The chain of events that linked themselves together in the few days before the tragic massacre at Mountain Meadow should give pause to anyone who might have tendencies to become zealous for a particular cause, angry over an imagined or real offense, or have unhealed wounds over a perceived wrong in past years.
A wagon train of more than 120 California bound emigrants, most of them good, honest citizens, made camp at Mountain Meadows. But they got caught in a conflict between a group of young, aggressive adventurers from Missouri and Arkansas and the local Paiute Indian tribe and Mormon settlers. The Mormons, too, were attempting to carve out a new life of their own. But they remembered years of persecution by folks who lived in the same area from which this train had journeyed. Cooler heads had prevailed in a meeting of community leaders, and a rider had been dispatched to consult with the Governor of the Utah Territory. But before he arrived a tragic event took place at Iron Springs and one of the emigrant men had been killed by local men. Now the situation had changed. The local militia men feared that the immigrants would move on to California, organize an army, and return to wipe out the people of southern Utah. A decision was hastily made to deploy the local militia and destroy the train before they could leave.
The local military, under the direction of two colonels, who were also Stake Presidents of the local Church congregations in Parowan and Cedar City, marched to the Mountain Meadow fully armed and equipped, as they had been trained to do, to fight anyone who attempted to dislodge them again and perhaps even destroy their settlements.
A “hollow square” of the soldiers was held the night before the tragic event. The commanders laid out the plans for the following day. The Paiute natives would be part of the plan. The emigrants would be approached under a white flag of truce by John D. Lee with offers to escort the men, women and children back to Cedar City and safety. Once they agreed, the men would be disarmed and their guns placed in a lead wagon. All the children under eight years old would be placed also in a wagon along with the aged, infirmed and wounded. The wagons would lead the exodus from the enclosure, the women and older children would follow. After a short space the emigrant men would follow in single file with an armed and mounted Mormon escort by his side. When this line reached a point near the top of a hill along the road, a few hundred yards from their encampment, a command “halt” would be given. The Mormon escorts would turn and shoot the emigrant man next to him. At the same time, the Paiutes would emerge from hiding places in the bushes and kill the women and older children.
It would be cold-blooded murder.
When John D. Lee entered the wagon enclosure the next day, he noted that the emigrants were down to only three rounds of ammunition. The next charge by the natives would have resulted in their deaths. There was a great deal of argument among the men as to what they should do. After all, they knew that the man before them was also the leader of an Indian attack only days before. But they had no choice. They would have to give up their wagons and stores to the Indians, but they would be safe in Cedar City.
And so, they marched out. At the word “halt” the carnage began. Some militia men withheld their fire and their emigrant companions scattered across the meadow – only to be ridden down by others and slain.
The carnage by the natives was brutal. Women and children were crushed by rocks, stabbed and their throats cut. The story persists that two teenage girls were brought to John D. Lee by a Paiute chief. He held both by the backs of their necks. He wanted to spare them because he thought they were pretty young ladies, but John said “No.” If any were left alive to tell the tale, the massacre would be futile. The chief kill them both.
In the end, the land was covered in blood. It wasn’t until the next Spring that Jacob Hamblin and his adopted Indian son gathered up the bones spread over the hillside by animals and the victims were given burial in a common grave. Then silence covered the Meadow, but the cries of the dead have never ceased.