Skip to main content

Tale of the Mountain Meadows Massacre

The Memorial

The Memorial


The Wagon Train

In early 1857, several groups from northwestern Arkansas started their journey to California. Along the way they joined up with others to form a group known as the Fancher-Baker party. The travelers were mostly from Marion, Crawford, Carroll and Johnson counties in Arkansas.

The unwary travelers had no inkling of the terrible fate awaiting them. They were massacred by a group of Mormons with the help of local Paiute Indians in Utah.The incident became known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The Mountain Meadows is located in a mountain valley about 35 miles southwest of Cedar City, Utah.

The wagon train had been assembled at Beller's Stand, south of Harrison, Arkansas in order to migrate to southern, California. After being joined by other Arkansas trains making their way west, they became called the Fancher-Baker train after "Colonel" Alexander Fancher who, had made the trip twice before.

They were also joined along the way by families from other states, including Missouri. The plan was to restock supplies in Salt Lake City, as did most wagon trains at the time. The party reached Salt Lake City with over 120 members.


The Fancher Party

The Fancher party traveled west through Kansas and Nebraska territories before arriving in Utah territory, traveling south west until reaching Cedar City. Cedar City was the last stop on the way to California. In Cedar City, the Fancher party attempted to purchase supplies but were refused by local Mormons suspicious of their true intent.

Frustrated at not getting needed supplies they continued southwest through the mountain pass called Mountain Meadows where they stopped to rest with approximately 800 head of cattle. There they were besieged by the Mormons, some being killed. They pulled their wagons into a circle for protection and over the next five days, the train was held at bay and attacked two more times. All except for seventeen children under eight years old were killed. These children were taken in by local families. Two years later, the U.S. government reunited the children with their extended families in Arkansas.

The emigrants were passing through the Utah Territory at a time tensions were running high. Since the founding of the Mormon Church in 1830, Mormons had been heavily persecuted. At Haun's Mill, MO, 18 Mormons had been massacred and 13 more injured. The church's founder, Joseph Smith, had been falsely accused and imprisoned several times, and finally killed alongside his brother. Because of past persecution, its’ probable local Mormons who participated in the Mountain Meadows Massacre did so partly out of fear.

President James Buchanan sent 2,500 federal troops with orders to restore US authority in the territory. Mormon leaders had been raising a militia and making speeches stating their intentions to stage a defense.

The famous writer Mark Twain wrote of the account: "The whole United States rang with its horrors. A large party of Mormons, painted and tricked out as Indians, overtook the train of emigrant wagons some three hundred miles south of Salt Lake City, and made an attack. But the emigrants threw up earthworks, made fortresses of their wagons, and defended themselves gallantly and successfully for five days!” Twain described.

“Your Missouri or Arkansas gentleman is not much afraid of the sort of scurvy apologies for "Indians" which the southern part of Utah affords.” he continued. “He would stand up and fight five hundred of them. At the end of the five days the Mormons tried military strategy.

Explaining in further detail Twain painted a picture with words. “They retired to the upper end of the 'Meadows,' resumed civilized apparel, washed off their paint, and then, heavily armed, drove down in wagons to the beleaguered emigrants, bearing a flag of truce! When the emigrants saw white men coming they threw down their guns and welcomed them with cheer after cheer...."

According to Twain, the militia then convinced the party the Indians would cease their attack if they surrendered leaving behind all their belongings, including their guns. The militia, perhaps in a mood of revenge for Mormon persecution in Arkansas, convinced them to lay down their weapons with promises of friendship then attacked.

However, not everyone agreed with Twain's account. "I honestly think the initial attack was carried out by Indians goaded on by Mormons," said Shane Baker, an archaeologist on the project.”

First, the women and children were escorted out, then the men and boys. Each male was escorted by an armed militiaman. They had walked about a mile when, the militiamen turned and fired on each man and boy.

Indians who had been convinced to participate came out of hiding and attacked the women and children. Some of the women were brutally raped before being butchered. Following the massacre, the victims were left to decompose where they fell for over 2 years.

Some of the spoils were reportedly taken by the Native Americans involved however, most of the victims' belongings were auctioned off at the LDS Cedar City tithing office. Later investigations at Mountain Meadows found women's hair tangled in sage brush and bones of children still in their mothers' arms.

Scroll to Continue

The August 13, 1859 issue of Harpers' Weekly described the event in even more horrifying detail. The publication portrayed it as "one too horrible and sickening for language to describe. Human skeletons, disjointed bones, ghastly skulls and the hair of women were scattered in frightful profusion over a distance of two miles."

The article went on to say "the remains were not buried at all until after they had been dismembered by the wolves and the flesh stripped from the bones, and then only such bones were buried as lay scattered along nearest the road".

After gathering up the skulls and bones Federal troops buried them and erected a small monument with a cross. For two years the monument stood unattended until 1861. Brigham Young had the monument and cross destroyed. During the despicable act Young is reported to have said, "Vengeance is mine and I have taken a little".

Evidence indicates Mormon Church president Brigham Young wasn’t responsible or aware of the Mountain Meadows Massacre before it happened. One can say responsibility for the massacre rested entirely with local Mormons acting on their own accord.

For a long time, the Mormon Church and the state of Utah state tried to put the massacre behind them. Early memorials were routinely vandalized. However, during the last century, both Utah and the LDS Church realized a lasting monument was needed. A memorial overlooking the massacre site was erected in 1990 by the state. The LDS Church built another on the siege site and was dedicated in 1999.

Some have pointed out an eerie correlation. The Mountain Meadows Massacre occurred on September 11, the same day as the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania in 2001.


Atheist on July 20, 2011:

Imagine no religion. I wonder if you can.

John Young (author) from Florence, South Carolina on January 04, 2011:

You have to realize the Mormons had undergone terrible persecution themselves, especially in Arkansas. Some of their leaders were murdered there. Not to mention tar and featherings etc. Not that that was an excuse. But it makes it easier to understand.

Greg Schweizer from Corona, California. on January 04, 2011:

Hi JY, I just wanted to let you know that I watched the movie again. The first time I saw it I didn't realize it was a true story until it was over. That's why I researched it afterwards and found out so much more. Seeing again now raelly makes a person wonder how anyone could kill those people in such cold blood, and supposedly in the name of God and then be able to live with themselves afterwards. Greg

John Young (author) from Florence, South Carolina on January 01, 2011:

That is very interesting indeed. It is strongly suspected one of the young girls who returned to Arkansas married into some of my clan. I'm still working on finding the connection. My family arrived in Crawford county around 1840. The Gregory's were a very large family. My folks came out of VA, Kentucky and TN.

Louise Tippets from United States on January 01, 2011:

Nice job! Some of my ancestors were among those who gave the children homes until they could be reunited with their extended families in Arkansas. A real strange twist to the tale is that I married a descendant of one of the young boys who were taken in by my ancestors!

John Young (author) from Florence, South Carolina on January 01, 2011:


The movie was called September Dawn. I became interested in this because my folks, (Gregory's) come from Crawford County in Arkansas. I believe some of my ancestors may have been on that wagon train. As you stated, they were set up. They came in under a white flag after the initial 2 attacks.

Greg Schweizer from Corona, California. on December 31, 2010:

Hi JY, I had never heard of this until about2 years ago when I saw a movie on TV about the incident. Then I researched it and found out more information. When I went back to Colorado I talked to my siser's husband about it. He lives in Durango, CO and does a lot of geneology and history research on the area. He has a lot of information about this too. What I understand is that the Mormans actually befriended the immigrants and then set them up for the slaughter. I had a hard time believeing the story because my understanding is that Mormans don't believe in fighting or killing. Well, this story shows that that hasn't always been true. That's why I researched it heavily. The movie may not be an exact explaination of what happened but it is a good watch. I'm sorry, but I don't remember the name of the movie. It is a very interesting hub and needs to be seen by all because you just can't believe everything you see or hear. Thank you, Greg

Related Articles