As told by Josh Troy
September 11, 1857 – It was on this day that a Mormon militia killed 120 men, women and children who were part of a wagon train making its way across Utah.
The Mountain Meadows Massacre
In the months leading up to the massacre, the Mormons had been on edge. They had heard that the federal government would be sending troops into Utah to take control, as many on the outside considered the Mormons a rogue sect. It was true that the Mormons had long suffered persecution, but it’s also clear that they were blinded by paranoia in the summer of 1857.
The Baker-Fancher wagon train was making its way from Arkansas to California. They had tried to stock up on supplies in Cedar City, but the locals had refused to do business with them. By the time the party reached Mountain Meadows, the local militia had set up an ambush.
The militia enlisted the help of some local Paiutes and even disguised themselves as Indians in an attempt to scare the emigrants off. But the defenses in the wagon train were stronger than they expected and some in the Baker-Fancher party may have discovered that white men were involved in the attack. This is probably why the decision was made to wipe everybody out.
After five days of fighting, the attacking militia brokered a surrender with the embattled emigrants. The Baker-Fancher party was assured safe passage if they laid down their weapons and followed the militia’s orders. Everybody was marched single-file away from the wagon train with each emigrant followed by a militia member. Once the group reached a pre-determined spot, a signal was given and the militia members executed the unarmed emigrants.
All men, women and children who were old enough to talk were killed.
Two days later, the leader of the militia received an urgent message from Brigham Young:
In regard to emigration trains passing through our settlements, we must not interfere with them untill they are first notified to keep away. You must not meddle with them. The Indians we expect will do as they please but you should try and preserve good feelings with them. There are no other trains going south that I know of. If those who are there will leave let them go in peace. While we should be on the alert, on hand and always ready we should also possess ourselves in patience, preserving ourselves and property ever remembering that God rules.
Legend has it that the man who received the message broke down and sobbed, “Too late, too late.”
Some historians believe that Young’s letter was merely an attempt to provide cover for the church.
In the immediate aftermath, the Paiutes would suffer most of the backlash as blame was conveniently assigned to them.
Also on this day…
Some vaguely related Frogstorms: