Mountain Meadows Massacre Project

The story of Mormon migration dates to Brigham Young’s journey from Missouri to the Utah territory. After years of running from persecution and seeking a new life, the Mormon Church under the leadership of Brigham Young, became responsible for one of the single worst massacres in United States history. On a dark day in September 1857, 40-50 Mormon militiamen killed 120 men, women, and children. Using first-hand testimony, Presidential correspondence, U.S. Census statistics, and letters written during or before the event, this exhibit analyzes the effects this tragedy had on U.S. policy and Mormon migration. Tensions between Mormons and non-Mormons were at unprecedented levels prior to this event, but the Mormon population showed a dramatic rise from 1860 onward.

Brigham Young led Mormon settlers to modern day Utah in August 1847. The United States declared Utah a territorial government in 1850. Around 1857, Mormons, under the direction of Young, began terrorizing federal officials and destroying court documents in the region, prompting President James Buchanan to dispatch Army units to the region. During the same year, a man kills Parley Pratt, an apostle of the Latter-day Saints Church, in Arkansas. The death of Pratt caused an outcry from Mormons against non-Mormons.

Mountain Meadows Massacre 1873. By T.B.H. Stenhouse. Wikicommons

The Baker Fancher Party departed during these events from Benton County, Arkansas, in April 1857. After setting up camp on the plains of a location known as Mountain Meadows in Utah, a Paiute Indian party led by John D. Lee and 40-50 Mormons disguised as Indians attack the Fancher Party. The Fancher Party was able to mount significant resistance, causing the Mormons to develop a new strategy. Under a white flag of truce, the Mormons loaded wagons with the wounded and departed for Cedar City, Utah. Shortly after departing, the Mormon group fired upon the Fancher party, executing 120 men, women, and children. They left only those under the age of 7 alive.

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