Trial Timeline

The Trials

The First Trial

The first semblance of justice regarding the massacre occurred in May 1859, as Brigham Young appeared in court after hearing of a warrant for his arrest. The Mormon led court dismissed the case for lack of evidence. In June, they dropped the federal case pending against 38 Mormons involved in the massacre. The U.S. Marshal investigating the case asked for assistance from the federal government in protecting him from local Mormon citizens. The federal government di not oblige that request for aid, and both events represented the control and fear of the Mormon population in Utah among non-Mormons. In a Special Report requested by Congressional inquiry, J.H. Carleton stated that “Crime is found in the footsteps of the Mormons wherever they go, and so the evil must always exist as long as the Mormons themselves exist.” 1 Congress began to have serious debates take place regarding the state of Utah, as his comments were well received. Additionally he stated, “They are an ulcer upon the body politic. An ulcer which it needs more than cutlery to cure. It must have excision, complete and thorough extirpation, before we can ever hope for safety or tranquility.” 2

Heeding these words, Congress introduced the Poland Act in April 1874. The Poland Act restricted Mormon control in probate courts and opened all juries to non-Mormon, who previously could not serve. 3 President Ulysses S. Grant signed the act into law in June 1874.

This law allowed the federal government to issue arrest warrants for John D. Lee, Higbee, Haight, Stewart, Wilden, Adair, Klingensmith, Jukes, and Dame. On July 23, 1875, the first trial of John D. Lee began. The primary witness was Philip Klingensmith, who brokered a deal with the prosecutor in exchange for his testimony against John Lee. During his testimony the prosecutor made the statement, “May it please your Honor, this testimony is very important. I see that one of the jurors seems to be napping.” 4 The Judge responded by saying that he was mistaken, and all jurors were awake. On August 5, 1875, nine of the jurors found John D. Lee not-guilty, coincidentally all the Mormons on the jury panel.

The Second Trial

On September 14, 1876, a second trial against John D. Lee began. The primary difference in this trial was that arrangements had been made regarding the protection of the Mormon church. 5 Unlike the testimony of Klingensmith in the first trial, no witnesses implicated any other Mormons outside of Lee. On September 20, 1876, the all-Mormon jury convicted John Lee and sentenced him to death. They executed Lee at Mountain Meadows on March 23, 1877.
Mountain Meadows monument at burial site for some victims (near site of siege). Photo by Doug Linder.

On September 11, 1999, the President of the Latter-day Saints Church erected a memorial to the victims but ensured that no excavation could take place upon the land.

  1. Special Report of the Mountain Meadow Massacre, by J. H. Carleton, Brevet Major, United States Army, Captain, First Dragoons, H.doc.605, Washington: [s.n.], 1902, Retrieved from:
  2. Special Report of the Mountain Meadow Massacre, by J. H. Carleton, Brevet Major, United States Army, Captain, First Dragoons, H.doc.605, Washington: [s.n.], 1902, Retrieved from: 
  3. “43rd U.S. Congress, 1st Session, Volume 18, Part 3, Pages 253-256”, A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 – 1875, The Library of Congress, June 23, 1874, Retrieved from
  4. Michael Andregg, “The Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857: A Civilizational Encounter with Lessons for Us all,” Comparative Civilizations Review no. 64 (Spring, 2011): 38-52, Retrieved from:
  5. Juanita Brooks, The Mountain Meadows Massacre, Norman, Okla. [u.a.]: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1991, Available at