Mountain Meadows Massacre

The Mountain Meadows massacre was a series of attacks on the Baker–Fancher emigrant wagon train at Mountain Meadows in southern Utah. The attacks culminated on September 11, 1857, with the mass slaughter of the emigrant party by the Iron County district of the Utah Territorial Militia and some local Native Americans.

The wagon train—composed almost entirely of families from Arkansas—was bound for California on a route that passed through the Utah Territory during a turbulent period later known as the Utah War. After arriving in Salt Lake City, the Baker–Fancher party made their way south, eventually stopping to rest at Mountain Meadows. While the emigrants were camped at the meadow, nearby militia leaders, including Isaac C. Haight and John D. Lee, made plans to attack the wagon train. The militia, officially called the Nauvoo Legion, was composed of Utah's Mormon settlers (members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or LDS Church). Intending to give the appearance of Native American aggression, their plan was to arm some Southern Paiute Native Americans and persuade them to join with a larger party of their own militiamen—disguised as Native Americans—in an attack.

During the initial assault on the wagon train, the emigrants fought back and a five-day siege ensued. Eventually fear spread among the militia's leaders that some emigrants had caught sight of white men, and had probably discovered who their attackers really were. This resulted in an order by militia commander William H. Dame for the emigrants' annihilation. Running low on water and provisions, the emigrants allowed a party of militiamen to enter their camp, who assured them of their safety and escorted them out of their hasty fortification. After walking a distance from the camp, the militiamen, with the help of auxiliary forces hiding nearby, attacked the emigrants. Intending to leave no witnesses of complicity by Mormons in the attacks, and to prevent reprisals that would further complicate the Utah War, the perpetrators killed all the adults and older children (totaling about 120 men, women, and children). Seventeen children, all younger than seven, were spared.

Following the massacre the perpetrators hastily buried the victims, leaving their bodies vulnerable to wild animals and the climate. Local families took in the surviving children, and many of the victims' possessions were auctioned off. Investigations, temporarily interrupted by the American Civil War, resulted in nine indictments during 1874. Of the men indicted, only John D. Lee was tried in a court of law. After two trials in the Utah Territory, Lee was convicted by a jury and executed. Today historians attribute the massacre to a combination of factors including both war hysteria and strident Mormon teachings. Scholars still debate whether senior Mormon leadership, including Brigham Young, directly instigated the massacre or if responsibility lies with the local leaders of southern Utah.

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