[Editor note: Mr. Gibbs' dates are off by several days. Historians now agree that the initial attack on the wagon train started September 7, and the final attack was on September 11.]
In the days of those long and strenuous journeys across the western portion of the continent the emigrants were wont to drive their wagons into a circle with the tongues on the inside for convenience in getting into and out of the wagons. The arrangement served admirably for a fort in case of attack, and formed a corral into which the work animals were driven and held while being yoked or harnessed.
That the emigrants had no suspicion of danger is proved by the haphazard position of their wagons when the first attack was made, and by the other fact that no guards were with their animals. The evidences of the feeling of security aid in disproving the charge that they were guilty of unprovoked acts of aggression and violence in Cedar City.
The morning of September 13 found the men, as usual, early astir. On the east side of the wagons several camp fires were sending up their cheery light, thus relieving the darkness that precedes the early dawn. The forms of men were distinctly outlined against the bright light from burning cedar and sagebrush. There was no premonition of danger. Jets of flame, followed by the cracking of rifles and the fierce warwhoops from the throats of more than a hundred Indians startled the men from their fancied security. Seven men fell dead or mortally wounded. The triumphant yells of the Indians were mingled with the screams of women and the cries of children suddenly awakened to the peril that menaced them. In the excitement, confusion and terror the men secured their arms and, guided by the pandemonium on the hillside, returned the fire with such precision that three Indians were killed and several wounded.
The redskins had been promised an easy victory over the white men, and that none of them would be injured by the "enemies of the Lord." Very naturally, the reds were surprised as well as frightened at the result, and hastily withdrew, carrying with them their dead and injured over the brow of the hill.
The disgusted braves held an impromptu powwow, and immediately dispatched a messenger over the east range to John D. Lee, at Harmony, and his presence demanded at the Meadows. (See appendix.) On Lee's arrival the dead and wounded Indians were pointed out to him as the disastrous results of the attack. According to Lee's statement, the Indians insisted that he at once lead them to victory, or, failing, they would wreak vengeance on the Mormons because of their duplicity in the matter of promised divine protection.
Lee avers that he believed the emigrants had been "sufficiently punished," and that, in order to gain time and to quiet the frenzy of the Indians, who were from Cedar and Parowan, he told them that he would go down to the Santa Clara and hurry up the Indians who were presumed to be en route to the Meadows.
After some parleying Lee was permitted to depart. When some sixteen miles distant he met about one hundred Indians from St. George and the Santa Clara under the direction of Carl Shirts and Oscar Hamblin. With the Indians were some fifteen white men from St. George and the outlying hamlets. As it was then evening the white men went into camp at the upper crossing of the river, while the reds went on to the Meadows.
From Lee's story of the massacre, the truth of which has not been challenged by any defender of the Mormon faith, we are induced to believe that the first intimation that he had that white men were to participate in the butchery was when he met those fifteen men, whom he names, at the upper crossing of the Santa Clara. The camp fire talk of those men removed the last doubt of the intention of the priesthood of the Parowan stake of Zion to blood atone the emigrants. Lee's statement that he spent the night in tears and in supplications to God for some manifestation or sign that the contemplated sacrifice was approved of heaven is at once sincere and pathetic.
Immediately after the first attack the emigrants drew their wagons into a circle and chained the wheels together. A rifle pit, large enough to protect the women, children and wounded, was dug in the center of the corral. A few feet northeast of the rifle pit a circular excavation about six feet in diameter, and at present about two feet deep, is a pathetic witness that the emigrants made an abortive effort to obtain water by digging, and which remains as evidence of their desperate plight.
During the forenoon of the 14th Lee and the other white men rode from the Santa Clara to the Meadows. Lee immediately sent a dispatch to Haight, which closed as follows: ''For my sake, for the people's sake, for God's sake, send me help to protect and save these emigrants."
From a careful analysis of the evidence and statements of those present at the tragedy, and from an inspection of the topography of the Meadows, it is certain that the Indians were camped at a spring about a half mile below the camp of the emigrants, and that the white men camped on the small rivulet to the northeast of "Massacre hill," or in the depression which has been described as being over the "low rise of ground," some fifty to sixty rods northeasterly from the camp of the emigrants.
Some time during the afternoon Lee crossed diagonally over the meadow to the northwest, for the purpose, as he claims, "to take a look at the situation." The emigrants recognized him as a white man, and immediately displayed a white flag. Charley Fancher, son of the captain, and another boy were sent out to interview Lee. But, as he asserts, he hid from the boys, because he had not received word from Haight regarding the final disposal of the emigrants. After a close search for Lee the boys returned to camp. They were not fired upon, which is the only gleam of light in the darkness of the infamous details.
Toward evening the Indians made a detour from their camp to the west, and among the ridges and foothills of the Beaver Dam range approached the basalt ridge to the west and northwest of the improvised fort of the emigrants, and began the second attack on the beleaguered strangers. Lee heard the screams of the women and children, and accompanied by Oscar Hamblin and another man ran across the meadow for the purpose of quieting the redskins. Before reaching the shelter of the ridge, as Lee asserts, he received two bullets through his clothing and one through his hat. The incident has not been disputed by those who appear to think it their duty, in the interest of their church, to blacken the memory of John D. Lee. Aided by Oscar Hamblin Lee quieted the Indians by pleading with them to desist until word could be received from the big Mormon chief at Cedar City.
Whether or not Lee's message was received by Haight prior to dispatching a number of the elders to the Meadows is uncertain as well as immaterial. Certain it is that during the 14th William C. Stewart, a high priest and member of the Cedar City council; Bishop Klingensmith, Samuel McMurdy and about thirty-five other white men, under command of Major John M. Higbee, arrived at Leachy spring, in a canyon descending to the east in the range that divides Cedar City from Pinto, and about seventeen miles from the Meadows, where they camped for the night.
Some time during the night of the 13th William A. Aden and two other young men left the camp of the emigrants, and after eluding the white men and Indians started toward Cedar for the purpose, if possible, of obtaining assistance. Arriving at Leachy spring they were challenged by Stewart, to whom Aden stated the nature of their mission. Stewart and another night guard replied with their guns, and the young artist from Tennessee was the first victim of those blood atoning priests, who shot him in the back. One of Aden's companions was wounded, but, with the other emigrant, escaped and succeeded in reaching their camp.
Until the return of Aden's companions no doubt the emigrants hoped that none other than Indians were concerned in the assault upon them. The cowardly murder of Aden was sufficient to convince them that the redskins were merely the allies and tools of the white men, and that they were face to face with annihilation. Even if any of them could escape in the darkness they would surely perish on the desert. Within their inclosure they had buried seven of the brave defenders of the women and children, and others were wounded - even then dying. Any attempt to describe the efforts of those heroic men to comfort their wives and to calm the terror of their children would be as fruitless as unprofitable, Out on the desert, with the stars looking down on the final sepulchre of the emigrants, we are compelled to leave them to their reflections. Not until those men, women and children meet their destroyers and the Mormon "prophets" before the bar of eternal justice will the whole truth of the tragedy be known. And not until then will the story of what transpired in the camp of the emigrants be told.
Higbee and his companions arrived at the Meadows the morning after the murder of Aden. Haight's orders were handed to Lee. The nature of those instructions need not be stated. Lee claims that his entire being revolted, but he knew the consequences of refusal.
Why the emigrants did not inclose the spring at the time of forming their corral is inexplicable except on the theory of the excitement that accompanied the attack. Prior to the 15th they secured water during the night time. It appears, however, that on the 15th the supply was exhausted. Two men went out to the spring, and while a rain of lead spattered around them, filled their pails and reached the fort in safety. On another occasion two men went out after wood and, while the bullets whistled by and tore up the ground around them, coolly chopped the wood and returned to the inclosure. The foregoing is the tribute paid to the courage of those men by John D. Lee. That those shots were fired from the top of Massacre hill, within fifteen rods of the Mormon camp, is proved by the fact that the spring was sheltered from attack from miscreants on the ridge to the northwest by the intervening wagons, and the other fact that all other points were unprotected from the return fire of the emigrants.
The evening of the 15th again witnessed the assembling of the Indians behind the basalt ridge. Again they poured volley after volley into the improvised fort, and were answered with energy and precision. One of the Santa Clara Indians was killed and three others were wounded. Disgusted with the second failure of divine protection, some of the reds rounded up a bunch of the emigrants' cattle and returned to their camp on the Santa Clara river.
The Mormons were astir early on the morning of the 16th. The ruddy glow of a dozen camp fires lighted up the small depression and cast weird shadows as the men walked to and fro or squatted around the fires while preparing the morning meal.
While yet dark the men were summoned to prayers. Under the blue vault of heaven, from which the angels must have looked down with infinite sorrow on the hellish scene, those wretched victims of unquestioning obedience, of superstition and fanaticism, knelt in the form of a "prayer circle." With heads bowed in abject servility to an alien god, and each right arm raised in the form of a square, those unhappy dupes listened while one of the "servants of the Lord" asked the blessing of their god upon the deeds they were about to enact, and for divine protection while they were "avenging the blood of the prophets who died in Carthage jail," and the martyrs who perished in Missouri and Illinois. The invocation ended, the brethren convened in "council."
It has ever been the boast of the Mormon priesthood that all questions of importance to the church are submitted to the Saints and are decided by "common consent," and which, being interpreted, means consenting to the will of the Mormon god's vicegerents, or, failing, they "lie in the presence of God." And because of that rule the "council meeting," convened for the ostensible purpose of debating the measures embraced in Haight's program for the disposal of the emigrants was a burlesque. The fate of the emigrants had been predetermined by Isaac C. Haight, who was the direct agent of the "holy" vicegerents who resided at Salt Lake. The "council" was merely a ratification meeting. Some there were who had the courage to oppose the infamous measures, but their voices were feeble in the presence of "the leading priesthood."
Jacob Hamblin brother of Oscar Hamblin, and a trusted missionary to the Indians, owned a ranch some two miles northeasterly from the Meadows, and near the junction of the roads from Modena and Cedar City to the Meadows. At the time of the massacre Hamblin was not at home. But Samuel Knight, from the Santa Clara, was temporarily ranching near the Hamblin place. During the forenoon of the 16th a messenger arrived at Hamblin's and requested Knight to go with his team over to the Meadows. Knight must have known of the attack on the emigrants, and very likely suspected the reason for the request. He pleaded the illness of his wife. The request was then made for the use of his team. Knight explained that his horses were only partly broken, and that if the demand were imperative he would go with them. Such, in brief, was Knight's testimony at the second trial of Lee.
Unless it was the natural dread that nearly all men feel when conscience rebels at the vision of treachery and carnage, there is no explanation of the postponement of the final arrangements for the massacre until 2 p.m. At about that hour William Bateman, carrying a white flag, and, accompanied by Lee, appeared on the low rise of ground which separated the camp of the Mormons from that of the emigrants. Bateman went on to within a short distance of the corral, where he paused and awaited some sign of recognition. A man named Hamilton went out to Bateman, and after a short parley the former returned to the corral. Within a few minutes Hamilton again went out and told Bateman that the emigrants would put themselves under the protection of the flag of truce. Bateman waved his flag, and the curtain was lifted on one of the most inexcusable and atrocious crimes of all the centuries.
Lee hastened down to the corral, followed by two teams driven by McMurdy and Knight. The emigrants drew aside one of their wagons, thus opening the corral. McMurdy, followed by Knight, drove into the inclosure. The emigrants were burying two men who had just died of their wounds. Conditions within the camp can best be described in the words of John D. Lee.
"As I entered the fortifications, men, women and children gathered around me in wild consternation. Some felt that the time of their happy deliverance had come, while others, although in deep distress, and all in tears, looked upon me with doubt, distrust and terror." Describing his sensations, Lee continues: "My position was painful, trying and awful; my brain seemed to be on fire; my nerves were for a moment unstrung; humanity was overpowered, as I thought of the cruel, unmanly part I was acting.... I knew that I was acting a cruel part and doing a damnable deed. Yet my faith in the godliness of my leaders was such that it forced me to think that I was not sufficiently spiritual to act the important part I was commanded to perform.... I delivered my message, and told the people that they must put their arms in the wagon, so as not to arouse the animosity of the Indians. I ordered the children and wounded, some clothing and arms, to be put into the wagons." In speaking of the defensive condition of the camp, Lee says: "If the emigrants had had a good supply of ammunition they never would have surrendered, and I do not think we could have captured them without great loss, for they were brave men and very resolute and determined."
Continuing, Lee says:
"Just as the wagons were loaded (Adjutant) Dan McFarland (of St. George) came riding into the corral and said that Major Higbee had ordered great haste to be made, for he was afraid the Indians would return and renew the attack before he could get the emigrants to a place of safety."
In the meantime the militia, nearly fifty in number, moved over the low ridge and proceeded close down to the emigrant camp and, in single file and about six feet apart, took positions on the southeast side of the road.
The Indians, some two hundred strong, secreted themselves in the rank sage and behind cedar trees in the near vicinity of the Mormon camp.
Nephi Johnson's horse had learned the trick of untying his halter rope when it was carelessly fastened. Johnson, as I have been informed by his intimate friends, carelessly tied his horse to a cedar tree, then stepped back and watched the intelligent brute untie the knot and scamper up the hillside to the south. Johnson obtained permission from Major Higbee to go after his horse, and took a position on the point of the bench from which he had an unobstructed view of the entire field.
Two wounded men and a number of children, "too young to tell tales," were placed in Knight's wagon which emerged from the corral preceded by Lee and McMurdy's wagon. Following Knight's wagon were the women and children old enough to "tell tales." When the women reached a point about one hundred yards northeasterly from the corral, the male emigrants, in single file, and about six feet apart, were permitted to begin the line of march. When they were opposite the militia the latter stepped forward and, keeping a few feet to the right of the emigrants, joined in the death march — following the women and children.
The horses driven by Samuel McMurdy were unusually fast walkers, and Lee, who had charge of the first division of the emigrants — the women and children, was forced to repeatedly admonish McMurdy not to travel so rapidly. The respective localities had been carefully selected for the slaughter of the men and women, and it would not do to have McMurdy pass the point where the Indians were secreted until the word was given to begin the carnage. The arrangements were made and carried out with all the precision of a legalized execution.
There can be not the slightest doubt that the men knew the meaning of the peculiar formation of the procession. If there were danger of an attack by the Indians why was it, they thought, that they were not permitted to retain their firearms and aid in the protection of their wives and children? But, through unparalleled treachery, they were then powerless, and there was probably the hope that those so dear to them might be spared. That no word of protest was spoken is the strongest commendation of their heroism and evidence of their resignation.
Major Higbee was mounted and occupied a position on the summit of the low elevation over which the wagons and women and children must pass. The advance section of the procession passed over the elevation and were partially, if not entirely, hidden from those in the rear, when Higbee gave the command: "Do your duty!"
Terrified by the explosion of firearms and yells of the Indians, Knight's horses reared and plunged. He leaped from the wagon, caught his horses by the bits, and turned his face from the awful scene.
One of the wounded men in Knight's wagon was holding his companion in his arms. While Knight was quieting his frightened horses McMurdy ran to Knight's wagon, raised his gun and exclaimed:
"O, Lord, my God, receive their spirits: it is for thy kingdom that I do this!" The gun exploded and the bullet killed both men. Samuel McMurdy had surely "kept alive the spirit of the reformation"; he had vindicated his right to hold the "holy" Mormon priesthood, and to be first counselor to Bishop Klingensmith.
According to Nephi Johnson less than three minutes were consumed in the work of death.
During the excitement and confusion attending the massacre, two girls, Rachel and Ruth Dunlap, made a desperate attempt to escape the carnage. From the evidence, and from a careful study of the ground, the girls must have been on the north side of the group of women and children when the attack was made. Running to the east on the north side of Knight and McMurdy's wagons, they turned to the south and sped toward the bench, where clumps of oak bushes seemed to invite them to a temporary refuge. Clambering down the steep side of the gully they crept into the oaks on the opposite brink. They were then about thirty rods from the scene of death, over which the smoke from exploding firearms hung in a hazy cloud from which there no longer issued protesting cries of women and the pitiful screams of children.
During a few brief minutes Rachel and Ruth Dunlap believed they were saved from the white and red butchers. Very likely no thought entered their minds of the fate that awaited them on the desert — the thirst and hunger that surely lurked for them amid the inextricable maze of hills and desert canyons. They dreamed not that if they escaped to some habitation the occupants, under pain of death, must surrender them to the blood atoning priests because, forsooth, they were old enough to tell the story of the massacre. Their only hope was to see the setting of the sun and to feel the sheltering mantle of night descend upon them.
One or more of the assassins must have seen the terrified girls as they raced toward the gully and reported the fact to the chief from Parowan, who found the girls and dragged them from their hiding place. The Indian sent for Lee, and on his arrival asked what should be done with them. When informed that they were beyond the age limit prescribed by Haight, the chief pleaded that they were "too pretty to be killed." Divining the sentence pronounced by Lee, the elder girl dropped to her knees and with clasped hands cried out: "Spare me, and I will love you all my life!" But she died, as her sister had died, and at Lee's hands. (Lee vehemently denied the awful charge.) For pitiful story of attempt by Hamblin's Indian boy to save the girls, see appendix.
Note.—Since the massacre, rumors have been persistent to the effect that prior to their death those girls were outraged by those who murdered them. The charge was so terrible, so diabolical and inhuman that, as a Mormon, and later on an "apostate," I could not believe the rumor — it appeared to be just another Mormon canard to further blacken the memory of John D. Lee. There was, however, something in the terms of the girl's appeal that is inexplicable when considered apart from the rumor. Last winter (1910) I met a devout Mormon woman in southern Utah, who was a girl at the date of the massacre, and she assured me that the rumor is entirely trustworthy; that she remembers hearing the women of St. George discuss the awful fate of the Dunlap girls. "And," the lady concluded "we Mormons have never been accused of charging crimes to our people when the accusations were not true."
Jacob Hamblin was on his way from Salt Lake to his ranch near the Meadows when the massacre was perpetrated. Hamblin's Indian boy, Albert, who was about sixteen years old, and whom the former had adopted, was present at the massacre and witnessed the ravishment of the Dunlap sisters and the cutting of their throats. On Hamblin's arrival at the ranch the boy conducted him to the clump of oak brush where the bodies of the girls, nude and bloated, furnished ghastly evidence of the truth of the young Indian's story. Subsequently, Hamblin interviewed the Indian chief, who was Lee's partner in that special crime, and who verified the young redskin's story, and repeated the words used by the elder girl when pleading for her life.
The above is the substance of Hamblin's testimony on that incident as given at Lee's second trial.
We will draw the curtain on the scene, leaving those religion-crazed fanatics to the judgment of a merciful God, and the logic and lessons to the public.
On the old camp ground of the emigrants Major Carleton of the United States army and other kindly hands reared a monument of boulders which cover the remains of Captain Fancher and his company, which, the spring following the massacre, were buried by Jacob Hamblin in the rifle pit digged by the emigrants. Major Carleton also erected a rude cross upon which he carved the legend: "Vengeance is mine, and I will repay, saith the Lord." Some miscreant destroyed the cross.
Easterly and westerly the monument is about twelve feet long by six feet wide. The west end is now about four feet high, and the east end is a foot or so above the ground. From the east end of the grave the earth descends to the bottom of a deep gully, made by floods during recent years, and unless protective measures are soon taken the spring and summer floods will eat away the last visible evidence of the Mountain Meadows massacre.
The once carpet of grass has vanished, and in its place is a dense growth of mountain sage. The spring that supplied the Fancher company with water now oozes up from a bog near the bottom of the gully. And all around the landscape is an indescribable desolation - a vista of gray sage and barren hills. Seemingly, the God of Justice has visited the locality with the withering blight of his displeasure - but Mormonism yet lives, aggressive, arrogant and defiant.
As the occasional visitor, with bared head, stands by the desert grave, his imagination recalls the death march up the valley. Through the silence of more than fifty years is heard the echoes of exploding firearms. The shrieks of women and children mingle with the frenzied cries of fiends incarnate, then the death like silence returns. He seems to feel the touch of spirit hands, to hear the murmur of spirit voices pleading for remembrance of their wrongs, and for human justice for the false and criminal leaders of the system whose doctrines and example inspired their destruction, and who continue to traduce their victims as their only defense of the ruthless murder of those who surrendered under the sacred aegis of the flag of peace!