An 1889 Account of the Mountain Meadows Massacre

 

By Hubert Howe Bancroft in 1889

 

Brigham Young

Brigham Young

The threat uttered by Brigham Young during his interview with Captain Van Vliet, on the 9th of September, 1857, was speedily fulfilled — so speedily that, at first sight, its execution would appear to have been predetermined. “If, he declared, the government dare to force the issue, I shall not hold the Indians by the wrist any longer.” “If the issue comes, you may tell the government to stop all emigration across the continent, for the Indians will kill all who attempt it.” Two days later occurred the Mountain Meadows Massacre, at a point about three hundred miles south of Salt Lake City.

The threat and the deed came so near together as to lead many to believe that one was the result of the other. But a moment’s reflection will show that they were too nearly simultaneous for this to be the case; that in the absence of telegraph and railroad, it would be impossible to execute such a deed three hundred miles away in two days.

Indeed, it may as well be understood at the outset that this horrible crime, so often and so persistently charged upon the Mormon church and its leaders, was the crime of an individual, the crime of a fanatic of the worst stamp, one who was a member of the Mormon church, but of whose intentions the church knew nothing, and whose bloody acts the members of the church, high and low, regard with as much abhorrence as any out of the church. Indeed, the blow fell upon the brotherhood with threefold force and damage.

There was the cruelty of it, which wrung their hearts; there was the odium attending its performance in their midst; and there was the strength it lent their enemies further to malign and molest them. The Mormons denounce the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and every act connected therewith, as earnestly and as honestly as any in the outside world. This is abundantly proved, and may be accepted as a historical fact.

I will now proceed to give the incidents as they occurred. In the spring of 1857 a party of one hundred and thirty-six Arkansas emigrants, among whom were a few Missourians, set forth for southern California.

Wagon train in Utah

Wagon train in Utah

It included about thirty families, most of them related by marriage or kindred, and its members were of every age, from the grandsire to the babe in arms. They belonged to the class of settlers of whom California was in need. Most of them were farmers by occupation; they were orderly, sober, thrifty, and among them was no lack of skill and capital. They traveled leisurely and in comfort, stopping at intervals to recruit their cattle, and about the end of July arrived at Salt Lake City, where they hoped to replenish their stock of provisions.

For several years after the gold discovery the arrival of an emigrant party was usually followed, as we have seen, by friendly traffic between saint and gentile, the former thus disposing, to good advantage, of his farm and garden produce. But now all was changed. The army of Utah was advancing on Zion, and the Arkansas families reached the valley at the very time when the Mormons first heard of its approach, perhaps while the latter were celebrating their tenth anniversary at Big Cottonwood Cañon. Moreover, wayfarers from Missouri and Arkansas were regarded with special disfavor; the former for reasons that have already appeared, the latter on account of the murder of a well-beloved apostle of the Mormon church.

Indeed, it may as well be understood at the outset that this horrible crime, so often and so persistently charged upon the Mormon church and its leaders, was the crime of an individual, the crime of a fanatic of the worst stamp, one who was a member of the Mormon church, but of whose intentions the church knew nothing, and whose bloody acts the members of the church, high and low, regard with as much abhorrence as any out of the church. Indeed, the blow fell upon the brotherhood with threefold force and damage.

He was acquitted; but it is alleged by anti-Mormon writers, and tacitly admitted by the saints, that he was sealed to Hector McLean’s wife, who had been baptized into the faith years before, while living in San Francisco, and in 1855 was living in Salt Lake City. McLean swore vengeance against the apostle, who was advised to make his escape, and set forth on horseback, unarmed, through a sparsely settled country, where, under the circumstances, escape was almost impossible.

His path was barred by two of McLean’s friends until McLean himself with three others overtook the fugitive, when he fired six shots at him, the balls lodging in his saddle or passing through his clothes. McLean then stabbed him twice with a bowie-knife under the left arm, whereupon Parley dropped from his horse, and the assassin, after thrusting his knife deeper into the wounds, seized a derringer belonging to one of his accomplices, and shot him through the breast. The party then rode off, and McLean escaped unpunished.

Thus, when the Arkansas families arrived at Salt Lake City, they found the Mormons in no friendly mood, and at once concluded to break camp and move on. They had been advised by Elder Charles C. Rich to take the northern route along the Bear River, but decided to travel by way of southern Utah. Passing through Provo, Springville, Payson, Fillmore, and intervening settlements, they attempted everywhere to purchase food, but without success. Toward the end of August they arrived at Corn Creek, some fifteen miles south of Fillmore, where they encamped for several days. In this neighborhood, on a farm set apart for their use by the Mormons, lived the Pah Vants, whom, as the saints allege, the emigrants attempted to poison by throwing arsenic into one of the springs and impregnating their own dead cattle with strychnine.

Mormon Trail Map

Mormon Trail Map

It has been claimed that this charge was disproved; and what motive the Arkansas party could have had for thus surrounding themselves with treacherous and blood-thirsty foes has never been explained. In the valleys throughout the southern portion of the territory grows a poisonous weed, and it is possible that the cattle died from eating of this weed. It has been intimated that those who accused the emigrants of poisoning the Pah Vants were not honest in their belief, and that the story of the poisoning was invented, or at least grossly exaggerated, for the purpose of making them solely responsible for the massacre. The fact has never been so established, notwithstanding the report of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, who states that none of this tribe were present at the massacre.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *