrounding the Meadows attacked the Baker-Fancher camp without warning.128 They may or may not have been lead by Indian Farmer and Major John D. Lee. Lee denies that he was even present.129 On the other hand, if the timetable for Sunday is correct, he could have easily covered the 25 miles or so from Fort Harmony to the Meadows and arrived Sunday evening. Lee had explicit orders from militia command in Cedar to lead the assembled Indians and he admits that he obeyed his orders.130 At any rate, the ambush caught the camp off guard. Seven were killed immediately or died later that day. Sixteen or seventeen were wounded, three so badly that they perished later in the week.131 There were intermittent attacks throughout the day. But none were as successful as the first. The emigrants circled their wagons, dug holes around their wheels to lower their wagon boxes, and erected other hasty defenses.132
This left their cattle exposed to raids by a large number of Paiutes who easily controlled the valley and the surrounding hills. This stock made easy pickings for the Paiutes. Livestock, not the emigrants, was their prime objective. According to custom, the Paiutes began raiding cattle.133 But the desperate militia command at the scene, whose desire was to have the Paiutes attack the emigrant train, not steal their cattle, discouraged cattle raiding134 and encouraged attacks on the circled wagons.135 Lee participated and was grazed by bullets through his shirt and hat.136
Back at Cedar City late that afternoon, two express riders started with urgent messages in opposite directions. At 5:30 p.m., Joseph Clews sped toward Pinto. Five minutes later, young James Haslam mounted his horse and sped north with orders to proceed at all haste to Great Salt Lake City for instructions from headquarters.137 Haslam rode up to 18 hours a day and by means of exchanging for new mounts at various settlements was able to cover upwards of 80 miles per day.138
Tuesday, September 8th. At this point, the exact chronology becomes clouded. We know that after some engagement between Indians and emigrants at the Meadows in which Major Lee was grazed by gunfire through his shirt and hat, Lee headed south in the direction of the southern settlements. We know that Knight, some whites from Fort Clara, and some Paiutes from the Clara bands were approaching from that direction. We know that Lee encountered Knight and his party as darkness fell and that the whites camped while the Indians continued to the Meadows. Was this in the evening of Monday or Tuesday?
There is no doubt that Lee and Knight encountered one another south of the Meadows—Lee says 16 miles, Knight says ten—in the evening as darkness fell. If Knight received the order to raise the Clara Indians on Sunday afternoon and left immediately, he could have arrived at Fort Clara late that evening. Knight says he labored for two days there. If “two days” meant all day Monday and until mid-afternoon on Tuesday, then Knight could travel by horseback toward the Meadows and encounter John D. Lee between ten and 16 miles below the Meadows on Tuesday at nightfall. This seems to harmonize the two accounts.
But this confusion in the chronology matches the confusion at the scene. The plan was not working, for Lee or the Indians.139 The element of surprise had been lost, frontal attacks were necessary and casualties increased. The militia command had assured the Paiutes that they would prevail. But the emigrants doggedly resisted and the Paiutes grew frustrated and angry.140 One reason for frustration was the militia command wanted them to make war in a manner unfamiliar to them.141 Another was the militia would not help.142 Therefore, some of the Paiutes departed…and took cattle as they left.143
Wednesday, September 9th. So it continued on Wednesday. The Paiutes wanted the livestock. The militia command ordered them to desist. They disputed, quarreled, and fought among themselves.144
Wednesday afternoon, Major Lee went to the west side of the valley to reconnoiter. From a high point, he looked down into the emigrant camp and saw their fortifications and their determined resistance. Sneaking closer for a better view, Lee was seen by some in the camp who raised a white flag and sent two boys with a message to Lee. Uncertain of his orders and how he should proceed, Lee evaded the boys and returned to the Indian camp.145 Perceiving that the Paiutes could not prevail against the company, Lee concluded that “we were in a sad fix” and called for additional militia reinforcements.146 Thus, the many reports to the local settlements of “a difficulty between John D. Lee and the Indians.”147
Wednesday night, a pivotal event occurred. From the wagon enclosure, three emigrants slipped away on horseback and rode toward Cedar City for help. At a point between the Meadows and Pinto called Richey Springs, they encountered Mormon pickets. Two of the emigrants were killed and one was wounded. The Mormons believed that the wounded rider made his escape and returned to the wagon circle at the southern end of the Meadows.148 Meanwhile, Major Haight of the 2nd Battalion and Elias Morris, a captain of one of the Cedar City companies, drove to the fort in Parowan for a council with Colonel Dame. After midnight, the ranking officers of the Iron County militia met. Accounts from Captain Morris of Cedar City and 2nd lieutenant William Barton of Parowan agree that in the main council, Col. Dame reached the decision that the emigrants would be allowed to depart in peace but their cattle should be left to pacify the Indians. An unsubstantiated account states that later on Col. Dame and Major Haight reversed this decision and decided to destroy the company.149
Reinforcements from Cedar City arrived at the Meadows, some said on Wednesday, others, on Thursday. They had received a variety of conflicting and contradictory messages: they were going to bury the dead; they were going to intervene in the “fuss” between Lee and the Indians; or they were going to save the emigrants.150 Now there were more than 50 Mormon farmer-militiamen at the scene. Most were from around Cedar with the remainder from the small outposts to the south, Washington and Fort Clara. They camped at two camps, which we will designate as the Cedar militia camp and the southern militia camp.151 Their arrival did not deter the Paiutes who continued intermittent attacks152 undoubtedly at the instigation of militia command at the scene. Also the Paiutes did what they wanted most to do: They raided loose, free-ranging livestock. However, the militia command discouraged this. They tried to refocus the Paiutes on the militia command’s primary objective: the emigrants, not their cattle.153
Meanwhile, at midday on Thursday, express rider Haslam galloped to the governor’s residence in Great Salt Lake City. Within hours he was returning to the south with a message from Brigham Young to let the emigrants pass.154 It was a brave ride, but it would arrive too late.
Thursday evening a decisive council was held at the scene and lead by militia command. In attendance were the more senior men from Cedar who naturally held the leadership positions in the settlement.155 It had all the characteristics of a contentious town meeting. The militia command disputed and argued over a plan. It was obvious that they faced a crisis. Plainly, their objective had been botched. Worse, they believed that the Wednesday night incident at Richey Springs meant that any other course except silencing the emigrants would imperil their own future. In reaching a consensus, the incident at Richey Springs was decisive. The militia command believed the emigrants were aware of their complicity and they (militia command) feared future reprisals.156 This was war. This train would go to California and spread the word about Mormon-lead attacks on American emigrants. Then they would face an expanded war, no longer on one front but two. The second front would be on their weak and exposed southern flank. Thus, only extreme action would stem the crisis. Grimly, seeing no other way out, they made a plan of action.
An incident in the Black Hawk War forcefully suggests that the Thursday night military council at the Mountain Meadows was like a quarrelsome “town meeting.” In Utah’s Black Hawk War, John Alton Peterson astutely observed that while the Mormon prophet was shielded from criticism, intermediate militia officers were not. Thus, to avoid the heavy condemnation that might fall on their shoulders, Mormon commanders tried to involve as many officers as possible in a consensus-building process. But the disadvantage, as one general observed, was, “There is a great lack in the officering” and thus, “nearly everything has to go through a General ‘Town Meeting System,’ which frequently causes a total failure, and in some instances, the worst confusion imaginable.”157 What could more aptly describe the Thursday night military council at the Mountain Meadows?
One thing in particular contributed to the confusion. That was the welter of personnel from various local organizations, all present at the Meadows and, with the possible exception of the Southern Indian mission, represented at the council. There were the military (militia officers of various stripes), the civil authorities (a Council of Fifty member, the constable and several city councilors), the Southern Indian Mission (some counselors in the presidency plus rank and file interpreters), the Indian Farmer (separate from but with some functions similar to the Southern Indian Mission) and ecclesiastical leaders (members of the stake presidency, high council, bishopric, high priests and elders). Most held positions in several of these organizations. Adding to the confusion, some held lower ranks in one but higher ranks in another. John D. Lee said that the council lasted all night!158 Plainly, that mythic, beehive-like orderliness sometimes ascribed to the Mormons had not been present.
Friday, September 11, 1857. In the morning, orders were given. Knowing the Paiutes’ main desire was livestock, the militia command promised a reward of cattle for their cooperation.159 Interpreters translated the plan to the Paiutes, had them hide themselves, and then, at the agreed signal, translated the command to attack to the concealed Paiutes.160 Cryptic orders were given to the younger and very green militiamen. Sergeant William Bateman of Second Platoon, Company E, was ordered to make the initial diplomatic overture to the emigrant train. The militia was assembled and marched to within sight of the company. It was probably after midday when Major John D. Lee entered the camp of the Baker-Fancher train. He explained the situation with the Indians and promised the leaders of the emigrants that they could get them out. The militia waited in tedium in the sun. Several hours passed. Two wagons were sent in and more time passed as necessary belongings were found and packed into the wagons along with muskets, what little remained of their ammunition, several wounded and about 17 small children, ages one to seven.161
In the late afternoon, the emigrants started out of the encircled wagons. Lee led the wagons with the injured and small children. Next came the women and children. Lastly, the men with their militia guards trailed behind. They walked slowly back the way they had come. In an area of dense sagebrush, the cry “Halt!” was heard. Within five minutes the Mountain Meadows Massacre was over.162
Friday night, released from any further obligation to militia command, Paiutes began raiding in earnest. They raided the emigrants’ wagons for blankets, clothing, and other valuables.163 They also captured loose stock.164 The militia captured the remaining stock, took it to Cedar City, branded it, turned it out to pasture as a reserve for the Paiutes and, over time, shared the remaining cattle with them.165
There is more. Much, much more: the whole aftermath of the massacre—oaths and secrecy and cover-up—years and years of it. But what I have outlined sketches a reliable time line for the events before and during the massacre.
One theme of this paper is that to improve our understanding of the Mountain Meadows Massacre it is imperative that we introduce some much-needed rigor into the process of evaluating the statements of witnesses. If we are to improve our understanding of this tragedy, rather than perpetuate 19th century partisan myths, considerably more care than has ever been taken in the past needs to be used in the future. This paper has outlined methods for the detection of distortion (the commonest form of lying) and outright deception. Practitioners in this field must develop awareness between an admission of one’s own wrongdoing—which is usually reliable—and an accusation of someone else’s wrongdoing—which is usually suspect. Although Juanita Brooks does a creditable job in this regard, even her work could be improved upon. Many others, including recent studies, are deficient in this basic understanding. Why? Many reasons, I suppose. Principal among which is that a latent partisanship still influences the debate.
The second imperative, then, is to go to even greater lengths than we have thus far to reduce the partisanship surrounding the tragedy. It is what it is. In the war atmosphere in which the tragedy occurred, the people involved—the emigrants, the militiamen, and the Indians—were what they were: flawed, fragile, and fearful. By using a rigorous method such as the one outlined here, we will arrive at the much-improved position where even our partisan views are grounded in solid evidence. Partisan positions will remain—forever, I suspect. But then we will look at one another across a much-narrowed gulf. For we will see that those with interpretations contrary to ours have grounded their interpretations, using reason and good faith, in substantial evidence.
It will not reduce the awful terror or folly we see in the Mountain Meadows tragedy. Strangely, that is its attraction to us. But it will mightily improve our understanding of this forever-lamentable event.