Mountain Meadows Massacre

The Mountain Meadows Massacre

In the spring of 1857 an emigrant train was organized in Northwestern Arkansas, and principally in Carroll County, by Capt. Alexander Fancher, and in due time set out for the journey across the plains and the Rocky Mountains to California. Capt. Fancher was a native of Tennessee; he married in Cumberland County, Ill., and settled on Osage. He had made two overland journeys to California, and was well qualified to conduct them thither. His train consisted of about forty wagons, several carriages in which some of the ladies rode, nearly a 1,000 head of cattle, several hundred horses, including a stallion valued at $2,000, and was said to have been the finest that crossed the plains in 1857. There were forty or fifty men. The entire company were in comfortable circumstances; they had with them valuables and money which, with the property referred to, has been estimated at $70,000.

Progress of the Train

The train left Arkansas in the spring of 1857, passed through Kansas and Colorado by the accustomed route, and reached Salt Lake City in August. From here “the sourthern route,” through Provo, Nephi, Fillmore and Cedar City was taken, and at the last named point the party reached the Spanish trail, their road to Southern California. They had not traversed the favored land of the Saints many days before it became apparent that they were regarded with suspicion and aversion. It was in vain that supplies of food and forage were negotiated for; they were “friendless as in a voiceless desert.” The Federal power was openly defied in Utah, and armed troops were on the march toward its borders. Brigham Young openly declared that his “protection” would be withdrawn from emigrants passing through the Territory, and under a combination of the most unfavorable circumstances, Capt. Fancher and his party slowly approached the melancholy termination of their journey. They crossed the Great Basin; they climbed up the southern rim, and on the border of Mormonism they stopped for a few days, to let their cattle revel in the rank, coarse mountain grass, before they went on the “Ninety Mile Desert.”

The location of the Mountain Meadows, their stopping place, is in the southwestern corner of Utah, in the present county of Washington, about eight miles south of the village of Pinto. The place is a pass, sometimes called a valley, about five miles in length and one in width, but running to a rather narrow point at the southwest end. At about its center, lengthwise, is the “divide” between the basin and the Pacific slope, the ascents being very gradual, and at each end is a large spring. At the eastern spring was the house and corral of Jacob Hamlin, Mormon sub-agent for the Pah Utes, who, with some assistance, all Mormons, was pasturing cattle on the meadows. The train passed his place on the 3d of September, and encamped at the western spring on the 4th. This spring, which is a large one, is in the southern end of the narrow part. The bank rises from it to a height of about eight feet, and from its top there reaches a level stretch of some 200 yards, upon which the emigrants encamped.

The First Attack occurred on Monday morning, September 7, 1857, while the party were at breakfast. A volley was fired from the gully through which the waters of the spring meander, killing seven and wounding sixteen. A momentary confusion ensued; but the coolness of Capt. Fancher avoided a panic, and the women and children were soon placed within the shelter of the corralled wagons, while the men returned a vigorous fire. The attacking party drew off, and the emigrants improved the opportunity by chaining their wagons, wheel to wheel, and throwing up a breastwork. Their cattle had been driven away, and the frequent appearance of savages caused continual apprehension. One Aden and another man were accordingly dispatched to Cedar City for assistance, on Wednesday night. They were attacked by whites from that place at Richard’s Spring; Aden was killed, but his companion returned to camp, and for the first time the truth dawned upon their minds — the Indians were abetted and instigated by the Mormons. A written statement was prepared, imploring assistance from good people generally, and intrusted to three of their best scouts, who set out for California. They were overtaken at the Santa Clara Mountains by an Indian party under Ira Hatch, and all three suffered death.

The Mountain Meadows Massacre

The fifty-four white men and about 200 Indians under John D. Lee, were convinced that a direct assault would not be successful. A meeting of the Mormons in the meadows, under Maj. John Higbee, was held; the orders of President Haight, of Cedar City, directing that the entire party should be exterminated, was read; and after prayer (?) Higbee announced in confident tones, that he had the evidence of divine approval. The “higher law,” in all its naked enormity, was to be executed by treachery.

On the morning of Friday, September 11, 1857, John D. Lee and William Bateman advanced toward the emigrants with a white flag, and were met by one of the party. Lee explained that the Indians were much excited because of certain acts of violence committed by the party, and that the only way of pacifying them was a surrender to the Mormon militia. They agreed to do so. Their arms were placed in wagons brought by Lee, with the small children; the women and older children followed on foot; the men, each at the side of a Mormon, brought up the rear. The wagons had just passed over the divide toward the eastern spring, the women were a quarter of a mile behind, and the men an equal distance behind them, in the ravine. Suddenly from among the ambushed Indians the form of Higbee appeared on the divide; he motioned with his arms, and at once the work of death began. Each militiaman wheeled and shot his man. The rifle of John D. Lee cracked, and a wounded woman in the forward wagon fell from the seat. The Indians rushed upon the women. Two young girls escaped some distance, but were pursued by Lee and an Indian chief. There is reason to think they begged for more than life.


October 2, 1857, the scene of the massacre was visited by eleven Mormons, secretly escaping from Utah. They mention two piles of bodies, one composed of women and children, the other of men. The bodies were entirely nude; all were more or less torn by wolves except one, that of a woman, which lay apart from the rest, and showed no signs of decay. In the spring of 1859 Capt. R. P. Campbell, with two companies of infantry and one of dragoons, passed through the meadows and buried the remains of twenty-six of the victims. May 20, 1859, Maj. James Henry Carlton, United States Army, buried the disjointed bones of thirty-four skeletons in a grave on the northern side of the ditch. A rude monument, conical in form, and fifty feet in circumference at the base and twelve feet high, was erected over this grave. This was surmounted by a red-cedar cross, upon the transverse part of which was carved this inscription:

Mountain Meadows Massacre


A rude slab of granite, leaning against the northern base of the monument, bore these words:




IN SEPT., 1857.


The Entire Number Killed was 121, 10 at the camp, 107 at the massacre, young Aden and the three scouts.

The Property, by direction of Brigham Young, was disposed of by Lee. A portion was given to the Indians; the money was kept by Lee and Klingensmith; the bedding and clothing were deposited in the tithing house at Cedar City, and was commonly referred to as “property taken at the siege of Sevastopol.” The wagons, stock, etc., were disposed of at the tithing house, and the proceeds turned over to the Mormon treasury.

The Survivors

The circumstances of the massacre were known at Los Angeles, Cal., the following month, and on the last day of the year 1857 William C. Mitchell, ex-clerk of Carroll County, and then a member of the State senate, apprised a friend of the death of his son and brother-in-law, with their families, numbering twenty-four persons; the Legislature of Arkansas took immediate action, as did also the National Congress. Dr. Jacob Forney, superintendent of Utah, learned the whereabouts of the surviving children June 22, 1858; they had been distributed among Mormon families of the vicinity. June 29, 1859, fifteen of them were placed in charge of Maj. Whiting, United States Army, who reached Fort Leavenworth August 25, 1859.

Here they were taken in charge by William C. Mitchell, special agent of the Government, and reached Carrollton September 16, 1859. Two other children, John C. Miller and M. Tackett, were detained in Utah as witnesses. In January, 1860, they were taken to Washington by Dr. Forney, and from there to Carrollton by Maj. John Henry, of Van Buren. The following is a list of the names, ages and residences of the children referred to:

Rebecca Dunlap-9

Louisa Dunlap-7

Sarah Dunlap-4

Females; daughters of Jesse Dunlap, deceased, of Carroll County, Ark.

Prudence Angeline Dunlap-7

Georgiana Dunlap-4

Females; daughters of L. D. Dunlap, deceased, of Marion County, Ark.

Elizabeth Baker-8

Sarah A. Baker-6

William B. Baker-4

Heirs of G. W. Baker, deceased, of Carroll County, Ark.

C. C. Fancher-9

Tryphena Fancher-5

Heirs of Alexander Fancher, deceased, of Carroll County.

John C. Miller-9

Mary Miller-7

Joseph Miller-4

Heirs of Joseph M. Miller, deceased, of Crawford County, Ark.

M. Tackett

William Tackett

Heirs of Pleasant Tackett, deceased, of Carroll County, Ark.

F. M. Jones-4

Sophronia Jones-7

Heirs of J. M. Jones, deceased, of Marion County, Ark.

But one of this number, Tryphena Fancher, the wife of J. C. Wilson, of Rule, is at present a resident of Carroll County.

John D. Lee was tried and convicted twenty years after the commission of his crime; he was given his choice of being hung, shot or beheaded. He preferred to be shot, and was accordingly executed at Mountain Meadows on March 23, 1877.

Back to: Carroll County Arkansas Genealogy

Source: History of Benton, Washington, Carroll, Madison, Crawford, Franklin, And Sebastian Counties, Arkansas: From the Earliest Time to the Present, Including a Department Devoted to the Preservation of Sundry Personal, Business, Professional And Private Records ; Besides a Valuable Fund of Notes, Original Observations, Etc., Etc. Salem Mass.: Higginson Book Co., 2000. Reprint. Originally published: Chicago : Goodspeed Pub. Co., 1889.

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