A memorial marks the spot where the Mountain Meadow Massacre took place.
The Emery County Historical Society recently presented the Mysteries of the Mountain Meadows Massacre at the Museum of the San Rafael.
Edward Geary, in his presentation said, "On Sept. 7, 1857 the Indians assaulted the Fancher/Baker party camp. The immigrants were not expecting trouble. After having gone through the Mormon towns they thought their troubles were behind them. They made an open camp. Then just after dawn the Indians began firing into the camp and with a lot of success. There were probably five-seven people killed in that first assault. There were also a number of others wounded. The settlers soon got their weaponry and started firing back. Of course they had better rifles and were better shots than the Indians. They held them off and were able then to arrange a secure fort. They brought their wagons together. They dug holes for the wheels so the wagon box would be down on the ground. They chained the wagons together to make a secure and defensive perimeter. Then they dug a trench inside the wagon circle for the protection of the women and children. After that they were pretty much impervious to the Indians intent. There were two more assaults on the train in the next couple of days. Which were beaten off and a lot more Indians were wounded and killed than the immigrants.
"The wagon train could have held out except for two problems. When they made their open camp they made it about 50 yards from the spring. Because it was marshy around the spring, they did not want to be camping in the marshy area. But once they had secured themselves, that 50 yards became a real problem. Because they could not get water without putting themselves at serious risk. Another problem is that in particular the Baker party apparently had done a lot of target practicing when they were crossing the plains. They shot at everything that moved. Expecting to be able to resupply themselves when they reached Salt Lake City. They were short on ammunition and couldn't hold out for ever. This was the situation.
"Then things began to unravel. President Haight still assumes that the attack would occur later on. A messenger arrived to tell him the attack was under way. The Indians have got them pinned down. What do we do now?
"The Indians not only had them pinned down they were getting angry because they were losing some people. They said to John D. Lee, 'You told us this would be easy. These guys can shoot.' When President Haight gets word of this he sends people out to try to calm things down. He calls a meeting of the Cedar City Stake High Council and other prominent people of Cedar City to decide how to respond to this situation. Haight wants to mobilize the militia to go out and take charge of the situation. But Haight is the Major and President Dame in Parowan is the Colonel. Dame is the commanding officer of the Southern Utah Militia and he says no to Haight's request for permission to mobilize the militia. Leave the immigrants alone, let them go and good riddance as they clear out of our place.
"So President Haight sends out other people to try to get control of things. He sends a party with a couple of fairly hot headed guys. One of them was William Stewart. They go out to the Jacob Hamblin ranch, which was about four miles north of where the immigrants were camped. This was one of the places where the whites were meeting and planning. They learned there that before the attack, the immigrants had sent out two parties. They sent two men to go back to where they had camped the night before to recover some cattle that had wandered away in the night. They sent another party down into the Pine Valley Mountains to make pine tar, because they had not been able to buy any grease for the wheel hubs on their wagons. William Stewart and some other men with him go back to intercept these people that have gone out to catch the cattle. They find them at a spring and one of the men is the Dutchman. The other young man, William Aden, is not really a part of this party at all. He was a young man going West for adventure. He spent time in Utah working as a sign painter and had ridden down as far as Parowan. When the party came through, he found an opportunity to go on to California so he joined them. He was one of the men sent back to recover the cattle. William Stewart shot and killed him. His intention was to kill both men, but the Dutchman got away and ultimately got back to the party.
"Now the problem was, as President Dame saw it, the immigrants know that white men are involved. They know that it is not just the Indians. What happens now if they get through to California? They were attacked by the Mormons. You cannot let that happen. To President Dame it became now, not to chastise the immigrants, but to make sure that no story could be told. This is how these things happen along the way.
"At that High Council Meeting in Cedar City, President Dame was trying to impose his will upon the other people. But there was a blacksmith from Johnson's Spring which is up north, a man named Morrel, a great huge strong man and he was on the High Council. When he came in and heard President Haight talk about the necessity of dealing with these wicked people he said 'that doesn't sound like any gospel I know. How can we take on something like this? Certainly we couldn't do something like this without conferring with Brigham Young.' At his insistence, President Haight sent a rider north to inform Brigham Young in Salt Lake of the situation and to get to the bottom of it.
"James Hadden made a heroic ride. He rode to Salt Lake City and back in 100 hours. He said about a third of that time was spent in waiting for horses. So they sent him as things were becoming unraveled.
"This leads finally to Haight, against Mormon values, allowing them to take out the militia and the massacre takes place and it is terrible at every level. They need to get the people out of their fortifications.
"John D. Lee under a white flag said the militia is lined up outside and have come to rescue you from the Indians and to take you to safety. But the Indians are in the field and if you go out of here with your guns, they are going to come after you. So you got to give us your guns and put them in this wagon and take them to Cedar City. We will then march you out. If the immigrants hadn't been out of ammunition they would never have agreed to such a proposal. Obviously they had no choice. One of them asked Lee if they could trust him. Lee said, 'Look at me. Am I the kind of man that would deceive you?' A common phrase of con men. When someone tells you how honest they are, that should warn you against them.
"They put the wounded people and the children in two wagons with the guns and some bedding. They went first up the road. Then they line up the women and the older children that can walk and they go in the next party. Then the men go with the militia men walking to the side of each of the men. As they go along they deliberately arrange it so the groups get farther and farther apart.
"About a quarter of mile between the women and the children and a half a mile to the men. When they go over a ridge so they won't be able to see each other.
"At this point John Higbee who is commanding the militia gives the signal to halt. At that point each man in the militia turns his rifle on the man next to him and shoots him down. So they have five minutes to complete the task and make sure they were all dead. At the sound of gunfire, the Indians that were stationed in the brush rushed up to where the women and children were and dealt with them. Finally the wounded people in the wagon were killed and the young children were taken to the Hamblin ranch. So this is the massacre, and of course its consequences went on and on.
"Now we will turn to the mysteries. The unanswered questions. How could decent people do this? How could a community of Christians, church going people, that take their religion seriously, that believe they are civilized how could they commit such an atrocity? Remember that a third of these people that were killed were children. That is probably not only an unanswered question, but ultimately an answerable one.
"I think history has given us examples of people doing terrible things under stresses of certain kinds of anxiety. Here again we ask how could they do that and yet proven psychology has in certain circumstances people do things that in other circumstances they would not.
"Here you have a group of people who did not have a violent history. None of the militia members had criminal records or anything of that sort, and who later in their life are decent law abiding people, but under the stress of anxiety and the stress of fearing that they needed to obey their superiors at this time and under the belief that the people they are dealing with are fundamentally evil in some way could do that.
"It was a famous psychological experiment conducted 20-25 years ago now. To see if people would inflict pain on others if they were told to do so by people in authority. What they did was, the subjects of the experiment were brought in and told they were participants, not subjects. They were to be sitting in a room where they could see through a one way window glass into an adjacent room. Someone would be tied up with the electrodes on them and required to do some kind of a complicated task. If they failed to do the task, the subject would turn the dial and give them a shock. If they continued to fail they were to up the voltage.
"The subject was told they were trying to see if pain would be a good motivator to get people to do things more skillfully. In fact the people they were shocking were actors who weren't being shocked at all they were just pretending when they saw the light to be in pain.
"What they found was that most people in this circumstance would continue to turn that dial up past the red line meaning danger. For all they knew they could be inflicting serious bodily harm.
"They had been told to do it. They agreed to be part of the experiment, and that carried the law. But not everyone, some would reach a point where they would say no. This is not right and I am not going to do it anymore. That was true in Cedar City too. There were some people when they were mustered out, that were assigned to do things, even though they knew to refuse would put themselves at risk. They simply said no we won't. There were others who didn't refuse, but when they got to the massacre site, they discharged their guns into the air or into the ground and refused to take human life.
"Human beings under certain circumstances are capable of doing terrible things or acts of heroism. How does this happen? Well we have seen it happen again.
"The second unanswerable question, why out of all of the immigrant parties was this one singled out. I have already alluded to that, partly it was bad luck. They got there just at the wrong time. They were the first to come into these isolated settled communities in southern Utah. They had among them at least some aggressive people that were willing to pick a fight and stir things up as they went along. Here then we have been in situations where things escalate. Haven't we? We have all seen that happen. Homer and the Iliad, the escalation of a quarrel that leads to terrible consequences and then at the end he shows an alternative. Where another quarrel begins and one person says, let's not fight about this, let's get along and everything is defused.
"That did not happen here. No one stepped in at that point. At some point the people we see as our adversaries, the wrong ideas, the wrong religion, the wrong politics. It is easy to cross a boundary where we see them as less human than we are. Not as being like us but as being other. At that point it become easy to do these things.
"Then of course it was rich farmers coming among poor people.
"After the massacre, it was the leaders the militia, officers that got the spoils even though they had promised them to the Indians.
"After they killed these people, they stripped them, not just the Indians but the whites also. They went through their pockets, they took off their clothes. People who came by weeks later said, there were all these naked bodies strewn across the landscape. One private in the militia going through a man's clothing came up with a leather purse that was heavy with gold. He showed it to Major Higbee and Major Higbee said, 'don't touch that, it will burn your hand' and he took it and put in his pocket.
"Another unanswered question or a much debated question was, how far up the Mormon chain of command does this responsibility go. Will Bagley's answer to that question is all the way. That it was a conspiracy from the top down. Virginia Sorensen, I think, more sensibly said, 'you know, the church leaders who went around preaching enmity, saying we have to prepare ourselves to deal with these things. They bear some responsibility for the state of mind this put people into.'
"But the assignment of that event, there is no evidence that this goes beyond the local leaders. President Haight primarily and others along the way.
"Two days after the massacre the rider returns from Salt Lake City with the reply from President Young, who said, 'Do not interfere, let them go their way.'
"Bagley says, 'well you know if you believe in conspiracies then you do not have to take anything at face value, right. If it coincides with the conspiracy you say, oh yes that's right. If it doesn't you say well he says that but what does he mean?' That is a code here. Bagley says let the immigrants go but try to keep on good terms with the Indians. Probably two good pieces of advise. But Bagley says, well they could have understood this to mean. Make sure there is something you can blame on the Indians when it happens.
"Another unanswered question, How many people died at the massacre. The numbers most often quoted is 107 or there about, but it is not clear how you arrive at that number. The children of the Arkansas families have done exhaustive research by identifying their relatives that were in the massacre and they came up with 89 people that they can identify by name. Of these, now count, consider adults start at the age of 16, that is probably not how they thought in those days. But men 16 and above there were 41 they had names for.Women above 16, there were 17. Children under 16, there were 30 killed. Approximately 17 survived. What is the difference between the 89 and 120?
"We know that some people joined the party along the way. Only a few do we know the names of. As they came through Utah, the zeal of the times was making it hard to be a Mormon apostate at that time. If you weren't on good terms with your neighbors, it was a hot place to be and there were a lot of people looking for a way to get out of Utah. Fairly clear reports indicate that two or three joined the train in Springville and possibly others did as they went down.
"One exchange between Major Higbee and a man he killed suggests that they knew each other. Another question, What happened to the 18th child? Seventeen young children were rescued and ultimately reunited with their relatives in Arkansas. But some stories say there were 18 children and various stories have grown up about that. One of the stories that is told is that, one day in Cedar City an immigrant child pointed out a man going by down the street and said that is the man that killed my daddy and that child disappeared. The idea was to save the children that would be to young to tell the tale. It turns out that even 3 year olds can some times tell the tale in later years.
"Another story that grew up is that one Mormon family was given a young baby and became so attached to it that they hid it when the officers came to collect the children and brought that child up as their own. In fact after Juanita Brooks published her book, she received a letter from a woman in Salt Lake who said, 'my mother was the 18th child and she grew up as a Mormon in southern Utah and always kept the secret, but she told me who she was.' In fact there probably wasn't an 18th child. Probably it was 17 to begin with, but the idea of the 18th child is an interesting one to think about.
"About 18 months after the massacre the government came and gathered up the children and took them back to Arkansas.
"Another unanswered question, not a major one, but may have particular interest for an Emery County audience, is what role did Samuel Jewkes have in the massacre. Samuel Jewkes lived in Cedar City that summer and was a member of the militia. If you look at the cast of characters out of probably 40 or more Mormons who were involved to a greater or lesser extent in the massacre only nine were indicted by a grand jury. For most of those indicted, there was ample evidence that they really were very much involved. One of the indicted was Samuel Jewkes. But yet in Walker, Turley and Leonard comments the only indication in the record of Samuel Jewkes being there at all is that John D. Lee listed him in his confession. Generally speaking in the list of those that were there, Samuel Jewkes does not appear. His indictment was dismissed for lack of evidence. So there wasn't much proof to attach him to the event. But why then was he indicted, when only a few were? I do not know if the Jewkes family has information that would answer that question. In the evidence, we do not know if Samuel Jewkes was there. If he was there, what did he do there? We do know that the Jewkes' were given one of the orphans to care for. That's fairly documented. But there were other families that were given orphans that were not involved in the massacre. So that doesn't prove anything one way or the other.
"Finally, the type of people that were there, both before and after the event were exemplary in so many ways. There are histories and stories surrounding the event, however due to some recent works, we have a chance to know more now than was possible to know before. How did the people involved live with this? This was one of the things that Andrew Jensen, sent to get first person accounts, was struck by. He found people in 1892 about 34-35 years after the event, people who are apparently OK. But when you get them started talking he discovers they are absolutely haunted. That this is something that is with them. A generalization is that no one who participated was ever the same again.
"What about John D. Lee? He was there at the beginning, it wasn't his idea. He did not initiate the thing. When he got going he was zealous and pursued it through. His only out is that he felt, he did what he had to do. What makes that a little hard to accept for me is that John D. Lee was most enriched by it. He got more of the cattle than anyone else. He got the best wagons. His case would be more convincing if he hadn't got something out of it.
"For those who want to study the massacre in more detail the following books are recommended: Mountain Meadows Massacre by Juanita Brooks, Massacre at Mountain Meadows by Ron Walker, Richard Turley and Glenn Leonard and Will Bagley's book, Blood of the Prophets, Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows," concluded Geary.