Episode 248 Road Trip - The Mountain Meadow Massacre
You can't drive into Bryce and Zion National Park. A shuttle bus service takes you from the entry to the park and visitors center on up to the trails and scenic overlooks. Most of the buses have bike racks on the front. We were in luck. In both parks we placed our bikes on the bus and rode to the top enjoying the commentary of the driver. We then biked and hiked our way downhill. We would take in each view point. Hike perhaps an hour or so and then climb on our bikes and ride in silence down the road in-between the buses that would run every 5 or 10 minutes. It was the best. The parks are national treasures.
This is retirement talk. I'm Del Lowery.
But I can't talk about the National Parks. They were nice, beautiful, and inspiring; especially Bryce. But I want to talk about something that moved me more than anything we have seen on our trip: The Mountain Meadow Massacre Historical Landmark. It lies beside highway 18 in southern Utah. It is about 30 miles north of St. George.
Since our visit we have told other people about it. They have all said, "What is that? I don't think I have ever heard of it." That's part of what makes it so sad. Few people have even heard of the place.
Brenda and I have been reading Jon Krakauer's book, Under the Banner of Heaven; a Story of Violent Faith in preparation for our trip. It deals with the part of country we are traveling through in a story form. He's tells a great story and we found the book gripping.
The Mountain Meadow Massacre happened in 1857 and involved the Mormons, a few Piute Indians and a wagon train of Gentiles(Mormons referred to all nonmormons as gentiles). These gentiles were from Arkansas. The wagon train was headed to California and had camped in this beautiful meadow to renew itself for the long trek across the Great Basin to the west. Their cattle and horses were grazing on real grass and the water containers were being topped off. It was a quiet, beautiful morning when the first shots rang out.
The Mormons were at odds with the US government pretty much since their creation. A major sticking point was the practice of plural marriages. Where ever they went other folks that lived in the area refused to accept the idea of polygamy.
They had been driven from Missouri and from Illinois. They headed west and settled in the Great Salt Lake area. Here they would be outside the boundaries of the USA government. Then the US bought this entire area from Mexico. Thus Mormons/US conflict resumed.
Argument and distrust was the general positions between the two. Brigham Young was the leader or prophet of the Mormons during this period as several US presidents rotated through office.
The Fancher party (the Arkansas wagon train) was from the US and not welcome in Utah. The Mormons decided to eliminate the entire train. They recruited a few local Piute Indians to help them and then encircled the wagon train under the cover of darkness. The Mormons also colored their faces and hands and dressed like Indians.
The Fancher party was not easily destroyed. They fired back. On the sixth day of the siege the Mormons sent two men under a white flag into the wagon train encampment. They promised them safe passage out of the meadow if the men would just lay down their guns. A personal escort from the Mormon Militia would lead each of the men out of the valley. The women and children could remain in the wagons and follow. The deal was accepted.
Each unarmed man was lead away single file down the valley by a single Mormon guard. When all the men were out of the camp a single shot was fired by the Mormon leader. All guards fired a single shot into the head of the person they were escorting. They then moved to the wagons and killed all women and any child that was over seven years of age. All told a hundred and twenty were killed. The word massacre is fitting.
The Mormons denied any involvement in the attack. They tried to blame it on the Indians. After years of federal investigation and Mormon denial it was eventually agreed to pin responsibility on one Mormon leader of the assault, John D. Lee. He was a polygamist and living in the Arizona strip. He was hauled back; tried and convicted in a predetermined trial and then publicly executed.
Get this: he was taken to the site and positioned sitting on the edge of his coffin. He faced a firing squad and asked that they not shoot him to disfigure him. He was shot dead and fell back into the coffin. He was buried on the spot. Justice was served - so they said. The cover-up remained in tacked.
History furnishes us with our only guide into seeing the real world results of our actions. This place was finally recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 2011. It has been noticeable absent in our history books and in our national memory.
Here are two recordings I made on site. They only take a few minutes. The lonely wind blowing across the mic must be excused.
(insert reading of plaque and poem)
This is Retirement Talk.