1812 September 12: Born John Doyle Lee in Kaskaskia, Illinois.
He married Agatha Woolsey in 1833 and eventually married eighteen
plural wives, including three sisters and their widowed mother.
Lee fathered sixty children. He gave his youngest wife a divorce
so she could marry one of his sons by another wife. Eleven of his
nineteen wives left him.
Lee was Brigham Young's brother-in-law and his "adopted son"
1838 Lee and his wife were converted by missionaries in Illinois
and were baptized in Far West, Missouri, where he joined a paramilitary
group called the "Danites." When Lee and other Mormons
tried to vote in Gallatin, Missouri, they were prevented by local
toughs. After one Mormon was knocked to the ground, Lee saw John
L. Butler give the Danite sign of distress ("placing the right
hand to the right temple, the thumb behind the ear"), and heard
him yell, "Charge, Danites!"
In the ensuing fight, the eight Danites "knocked down and laid
open, in a frightful manner, the skulls of several citizens with
William Swartzell, one of the eight, recorded that the Danites began
foraging the countryside for "honey which they called sweet
oil, hogs which they called bear, and cattle which they called buffalo."
Lee admitted looting, but denied killing anyone or burning any buildings.
1839 Ordained a seventy, Lee served a short mission to Tennessee,
where he baptized twenty-seven persons, including Bill Hickman.
During the next four years he filled four additional short-term
missions, including one to his hometown of Kaskaskia, Illinois.
1843 Like many former Danites, Lee served as a city policeman
in Nauvoo and guarded Joseph Smith's home. He was also wharfmaster,
major in the Nauvoo Legion, and general secretary of Nauvoo seventies.
1844 Campaigning for Joseph Smith's presidential candidacy, Lee
said he was told of the Prophet's death by an angelic visitor: "Instead
of electing your leader the chief magis- trate of this nationthey
have Martyrd him in prison which has hastened his exaltation
to the executive chair over this generation."
Council of Fifty Member
1845 March 1: Became one of the first men admitted to the Council
of Fifty following the death of Joseph Smith.
1848 Settled in Salt Lake City.
1850 Brigham Young called Lee to accompany George A. Smith in colonizing
Iron County. Lee offered to donate $2000 instead, but Young insisted,
"Bro. George wants you to go with him so do I."
For the next twenty-five years Lee tirelessly "converted the
raw wilderness into profitable farms, developed large herds of cattle,
sheep, and goats, experimented success- fully with many new agricultural
products, including silk and cotton, founded settlements, built
fences, dug irrigation ditches, erected saw-, grist-, and sugar-cane
mills, played the role of explorer, dealt sternly or kindly with
the Indians as occasion required, [and] established and operated
a ferry across the isolated, silt-laden waters of the Colorado."
He served as a Parowan alderman (1851), as Washington County's probate
judge (1856), and Utah legislator (1857-58).
Mountain Meadows Massacre Leader
1857 In the midst of confusion over the advancing Utah Expeditionary
Force, a wagon train of approximately 140 California-bound emigrants
headed south from Salt Lake City. Some of the men boasted of possessing
a gun which had "shot the guts out of Old Joe Smith" and
claimed they would return from California with an army to wipe "every
damn Mormon off the earth."
Indians accused the emigrants of poisoning springs, causing the
death of several Indians and cattle. The emigrants also had the
misfortune of being from the state where Apostle Parley P. Pratt
had just been murdered Arkansas.
Sunday, September 6, the train stopped at Mountain Meadowseighty-five
miles west of Cedar Cityfor a few weeks of rest before crossing
the desert westward. Two days later a large band of Indians attacked
the company. When word of the attack reached Cedar City, local Church
leaders met and asked Lee, who was the Church's liason with the
Indians, to "manage" them. A rider was dispatched to Salt
Lake City for instructions.
President Young sent the messenger back, "urging him to spare
no horse flesh": bloodshed was to be avoided. But before the
messenger reached Cedar City, local Church and military leaders
held a priesthood prayer circle and ordered the destruction of the
Under a flag of truce, Lee persuaded the emigrants to surrender
their weapons. The wounded were loaded into Lee's wagon; their guns
were placed in another wagon with the children. Each adult male
emigrant was ordered to march single file beside a Mormon militiaman.
At a prearranged signal"Do your duty!"each
Mormon turned and killed the man he was guarding. Indians rushed
from their hiding places and fell upon the defenseless women and
older children. Lee personally killed the wounded men in his wagon.
Accounts of the number of dead vary, but more than a hundred people
were killed. Only the eighteen children under age ten survived.
The affair was first reported to Brigham Young as an Indian massacre.
When the truth became known, suspected Church leaders in Cedar City
were released and advised to remain quiet. Three were excommunicated.
Many moved to Arizona under assumed names.
1870 Brigham Young advised Lee to leave his home at Harmony to build
a sawmill with Levi Stewart in the pine forests of Lower Kanab.
Two weeks after the mill was completed, Lee was astonished to receive
a terse notice of his excommunication. When Brigham Young came to
Saint George for the winter, Lee "asked him how it was that:
I was held in fellowship for 13 years for an act then committed
& all of a sudden I must be cut off from this Church .... He
replied that they had never learned the particulars until lately
.... I declared my innocence of doeing any thing designedly wrong;
what we done was by the mutual consent & council of the high
counsellors, Presidents, Bishops & leading men, who Prayed over
the Matter & diligently Sought the Mind & will of the Spirit
of Truth to direct the affair."
A week later an unsigned letter in the handwriting of Apostle Erastus
Snow warned Lee, "If you will consult your own safety &
that [of] others, you will not press yourself nor an investigation
on others at this time lest you cause others to become accessory
with you & thereby force them to inform upon you or suffer.
Our advice is, trust no one. Make yourself scarce & keep out
of the way."
1874 A federal grand jury indicted John D. Lee, former Stake President
Isaac Haight, and seven others for complicity in the Mountain Meadows
Massacre. When Lee, who had been hiding out at his ferry on the
Colorado River, visited one of his families in Panguitch, he was
captured and tried. After nine months in the Beaver, Utah, jail,
Lee was acquitted. But he was remanded to the territorial penitentiary
in Sugarhouse to await yet another trial. In 1875 he wrote:
Old Mormon Bull, how came you here?
We have tuged and toiled these many years,
we have been cuffed and kicked with sore abuse
and now sent here for penetentiary use.
We both are creatures of some Note.
You are food for Prisoners and I the scap goat.
1876 September: Charges against everyone but Lee were dropped. He
was convicted of murder. The verdict was upheld by the Utah Supreme
1877 March 23: Returned to Mountain Meadows to be executed, Lee
was given a moment to speak: "I have but little to say this
morning. Of course I feel that I am on the brink of eternity, and
the solemnities of eternity should rest upon my mind .... I am ready
to die. I trust in God. I have no fear. Death has no terror ....
I ask the Lord my God, if my labors are done, to receive my spirit.
Lee shook hands with those in attendance, had his picture taken
sitting on his coffin, gave away articles of his outer clothing,
and instructed the firing squad to aim for his heart so as not to
mutilate his body. He was shot while sitting on the edge of his
casket. He was sixty-five. His body was taken by the family to Panguitch,
Utah, for burial.
1961 Reinstated in the Church by authority of the First Presidency
and Quorum of the Twelve.