We will never forget what happened on September 11, 2001. We will never forget that awful day and we pay tribute to all those who suffered and perished on that day.
However, that was not the first terror attack on American soil to occur on that date. On September 11, 1857, another group of homeland terrorists massacred 120 unarmed men, women, and children in a meadows area 153 miles northeast of Las Vegas. In what has become known as The Meadows Mountain Massacre.
( Video: The truth about Mountain Meadows, Utah: (Jerry Skinner Documentary)- Probably the best non-political video I found that explains in great detail the entire story of the Meadows Mountain Massacre. The actual massacre starts at about the 4:00 mark )
It Starts in Arkansas
It was a wagon train headed for California. They started out several months earlier out of Arkansas, known as the Baker-Fetcher party. one of the wealthiest wagon trains to travel west at that time. It would consist of 40 wagons and over 1,000 head of livestock plus valuable goods and money.
After more than three months on the trail in the early part of August, the train reached Salt Lake, Utah where they had the plan to rest and restock and recuperate as other trains had done in the past. The Mormon Church and their prophet, as well as the governor of the Utah Territory, Bringham Young, had other plans.
The Perfect Storm
Unfortunately for them, they had entered Mormon Territory at a time we would now call “the perfect storm”. They were unaware of the growing battle between the Mormon Church and its leader, Bringham Young, and the United States Government. Not to mention Bringham Young’s anger towards anyone from Arkansas for killing one of their apostles earlier in the year.
The Mormon leadership gave orders that no supplies or aid were to be given to the wagon train in Salt Lake City. The wagon train was forced to continue along a southern route through Utah. Coming to rest 275 miles south of Salt Lake City and 35 miles southwest of Cedar City, the closest town to them.
On September 7, 1857, the wagon train pulled into a peaceful-looking valley known as Meadows Mountain. They were all tired, running low on supplies, and needed to rest before they started over the mountain and into the Mojave desert on their way to the promised land, California. Meadows Mountain offered them plenty of watering holes and plenty of grass for the cattle to graze.
For the travelers, they were looking forward to a little rest themselves. It’s been a long journey and the Mojave desert was not going to be an easy trek.
No Rest For the Weary
They didn’t even have any time to do their normal circle the wagons for safety before the first attack came out of nowhere. Mormon settlers belonging to the Utah Territorial Militia (officially called the Nauvoo Legion), together with the Southern Paiute Native Americans were starting to attack them from all sides. Killing several members of the wagon train.
The fighting continued almost non-stop for the next few days. Each day, the fighting was more Mormon Militia, less Piute Indians. The marksmanship of the Arkansas wagon train members apparently was much better than the Indians had expected and their losses were too heavy!
Then on the morning of September 11th, a troop of Mormon militia approached the wagon train under a white flag of truce. The Mormon spokesman was none other than John D Lee. John Lee was a major in the militia and, more important he was the spiritual adopted son of Brigham Young! Leader of the Mormon Church.
Edit: The Mormons at the time, practiced polygamy. Since multiple marriages were against United States law, each wife after the first was considered the “spiritual” wife and her children were “spiritual adopted”. Brigham Young had 56 children by 16 of his wives)
Surrender Comes Murder
It was John Lee’s job to convince the wagon train defenders that a deal had been struck with a Paiute for their safe passage and protection under the Mormon militia back to Cedar City, if they would leave their wagons and possessions behind.
With dwindling supplies and heavy casualties, the wagon party had little choice but to agree to the surrender. They were divided into three groups. The wounded and sick were placed in the first wagons and they headed out. When out of sight, the second wagon filled with women and children over six were loaded in another wagon and they headed out. When they were out of sight, the men were forced to walk in single file behind the wagons with an armed Mormon guard walking beside each man supposedly to serve as protection from the Paiute.
After traveling close to a mile from where they had left their wagons a command was given by a Mormon leader for Mormon guards to do their duty. This was a pre-arranged signal from each militia member to shoot and kill the person walking beside him. At the same time, others were assigned to kill the wounded and others to kill the women and children.
In less than one half-hour, one hundred and twenty men, women and kids were massacred. The 17 small children (under 6 years of age) were spared because they were deemed to be too young to remember or to understand what was taking place. All these children were later placed in Mormon homes.
The victims were stripped of their clothing and belongings and buried in shallow graves. Their livestock, wagons, and possessions of value were divided between Mormon families (mostly church leaders). As a sign of welcomed participation, some of the cattle were given to the Paiute Indians. Some of what was left were sent to Salt Lake City.
In later interviews, Major John Lee would state that a vow of silence was taken by everyone who participated in the massacre.
For years, the Mormon Church put blame and responsibility for the massacre on the Indians. Then on July 23, 1875, in Beaver, Ut, before a jury of eight Mormons and four non-Mormons. The trial ended with a hung jury (no clear guilt or innocence verdict)
After an agreement between the Mormon Church, Bringham Young, and the United States government, there was a second trial held on September 13, 1876, before an all-Mormon jury. This trial placed all the blame and all the evidence supplied by the church pointed to John D Lee as the man who planned, directed and orchestrated the entire massacre, without the permission or help of the Church. (yea, right!)
History of the Meadows Mountain Massacre Memorial
To say that the Mormon church did not want to admit any responsibility in the massacre. For years they fought against any type of memorial to the event Bringham Young and others had been know to have destroyed any markings put up on the site.
In 1998, Following a visit of Church President Gordon B. Hinckley to the Meadows, the Church announced plans to improve their property in the area, which included replacing a 1932 memorial wall. Work began on the monument in May 1999, with much of it being contributed by a local Enterprise LDS Ward.
The official monument was dedicated on September 11, 1999, the 142nd anniversary of the massacre. 1,000 people attended, including President Hinckley, locals, and many descendants.
A majority of the Mountain Meadows massacre site is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been since 1975; the site was also designated a National Historic Landmark in 2011.
In 2015, the boundaries of the national historic landmark designation were expanded to include a third parcel of land, which includes the area believed to be where the women, children, and wounded were killed.