Mormon History

The Valley Tan Newspaper Articles - 1860

The Mountain Meadows Massacre Confession Statement - 1860

Valley Tan - February 29, 1860


To the Editor of the Valley Tan. -- I have observed on the part of one or both of the Mormon newspapers published in this city, an evident purpose to treat with a light and cavalier manner the statement that has been many times made, that the Mormons were concerned in the Mountain Meadows massacre. By their references to the matter, they would evidently produce the impression, that the whole story in regard to the Mormons being in any way concerned in the transaction, is one that has been framed for the purpose of increasing the prejudice and dislike with which they are already regarded by the great body of the people of the country. As I have never seen a published statement of the facts connected with that wholesale butchery, so far as the facts in regard to it have been brought to light, I have determined to supply this omission, by a statement of facts and circumstances in relation to it, gathered during a trip which I made with Dr. Forney, Superintendent of Indian affairs for Utah Territory, into the region where the massacre occurred, in the Spring of 1859.

Dr. Forney left Camp Floyd in the last of March, 1859, to go down to the Santa Clara settlement, 350 miles south of Salt Lake City, to obtain and bring back with him the children saved from the Mountain Meadows massacre, who had been collected, and were then in charge of Mr. Jacob Hamblin. Dr. Forney, having some time previously employed him to collect the children and take care of them till he could take them away. On this trip Dr. Forney employed me to accompany him as an assistant, and I first joined him at the town of Nephi, 80 or 90 miles south of Salt Lake City. From Nephi we proceeded through Fillmore to the Indian farm on Corn Creek, 15 miles south, where we distributed some goods to the Indians; from thence we proceeded to Beaver, Parowan, Cedar City, and Painter creek. The latter is a small place in the immediate vicinity of the Mountain Meadows, where the celebrated massacre occurred in September 1857. In passing through each of the towns named, the Doctor and myself made diligent inquiry concerning the massacre of this party of emigrants; the number of persons composing the emigrant party, and other matters deemed of interest in relation to them. We however, ascertained but little. The number of emigrants was generally estimated at from 120 to 140; but no one professed to have any knowledge if the massacre, except that they had heard [that it] was done by the Indians. At Painter creek, an Indian guide that had been sent to us by Jacob Hamblin, already referred to as the man that Dr. Forney had employed to collect and take charge of the children saved from the Mountain Meadows massacre, came with us. This guide conducted us to the scene of the massacre.

The small valley known as the Mountain Meadows, in which it occurred and which will hereafter impart to its appropriate and once inviting name a sad and horrible history, is situated about 6 miles south of Painter Creek, a small Mormon settlement in Iron county. The valley is about 5 miles in length. and in the widest part does not exceed a mile in breadth. It is covered mostly during the summer with rich and luxuriant grass, and is nearly the last place where grass can be found on the southern road to California, before striking the desert. On the north end of the valley, near where the road enters it, a ranch has been constructed for the purpose of herding and taking care of the cattle brought there during the summer to graze. This ranch is owned by Jacob Hamblin. He lives there only during the summer months and spends the winter with his family at the Santa Clara settlement, some distance south of the Mountain Meadows. This ranch was unoccupied at the time that our Indian guide conducted us into the valley. The immediate locality of the massacre of the emigrant party is about four miles from the ranch on the road leading south. The valley at the place slopes gently toward the south; a small ravine runs parallel with the road on the right hand side at the spot.

When we arrived here in April, 1859, more than a year and a half after the massacre occurred, the ground for a distance more than a hundred yards around a central point, was covered with the skeletons and bones of human beings, interspersed in places with rolls or bunches of tangled or matted hair, which from its length, evidently belonged to females. In places the bones of small children were lying side by side with those of grown persons, as if parent and child had met death at the same instant and with the same stroke. Small bonnets and dresses, and scraps of female apparel were also to be seen in places on the ground there, like the bones of those who wore them, bleached from long exposure, but their shape was, in many instances, entire. In a gulch or hole in the ravine by the side of the road, a large number of leg and arm bones, and also of skulls, could be seen sticking above the surface, as if they had been buried there, but the action of the water and digging of the wolves had again exposed them to sight. The entire scene was one too horrible and sickening for language adequately to describe.

From this spit we proceeded south about one mile to a large spring, where the emigrants were encamped when the attack was first made upon them previous to the massacre. Here, within a few yards of the spring, we could distinctly define the form and size of the corral which they made, from a number of small holes, forming together a circle in the shape of a corral. These holes were dug for the purpose of lowering the wheels of their wagons in them, so as to form a better protection, after the attack began. On the center of the corral a pit some twenty feet long, and four or five wide and deep, was dug for the purpose, no doubt, of placing the women and children in order to protect them from the fire of the assailants. To the left of this corral, and about in hundred and fifty or sixty yards distant, on a small mound or knoll, a number of stones were still piled up in a way to form a partial breastwork or protection against the fire which the emigrants no doubt returned for several days against their assailants. Numbers of the stones in this breastwork had bullet marks upon them on the side towards the corral, fully supporting the above construction as to its use. In places around the corral, human bones and imperfect skeletons were lying on the ground, indicating, with the corral and the breastwork on the knoll, that it was here, and not at the place spoken of where the great body of bines were found, that the work of slaughter began. From this spring we proceeded on towards the settlement on the Santa Clara, for the purpose of obtaining the children from Mr. Hamblin, who resides there. -- On the same evening, after we had struck our camp for the night, a man drove up near us with an ox wagon, going also in the direction of Santa Clara. After turning out his oxen, he came to our tents and very soon informed us that he lived at Santa Clara, and that he was returning home from Cedar City with a load of flour, which he had been up to the latter place to obtain. The conversation, after these personal explanations, turned very naturally, after what we had witnessed during the day, upon the Mountain Meadows massacre. And this man, whose name was Carl, or Carlie Shirts, informed us that he lived at the time the massacre occurred, at the ranch owned by Mr. Hamblin, at the north end of the Mountain Meadows. He was employed by Mr. Hamblin and making adobes at the time. He saw the emigrants when they entered the valley, and talked with several of the men belonging to it. They appeared perfectly civil and gentlemanly. The train, he supposed, contained about forty wagons, and seven or eight hundred head of cattle, including those that were loose, besides a considerable number of horses and mules. The emigrants entered the valley on Friday, and the men with whom he conversed told him that they were anxious to stop a few days and rest and recruit their stock before entering on the desert, and inquired of him a good spot for this purpose. He recommended the vicinity of the spring in the south end of the Meadows, as good water and plenty of grass abounded there. Following this advice, they proceeded there and encamped. The next morning he again saw some of the men, who informed him that they were looking for lost stock. In the evening he saw the men returning, driving some loose cattle. He never saw any of the party afterwards. Early on Monday morning following, he stated that he heard the fire of a great many guns in the south, in the direction of the camp of the emigrants, he also saw on the hills around a good many Indians passing backwards and forwards, as if in a state of commotion or excitement. His impression from hearing the guns and seeing the Indians at the time, was, that the latter had attacked the emigrants. On our inquiry why he did not go to Painter Creek and give the alarm if he thought so, he stated that he supposed the people knew about it. If not in the words, the foregoing is the exact substance of the statement made by Shirts.

On the day following, we reached the Santa Clara settlement and found in the possession of Mr. Hamblin, thirteen of the children preserved from the massacre, which, with one at Painter Creek, and two at Cedar City, was all that had then been heard of. These children were well with the exception of sore eyes, which they all had, and which prevailed at the time as an epidemic in the place [or] vicinity where they were. After remaining a few days in Santa Clara in distributing some goods to the Indians, we set out with these children on our return. We did not take the same route by which we came down, but proceeding from Santa Clara direct to Harmony, leaving the Mountain Meadows some 15 or 20 miles to our left. On arriving at Harmony Dr. Forney called on John D. Lee, who was at the time, as he may be at present, a bishop in the Mormon church. The Doctor had received information which led him to believe that Lee had a portion of the property belonging to these murdered emigrants in his possession, and his object in calling on him was to demand a surrender of the property. On the demand being made, bishop Lee denied having possession of any of the property, or any knowledge concerning it, further than that, he heard that the Indians took it.

I was not present when this demand was made, but was informed of it as recited by Dr. Forney on his return from Lee's house. Dr. Forney also informed me that, in a conversation with Lee concerning the massacre, he stated he was not at the massacre but reached there just after it ended. He also stated that Isaac Haight, who presided at Cedar City, and is another prominent dignitary in the Mormon church, holding an office styled "president," which is higher than that of a bishop, also arrived at the spot soon after him. In the same conversation as related to me, Lee applied some foul and indecent epithets to the emigrants -- said that they were slandering the Mormons, while passing along, and in general terms justified the killing. The day after this conversation with Lee, we started for Cedar City; Bishop Lee also set out with us for the professed purpose of going to see Prest. Haight and bishop Higby at Cedar City, and talking over with those men, in the presence of Dr. Forney, the circumstances in relation to the massacre, and the suspicions which had been expressed, that they were concerned in it, either as actual participants in the deed itself, or as inciting the Indians to the crime, and, then sharing with them the spoils of the slain. Bishop Lee proceeded in company with us about half way from Harmony to Cedar City, when, from some unknown cause, he rode ahead and we did not see him afterwards.

On our arrival at Cedar City he was not there, or if he was, he kept secreted and out of sight. Dr. Forney met there President Haight and Bishop Higby, and made of these ecclesiastics the same demand that he did of Bishop Lee, and received about the same replies, from them that Lee gave. They did not, however, attempt to justify the massacre, on the ground of their slandering the Mormons. On leaving Cedar City, on our way back, before arriving at Corn Creek, the Indian chief, Kanosh, who had been with us from the time that we left the Indian farm on Corn Creek, going south, informed Dr. Forney, that some Indians had told him on the way, that there were two more children saved from the massacre than Mr. Hamblin had collected. This information, though not deemed very reliable, the Doctor considered of sufficient importance to make an additional effort, in order to ascertain whether it was correct or not. On arriving at Corn Creek, we found there three companies of U. S. troops from Camp Floyd, under the command of Captain Campbell, who was on his way south to meet Maj. Prince, paymaster in the army, who was returning to Camp Floyd from California, with a large sum of money. On meeting these troops, Dr. Forney furnished me with instructions, and directed me to return south again with the troops, and see if I could ascertain anything about the two children spoken of by Kanish. Judge Cradelbaugh, of the U. S. District Court for Utah, was also traveling with Capt. Campbell's command into the vicinity of Mountain Meadows, to see if he could obtain any evidence against persons who had been charged with participating in the massacre, that would justify him in arresting and holding them for trial. He was proceeding as a court inquiry or investigation simply; and informed me that he had authority from Gen. Johnston to retain a portion of the troops under Capt. Campbell, if he deemed it necessary, either to protect the court or to enforce its writs. Judge Cradlebaugh, on setting out was accompanied by deputy marshal, J. H. Stone, but the latter was compelled to stop near Nephi on account of sickness. Judge Cradlebaugh now requested me to take the place of Mr. Stone, as I had been previously sworn in and acted as deputy U. S. Marshall at the U. S. District Court, held at Provo in the preceding month. As the duties of this post could in no way interfere with my search for the two children, said to have been left, and might enable me better to find them, I acceded to Judge Cradlebaugh's request to act as marshal.

In the vicinity of Parowan and below Cedar City, where the command of Capt. Campbell encamped, the soldiers, while hunting for wood, discovered human bones scattered in the bushes, and at one place they brought an entire skeleton into camp -- the bones of which were still united and held together by sinews, showing that the person, whoever it was, could not have been a great while dead. We had no knowledge at the time, and never received any, as to whose remains these were, or whether they were persons that had died from exposure, or starvation, or whether they were victims if treachery and murder. From the distance at which they were found from the place of the Mountain Meadows massacre, it is not presumable that they formed a portion of the party slain there.

On arriving at Cedar City, President Haight and Bishop Higby were not seen; but at the camping ground, a few miles beyond, Judge Cradlebaugh issued writs for their arrest, and also for the arrest of Bishop Lee if Harminy, and placed them in my hands for execution. These writs were issued, as I understand, on the authority of affidavits, charging these men with being concerned in the Mountain Meadows massacre, which were made before Judge Cradlebaugh before he set out to investigate the matter.

These writs were given to me when we were about four or five miles below Cedar City and about twelve or fourteen from Harmony; but as nothing had been seen of Haught or Higby in passing through Cedar City, I thought it best to proceed first to Harmony and try to secure Lee, and afterwards to return and try to arrest Haight and Higby, if circumstances gave promise of any success in doing so. It is proper for me to say here, that not only Haight and Higby, but a large portion of the male inhabitants of the different Mormon towns, and settlements through which we passed, either fled or secreted themselves on the approach of the troops. The cause of this I do not know, unless from a consciousness of guilt of some kind, as the troops were certainly on no hostile expedition against the inhabitants, but were simply on their way to act as an escort to a paymaster of the army. And Judge Cradlebaugh did not seek to interfere with the right or liberty of any man [unaccused of crime]. I summoned to attend me, and if necessary act as a civil power, in the arrest of Lee, eight Quartermaster's men who were traveling with Capt. Campbell's command; on their way to California. Accompanied by these men, I started for Harmony on the morning that I received the writs. On the way thither we passed through or near a small settlement containing five or six houses. I stopped here to make inquiries about the two children. The residents of the place, men, women and children, mostly came out of their houses when I had stopped, but none of them professed to know anything about any children besides those that Mr. Hamblin had collected. I told them that if the children were in the country at all, every house would be searched if they were not given up. At this, one of the men present, but who did not live in the place, but had arrived there just before me, stated that his wife had one of the children; that he lived at Pocketville, another small settlement forty or fifty miles distant, named from its location in the mountains. He stated that the child was very young, and that his wife was very much attached to it, and that it would give me much trouble if I took it away, and seemed by all his remarks, to be anxious to retain it. I told him that I had no power to give the child away, and that I would send and get it in a few days. Mr. Hamblin went over and brought this child away in a few days after I discovered where it was. This child was a bright eyed and rosy cheeked boy, about two years old, and must have been an infant when the massacre occurred.

On being brought to Salt Lake City, and joining the other children, one of the oldest boys of the group, whose name was John Calvin Sorrow [sic - Sorel?], ran up to it, and kissing it remarked that it was his little brother; and that he did not know where he was. From this circumstance this child received the name of Sorrow, after that of the older boy, but whether it was their original name or not I do not know; it is, at all events, expressive of their sad history. The second child said to have been left, I never heard of, although I inquired diligently after it. On arriving at Harmony, with the men accompanying me, I went to the house of Bishop Lee and inquired for him, but was informed by one of his wives, (I was told that they were thirteen in number,) that Mr. Lee had been absent two or three days in the mountains; that he was there looking for copper with the Indians. Others besides his family of whom I inquired, also informed me that he had gone away. As he had thus played the same dodge that President Haight and Bishop Higby gave us at Cedar City, I deemed it useless to wait for his return, or to return myself to Cedar City under any expectation of finding Haight or Higby there. I therefore returned again to the camp of Capt. Campbell, and proceeded on with it to the Mountain Meadows, and encamped a second time by the spring in the south end of the meadows, where the emigrants were encamped before being butchered

From the Mountain Meadows, Capt. Campbell, with his command, proceeded to the Santa Clara, some four or five miles from the Mormon settlement on that stream, and there awaited the arrival of Maj. Prince. We waited here a week before Maj. Prince arrived. During our stay here some Indians in the vicinity came frequently to our camp, the same Indians that had been charged with [attacking] the emigrants at the Mountain Meadows. These Indians admitted that a portion of them were present after the attack began at the corral, but denied they joined in it. One of these Indians stated in the presence of others of the same band, that after the attack was made upon the emigrants at the corral, a white man came to them and exhibited a letter, and stated that it was from Brigham Young, and that it directed them to go up and help whip the emigrants. A portion of the band went therefore, but did not assist in the fight, and gave as a reason for not doing so, that the emigrants had long guns and were good shots, and they were afraid to venture near. A chief of the band stated that a brother of his was killed by a shot from the corral at a distance of two hundred yards, as he was running across the meadow. These Indians also stated that the Mormons who killed the emigrants were painted so as to resemble Indians. They denied that they received ably of the stock or property belonging to the emigrants, except a few of the old clothes. These Indians called Bishop Lee "Narguts," was there but would not venture near, being, like themselves, afraid. President Haight and Bishop Higby were also present, aiding in the attack.

Maj. Carlton, of the first Dragoons, came as the escort of Maj. Prince from California. On reaching Santa Clara where we were encamped, the two commands went together to the Mountain Meadows -- Maj. Carlton, to recruit his stock, before setting out on his return to California, and Capt. Campbell on his way to Camp Floyd. Leaving these commands both here, Judge Cradlebaugh and I proceeded forward to Cedar City, where the Judge intended to remain some time and make a thorough investigation if he could, concerning the massacre and persons engaged in it.

Owing to some disadvantages in the location of Cedar City, a large portion of the inhabitants that once dwelt there had moved away, and there was, in consequence, a good many vacant houses in the place. Judge Cradlebaugh obtained the use of one of these to stay in while he remained, and for the purpose of a court room. As soon as it became known that Judge C. intended holding a court, and investigating the circumstances of the massacre, and that he would have troops to ensure protection, and enforce his writs if necessary, several persons visited him at his room, at late hours of the night, and informed him of different facts connected with the massacre. All these that called thus, stated that it would be at the risk of their lives if it became known that they had communicated anything to him; and they requested Judge Cradlebaugh, if he met them in public in the day time, not to recognize them as persons that he had before seen.

One of the men who called thus on Judge Cradlebaugh, confessed that he participated in the massacre, and gave the following account of it: Previous to the massacre there was a council held at Cedar City, which President Haight, and Bishops Higby and Lee attended. At this council they designed or appointed a large number of men residing in Cedar City, and in other settlements around, to perform the work of dispatching these emigrants. The men appointed for this purpose, were instructed to report, well armed, at a given time, to a spring or small stream, lying a short distance to the left of the road leading into the meadows, and not very far from Hamblin's ranch, but concealed from it by intervening hills. This was the place of rendezvous; and here the men, when they arrived, painted and otherwise disguised themselves so as to resemble Indians. From thence they proceeded, early on Monday morning, by a path or trail which leads from his spring directly into the meadows, and enters the road some distance beyond Hamblin's ranch. By taking this route they could not be seen by any one at the ranch. On arriving at the corral of the emigrants, a number of the men were standing on the outside by the camp-fires, which, from appearances, they had just been building. These were first fired upon, and at the first discharge several of them fell dead or wounded; the remainder immediately ran to the inside of the corral, and began fortifying themselves, and preparing for defense as well as they could, by shoving their wagons closer together, and digging holes into which to lower them, so as to keep the shots from going under and striking them. The attack continued in a desultory and irregular manner for four or five days. The corral was closely watched, and if any of the emigrants showed themselves they were instantly fired at from without. If they attempted to go to the spring, which was only a few yards distant, they were sure to fall by the rifles of their assailants. In consequence of the almost certain death that resulted from any attempt to procure water, the emigrants, before the siege discontinued, suffered intensely from thirst. The assailants, believing at length that the emigrants could not be subdued by the means adopted, resorted to treachery and stratagem to accomplish what they had been unable to do by force. They returned to the spring where they had painted and disguised themselves pervious to commencing the attack, and there removed those disguises, and again assumed their ordinary dress. After this, Bishop Lee, with a party of men, returned to the camp of the emigrants, bearing a white flag as a signal of truce. From the position of the corral, the emigrants were able to see them some time before they reached it. As soon as they discerned it, they dressed a little girl in white, and placed her at the entrance of the corral, to indicate their friendly feelings to the persons bearing the flag. Lee and his party, on arriving, were invited into the corral, where they staid about an hour, talking with them about the attack that had been made upon them. Lee told the emigrants that the Indians had gone off over the hills, and that if they would lay down their arms and give up their property, he and his party would conduct them back to Cedar City; but if they went out with their arms, the Indians would look upon it as an unfriendly act, and would again attack them. The emigrants, trusting to Lee's honor and to the sincerity of his statements, consented to the terms which he proposed, and left their property and all their arms at the corral, and, under the escort of Lee and his party, started towards the north in the direction of Cedar City. After they had proceeded about a mile on their way, on a signal given by Bishop Higby, who was one of the party that went to the corral with Lee, the slaughter began.

The men were mostly killed or shot down at the first fire, and the women and children, who immediately fled in different directions, were quickly pursued and dispatched.

Such was the substance, if not the exact words, of a statement made by a man to Judge Cradlebaugh, in my presence, who at the same time confessed that he participated in the horrible events which he related. He also gave Judge C. the names of 25 or 30 other men living in the region, who assisted in the massacre. He offered also to make the same statement in court and under oath, if protection was guaranteed to him. He gave as a reason for divulging these facts, that they had tormented his mind and conscience since they occurred, and he expressed a willingness to stand a trial for his crime.

We had been in Cedar City but two days when Capt. Campbell with his command arrived, and informed Judge Cradlebaugh that he had received an express from Gen. Johnston, directing him to bring back with him all the troops in his command, as reports were then current that the Mormons were assembling in armed bodies in the mountains, for what purpose was not known. In consequence of this order, Judge Cradlebaugh was left without the means of either protecting witnesses who might be called on to testify in court, or of arresting any parties who might flee or resist his writs. Without assistance of this kind, he deemed it useless to attempt to hold a court, and we accordingly both left on the following day with Capt. Campbell, on his return to Camp Floyd. On our way there we were overtaken by Mr. and Mrs. Hamblin, on their way to Salt Lake City. They had with them the child found at Pocketsville. I had employed Mr. H. to take it to the city, knowing that it would be out of my power to devote proper care to it, under the circumstances in which I was placed. Mr. Hamblin traveled in company with us for a day or two, and during this time Mrs. H. informed me that at the time of the massacre, she was living at the ranch at the north end of the Mountain Meadows, and that for several days before these children were brought to her house, or before she had even seen them, she saw several men loitering about in the vicinity of her house without any apparent object or business; this was an unusual circumstance. On the day that the massacre took place, Mrs. Hamblin stated that the children were brought to her house, and there disposed of by Bishop Lee to different white persons who were there at the time. Lee professed to act as an agent for the Indians in disposing of these children. He pretended to barter them for guns, blankets, and ponies for the use of the Indians; but Mrs. H. stated that she was of the opinion at the time that the children were not really sold, and that the pretence of doing so by Lee was a mere sham. Lee went through the form of selling or bartering off all the children but two. One if these was an infant whose left arm was nearly shot off above the elbow, the bone being entirely severed; the other was her sister, three or four years older. These two, Mrs. Hamblin stated, Bishop Lee gave to her, and assigned as a reason for doing so, the high esteem which the Indians had for Mr. Hamblin. I have omitted heretofore to state that Jacob Hamblin, the husband of this lady, who has been several times referred to in this narrative, was a "President" in the Mormon church, holding the same office as that of Isaac Haight. From many interviews that I have had with Mr. Hamblin, and from all that I could learn from others, he was absent from home, and in Salt Lake City; when the massacre took place; and I have no evidence or reason to believe that he was in any way concerned, or even aware of the massacre, till after it was over.

It will be remembered that I employed Mr. Hamblin to go to Pocketville for the child which I heard of there. After his return with the child, Mr. Hamblin came to the camp of Capt. Campbell, on the Santa Clara, to inform me of the fact. -- While there he told me that he had heard more, and learned more about the massacre during his absence after the child, than he ever knew before; that he had been told of a number of men that he knew, who were concerned [with] it, that he never dreamed or suspected, or would have suspected of being concerned in it, but for what he had been told. I inquired of him the names of these men, and he informed me that he was under a promise of secrecy not to divulge them to any one but Gov. Cumming; but that he [intended] to tell him who they were. Mr. Hamblin was in Salt Lake City not long after, but I was told by Gov. Cumming after he left, that he had revealed nothing to him in regard to the massacre or those concerned in it.

These are the principal and most important facts obtained in relation to this noted massacre during the trip to which I have referred. I have omitted many minor facts and circumstances corroborative of those given, on account of the additional length to which they would extend this article, which is already quite lengthy. I have aimed at the narration simply of what I saw and heard, leaving the public to place any construction they deem proper upon the facts and statements given. And this would not have been done by me in this manner if I had seen from any one else a publication embodying these particulars, if this attempt had not been made to sneer away the evidence that exists of Mormon complicity in this horrid massacre, if not of their being the only persons concerned in it.