Massacre Victims Will Get a 'Fitting' Memorial
Thursday, April 1, 1999
BY MARK HAVNES and LOREN WEBB
MOUNTAIN MEADOWS -- Scientists using ground-penetrating radar
are looking beneath Mountain Meadows, hoping to locate the burial
sites of 120 California-bound emigrants who were massacred 141 years
ago by Mormon settlers and Paiute Indians.
The subsurface survey along with a soil analysis are being conducted
in preparation of an upgrade of the site's memorial, trails and
plaques. The work is a cooperative effort between the Mountain Meadows
Association and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Ron Loving, president of the association, says the project could
not have progressed to this point without the "spirit of reconciliation"
from the church. Much of the church's effort has been prompted by
President Gordon B. Hinckley, who has been troubled by the massacre
since 1947, when he first visited the site 35 miles northwest of
St. George with his father.
The church and the association want to honor those who died with
a fitting memorial and explanatory plaques at the site, which has
fallen into disrepair through vandalism, neglect and the elements.
Scientific work was conducted by Coloradans John Lindemann, a forensic
geologist, and Clark Davenport, a forensic geophysicist. Their expenses
were covered by the association, but they donated their time and
The pair are experts at locating archaeological sites, clandestine
graves and illegal dumping locations, Davenport says. They have
worked in 33 states and seven countries.
They hope the radar can find anomalies in the soil pattern that
would indicate a possible grave. They cannot pinpoint the exact
date of burial without digging it up, which the association will
not allow. The scientists also are searching the soil for chemical
concentrations, such as calcium, that would indicate possible burial
sites. They also hope to identify the location where, on Sept. 7,
1857, the Baker-Fancher party circled their wagons against a siege
that ended five days later with the slaying of men, women and children.
Loving says the information, in addition to aerial photographs,
still has to be evaluated. The work is being conducted so that the
site will never be violated again.
"We do not want those bodies disturbed and the church is honoring
that request," says Loving, an aerospace-systems engineer in
Tucson, Ariz., who is related to 12 of the emigrants who died. The
LDS Church plans to build and maintain a memorial on 2.5 acres it
owns at the massacre site. The association will be responsible for
other improvements, including identifying and marking grave sites,
road upgrades, a parking lot, rest-rooms and plaques explaining
what happened at Mountain Meadows. The association is looking for
donations and new members to help complete the projects. Loving
said those interested can contact the association at 7740 W. Sunlark
Way, Tucson, AZ 85748.
The first memorial erected at the site was a 12-foot-high rock
cairn constructed by U.S. Army troops in 1859 as a memorial marker
to the massacre victims.
Other monuments were made in 1932 by the Utah Trails and Landmarks
Association and in 1990 by the state and families of the victims.
Another memorial was constructed in 1955 in Arkansas where the Baker-Fancher
wagon train began. The monument was erected by the Richard Fancher
Society of America in Harrison.
The latest plans are the most ambitious for the massacre site and
are the first involving the LDS Church.
Loving says plans for the improvements began last September when
the victims' descendants gathered at Mountain Meadows to commemorate
the massacre and were disturbed by the deplorable condition of the
Loving says the association contacted the LDS Church through Glen
Leonard, director of the Church Museum of History and Art in Salt
Lake City. Leonard has worked closely with Loving on the project
ever since. Hinckley is one of the proj-ect's biggest backers.
Last October, while being driven to the St. George airport after
a dedication at Dixie College, Hinckley said he felt "compelled"
to visit Mountain Meadows.
Soon after his visit, a meeting was arranged between church officials,
including Hinckley, and the association. The meeting was held Oct.
30 at the church's administration building in Salt Lake City. Loving,
who kept minutes of the meeting, which are posted on the
association's Web site, describes a gracious Hinckley, greeting
each group member before ushering them into a conference room.
Hinckley told the association that he was ashamed and embarrassed
at the condition of the monument. "I resolved there to do something
about it," he said.
The church leader then presented three proposed renditions for
a memorial by church architect Lee Grey, who designed the Assembly
Building now under construction north of Salt Lake City's Temple
Speaking of the massacre, Hinckley said to his guests that no one
really knows what happened at Mountain Meadows or can explain it.
"But we [the church] express our regrets over what happened
there and we all need to put this behind us," he said. "We
need to eliminate the hatred."
Association board member Kent Bylund, a Mountain Meadows landowner
and association board member, said he is excited about seeing the
paradigm surrounding Mountain Meadows shift from "Why did it
happen?" to "There is nothing wrong with honoring the
dead at the site."
He also says Hinckley has asked church members in the area to donate
their time and efforts to the renovation project. Since the day
it happened, the massacre has represented a disturbing chapter in
LDS history. It is known that Mormons and Paiutes took part in the
killings, but what exactly happened and who was involved never has
been fully explained to everyone's satisfaction. Instead, it has
fostered a legacy of guilt among some church members and rendered
the church an easy target of ridicule from critics.
Only one person was ever prosecuted for participating in the crime.
Brigham Young's adopted son, John D. Lee, was tried in 1877 and
convicted for his part in the killings, then executed at the massacre
site after delivering a dissertation on how he felt he had been
University of Utah history professor Dean May says the event has
to be viewed in historical context. At the time, the territory was
under a siege mentality. Young had declared marshal law and was
mustering a militia in anticipation of federal troops, who that
same fall were marching toward Utah to quash a perceived rebellion
by polygamous Mormons against the U.S. government.
"It was uncharacteristic of the Mormons to react as they did
[at Mountain Meadows]," May says, noting after the massacre
of Mormons in Missouri and the murder of church founder Joseph Smith
in Illinois, the "Mormons just buried their dead and went on
with construction of the temple."
BYU Unearths Bones of 1857 Massacre Victims
Saturday, August 14, 1999
BY PAUL FOY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The bones of 10 men, women and children believed to have been
among 120 California-bound pioneers massacred by a Mormon militia
and American Indian allies in 1857 have been unexpectedly unearthed
at the site. The bones, discovered Aug. 3 by workers restoring a
monument, were quietly shipped to Brigham Young University for an
It was an unfortunate find for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints, which was trying to avoid disturbing human remains while
demolishing and replacing a memorial at a primitive rock-cairn grave
40 miles north of St. George.
"The discovery was accidental," said Shane Baker, an
archeologist for the church-owned BYU.
"We disinterred the remains so they wouldn't be further damaged.
We have the partial remains of a number of individuals. All evidence
substantiates they were victims of the Mountain Meadows massacre,"
The Arkansas emigrants were tricked into laying down their arms
with a promise of safe passage and slain for reasons still not fully
understood. It was a time when Utah Mormons feared an invasion by
the U.S. Army and recalled their persecution by gentiles in Arkansas.
Church spokesman Dale Bills said Friday that the church is "restoring
the Mountain Meadows grave site as a dignified, lasting memorial
to the victims of the 1857 massacre."
The pioneers' bones were exposed last week by a backhoe removing
the last of a crude masonry wall that had encircled the grave site.
Working by hand, BYU archeologists spent two tedious days recovering
"It was a very humbling, spiritual experience," said
Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith, who was on hand for the excavation.
"It just really touched me deeply. I saw buttons, some pottery,
and bones of adults and children. But the children -- that was what
really hit me hard."
BYU archeologists are examining the fragile bones for the sex and
age of the pioneers and evidence of disease or trauma. A private
ceremony is planned for the bones' reburial.
A contractor working for the church has resumed building a memorial
wall 4 feet wide and 2 feet tall; a dedication ceremony is scheduled
It will follow a series of reburials, ceremonies and makeshift
monuments for the slain pioneers, who originally were buried in
shallow graves exposed by animals, erosion and flash floods. In
1859, federal troops led by Army Maj. James H. Carleton of California
rounded up the exposed remains of 36 of the pioneers and reburied
them under a large pile of rocks.
A masonry wall built in 1932 to encircle that cairn is now being
replaced. It was under that wall that the bones were found. Glen
Leonard, director of the Church Museum of History and Art in Salt
Lake City, was able to determine the number of men, women and children
associated with the recovered bones, according to Washington County
Attorney Eric Ludlow.
Leonard was not allowed by church authorities to comment. "This
was a very tragic event and many still have deep feelings about
it. We're doing everything we possibly can to remain sensitive to
that," said Baker, the BYU archeologist. "The LDS church
is working in good faith to make this spot as a respected place
for those who lost their lives. We are trying not to let this [discovery]
disturb the positive strides the church has taken to memorialize
the place," he said.
The only person ever held accountable for the 1857 assault was
Mormon convert John D. Lee, a major in the Iron County Militia.
He was tried, convicted and executed 20 years after the slaughter.
In 1990, the Mormon church erected a granite wall listing the names
of the slaughtered pioneers.
Letter From the Editor
Sunday, March 12, 2000
By James E. 'Jay' Shelledy
"In pursuing the bloody thread which runs through this
picture of sad realities, the question of how this crime, that
for hellish atrocity has no parallel in our history, can be adequately
punished often comes up and seeks in vain for an answer."
Maj. James H. Carleton Report to Congress, May 25, 1859
This nation's worst case of civil terrorism, if you can lay aside
the wholesale slaughter of Indian settlements in the latter part
of the 19th century by the military, occurred in Oklahoma City five
years ago when the Murrah Federal Building was bombed. This despicable,
perverted act is known throughout the world in excruciating detail.
The second-worst case occurred 142 years ago in Utah. While the
congressional report from the Army's investigating officer, James
Carleton, was carried in the nation's newspapers at the time, scant
mention of the Mountain Meadows massacre has found its way into
Utah school textbooks. Indeed, noted LDS Church historian Leonard
Arrington's acclaimed work, Great Basin Kingdom, failed to mention
the atrocity. And state highway maps, while designating the location
of a monument in Utah's southwestern corner, do not see fit to include
Mountain Meadows as a "point of interest" for travelers.
Perhaps it is because we are too uncomfortable with the truth.
We in Utah, embraced as we are in a unique church-state tango,
are loath to confront awkward memories. No pioneer remembrance has
been more collectively repressed than the execution-style murders
of an estimated 120 men, women and children -- California-bound
emigrants -- at the hands of Mormon zealots and Indian subordinates
at Mountain Meadows in 1857.
Unearthing ancestral sins stirs ghosts of the past. To compensate,
we often canonize safely sanitized lore and let sleeping facts to
the contrary rest in peace. Learning and accepting the truth, however,
prompts healing, no matter how overdue. Like a lingering toothache,
aspirin only works so long. This morning, on a goodly portion of
our front page, we start pulling a historical tooth in revealing
new light on an old crime.
Prompted by the accidental excavation of the bones of murdered
emigrants in August last year, Salt Lake Tribune writer Christopher
Smith investigated why a backhoe would be digging atop a recognized
mass grave site, as well as the circumstances that came before and
after the fateful scoop.
To put the latest, unpublicized findings into sensitive perspective,
we have broken the controversial discoveries into three installments,
the longest of which runs today and two subsequent shorter pieces
on Monday and Tuesday. From historical documents that continue to
be problematic, to the first empirical evidence of what truly happened
in that grassy saddle on the Spanish Trail, the picture is far more
gruesome and onerous than popularly thought.
Confronting the current chapter in the ongoing saga of Mountain
Meadows appears to be as difficult for the state's power structure
as it was 14 decades ago. Throughout the five weeks between the
time the bones were dug up and given to Brigham Young University
for forensic analysis and their forced reinterment Sept. 10, there
was steady pressure for secrecy. Ultimately, Gov. Mike Leavitt would
intervene to keep bad memories from becoming worse. Further forensic
research on the bones, he wrote, would derail "a good-spirited
attempt to put [the massacre] behind us."
Perhaps Leavitt was battling his own ghosts. He is a descendent
of massacre participant Dudley Leavitt, who, at best, was an accomplice
to mass murder and, at worst, a cold-blooded killer of the frontier's
Dudley Leavitt also was the grandfather of Juanita Brooks, whose
1950 benchmark book on the atrocity was the first attempt at exposing
the covered-up details. Yet Brooks, who three months ago was selected
as one of the 20 most influential Utahns of the 20th century, also
was conflicted by her convictions to her LDS faith and family in
learning the awful truth.
In a letter to her sister while she was compiling research, Brooks
related that Dudley Leavitt apparently rode picket duty as the surrendering
emigrants were being marched away from the valley. That would make
him responsible for preventing anyone from escaping once the executions
began. Brooks said her father "cautioned his children not to
marry Higbees or Haights or Dames or Klingonsmiths because he believed
the sins of the fathers would be visited upon the heads of the children
until the third or fourth generations."
Brooks once told a friend in St. George, current Washington County
medical examiner Bart Anderson, that she even burned several important
historical documents regarding Mountain Meadows. The flames in her
fireplace, related Brooks, turned an eerie blue as she placed the
old papers in the fire.
"I asked her why she would ever burn such important documents,"
Anderson told reporter Smith recently. "And she told me, 'Bart,
they were just too incriminating.' "
In Utah, says Smith, history always is current. Today, and for
the next two days, he sheds light where darkness and denial have
too long held sway. His unsensationalized series, entitled "Grave
Consequences," will be a painful read for some. But it also
can be an enlightening step toward the eventual healing that must
take place for all who cherish their Utah roots.
--Jay Shelledy, Editor
A Brief History of the Mountain Meadows Massacre
Sunday, March 12, 2000
A California-bound wagon train of about 140 Arkansas emigrants
led by John Baker and Alexander Fancher camped near the present-day
southwestern Utah town of Enterprise in September 1857. Fears the
U.S. Army was preparing to forcibly remove Brigham Young as Utah
territorial governor and impose martial law were at their height.
Spurred by inflammatory sermons of LDS leaders, a siege mentality
focused Mormon resentment toward the "gentile" wagon train.
Early on Sept. 7, a group of American Indians and local Mormon
"Indian missionaries" attacked the encircled wagon train
without warning. After the Arkansas party repelled the offensive,
a contingent of Mormon territorial militia, acting on orders from
religious leaders, joined the assault, which dragged on four more
days as 15 emigrant men were killed while fighting or escaping to
With their ammunition, food and water almost gone, the emigrants
were persuaded by Mormon officials on the afternoon of Sept. 11
to surrender their arms in exchange for a safe escort past the Indians
to Cedar City. Segregated into groups of young children, women and
teens, and adult males, they were led under heavy guard by more
than 50 militiamen and settlers out of the corralled wagons and
up the valley.
On a pre-arranged command, the rescuers turned upon the emigrants,
joined by Indians who had been lying in wait. Estimates of the death
toll include 14 Arkansas men shot in the head, 12 women and 35 youngsters
clubbed or knifed to death, with 17 children younger than age 8
surviving the double-cross. Nine cowhands hired to drive cattle
also were murdered, along with at least 35 other unknown victims.
In all, 120 people, mostly women and children, were slain.
After two decades of rumors, denials, cover-ups and failed indictments,
one of the participating Mormon leaders, John D. Lee -- Young's
adopted son -- was tried, convicted and executed by firing squad
in 1877 at the scene of the massacre. Lee considered himself a scapegoat.
No one else was ever officially held responsible for the crime.
Part 1: Unearthing Mountain Meadows Secrets: Backhoe at a S. Utah
killing field rips open 142-year-old wound
Sunday, March 12, 2000
Editor's Note: Mountain Meadows, southwest of Cedar City, is the
site of the worst slaughter of white civilians in the history of
the frontier West. Last summer, LDS Church officials and descendants
of the victims sought to finally close the 142-year-old wound. Together
they were to build and dedicate a new monument to the 120 Arkansas
emigrants who perished in unimaginable violence at the hands of
Mormon settlers and Indian accomplices.
The new memorial stands, but the wound still festers. In constructing
the monument, workers uncovered remains of 29 victims, a vivid and
horrific reminder of that September day in 1857. The story of those
bones, and what happened to them last summer, adds another excruciating
chapter to the history of a crime that many of Utah's pioneer descendants
can neither confront nor explain.
BY CHRISTOPHER SMITH
MOUNTAIN MEADOWS -- After burying dozens of men, women and children
murdered in a bizarre frontier conspiracy, an Army major ordered
his soldiers to erect a rockpile and a carved wooden cross swearing
vengeance on the perpetrators. Brevet Maj. James H. Carleton then
wrote to Congress: "Perhaps the future may be judged by the
They were fated words. When a backhoe operator last summer accidentally
dug up the bones buried here in 1859 by Carleton's troops, it set
into motion a series of cover-ups, accusations and recriminations
that continue today. It also caused a good-faith effort by The Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- to reconcile one of the
ugliest chapters of U.S. history -- to backfire.
The Aug. 3, 1999, excavation of the remains of at least 29 of the
120 emigrants slaughtered in the Mountain Meadows massacre eventually
prompted Gov. Mike Leavitt to intercede. He encouraged state officials
to quickly rebury the remains, even though the basic scientific
analysis required by state law was unfinished.
"It would be unfortunate if this sad moment in our state's
history, and the rather good-spirited attempt to put it behind us,
was highlighted by controversy," Leavitt wrote in an e-mail
message to state antiquities officials shortly before LDS Church
President Gordon B. Hinckley presided over a ceremony at Mountain
Meadows. The widely publicized occasion was to dedicate a newly
rebuilt rock cairn monument, crafted with the same stones Carleton's
troops had piled defiantly in 1859. They also were the same rocks
that were torn down from the grave site by one of Leavitt's own
ancestors. Dudley Leavitt, himself a participant in the Sept. 11,
1857, murders, visited the cairn with LDS prophet Brigham Young
a year after Carleton's troops left.
After ridiculing the pledge of vengeance, Young lifted his right
arm toward the rock pile and "in five minutes there wasn't
one stone left upon another," Dudley Leavitt would recall.
"He didn't have to tell us what he wanted done. We understood."
The governor's intercession was one of many dramas played out last
summer, all serving to underscore Mountain Meadows' place as the
Bermuda Triangle of Utah's historical and theological landscape.
The end result may be another sad chapter in the massacre's legacy
of bitterness, denial and suspicion.
In retracing the latest episode, The Salt Lake Tribune conducted
numerous interviews and researched documents obtained under Utah's
Government Records Access and Management Act to find:
Co-sponsors of the monument project -- the LDS Church and the Mountain
Meadows Association -- initially hoped to cover up the excavation,
with the MMA demanding any documentation be "kept out of public
view permanently." The president of the association, Ron Loving,
wrote in an Aug. 9 e-mail to the director of the Utah Division of
History: "The families [descended from victims] and the LDS
church will work out what we want to become public knowledge on
this accidental finding."
The vain effort to hide the truth gave rise to wild conspiracy
theories among some descendants. They suspected Loving was working
with the LDS Church to rewrite history by having church-owned Brigham
Young University determine the exhumed victims died of disease,
not murder. "I call it 'sanitizing' a foul deed," Burr
Fancher wrote to other descendants Aug. 24.
Utah Division of History Director Max Evans, over the objections
of state Archaeologist Kevin Jones, personally rewrote BYU's state
archaeological permit to require immediate reburial of the bones
after receiving the governor's e-mail. Jones raised numerous questions
over the political power play, including a concern it was "eth-
nocentric and racist" to rebury the bones of white emigrants
without basic scientific study when similar American Indian remains
are routinely subjected to such analysis before repatriation.
News of the excavation triggered written requests to BYU from people
around the nation, seeking to determine if their ancestors were
among the recovered victims. Some offered to submit to DNA testing
and desired to reinter the remains in family burial plots outside
of Utah. Although the Utah Attorney General's Office had advised
state officials that "any and all lineal descendants of the
Mountain Meadows massacre would appear to have a voice in determining
the disposition of the bodies," there is little documented
evidence any of the people seeking information about family members
Resentment over the discovery and of the remains has caused a schism
in the descendant families, with at least one organized group asking
why civil or criminal penalties were not brought against the LDS
Church or the MMA for desecrating the grave. There also is confusion
over who is now in charge of the MMA. While new president Gene Sessions
of Weber State University says Loving was voted out of office in
November in the wake of the controversy, Loving says he's still
the boss: "I wasn't voted out of a damn thing. I was moved
up. It was my methods and my way of doing business that got that
monument done." Other descendants have enlisted the support
of Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in calling for federal stewardship
of the emigrant mass graves scattered in Mountain Meadows, instead
of having the Mormon Church own the land.
"We're doubtful with the church in control this will ever
be completely put to rest," says Scott Fancher, president of
the Mountain Meadows Monument Foundation in Arkansas. "There's
a sense among some of our members it's like having Lee Harvey Oswald
in charge of JFK's tomb."
Glen M. Leonard, director of the Museum of Church History and Art
and Hinckley's personal representative in the process, said the
church endeavored with the MMA to gather comment from all descendants
through the association's Web page and newsletter. "While this
was not a perfect method for reaching all members of all branches
of all families, it was a practical means for the church and the
association to inform most of them with interest in the grave site
restoration project," Leonard says. "We are sorry if some
descendants of the emigrant families feel left out."
Marian Jacklin, an archaeologist with the Dixie National Forest
in Cedar City who has spent years trying to navigate the emotional
minefield of Mountain Meadows, says the events of last summer did
not yield the desired consequences.
"This whole episode didn't answer anything," she says.
"It just asked more questions."
And the question that burns in the minds of many angry descendants
is: Why was a backhoe digging at a known, well-marked grave site?
"What we understood in every correspondence, and we thought
we had made perfectly clear to the church, was that under no circumstances
would the remains be disturbed," says Scott Fancher, whose
organization is considering legal action over the excavation. "Never
in my wildest imagination did we expect them to set a backhoe on
this grave and start digging."
Hinckley had personally launched the effort to stabilize the decaying
rock cairn -- rebuilt at least 11 times since Carleton's troops
placed the stones -- after a visit to the site in October 1998.
The 2.5 acres was deeded to the church in the 1970s after the landowner
reportedly tried in vain to find descendants in Arkansas to accept
the donation of land.
Partnering with the MMA -- a group of emigrant descendants, historians
and interested southwestern Utah residents -- LDS Church architects
designed a monument with a thigh-high stone wall around the old
cairn, perched on a steep stream bank. There are conflicting accounts
of whether descendants understood the wall would require digging
a trench around the grave for a concrete footing. Some MMA members,
including the contractor, interpreted the "do not disturb"
edict to cover the pre-construction archaeological investigation.
Once the archaeologists said all clear, crews could dig the footing,
But Scott Fancher says his branch of the family understood the
wall would be "surface-mounted," in keeping with the church's
pledge not to disturb the burial ground in any way.
Before beginning, the LDS Church had hired BYU's Office of Public
Archaeology to conduct a non-invasive archaeological survey. Using
ground-penetrating radar, aerial photos, metal detectors and hundreds
of soil-sample tests to search for signs of bones or artifacts,
a team of professionals scoured the area. "The archaeological
evidence was 100 percent negative," says Shane Baker, the BYU
staff archaeologist who directed the study. "I went to our
client, the church, and said either this is not the spot or every
last shred of evidence has been erased."
There was speculation that bones buried beneath the cairn had been
exposed to the elements and deteriorated. Or, they had been washed
down the ravine, the cairn was in the wrong place or the cairn was
directly on top of the bones.
But today, Baker admits the archaeological examination at the location
where the bones were eventually disturbed was not as complete as
it was in other areas. The narrow spot between the cairn and streambank
was not probed with radar because the trailer-like unit could not
be towed near the precarious edge. Instead, Baker took soil core
samples, using a bucket auger, which strained against the impacted
He again found nothing. Witnesses would later draw an analogy to
a magician thrusting swords into a box containing an assistant and
somehow missing the mark.
"Shane came within inches of the remains and it is amazing
that no evidence was determined," says Kent Bylund of St. George,
an association board member and adjacent Mountain Meadows landowner
who served as project contractor. "I sincerely believe everything
was done to ensure the area to be excavated was core sampled and
thoroughly examined before excavation was permitted."
BYU's Baker blames the accidental discovery of bones on the restrictions
placed on the investigation by the LDS Church. "We were not
allowed to do the kind of testing we would do normally, and I was
concerned the whole time we were going to hit bone," he says.
"The very fact they wouldn't let me dig with a shovel and a
trowel is why a backhoe found those bones." It was on the second
or third scoop that more than 30 pounds of human skeletal remains
clattered out of the backhoe bucket as it dug the footing trench
on Aug. 3. Bylund looked on in disbelief, his heart in his throat.
His first inclination was to put the remains back in the ground
and swear the backhoe operator to secrecy. But it was impossible
to unring the bell.
"Once they were uncovered, for this new monument to go in,
you really had no choice but to remove them because they were dead
center in the middle of the new wall," Baker says. As Baker
delicately removed hundreds of pieces of bone from the exposed trench,
Loving and Leonard debated what to do and who to tell.
"My plan was to have them reburied within 48 hours of their
discovery," says Loving. The Arizona man, whose ancestor was
a brother of a massacre victim, took charge, he says, "because
the LDS Church considered me as the spokesman for the families in
my capacity as president of the Mountain Meadows Association."
But other descendants more directly related to the victims are outraged
the church gave Loving such authority.
"It's offensive to a lot of people to hear Mr. Loving say
this is what the family thinks because we put the church on notice
repeatedly that Mr. Loving does not speak for the family and never
has," says Scott Fancher. "We are very disappointed we
did not have a voice in how the remains were treated after they
Church officials and BYU put Loving in charge and agreed with his
plan to rebury within 48 hours. But that plan was foiled on Aug.
5 when Jones, the state archaeologist, informed them Utah law required
a basic scientific analysis when human remains are discovered on
private property. Failure to comply was a felony. BYU needed a state
permit to legally remove the remains. And, by law, such permits
require "the reporting of archaeological information at current
standards of scientific rigor."
Although LDS officials knew the descendants would be uncomfortable
with the required analysis, they agreed it was necessary, says Leonard.
Jones issued BYU's permit Aug. 6, requiring scientists to determine
as best possible, age, sex, race, stature, health condition, cause
of death and, because the remains were commingled, to segregate
the largest bones and skulls of each individual for proper reburial.
Baker immediately began sorting bones with an assistant in his
St. George hotel room, then transferred the remains to BYU's Provo
lab and to the University of Utah's forensic anthropology lab in
Salt Lake City, which BYU had subcontracted to do the required "osteological"
Throughout, Loving demanded not a word be said to anyone about
the discovery. On Aug. 9, he threatened to sue the state Division
of History if Evans did not guarantee in writing the state would
adhere to several conditions of secrecy, including "none of
the contents of the report, in part or in whole, is released to
Baker of BYU maintains the secrecy was to allow time to notify
family members who did not know of the accidental discovery. "To
the credit of the church, they always told me they wanted everything
to be open and aboveboard," he says.
Yet many descendants involved in the monument project didn't learn
of the discovery until the St. George Spectrum newspaper broke the
story Aug. 13, 10 days after the backhoe unearthed the remains.
Failing to get answers from state officials whom Loving had told
not to talk, many descendants bitterly wondered what was really
Burr Fancher, who had supported the monument reconstruction, was
incensed. In an e-mail message circulated to several other descendants,
he said Loving was a "lackey in the employ of the Mormon Church
and caters to Hinckley's every whim."
The news also triggered a flood of requests to BYU and the state
from people wanting to know if their family roots could be traced
to Mountain Meadows. On Aug. 22, the Utah Attorney General's Office
informed state antiquities officials: "Generally, next of kin
is privileged in advancing the burial rights of the deceased absent
a compelling state interest."
Loving was telling BYU and state officials the families wanted
the remains buried Sept. 10 in a private ceremony at Mountain Meadows.
But new claims of affiliation complicated matters.
"I went into this blindly and naively assuming the Mountain
Meadows Association spoke as a unified voice on behalf of all the
descendants and that turned out to be wrong," Baker says today.
"On one hand I had descendants demanding I test for DNA, and
on the other I had descendants saying they were going to sue my
pants off if I did."
By now it was clear scientists would not be able to complete even
the baseline scientific analysis in time for the scheduled Sept.
10 reburial ceremony. After a tense meeting with Loving, Jones agreed
to a compromise. The examination and segregation of the "long
bones" would probably be finished by Sept. 10, and those bones
would be placed in the ground at the ceremony. The skulls would
require more time, but once that analysis was complete, the cranial
material would then be reburied.
Loving says he was "forced to accept" the compromise,
but immediately launched an end run. He contacted Dixie Leavitt,
the governor's father and a former state senator who played a leading
role in the 1990 dedication of another monument overlooking the
killing field. Loving warned Dixie Leavitt that unless all the bones
were reburied on Sept. 10, there would be an uproar during Hinckley's
"I don't recall exactly what I said, but 'disturbance' sounds
like a pretty good word," Loving says today.
"I received a call today from my Father (sic) who has been
rather involved with the people from Arkansas who are planning to
hold a burial and memorial service," Gov. Leavitt wrote in
a Sept. 6 e-mail to Wilson Martin, the division's director of cultural
preservation and Jones' boss. "Apparently, the State Archaeologist
is insisting that some portion of the remains be held from the burial
for study. It is apparently causing a lot of angst amongst the family
Gov. Leavitt responded to The Tribune's questions about his intercession
through his press secretary, Vicki Varela. She said the governor
"did not feel that it was appropriate for the bones to be dissected
and studied in a manner that would prolong the discomfort."
Leavitt did not speak to any descendants or family members "other
than being notified by his father that there was some risk a respectful
event may turn into something of a discomfort for the participants,"
Asked if Leavitt understood there was a state law requiring such
study, Varela answered: "I don't think he was knowledgeable
of all the details." She said as the CEO of the state, the
governor believed "we should find a way to create minimal interference."
Church History Museum director Leonard says it was the decision
of the MMA, not the church, to seek an executive exception to the
scientific study requirements.
"We were aware of the political implications and the emotional
implications of this issue," says Leonard. "In hindsight,
it is fair to say that the governor's directive to bury those remains
not completely analyzed was a humane response to conflicting needs."
Evans drew up a new state antiquities permit for BYU, removing
the previous requirement of analysis "in toto" and replacing
it with a new requirement that BYU "shall reinter, by Sept.
10, 1999, all human remains into the prepared burial vaults, near
the place of discovery."
Jones, in a memo to the division files Sept. 9, noted his professional
"To rebury the remains at this point would constitute, in
the opinion of the Antiquities Section, a violation of professional,
scientific and ethical responsibilities," Jones wrote. "It
also might indeed be seen as demonstrating disrespect for the victims,
to bury them once again with bones of many individuals mixed and
jumbled, as they were originally disrespectfully interred, in a
mass grave of murder victims."
But Evans also included a notation on the new permit that could
lead to another re-opening of the massacre grave. "Since the
remains have been interred in a concrete vault, it is possible that
further evaluation can take place if all the parties agree, or if
a court so orders at some future date," Evans says today. "This
is a matter for the family members and the landowner to address,
not one the Division of State History expects to be involved in."
Early on the morning of Sept. 10, Baker picked up the remains from
the U. and drove them to a St. George mortuary. There, the unsegregated
bones and skulls of at least 29 people were placed inside four wooden
ossuaries and later reburied at the rebuilt monument.
On Sept. 29, Baker sent letters of thanks to Division of History
officials explaining how many family members at the memorial service
appreciated that all the remains were reinterred. "This certainly
represents the positive side of Governor Leavitt's action to intercede
on the reburial issue," he wrote.
At the same time, Baker said he was professionally conflicted by
the precedent set with the political decisions.
"The state and its people benefited from this absolutely unique
opportunity to, in some small way, try and make amends for the tragic
events that transpired there so long ago," Baker wrote in a
letter to Jones. "That certainly counts for something. I just
hope that some of the other consequences we were all concerned about
in connection with the action to rebury do not come back to cause
us grief in the future."
Again, those would prove fateful words.
Part 2: Voices of the Dead
Monday, March 13, 2000
BY CHRISTOPHER SMITH
Like a grim jigsaw puzzle, University of Utah forensic anthropologist
Shannon Novak has pieced together the results of crime and warfare,
meticulously re-assembling the bones of people who met violent ends.
Her expertise has taken her to the mass graves of Croatia, where
she joined a team of other experts in gathering evidence for prosecution
of Serbian war crimes. She recently deciphered the bones of soldiers
found on the bloodiest battlefield of Britain's Wars of Roses in
1461, questioning the romantic views of chivalry in medieval battle.
The situations are frequently tense, the work is tedious and the
results are never pretty. But always, the truth ends up in sharper
"Typically with history, the winning side writes the story,"
Novak says. "This is giving the dead a chance to speak."
She took that same sense of purpose into a Utah polemic that began
last summer. While The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
was working to rebuild a monument to victims of the 1857 Mountain
Meadows massacre, the skeletal remains of at least 29 slain emigrants
were accidentally dug up by a church contractor on Aug. 3.
That scientists were required to study the bones of the massacre
victims before they could be returned to their resting-place became
the flash point in a five-week struggle that ended with a private
reburial ceremony Sept. 10. The studies, normally required by state
law of all accidentally discovered human remains, were terminated
prematurely after Gov. Mike Leavitt personally intervened.
In a message to state antiquities officials, Leavitt wrote that
he did not want controversy to highlight "this sad moment in
our state's history and the rather good-spirited attempt to put
it behind us."
Novak, along with a handful of other scientists, archaeologists
and state antiquities officials, got caught in a political tug-of-war
that pitted the need for scientific inquiry against the desire to
respect the wishes of some descendants, who viewed the analysis
as adding insult to injury.
"Arkansas people have two virtues -- caring for the sick and
respecting the dead," Burr Fancher, a direct descendant of
the massacre victims, wrote Aug. 24 to Brigham Young University's
Office of Public Archaeology, which subcontracted with Novak to
conduct the forensic analysis. "One of our fundamental beliefs
has been grossly violated so that a few people could play with bones
and for what reason? Everyone knows who was buried there and every
serious student of history knows why it happened."
Yet at the same time, there is little widespread public knowledge
of a crime of civil terrorism that pales in modern U.S. history
only to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The slaughter of an estimated
120 white civilians by a cabal of Mormon zealots and Indians is
never mentioned in school history textbooks and is not even listed
as a "point of interest" on Utah's official highway map.
Until recent additions, the interpretive signs at Mountain Meadows
were so vague as to how the Arkansas emigrants died that they became
a source of national ridicule.
"All across the United States, when the dominant group has
committed wicked deeds, historical markers either omit the acts
or write of them in the passive voice," James W. Loewen writes
in his new book, Lies Across America, which devotes a chapter to
Mountain Meadows. "Thus, the landscape does what it can to
help the dominant stay dominant and the rest of us stay ignorant
about who actually did what in American history."
When the serene landscape at Mountain Meadows suddenly yielded
hard evidence of one of the most gruesome crimes of western settlement,
debate erupted over the need to delve further.
"It is not important we know exactly how these people were
murdered; we already know they were killed," says Weber State
University history professor Gene Sessions, a Mountain Meadows scholar
who serves as the president of the Mountain Meadows Association.
"There's nothing those bones could show us that we don't already
know from the documentary evidence." But others disagree.
"Those bones could tell the story and this was their one opportunity,"
says Marian Jacklin, a U.S. Forest Service archaeologist in Cedar
City. "I have worked with many of these descedants for years
and understand their feelings. But as a scientist, I would allow
my own mother's bones to be studied in a respectful way if it would
benefit medicine or history."
Kevin Jones, state archaeologist, was overruled in his efforts
to adhere to the state law requiring a basic analysis of the remains.
"The truth has never been fully told by anyone and there's
plenty of information we could have learned here," he says.
"We know they were murdered, but we don't know the details.
And none of these people today can speak for every one of those
people buried there."
Before the bones were placed back into the earth in the wake of
the abrupt change in a state antiquities permit, they had started
to reveal their secrets. In a 30-hour, round-the-clock forensic
marathon, Novak and her students at the U. managed to reassemble
several of the skulls before BYU officials arrived early on the
morning of Sept. 10 to take the bones away.
Her results, which are still being compiled for future publication
in a scientific journal, confirm much of the documentary record.
But they also provide chilling new evidence that contradicts some
conventional beliefs about what happened during the massacre. For
instance, written accounts generally claim the women and older children
were beaten or bludgeoned to death by Indians using crude weapons,
while Mormon militiamen killed adult males by shooting them in the
back of the head. However, Novak's partial reconstruction of approximately
20 different skulls of Mountain Meadows victims show:
- At least five adults had gunshot exit wounds in the posterior
area of the cranium -- a clear indication some were shot while
facing their killers. One victim's skull displays a close-range
bullet entrance wound to the forehead;
- Women also were shot in the head at close range. A palate of
a female victim exhibits possible evidence of gunshot trauma to
the face, based on a preliminary examination of broken teeth;
- At least one youngster, believed to be about 10 to 12 years
old, was killed by a gunshot to the top of the head. Other findings
by Novak from the commingled partial remains of at least 29 individuals
-- a count based on the number of right femurs in the hundreds
of pieces of bone recovered from the gravesite -- back up the
- Five skulls with gunshot entrance wounds in the back of the
cranium have no "beveling," or flaking of bone, on the
exterior of the skull. This indicates the victims were executed
with the gun barrel pointing directly into the head, not at an
angle, and at very close range;
- Two young adults and three children -- one believed to be about
3 years old judging by tooth development -- were killed by blunt-force
trauma to the head. Although written records recount that children
under the age of 8 were spared, historians believe some babes-in-arms
were murdered along with their mothers;
- Virtually all of the "post-cranial" (from the head
down) bones displayed extensive carnivore damage, confirming written
accounts that bodies were left on the killing field to be gnawed
by wolves and coyotes.
Assisted by graduate student Derinna Kopp and other U. Department
of Anthropology volunteers, Novak's team took photographs, made
measurements, wrote notes and drew diagrams of the bones, all part
of the standard data collection required by law.
"I treated this as if it were a recent homicide, conducting
the analysis scientifically but with great respect," says Novak.
"I'm always extremely conservative in my conclusions. I will
only present what I can verify in a court of law."
Beyond the cause of death, Novak was able to discern something
about the constitution of the emigrants.
"These were big, strong, robust men, very heavy boned,"
she says. "We found tobacco staining on teeth, which is helpful
in indicating males, and lots of cavities, indicating they had a
diet heavy on carbohydrates."
There came a point in the reconstruction where the disparate pieces
of bones slowly began to morph into individuals, each with distinct
characteristics. One victim had broken an arm and clavicle that
had healed improperly. One male had likely been in a brawl that
left a healed blunt wound on the back of his head. One youngster's
remains all had a distinctive reddish tint; as scientists inventoried
the bones they would note another part of "red boy."
"We were at the stage when we were distinguishing them as
people, where you were getting to know each one," says Novak.
"We could have started to match people up. You would never
have gotten complete individuals, but given a little more time,
we could have done a lot more."
But time was up. Novak had concentrated her initial work on the
"long bones," as part of an agreement reached between
the Division of History, Mountain Meadows Association and Brigham
Young University. Those post-cranial remains would be re-interred
during a Sept. 10 memorial. Because the reconstruction of the skulls
would not be finished by then, the agreement allowed Novak until
spring -- about six months -- to do the studies required by state
It was late on Sept. 8 that she learned that Division of History
Director Max Evans had overruled Jones and re-wrote BYU's antiquities
permit, changing the standard requirement for analysis "in
toto" to require reburial of all remains on Sept. 10. When
BYU asked to pick up the cranial bones on Sept. 9, Novak deferred,
saying she had until the next day according to the amended permit.
"It was the only stand I could make because they had changed
the rules in the middle of the process with no notice whatsoever,"
she says. "We worked through the night to get as much done
as we could. This data had to be gathered."
BYU archaeologist Shane Baker picked up the remains from Novak
early on the morning of Sept. 10, drove them to a St. George mortuary
where they were placed in four small wooden ossuaries and then reburied
later that day at the newly finished monument.
The dead would say no more. Their remains should never have been
queried in the first place, says Weber State historian Sessions.
"This idea of Shannon Novak needing six months to mess around
with the cranial stuff, well, I know something about that science
and that's a fraud," says the Mountain Meadows Association
president, who adds he consulted his WSU colleagues about the time
needed for such studies. "I really disagree with anyone who
says we should have kept the bones out of the ground longer to determine
what happened at Mountain Meadows. The documentary evidence is overwhelming.
Whether or not little kids were shot in the head or mashed with
rocks makes no difference. They were killed."
But other historians, searching for more information about an event
cloaked in secrecy for generations, see value in the empirical evidence
that forensic anthropology can offer. On Feb. 15, BYU's Baker made
an informal presentation of his own photographs and research on
the Mountain Meadows remains to the Westerners, an exclusive group
of professional and amateur historians who meet monthly. As Baker
flashed color slides of the bones on the screen, the men were visibly
"I've dealt with this awful tale on a daily basis for five
years, but I found seeing the photos of the remains of the victims
profoundly disturbing," says Will Bagley, whose forthcoming
book on the massacre, Blood of the Prophets, won the Utah Arts Council
publication prize. "It drove home the horror."
But would it convince those who still believe the killing was done
solely by Indians, or was part of an anti-Mormon conspiracy or the
work of a single, renegade apostate?
"My own father believed John D. Lee was the one behind it
all and if you think you were going to convince him any differently
with empirical proof, forget it," says David Bigler, author
of Forgotten Kingdom and former member of the Utah Board of State
History. "People want to have the truth, they want it with
a capital T and they don't like to have people upset that truth.
True believers don't want to think the truth has changed."
And according to the leader of the modern Mormon church, the truth
has already been told about Mountain Meadows.
Part 3: The Dilemma of Blame
Tuesday, March 14, 2000
BY CHRISTOPHER SMITH
MEADOWS -- As LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley delivered
words of reconciliation at the Sept. 11, 1999, dedication of a rebuilt
monument to emigrants slaughtered by Mormon militiamen and their
Indian allies 142 years earlier, he added a legal disclaimer.
"That which we have done here must never be construed as an
acknowledgment of the part of the church of any complicity in the
occurrences of that fateful day," Hinckley said. The line was
inserted into his speech on the advice of attorneys for the Corporation
of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The statement, seemingly out of sync with Hinckley's desire to
bring healing to nearly 150 years of bitterness, caused some in
attendance to wonder if any progress had really been made at all.
If the Mormon Church leadership of 1857 was not at least partially
to blame for an estimated 120 people slain at Mountain Meadows,
then whom should history hold responsible?
"Well, I would place blame on the local people," Hinckley
told The Salt Lake Tribune in a subsequent interview Feb. 23. "I've
never thought for one minute -- and I've read the history of that
tragic episode -- that Brigham Young had anything to do with it.
It was a local decision and it was tragic. We can't understand it
in this time." For families of the slain emigrants and descendants
of LDS pioneer John D. Lee -- the one participant convicted and
executed for the crime -- Hinckley's delineation of the church's
position on Mountain Meadows compounded many of the misgivings they
had about the entire chain of events during the summer.
First, a church contractor's backhoe accidentally exhumed the bones
of at least 29 victims Aug. 3 while digging at the grave, even though
the church had pledged not to disturb the ground. That was followed
by a failed attempt at secrecy, leading to wild speculation and
a schism among
There was a heated debate over whether a state law requiring forensic
analysis of the bones should be obeyed, with Gov. Mike Leavitt finally
intervening to prematurely terminate the study and ensure that all
bones be reburied before the dedication. New forensic anthropology
studies done on the bones before reinterment provided the first
graphic evidence of the brutality, and a new, unwanted reminder
of the horror.
Now, those who had hoped to hear some sort of apology on behalf
of the modern Mormon Church from the man who had done more than
any of his predecessors to salve the wounds, were left feeling they
had come up short.
"What we've felt would put this resentment to rest would be
an official apology from the church," says Scott Fancher of
the Mountain Meadows Monument Foundation in Arkansas, a group of
direct descendants of the victims. "Not an admission of guilt,
but an acknowledgement of neglect and of intentional obscuring of
Others closely involved in Hinckley's participation in the new
monument project believe the LDS Church went as far as it's ever
going to go in addressing the uncomfortable details of the massacre.
"You're not going to get an apology for several reasons, one
of which is that as soon as you say you're sorry, here come the
wrongful-death lawsuits," says Gene Sessions, president of
the Mountain Meadows Association, the organization that partnered
with Hinckley on the project.
"If President Hinckley ever contemplated he was going to open
this can of worms he never would have bothered to do this, because
it asks embarrassing questions. It raises the old question of whether
Brigham Young ordered the massacre and whether Mormons do terrible
things because they think their leaders want them to do terrible
Noted Mormon writer Levi Peterson has tried to explain the difficulty
that Mormons and their church face in confronting the atrocity of
"If good Mormons committed the massacre, if prayerful leaders
ordered it, if apostles and a prophet knew about it and later sacrificed
John D. Lee, then the sainthood of even the modern church seems
tainted," he has written. "Where is the moral superiority
of Mormonism, where is the assurance that God has made Mormons his
new chosen people?"
Mormons are certainly not alone in trying to square the shedding
of innocent blood in the name of God. In the 13th century, the Roman
Catholic Church established courts of the Spanish Inquisition, gaining
confessions of heresy through torture and punishment by death. In
1692, Puritans in Massachusetts executed 20 people for allegedly
practicing witchcraft. But acknowledging any complicity in Mountain
Meadows' macabre past is fundamentally problematic for the modern
"The massacre has left the Mormon Church on the horns of
a dilemma," says Utah historian Will Bagley, author of a forthcoming
book on Mountain Meadows. "It can't acknowledge its historic
involvement in a mass murder, and if it can't accept its accountability,
it can't repent."
The massacre also shows a darker side to Mormonism's proud pioneer
heritage, an element used today to shape the faith's worldwide image.
"The problem is that Mormons then were not simply old-fashioned
versions of Mormons today," says historian David Bigler, author
of Forgotten Kingdom. "Then, they were very zealous believers;
it was a faith that put great emphasis on the Old Testament and
the Blood of Israel."
Brigham Young's theocratic rule of the Utah Territory -- he wore
the hats of governor, federal Indian agent and LDS prophet -- was
at its zenith in 1857 when the mass murders at Mountain Meadows
occurred. Reformation of the LDS Church was in full swing, with
members' loyalty challenged by church leaders. Young taught that
in a complete theocracy, God required the spilling of a sinner's
blood on the ground to properly atone for grievous sins. It was
the Mormon doctrine of "blood atonement."
The modern church contends blood atonement was mainly a "rhetorical
device" used by Young and other leaders to teach Saints the
wages of sin. Yet some scholars see its influence even today, pointing
to such signs as Utah being the only state left in the nation that
allows execution by firing squad. There is widespread disagreement,
but some historians have concluded that blood atonement is central
to understanding why faithful Mormons would conspire to commit mass
Alternate explanations have included speculation that Indians threatened
to prey on local inhabitants if Mormon settlers did not help them
raid emigrant wagon trains. There also are the oft-repeated "evil
emigrant" stories, accounts that the Arkansas wagon train antagonized
Mormon settlers with epithets, poisoned watering holes that resulted
in the deaths of Mormon children and Indians, and boastful claims
of one contingent called the "Missouri Wildcats" that
they were with the Illinois mob that killed LDS founder Joseph Smith.
Retold as fact in many accounts and in the National Register of
Historic Places nomination for Mountain Meadows, the veracity of
those stories has been called into question since the earliest investigations
of the massacre.
Historian Juanita Brooks, in her seminal book, The Mountain Meadows
Massacre, believed the emigrants met their doom in part through
their own provocative behavior and because they came from the Arkansas
county adjacent to the county where beloved LDS Apostle Parley P.
Pratt had recently been murdered. In his forthcoming Blood of the
Prophets, Bagley points to new evidence that seems to blunt this
one point of Brooks' landmark research.
"[Noted historian] Dale Morgan alerted Brooks in 1941 to the
likelihood that the emigrant atrocity stories had been 'set afloat
by Mormons to further their alibi of the massacre's having been
perpetrated by Indians,' " Bagley writes, quoting from Morgan's
letter to Brooks. "Even then it was well-established that the
Fancher party came from Arkansas, and Morgan had never been satisfied
with tales that the company included a large contingent of maniacal
That a wagon train mainly of women and children would be slaughtered
for belligerence and taunting seems too farfetched to many historians
"When you have 50 to perhaps more than 70 men participate
in an event like this, you can't just say they got upset,"
says Bigler, a Utah native. "We have to believe they did not
want to do what they did any more than you or I would. We have to
recognize they thought what they were doing is what authority required
of them. The only question to be resolved is did that authority
reach all the way to Salt Lake City?"
Fifty years ago, when Brooks broached the question of Young's role
and blood atonement in her book, she was labeled an apostate by
some and "one of the Lord's lie detectors" by others,
such as the late philanthropist O.C. Tanner. Brooks noted her own
LDS temple endowment blessing was to "avenge the blood of the
prophet," a reference to Smith's 1844 murder. References to
vengeance on behalf of slain church leaders eventually were removed
from endowment ceremonies.
The journals kept by Mormon pioneers, who considered maintaining
diaries a religious duty, continue to shed more light on the questions
Brooks raised. Among key developments in the historical record:
- The Sept. 1, 1857, journal of Young's Indian interpreter, Dimick
Huntington, recounts Young's negotiations with the Paiute Indians,
who were offered a gift of the emigrant wagon train's cattle.
When Paiute leaders noted Young had told them not to steal, Huntington
translated Young's reply: "So I have, but now they have come
to fight us and you, for when they kill us they will kill you."
- Young, as superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Utah Territory,
ordered the distribution of more than $3,500 in goods to the natives
"near Mountain Meadows" less than three weeks after
- The patriarchal blessing given to the commander of the Mormon
militia in Beaver, Iron and Washington counties called on Col.
William Dame to "act at the head of a portion of thy brethren
and of the Lamanites [Indians] in the redemption of Zion and the
avenging of the blood of the prophets upon them that dwell on
There is also additional support for Brooks' original premise:
That Young wanted to stage a violent incident to demonstrate to
the U.S. government -- which was taking up arms against his theocracy
-- that he could persuade the Indians to interrupt travel over the
important overland trails, thwarting all emigration.
She was the first to note a frequently censored phrase from Young's
Aug. 4, 1857, letter to Mormon "Indian missionary" Jacob
Hamblin to obtain the tribe's trust, "for they must learn that
they have either got to help us or the United States will kill us
both." Hinckley has declared, "Let the book of the past
be closed" at Mountain Meadows and believes it is pointless
to continually speculate on why it happened.
"None of us can place ourselves in the moccasins of those
who lived there at the time," he said in an interview. "The
feelings that were aroused, somehow, that I cannot understand. But
it occurred. Now, we're trying to do something that we can to honorably
and reverently and respectfully remember those who lost their lives
Sessions, the Weber State University historian who serves as president
of the Mountain Meadows Association, says Hinckley's efforts at
reconciliation this past summer "may be the most significant
event to happen in Mountain Meadows since John D. Lee was executed."
Attitudes are changing, he says, pointing to the church's acceptance
of interpretive signs at the meadows that better explain who did
the killing. As to who ultimately is to blame, perhaps that's not
for anyone to judge.
"Somebody made a terrible decision that this has got to be
done," says Sessions. "I don't justify it in any way.
But I do believe it would have taken more guts to stay home in Cedar
City on those days in 1857 than it would to go out there to the
meadows and take part.
"You couldn't stay away. You would have been out there killing
(Tribune reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack contributed to this story.)
Artifacts Head for Museum, Mountain Meadows buttons go to Arkansas
Sunday, September 10, 2000
BY CHRISTOPHER SMITH
Buttons believed to be from the clothing of Arkansas emigrants
murdered 143 years ago Monday at the hands of Mormon settlers and
Paiute Indians will be displayed in an Arkansas museum, LDS Church
leaders announced Saturday.
Church officials said they would not immediately heed a recommendation
by the Utah state archaeologist that the artifacts taken from the
mass grave of Mountain Meadows massacre victims near St. George
last year be reburied with the bones of the wagon train emigrants.
Instead, despite objections from some descendants, the church will
allow a pioneer museum in Berryville, Ark., to display the six buttons,
a wagon wheel nut and 12 fragments of a glazed ceramic pot.
In a prepared statement, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints said it had "determined to honor the wishes of many
-- but admittedly not all -- of the descendants and other relatives"
by allowing the Carroll County Historical and Genealogical Society
to put the grave artifacts on display.
"We feel that it is appropriate to deliver these items to
Arkansas, where the families of the emigrants can see them as a
remembrance of their fallen relatives," said LDS Museum of
Church History and Art Director Glen Leonard, who presented the
artifacts to the museum Saturday during the annual meeting of the
Mountain Meadow Association (MMA) in Harrison, Ark. "It has
never been our intention to keep the artifacts. Our desire is to
honor the memory of the massacre victims according to the wishes
of their descendants and within the limits of application laws and
Leonard said pending resolution of "remaining questions,"
the items will be on indefinite loan to the Berryville museum, with
ownership retained by the church's history and art museum in Salt
The items, along with the skeletal remains of 29 people, were excavated
at Mountain Meadows in August last year by construction crews digging
a foundation for a new wall around the "Carleton cairn,"
a rock pile believed to have first been placed in 1859 by Army troops
under the command of Maj. James Carleton. The soldiers gathered
and buried en masse the bones of some 120 members of the California-bound
wagon train led by Capt. Alexander Fancher who were slaughtered
in a siege that ended Sept. 11, 1857.
Persuaded by local Mormon militia leaders to surrender their arms
in exchange for safe escort past the Indians to Cedar City, the
emigrants were instead double-crossed and executed by militiamen
and Indian allies, with only 17 children under the age of eight
allowed to live. The episode is considered one of the most ignominious
chapters of territorial Utah history.
The Carleton cairn is located on property owned by the LDS Church.
Church officials and archaeologists at churchowned Brigham Young
University had asserted ownership of the artifacts and announced
earlier this year plans to donate the buttons to the small museum
in Carroll County, the home of many of the doomed wagon train members.
On Aug. 29, after consulting with the Utah Attorney General's Office,
state archaeologist Kevin Jones wrote to church and BYU officials
advising that it would be "inappropriate" to consider
the landowner as the owner of items placed in a grave with the deceased.
Based on current professional archaeological practices and applicable
state laws, Jones recommended that the buttons and ceramics be considered
funerary objects and reburied with the massacre victims.
LDS Church leaders said Saturday they had "considered"
Jones' recommendation of reburial but elected to give priority consideration
to descendants who wanted the artifacts put on display in Arkansas.
The debate was sparked when leaders of one massacre descendants'
organization, the Arkansas-based Mountain Meadows Monument Foundation
(MMMF), questioned the propriety and legality of permitting a private
landowner to remove and retain items placed in a recognized grave.
MMMF President Scott Fancher of Fayetteville, Ark., challenged the
church's assertion that it legally owned items from the mass grave
in a series of letters to the Utah Division of History, Utah Attorney
General's Office, the LDS Church and BYU.
"Under your construction of the law, a landowner has an absolute
right to the profits incident to disinterring the dead," Fancher,
an attorney, wrote in one letter to BYU's Office of Public Archaeology.
"I'm curious as to where you would draw the line -- gold filling,
rings, necklaces, great-grandpa's favorite pipe? Frankly, I can't
believe you would even suggest that such is a rule of general application,
in Utah or elsewhere."
But the other organization of descendants and wagon train historians,
the Mountain Meadow Association, had asserted that because its membership
included more "direct descendants" of the surviving 17
children, it should speak for the wagon train victims. The MMA urged
the church to donate the artifacts to the Carroll County museum,
and paid for the display case to house the buttons, wagon nut and
"These problems and disruptions are being caused by self-appointed
people who are not even direct descendants of anyone in the wagon
train and who have no right to say what is done with the artifacts,"
the MMA board charged in a statement placed on the organization's
Web site Thursday.
Beyond the political and emotional minefield of the Mountain Meadows
massacre, some Utah archaeological and anthropological researchers
are concerned over the precedent this artifacts case may set.
Among them is College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum Director
Don Burge of Price, who helped author some of the state's grave
protection and anti-desecration laws.
"As museum directors, we've realized that it is no longer
OK to dig up Indian graves and take the objects," said Burge.
"Are we now saying it's OK to dig up an Anglo grave and take
the artifacts? We're just asking for trouble."