Mormon History

Open Letter to Brigham Young #2 - 1871

Daily Corinne Reporter July 29, 1871


(Written expressly for the Corinne Reporter and containing a
true and succinct account of the Reign of Terror in Utah. -- Ed.)

Salt Lake City, July 27, 1871.    

An Open Letter to Brigham Young.

SIR: The Arkansas company remained at Cedar City but one day, and then started on that fatal trip which was but too soon to come to a tragic and sanguinary end. And here I will state a fact well known at Cedar City and Pinto Creek, to prove that I have not overdrawn the picture when speaking of the jaded and worn-out condition of their teams. It took them three days to go to Iron Creek, a distance of only twenty miles. The distance from Iron Creek to the Meadows, about fifteen miles, was made in two days. The morning they left Iron Creek, the fourth after leaving Cedar, your militia took up their line of march in pursuit of them, intending to make the assault at the 'Clara Crossing' -- your militia! you, Brigham Young, were at that very time Governor of Utah, and Commander-in-Chief of the military forces of the Territory, and were drawing your salary as such from the treasury of the United States.

These soldiers did not come together by chance. Indeed, sir, it is on oath, and witnessed by the seal of the court, that the calling out of those troops 'was a regular military call from the superior officers to the subordinate officers and privates of the regiment.' And said sworn testimony further states that 'said regiment was duly ordered to muster, armed and equipped as the law directs, and prepared for field operations.' I am fully aware, sir, of the fearful import of these quotations The call to arms was the result reached by a regular military council, held in the town of Parowan, at which were present, President Isaac C. Haight (the Mormon High-Priest of Southern Utah), Colonel Dame, Major John D. Lee, and your fat Aide-de-Camp.

The regiment camped at Cedar City -- was commanded by its major, John D. Lee (who was also your Indian Agent for Southern Utah), and marched from that place in pursuit of the emigrants. It was accompanied by baggage-wagons, and, with the exception of artillery, the other necessary ' make-up' of a military force in the field. Lee had extended an invitation to the Piede Indians to accompany him; and with these auxiliaries he had a force which the poor, hungry emigrants could not hope to resist.

The emigrants were overtaken at the Mountain Meadows. Being entirely ignorant of the danger so near them, they 'rolled out' from camp in a careless matter-of-course way, on the morning of the 12th of September, and, as soon as the rear wagon had got a safe distance from the spring, the Indians, unexpectedly to Lee, commenced firing. The emigrants were taken completely by surprise. It is conclusive beyond a doubt, from the loose and unguarded manner of their travelling, that they had no idea of the military expedition sent against them until they saw and felt it. Yet, unguarded as they were at the moment of the attack, they had travelled too far over roads infested with Indians to become confused. They immediately corralled their wagons and prepared for defence, fortifying as best they could; but, alas, they were too far from water!

They fought your troops all that day and all the nest. Major Lee, beginning to think that he had waked up the wrong passengers, sent to Cedar City and Washington for reinforcements, which were at once raised and forwarded, forming a junction with the main body on the morning of the fourth day's tight. This call for reinforcements took every able-bodied man from Washington, and all but two from Cedar City.

During the third day's battle it became a necessity with the emigrants to get water. They were choking with thirst, and without water they could hold out but little longer. There it was in abundance, in plain sight, but covered by the rifles of your troops. They made several desperate but fatal and unsuccessful efforts, and finally, hoping there might be some little of humanity remaining with the Mormons, they dressed,' two little girls in white, and started them with a bucket toward the spring. Your soldiers shot them down!

On the next morning, the reinforcements having arrived, Major Lee massed his troops at a point about half a mile from the emigrants' fort, and there made them a speech, during which he informed them that (I quote from a sworn statement) his orders from headquarters were, 'To kill the entire company except the children.' Now, sir, as to whether those 'headquarters' were located in your office at Salt Lake City, or at Parowan, is a matter to be settled between you and Colonel Dame; and, if I am not mistaken, you will yet have to settle it. If Colonel Dame shall ever confess before a proper tribunal that he issued that extraordinary order on his own responsibility, and independently of you, I shall be very much mistaken. But, of the fact that such an order was actually made, there can be no doubt. There had been two military councils held in Parowan -- one before or about the time the emigrants passed that place and one on the day they left Cedar. Haight and Lee were at both these councils, and from the last returned together to Cedar -- the latter to take command of the troops, and the former to stand prepared to render him any service which might be needed.

It is on oath, sir, that it was at Cedar City, two days after the emigrants had left, that President Haight said to certain parties (who shall be nameless here), 'that he had orders from headquarters to kill all of said company of emigrants except the little children!' This fixes the fact beyond dispute that Lee and Haight were professedly acting under orders from headquarters; and to suppose that such profession was false -- that two subordinates should take upon themselves the responsibility of such a bloody affair, professedly in your name, and yet without your authority -- is out of the question. It is equally absurd to suppose that said order originated with Colonel Dame. All the reasons are against such a supposition. Besides, no colonel of a regiment would have the right or the authority to do anything in such premises, except to promulgate and enforce the order of his superior officer. To do otherwise would be to subject himself to the eventualities of a military court; and it is certain that neither Colonel Dame nor Major Lee was ever court-martialled for his action in the military operations at the Mountain Meadows.

After Major Lee had announced that fatal order to his troops, and instructed them as to how he intended to carry it out, 'he sent a flag of truce into the emigrants' fort, offering to them that if they would lay down their arms he would protect them.' This was on the 15th day of September, and the fourth since the battle, or, rather, siege had begun. You will not forget that the little band of Arkansans were not 'whipped.' Though well-nigh exhausted with fatigue and loss of sleep, and burning up with thirst, they were not conquered, they were fighting for their wives and little ones more than for themselves, else, at any time, under cover of the darkness, they could have formed in solid column, broke through your lines and escaped. But to their honour, be it said, they refused life when associated with the condition of deserting their families.

But the flag of truce came into their little fort -- that white flag held by all civilized nations and peoples, from time immemorial, as an emblem at once of peace, of truth, of honour. By the message accompanying this flair, they were promised protection. Alas, that it should prove to be 'such protection as vultures give to lambs!' But the message was not from Indians, it was from Major Lee, a regularly constituted officer of the military forces of the Territory of Utah, one of the Territories of the United States. What should they do but believe its promise? They marched out of their little fort, laid down their arms, marched up to the spring where Lee stood, and placed themselves under his protection; and his promises of protection were yours.

But now was to be enacted one of those scenes which the pen is inadequate to describe, and the horrors of which it is impossible for one not "Another scene was now to be enacted so utterly revolting to our sense of modesty, so grossly at variance with all our ideas of propriety, so altogether repulsive to the better qualities of human nature, that it vies even with the massacre itself in damnable wickedness. This remark is not intended to apply to all of the troops, for it is just and fair to understand that many a man was mustered in that regiment sorely against his will. But apparently a majority of them took to the whole work of the campaign with willing earnestness, and finally returned home seemingly without remorse. And, as good Utah Mormons, why should they not? Why should they not slay upon the right hand and upon the left, until they could wade in the gore of apostates and Gentiles, and then return home singing hosannas to God and the Lamb? They had been taught from your pulpits to expect and to do just such things. The carnage around them was simply a matter of course. It was but an episode in what was yet to be the gory history of the Kingdom of God. It was but a faint realization of those glorious campaigns when they should go through the United States 'like a lion among the flocks of sheep, treading down, breaking in pieces, with none to deliver, leaving the land desolate and without an inhabitant.' It was for these (your) soldiers, these demons to commit the last outrage upon their victims. Among the slain there was the nursing babe which the mother could not forsake, even in death; there were females of all ages, from budding girlhood to the prime of life; there was also the youth and the strong man. Those females were not abandoned characters; they had not unsexed themselves by whoredom; they were the chaste, the modest, virtuous and pure-hearted daughters, sisters and wives of the emigrants. Well, sir, your soldiers, with many a coarse, ribald, vulgar jest, with many an obscene, beastly remark, stripped them entirely of their clothing, and the whole company were left nude and stark, and without burial! Even the young maiden, who had implored Lee for her life, was found among the sage-brush with her throat cut, and stripped naked!

The order had been given to spare the little children; but in the excitement of the massacre some were killed. Seventeen, however, were saved. They were taken care of by Bishop Smith, who had been detailed by Major Lee before the massacre for that purpose. In this labour of mercy he was voluntarily assisted by John Willis and Samuel Mardy. The hapless orphans were put into two regimental baggage-wagons and taken to Jake Hamlin's ranche, and the next day to Cedar City, where they were distributed among the Mormon families. Two of these children afterward made some remarks which were thought dangerous, and they were privately taken out and -- buried! After the administration in Utah had changed hands, they were gathered up by the Government and sent to St. Louis. The troops at the Meadows, having stripped the bodies of the dead, gathered the stock, and Lee took possession of the wagons and their contents, and also the stock....

Note: The full content of the above "Argus" letter remains undetermined.