‘Massacre’ highlights dark spot in Mormon history

American Massacre is the story of the cold-blooded murder of 120 men, women and children headed west from Harrison, Ark., toward California in 1857. As the Fancher-Baker wagon train passed through the Utah Territory, the word went out from Brigham Young that nobody was to sell any grain or food to emigrants from Arkansas nor offer them assistance in any way.

Young, who was territorial governor of Utah, Indian agent and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was in a cold war with the United States and in no mood to offer help to anyone from the States who was crossing Utah.

When the wagon train reached Mountain Meadows in southern Utah, a Mormon Militia disguised as Indians surrounded it. The Fancher-Baker train circled the wagons and spent three days besieged.

Finally, a Mormon leader, John D. Lee, came under a flag of truce and offered to guide them safely away from the “Indians.” Lee ordered the emigrants to lay down their weapons. When they did, they were lined up and slaughtered. Some were shot, some were knifed, and some women were murdered with axes.

The train was robbed of more than $30,000 worth of gold, the bodies stripped of their clothes and the corpses left to rot or be eaten by animals. The bones were not buried until the U.S. Army interred them two years later.

The Dunlap sisters, aged 14 and 16, were allegedly “raped, stripped of their clothing, and then brutally murdered by Lee after they promised to love him and obey him for the rest of their lives.” Several apostate Mormons who had joined the train had their throats cut in a symbolic act that Mormons at the time called “American Massacre
by Sally Denton
Knopf, $26.95

James Ward Lee is co-editor of Literary Fort Worth.

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