Pieces of History by Phil Fauver pt.II
The Emery County Historical Society recently presented the Mysteries of the Mountain Meadows Massacre at the Museum of the San Rafael.
"You cannot understand the Mountain Meadows Massacre without understanding the events that occurred in a time of intense invasion, anxiety," said Edward Geary, speaker at the historical society meeting.
Geary said, "The Army was on the plains before any announcement was made to the people of Utah. Mormon missionaries went past the Army and hurried on, bringing the news to Brigham Young on July 24. This was 10 years after the Mormons first arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. To commemorate that particular anniversary the people held a big party up in big Cottonwood Canyon and in the middle of the festivities riders came in with the announcement that an Army was on its way to Utah.
"Brigham Young and church leaders immediately adopted defensive postures. They sent parties out into eastern Wyoming to attack and burn supply trains. They were determined to keep the Army from arriving at a faster pace than was necessary. They succeeded in keeping them there until after the winter had closed the pass.
"Utah war is a complex topic. I am not going to try to go into that, except to say that it dominated peoples' lives. The LDS the church leaders were trying to marshal forces. They wanted people to be ready to go up and be willing to give their lives in the defense of their homes.
"There were a lot of hellfire sermons. Mormons today are probably about as patriotic as anybody. But if you'd been in Utah in 1857 you would've heard all kinds of sermons condemning the United States of America and the United States government. The sermons talked about how God was going to use the Mormons and to convert the Indians into the battle axes of the Lord to bring down that government so that the people of God could be established. These were some very intense sermons.
"If you lived in Cedar City at that time or other communities in southern Utah, you were in a community that is about six or seven years old. Very poor, people are still living in dugouts or willow shanties, barely subsisting, very isolated, when you have problems, you have to solve the problem yourself, because there is no one you can bring in within many days of driving a wagon or riding a horse.
"Now they hear that an army is coming to Utah. When we look back now and know how hard it was to move an army of 2,500 men across the plains a huge supply operation was necessary to keep them going and to move them along. But you did not know that if you lived in Cedar City in 1857. You just knew the soldiers were coming. They actually were sending people out into the passes east of Cedar City to watch out in case an army would come through those passes. They were also concerned that an army would be coming from California eastward as well as those coming West. So it was a time of intense tension.
"In the very midst of that tension in comes this long train of immigration that summer. There came in a party or a group of parties who had started in the spring from Arkansas. They were composed largely of people who were related to each other or were neighbors to each other.
"One group had as its leader a man by the name of Jack Baker who was a very dynamic man, a very successful land and slave owner in Arkansas. He was a man who had some violence in his history. Earlier in his life when he lived in Alabama he had a dispute with some neighbors in which he killed three men. As a result he had to move out of Alabama and moved to Arkansas. It was reported that he was staunch friend and a bitter enemy. He was not a man you wanted to cross. He was going to California to establish himself there, to buy ranch land. He had a large herd of Texas long horns. He had a well equipped party and probably had a substantial amount of gold, that he was taking to buy land with.
"Among these parties crossing the plains, there weren't very many better equipped than this one. There were other parties they interchanged with on the plains. Sometimes being together and sometimes splitting up. If you had a large party, you had to divide up from time to time to keep the grazing land available. Especially if you had a large herd of cattle.
"One other group was led by Alexander Fancher. A lot of people talked about Jack Baker as being a hard man to cross. Every report that you get, that I have seen, talking about Alexander Fancher, uses the word gentleman. He was a very well respected man and he was going to California with his family and a herd of cattle. He also had money to buy land. Fancher had made two earlier trips, driving cattle and selling them in California. Now he was moving his family there to become permanent settlers.
"This then is the group that enters the Salt Lake valley, right after July 24, right after this news and anxiety that an army was coming. They came expecting that in the largest last city, before they crossed the desert, on the way to California, that they would be able to resupply, where they would be able to buy grain for their horses and mules, that they would be able to restock themselves with ammunition and other things. They found that regulations had been put in place that made all of that impossible. No guns or ammunition were to be sold to anyone. More people were trying to buy guns from travelers that came through to build up their supply. Utah people were permitted to sell grain for people to eat but not for animals.
"Remember the two parties together had about 1,000 of cattle. They had not quite that many when they arrived in the valley, because there were some losses crossing the plains. This was a large herd of cattle. So imagine yourself here at this time. Most people used the ground outside the community for their milk cows and other domestic stock. At this late summer time you are saving your winter herd ground to get you through the winter. When along came these people with this great herd of about a 1,000 head of cattle and they turn them into your herd ground.
"Conflict was bound to happen and some did. The wagon train expected to spend two weeks or more in the Salt Lake valley resupplying themselves, waiting for the weather to get cooler on the desert before they went on. They found themselves obligated to move on after only two days. They were clearly not welcome. As the wagon train went down the state, at Provo they ran into conflict over the herd ground. The constable came out and threatened to arrest them for turning their animals into the community herding ground. That happened again when they came to Nephi and all along the way. It is human nature, when you find hostility, you tend to respond with some hostility and that is what happened.
"After the massacre the stories multiplied about how bad these immigrants were, the terrible things they said and things they did. They named their oxen after church leaders and would swear at them as they went through the towns. One man showed a gun and said this is the gun that killed Joe Smith.
"If you look closely at these immigrants, it is obvious that they probably had similar values to those of Utah, the majority of the party was made up of women and children. A third of the party was young children. Even some of the men, people who were keeping journals as the party passed through their community recorded going out and visiting with members of the party, they were gentlemen.
I have talked about Jack Baker and Alexander Fancher. There apparently had been a man in the party, if you look at the main participants among the immigrants, a man who is never named and is called the Dutchey. This probably means that he had a German accent. The story is that he joined the Baker and Fancher party at Ft. Bridger and wanted to go to California with them. He apparently was a very big man, very strong. He rode a big gray horse. He was extremely aggressive. He embarrassed the rest of the party by his readiness to contend and insult people.
"As a matter of fact, part of the people that come from Arkansas with the Baker party left the party and went to California through southern Idaho.
"Most California immigrants took the California trail that goes through southern Idaho, past the City Of Rocks and then down into Nevada and crossed the Humbolts to the west. They would deviate from that trail to come to Salt Lake for supplies and then go back north to the California trail.
"But when you get later in the season you are not sure you are going to get through the Sierras before the snow falls. Then it became more advantageous to take the southern route, which essentially follows the present route of Interstate Highway 15, through southern Utah and across the Mojave Desert. The Fancher/Baker party was the first party that year to take the southern route instead of the northern route. But the people that had come from Arkansas with that party decided to take the northern route from Salt Lake, because there had been so much contention in the Fancher Baker party.
"They also had a large number of young boys with the party for herding the cattle. These were boys in their late teens and early 20s who were away from home. Even today such boys are not on their best behavior, when they are traveling. It may well be that the problem was caused by a relatively small group.
"The first really serious problem came when they reached Corn Creek. This is the present site of the community of Kanosh in Millard County. At that time it was the headquarters of the Kanosh band of Indians. There the party camped on one bank of Corn Creek and a party came in from the south and camped on the other side. That second party included George A. Smith, who had just come back from a tour of southern Utah preaching hellfire and damnation to arouse people up against the invading army. Jacob Hamblin was also in that group, going to meet with Brigham Young in Salt Lake.
"The two parties met each other and had some exchanges and as the Baker/Fancher party left they had some conflicts with the Indians. The story is that they poisoned the springs and poisoned dead cattle, knowing that the Indians would come and salvage the dead cattle and eat them several Indians died as a result.
"It would be hard to poison a spring effectively with the toxins available at that period of time so that is dubious. The cattle, Walker, Turley and Weber purposed that the problem may have been anthrax. Because it was known that sometimes Texas Longhorns carried anthrax spores with them. The information about the illnesses and deaths in the Corn Creek area, fit the symptoms of anthrax. So it is possible.
"In any case the Indians are angry and follow the party for a considerable distance. The Kanosh Indians did not follow them as far as Mountain Meadows.
"When the Fancher/Baker party got into southern Utah a very isolated region, they already had a bad reputation. When they got to Parowan, a rural town, a fortified community, the party was not allowed to drive through town and had to make a new road around. For all practical purposes the town refused to deal with the immigrants. They went on to Cedar City where they were able to get some supplies. They bought 50 bushels of grain, they then took it to the grist mill to have it ground and they were accommodated, but not very charitably. The miller insisted that they trade a cow for grinding 50 bushels of wheat, which was an exorbitant price. They paid the price but were very bitter about it.
"Some young men, while the grist was grinding, discovered a distillery in town where a beverage known as sage brush whiskey was made. They sampled the beverage and then began behaving badly. So there was a lot of conflict between the party and the residents. One man lopped off the heads of two chickens, belonging to a widow in town, and threw them into his wagon. That did not increase their popularity.
"Eventually at the general store in town they could not get the supplies, (the store keeper later said we did not have the provisions they asked for), but they apparently believed the store had the provisions and just would not sell to the party. So they rode over to the home of Stake President Isaac C. Haight who was the manager of the store. There they called out questions. They then told him that they were going to California and as soon as they got there, they were going to send the soldiers there back to take care of these Mormons and that they would clean up this town. Haight took these threats very seriously.
"The party left Cedar City and within two days were in Mountain Meadows where they planned to stay as most parties taking that route did. This was the last place where you could feed your animals well before the difficult desert crossing.
"When you look at the time line, a series of events got out of hand. We have all had the experience of un-anticipated and unintended consequences. We make a decision, we do something, without realizing what is going to follow from that decision. That is human nature.
"But here we have that kind of a chain in a particularly disastrous form. Haight, as I said, was the most powerful man in town. He was the stake president. He was also the Major of the Militia and felt that he had been personally threatened and his community had been threatened. He decided that you cannot just let these people go Scott free. We have to chastise them in some way and that was the thing the church leaders had been preaching that summer. Mormons had to make alliances with the Indians. When the army came they wanted the Indians to be able to make a distinction between the Mormons and the Americans. The Mormons were their friends and the Americans were their enemy and be prepared to help. Well, OK, we will call out the Indians. The people in southern Utah lived side by side with the various Paiute bands. There were Paiute's in Cedar City, there were Paiute's in the hills around and in the other small communities.
"The Mormons knew Indians well. They had a lot of dealings with each other. Haight's idea at first was, we won't let these guys get away, we will sic the Indians on them and see what harm they can do. At the very least teach them a lesson.
"He called in John D. Lee who lived in the town of Harmony a few miles south. If you go down I-15 now, you know there is New Harmony over against the mountains on the west. The original Harmony was right in the middle of that valley. They finally moved it because the winds were too bad coming up and down the valley.
"Lee was an Indian Farmer. Indian Farmer was a government job where you were paid to teach the Indians how to farm. Trying to get them to adopt a life of farming. He had a lot of influence with the local people. Haight called Lee into Cedar City and they went out to the old iron works, which were now not operating, and laid on blankets all night and made their plans. The plan was that Lee would go and gather up the Paiute bands and take them to waylay the settlers. The idea was not to waylay them at Mountain Meadows where they were already camped, but farther south in the Santa Clara River Narrows where the wagons would have to go one after another. The Indians could hide in the brush and rocks and attack. That was the plan. I do not think Haight at this time had necessarily thought of wiping them out. Go out there, give them a hard time, if you could get some of their livestock, good. They could use cattle, and send them on their way so they will think twice before they take us on again.
"That was Lee's concept too. We will just go out and harass them. The Indians were gathered together. Lee and other men went out with the Indian tribes in substantial numbers to arrive in the Mountain Meadows area. Some estimates are as high as 600. But you could not have found 600 able bodied men from some of the pioneers. It would have been more like 150-200 men is the best estimate.
"Lee is there trying to manage them. The Indians all came in their war paint and they are all excited about having a raiding party. The Indians do not want to wait. These people get through feeding their stock and go down to where the Indians gathered and say why do we not do it here. Look how many of us there are. Their supposed plan was abandoned," Geary stated.