Mormon History

Mountain Meadows Massacre Mormon Excuse - 1869

The Deseret News December 1, 1869


In the delivery of the lecture "Six Months in Utah," by Mrs. St. Clair, on Tuesday last at the Theatre, there was an allusion made by the to what is known as the "Mountain Meadow Massacre." There was nothing in her treatment of this point in her lecture that was offensive to her audience; but she evidently was unfamiliar with the facts, and as a general misapprehension exists abroad in relation to them, simple justice demands that they be correctly stated. Our silence upon this subject is frequently construed as an evidence of the inability of the people of this Territory to defend themselves against the cruel charges which have been made against them in connection with that tragedy.

It is almost a pity to break this silence now, for there is a class of anti-Mormon writers whose entire stock of trade consists of the "Mountain Meadow Massacre," and a few other acts of violence which have occurred in this Territory, and upon which they ring constant changes, holding the massacre over our heads somewhat as an old schoolmistress would a rod over a naughty child. We scarcely know how these threats and menaces sound to people who live outside of this Territory; but they only excite either amusement or contempt here where the facts are understood.

After Governor Alfred Cumming reached this city and was fairly installed in office -- considerable having been said about the massacre of a company of emigrants at Mountain Meadows the previous Fall -- ex-Governor Young urged upon the Governor and U. S. District Attorney Wilson the propriety of taking steps to investigate this occurrence. In the wish for a thorough examination he was seconded by the entire community, for all felt that most cruel and unjust aspersions had been cast upon them. To render what aid he could President Young profferred to go with the Federal officers to the vicinity of the outrage and, use every effort in his power to sift the matter to the uttermost, and discover the guilty ones. But this was no part of the policy of the Judges who were then here, nor the attaches of the camp. Such a course would settle the question; but they were interested in keeping it open.

At Provo in the Spring of 1859, a Grand Jury on U.S. business undertook the investigation of the "Mountain Meadow Massacre." They requested the U.S. District Attorney, Mr. Wilson, a citizen of Pennsyvania, to be present with them and examine the witnesses. Two Indians, Mose and Looking-glass, had been committed for the crime of rape perpetuated upon a white woman and her daughter, a girl of ten years. In the midst of the investigation of the Mountain Meadow case, the Judge, John Cradlebaugh, called the Grand Jury into the court room and administered to the members an abusive lecture and summarily discharged them! At the same time he turned the savages Mose and Looking-glass loose upon the community. The Grand Jury protested, but in vain, against this unwarrantable proceeding by the Court. District Attorney Wilson, also reported that he was present at the deliberations of the Grand Jury, and, at the request of its members, had examined the witnesses and that the Jury were proceeding in the matter efficiently. Thus ended the attempt to have the transaction investigated judicially.

From the earliest years that white men traveled through the country now incorporated in the southern portion of this Territory and the northern part of Arizona, outrages upon the Indians were frequent. When Colonel Fremont passed through the southern desert in 1842, his party killed without any provocation, several Pah-Ute Indiansa near the Rio Virgen. When New Mexico was organized, Governor Calhoun, Superintendent of Indian Affairs recommended to the Department aatt Washington the extermination of the Pah-Utes. Emigrants passing through by the southern route to California had also frequently shot them whenever they came in sight. To such an extent had this custom prevailed that when President Geo. A. Smith and party made the settlement at Parowan, Iron County, in January, 1851, then 200 miles from settlements on the North and upwards of 500 on the South, a delegation of Pah-Utes from New Mexico, now Arizona, visited him and besought that the indiscriminate shooting of Indians by emigrants should cease, as they were disposed to be friendly and wished to trade with them. President Smith could only speak for his own people.

From all that is known respecting the company of Arkansas emigrants who were killed at Mountain Meadows, they conducted themselves in a hostile manner towards the Indians wherever they saw them. At Corn Creek, Millard Co., President George A. Smith, who was coming from a visit to the southern settlements in company with several friends, found a company of emigrants camped; they had about thirty wagons and a considerable herd of stock. He and his party crossed the creek and camped about forty yards from them. Three of the company visited his camp, and one was introduced as the Captain of the company. After inquiring where President Smith and party were from, he asked if there was any danger to be feared from the Indians who were camped nearby. He was told that if his company had committed no outrage upon the Indians there was no danger. Next morning early, while President S. and party were hitching up, the Captain of the emigrant company again joined them. He pointed to an ox which had died during the night and wished to know if the Indians would eat the animal. He was told they would ;that they were in the habit of eating cattle that died and that if he would give it to them they would be thankful. As President S. was starting, one of his party asked him what the Captain was doing over at the dead ax with a bottle in his hand. He replied that he was probably taking a drink.

The Indians ate the ox and ten of their number died. It had without doubt been poisoned. A portion of these Indians were Pahvantes and others were Pah-Utes who lived in the vicinity of the Mountain Meadows, and were on a visit to the Pahvantes. There is reason to believe that this company poisoned the spring also, for thirty head of cattle which drank of its waters died with every symptom of poisoning. The Pah-Ute Indians who survived, returned with the news of the death of their companions. But the company that had occasioned their death was not lost sight of. Another outrage had been added to the long list which had been accumulating from the days when Fremont had passed through their country, and they were resolved to wreak a terrible revenge. They rallied all the neighboring Indians and when the emigrants reached "Cane Spring" in the Mountain Meadows, they attacked them.

After the attack was made the first intimation of it received at Parowan was by Indian runners to Ouwanup, a chief of the Pi-edes, in that vicinity, who was summoned to assist them. From the Pi-edes the citizens learned something about a difficulty between the Indians and a company of emigrants, and succeeded in keeping them from joining the Pah-Utes. Rumors still arriving that a battle was going on, a party of citizens from Cedar started for the purpose of relieving the travelers; but arrived too late. They succeeded, however, in rescuing a few children, who had been preserved by the Indians, agreeably to their custom, victorious, of keeping children to trade.

Another company, which was following the Arkansas company, fired upon some Indians near Beaver and wounded one of them. The Indians appeared determined to destroy them, and they probably would have done so, had not Col. Dame of Parowan sent a detachment of militia, who pacified the Indians to some extent, and guarded the company on their road some three hundred miles.

The above is a brief outline of the circumstances connected with this massacre. The determined policy of the enemies of the people of this Territory has been to not investigate this transaction. During the years 1858-9 an army of several thousand men were stationed in the Territory without any employmnet. The Federal Judges who were here at that time were the open and avowed enemies of the people; and it is probable that, with such force to back them, it there had been the least probability of criminating the "Mormons," they would have suffered so good an opportunity to pass? The fact is, the newspaper rumors concerning this affair answered a better purpose than investigation in affording an excuse for keeping up of sustaining troops where they were not needed.

There has never been a time when President Young and the people have not been ready to give every aid in their power to have this occurence rightly examined.

Note 1: The above article in the Deseret News was unique for its time. The paper's editor, Apostle George Q. Cannon, remarks: "Our silence upon this subject is frequently construed as an evidence of the inability of the people of this Territory to defend themselves against the cruel charges which have been made against them in connection with that tragedy." While it was Cannon's lot to put this message in print, little of its defense "against the cruel charges" was actually penned by Cannon himself. Except for the opening two paragraphs, most of the text closely follows an undated draft letter preserved in the papers of Apostle George A. Smith. A cataloger has added the notation "Nov. 1869" in the corner of Smith's draft letter, and it likely was penned during the final days of that month. In fact, a very similar text is reproduced in the LDS "Journal History of the Church," under the date of Nov. 25, 1869, in the form of a personal letter, sent from George A. Smith to "Mr. St. Clair" (who was no doubt the husband of the "Mrs. St. Clair" who gave the public lecture entitled "Six Months in Utah"). To what extent Mrs. St. Clair's lecture actually inspired the reaction of George A. Smith, in producing a statement regarding the massacre, it is impossible to discern at this late date. Possibly Smith's attention had already been drawn to the matter, by the Nov. 1st public remarks made by Brigham Young, Jr. in Philadelphia (see the News of Nov. 24th, above). -- In his 2002 book, Blood of the Prophets, historian Will Bagley says, "[Juanita] Brooks... identified Cannon as the article's author, but the text is derived from a George A. Smith letter." Since Apostle Cannon edited and added to Smith's original text, the Dec. 1st News article may properly be identified as the Nov. 1869 Cannon-Smith statement of LDS apostolic instruction on the subject of the Mountain Meadows massacre.

Note 2: George A. Smith's claim -- that his party of travelers witnessed Captain Fancher poisoning the carcass of an ox at Corn Creek in Aug. 1857 -- is an incredible allegation. Possibly the emigrants did offer such an ox to the resident Indians at that time; and possibly Smith did encounter the "Captain" of the wagon train at that time, but Smith's bold assertion, that "There is no doubt but that the whole accumulated wrath of the Pah-Utes against American travelers from the wanton massacre by Fremont's men to the poisoning of the ox and the spring at Corn Creek by the Arkansas party was avenged at the Mountain Meadows," stands as an obvious fabrication. The fact that Smith would say such a thing, after the passage of more than a decade, during which time the essential facts of the massacre had been well exposed, indicates that he was purposely misdirecting the attention of the Deseret News readers to Indians, instead of the southern Utahans whom Smith knew had planned and carried out the mass murder. Apostle Smith's falsehoods did not stand for even a few months, and the following year Mormon leaders like Erastus Snow and Brigham Young were admitting the involvement of some of their own people in the 1857 massacre.

Note 3: It is utterly impossible that Apostle George A. Smith could have been so ignorant of the actual facts of the massacre, as he pretended to be at the end of 1869. Smith was well acquainted with the people of southern Utah. He knew that some of them had been accused, indicted and published around the world for their participation in the massacre and its aftermath -- the cover-up -- the disposal of the stolen property. Smith's evident willingness to blame the Indians for the entire affair, along with his readiness to see them discovered and brought "to justice," are inexcusable sins in the public actions of this ordained "prophet, seer and revelator" and "special witness for Jesus Christ."