Cora Pinkley Call, author of "Pioneer Tales of Eureka Springs and Carroll County"
Various Internet sites for photos and supportive information.
Mormon Mountain Meadows Massacre
In April 1857, near Harrison (Boone County), Arkansas, 120 to 150 settlers, mostly Arkansans, started a journey toward the promise of a better life in California. Before they could reach their destination, a party of Mormons and Indians attacked them while they camped on a plateau known as Mountain Meadows in southern Utah. All of the travelers were killed except for seventeen children, who were taken into Mormon homes.
About forty families, composed mainly of Arkansans from Marion, Crawford, Carroll, and Johnson counties, met at Beller’s Stand just south of Harrison, AR. The party traveled under several names, including the Baker train and the Perkins train, but it became known as the Fancher train after its principal leader, Alexander Fancher. Colonel Fancher, from Carroll County, had made the trek to California twice before. The exact number of emigrants remains in doubt because at least a few people from surrounding states joined the Arkansans, as did settlers along the trail.
The party made its way into Utah Territory in July and crossed toward the southwest. They passed through Salt Lake City and took the southern route through Provo, Nephi, Fillmore, and Cedar City reaching the Spanish Trail. Along the way, Mormons withheld hospitality to the travelers by refusing to trade with them.
When the Fancher party approached Mountain Meadows, they were hungry and dispirited, but they found water and fresh grazing for their stock. They anticipated several days of rest and recuperation there.
Little did they know that several meetings were in process at Cedar City and nearby Parowan by local Mormon leaders who pondered how to implement Brigham Young's prevailing declaration of martial law. They decided to "eliminate" the Fancher wagon train, but hesitated and sent a rider to Salt Lake City – a six day round trip on horseback – to seek Brigham Young's advice.
During the interval, organization among the local Mormon leadership broke down. The first foray occurred on the morning of September 7, while the Fancher party were preparing breakfast. They came under attack by a group of Indians and Mormons dressed as Indians. The Wagon Train created a strong defensive position by tipping over their wagons and digging firing pits. The attackers besieged the Arkansans for five days, by which time the party had run short of supplies, food, and ammunition.
On the afternoon of September 11, carrying a flag of truce, John D. Lee and William Bateman persuaded the emigrants to surrender in exchange for safe passage back to Cedar City. Segregated into groups of children, women and teens, and adult males the group, under heavy guard, was led out of the encircled wagons and northeast up the valley. Upon a pre-arranged command, with the parties now strung out as much as a mile apart across the valley, the Mormons and Indians turned on the emigrants. Of the original 140, including nine cowhands hired to drive the party's cattle, only 17 children under the age of nine survived the heinous treachery. They bore the family names of Baker, Dunlap, Fancher, Jones, Miller, and Tackett.
Fearing retribution, the Mormon Church tried to cover up the crime, mostly by blaming the Indians. The government was forced to act after the U.S. Army found remains of the victims exhumed by animals, in addition to pressure from victims’ relatives in Arkansas, forced the government to act.
In Arkansas, the State Legislature took immediate action, as did the United States Congress. The whereabouts of the surviving children were discovered and on June 29, 1859, nearly two years later, they were turned over to the United States Army for return to Arkansas. Two children, John C. Miller and M. Tacett were detained as witnesses for court proceedings.
No one was prosecuted until 1875, when John D. Lee, a Mormon leader at the massacre, was tried, convicted and executed by firing squad at the site of the massacre. He claimed himself a scapegoat. No one else was ever officially held responsible for the crime. The Army found most of the surviving orphans, except for the possible exception of one, the others were sent back to Arkansas
Many historians have concluded that the attack was the result of bad timing. The Fancher party decided to cross Utah at the worst possible time. In 1857, the United States had deemed the Mormons enemies of the State and sent an army under General Albert Sidney Johnston to suppress the Mormons.
For a number of years prior to reaching Utah, the Mormons had been violently removed from several previous locations. Brigham Young, territorial governor and leader of the Church, prepared his followers to confront the U.S. Army. On August 5, he declared martial law, including an order not to trade with non-Mormons
Another incident causing resentment of the Fancher party had an Arkansas connection. Shortly after the wagon train left Beller’s Stand, Arkansas, Parley P. Pratt, a beloved Mormon leader and one of their twelve apostles, was murdered in another part of the state.
Several years before, “Pratt had converted a woman named Eleanor McLean to the Church. When she left her husband to join the Mormons in Utah, her husband, Hector McLean, began to harass Pratt as he went about his missionary work. Pratt was in New York preaching and Elenore in New Orleans visiting family. The two decided to meet in May at Fort Smith (Sebastian County) and travel back to Utah together. Hector McLean heard of their intended rendezvous and beat them to Arkansas, where he filed charges against them and got warrants for their arrests. When Pratt and Elenore McLean arrived, they were arrested and put on trial, but on May 13, 1857, the judge quickly dismissed the cases. Realizing that Hector McLean had stirred up a large crowd against the couple, the judge allowed Pratt to escape out the back door of the courthouse. The mob chased Pratt, and when McLean caught him, he stabbed Pratt twice and shot him in the heart. News of the slaying had filtered into Utah as the wagon train from Arkansas had arrived.”
Today, the site, which is just off state Route 18 as it winds through the foothills of the Pine Valley Mountains, is heavy with the judgment of history. It is somber, and quiet.
At a low bluff overlooking the valley there is a short winding trail having several explanatory plaques along it. At the top is a granite memorial listing the names of the dead.. In 1999, an excavation under the monument in Utah found the bodies of twenty-eight of the victims.