John D. Lee, once a pioneer living in Daviess County, MO, was convicted for leading Mormon militia in the murderous “Massacre at Mountain Meadows” where at least 120 people from Arkansas en route to California were killed Sept. 7-11, 1857, in the Utah Territory.
No doubt Lee served as a sacrifice to the public clamor for appeasement for the Massacre at Mountain Meadows. Lee sensed this and, naturally, the recording of his confessions are marked by extreme bitterness. Most other published reports defended the guilty and contain such a confused picture that they are deemed unreliable.
The following account makes use only of official U.S. Government reports made prior to May 1, 1860, to President James Buchanan.
The first official investigative report was done by Capt. R.P. Campbell on July 6, 1859, or nearly two years after the incident took place in September, 1857. Capt. Campbell was ordered to investigate by the War Department on April 17, 1859.
At Mountain Meadows, Utah Territory, on May 6, 1859, Capt. Campbell “found human skulls, bones and hair scattered about, and scraps of clothing of men, women and children.” Capt. Campbell states:
“These were the remains of a party of peaceful inhabitants of the United States, consisting of about 150, who were removing with their effects from… Arkansas to …California. These emigrants were here met by Mormons (assisted by such of the wretched Indians of the neighborhood as they could force or persuade to join them), and massacred, with the exception of such infant children that the Mormons thought too young to remember or tell of the affair.
“The Mormons had their faces painted so as to disguise themselves as Indians. The Mormons were led on by John D. Lee, then a high dignitary in the self-styled Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and Isaac Haight, now a dignitary in the same.”
After “12 to 15 of them were killed” by surprise attack, Lee “told them that if they would surrender themselves and give their property to the Indians, that the Mormons would conduct them safely back to Cedar City. They were taken about a mile and a half from the spring, where they, their wives, and their children, were ruthlessly killed.
“The infants were taken to Cedar City, where they were either sold or given away to such of the Mormons as desired them… The property of the emigrants was taken to Cedar City, where it was put up at public auction and sold.”
Assistant Surgeon Charles Brewer, who was with Capt. Campbell, stated “Some of the remains above referred to were found upon the surface of the ground, with a little earth partially covering them, and at the place where the men were massacred; some lightly burned, but the majority were scattered about upon the plain. many of the skulls bore marks of violence, being pieced with bullet holes or shattered by heavy blows or cleft with some sharp-edged instrument. The bones were bleached and own by long exposure to the elements, and bore the impress of teeth of wolves and other wild animals.”
The Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Jacob Forney, reported to Washington on September 29, 1859, that the number massacred on September 9, 1857, were “115 to 120.” He also reported that he recovered 16 surviving children in July, 1858, and one in April, 1859. He states that the children had been in the hands of “different Mormon families in Cedar City, Harmony, and Santa Clara, etc., where they were collected to Santa Clara and placed in respectable families…”
Forney states that “three men got out of the valley” but were overtaken and killed. One got over 50 miles before being overtaken.” The “saved” children were started back for Leavenworth City June 29 except for two boys, one six and one seven, kept to give testimony. Forney also states that the Mormons were “influenced chiefly by a determination to acquire wealth by robbery.”
Alexander Wilson, U.S. Attorney for the Territory of Utah, reported on March 4, 1859, that “a more cold-blooded butchery I have never heard of.” He reported that 119 were killed and 17 children stolen along with property “from the State of Arkansas and were well-provided with stock, wagons, etc., to make permanent settlements in their proposed new home.”
In a sworn statement on July 27, 1859, before the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, James Lynch states: “This ill-fated train consisted of 18 wagons and stock, 820 head of cattle, household goods to a large amount besides money, estimated at $80,000 or $90,000 — the greater part of which, it is believed, now makes rich the harems of this John D. Lee.”
Superintendent Forney reported to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington on September 22, 1859. “The following are the names of the persons the most guilty: Isaac T. Haight, Cedar City; Bishop Smith, Cedar City; John D. Lee, Harmony; John M. Higby, Cedar City; Bishop Davis and David Tullis, Santa Clara; Ira Hatch, Santa Clara.”
Lee also threw blame on William H. Dame, Philip Klingensmith and Brigham Young.
— researched and written by David Stark, Gallatin, 1994