A Visit to Mountain Meadows

Last month, I took the family on a mountain biking trip to Southern Utah, and took in a few Church History sites along the way (chatty first installments in this series here and here). To round out the Church History tour, on Friday afternoon DW and I pointed the SUV northwest and drove the thirty miles to the Mountain Meadows site. About five miles out of St. George a really nasty hailstorm slammed into us (a sign or just a hailstorm?) and we got off the road for two minutes, but it blew through and we continued on.

At Mountain Meadows, there are two small sites commemorating the awful events of September 1857. For details, go here or read this short review article by writer Sally Denton. I’m only going to describe what I saw on my visit. At the crest of a small hill overlooking a broad, sparse valley is a small site established by the State of Utah, with explanatory tableaus, some viewing tubes that identify locations in the valley below, and a twenty-foot long granite wall that bears the names of roughly 120 men, women, and children who perished there. It’s disturbing to note the number of children, listed by family, name, and age (although the youngest were spared and evenutally repatriated to relatives in the East). The following statement is etched in the granite wall: “In the valley below, between September 7 and 11, 1857, a company of more than 120 Arkansas emigrants led by Capt. John T. Baker and Capt. Alexander Fancher was attacked while en route to California.”

About a mile below, in the valley but not too far from the foot of the hill, is a rebuilt rock cairn gravesite surrounded by a cement walkway with explanatory plaques. This is the site owned by the Church; it was refurbished and rededicated in 1999. Several plaques give general information. One reads in part (photo here): “Complex animosities and political issues intertwined with religious beliefs motivated the Mormons, but the exact causes and circumstances fostering the sad events that ensued over the next five days at Mountain Meadows still defy any clear or simple explanation.” As corporate apologies go, that’s about as good as you get.

I’ll keep my usual editorializing to a minimum, and just note that a visitor is likely to find a 30-minute self-tour of the two sites to be rather sombre and reflective. I think it’s worth the effort to make the drive on your next trek through St. George.


  1. Any pictures to post? I can’t host them, but maybe you know some way… I’d sure be curious, since I’ve never been to the site.

  2. Dave, Denton was on RadioWest and had such crazy views like we worship Brigham Young as God and so forth. The interviewer tried to give her a chance to correct herself but she made an even bigger fool of herself. To have such erroneous egregious errors about the theology when you are making a point about theology doesn’t speak well…

  3. Dave, that must have been an interesting trip. What did you tell your family about the MMM? How do you feel about it, personally?

  4. Didn’t take the kids, and didn’t tell them anything. How exactly can such a thing be explained to children? Personally, I think any mass murder episode is terrible, especially one where a body of Mormons played the lead role.

    I could have made the post harsher, but I think the event speaks for itself. Likewise, the plaques and inscriptions at the site are also quite restrained.

  5. I should also point out that just because you are a Mormon criticisizing a book critical of Mormonism doesn’t mean that your criticisms are simply religious knees jerking…

  6. Incidentally, Sally Denton’s work has been criticized by both Walker, Esplin, and Bushman as a sensationalistic and under-researched.

  7. Interesting. Note that I identified Denton as a “writer,” not a historian or a scholar. The essay I linked to at the MMA site purportedly came from American Heritage, an edited history publication, so I would think egregious errors in that particular essay would have been corrected or cut.

    Not to defend Denton, but don’t forget that lots of strange doctrine swirls around BY. John D. Lee, the only participant ever brought to justice for his role in MM, was BY’s adopted son by way of Mormon sealing (an ordinance no longer performed, at least to my knowledge).

  8. MM is a sobering place. I remember visiting it for the first time with my father when I was about twelve. As I recall, he explained that the massacre occured during the Utah War, that the Mormons were scared that the emigrants would bring back an army from California, and so they killed all of these innocent people. It was a sobering experience. I have been back a couple of times since then.

  9. Richard Turley — head of the Church History Department — has praised Todd Comptons, _In Sacred Lonliness_ as well-researched, scholarlly, and balanced despite the fact that Compton is ultimately quite critical of polygamy and Joseph Smith. Turley did so in an article published on the Church website (at one time) no less.

    Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you. ;->

  10. Steve, no photos but there are good shots posted at the site I linked in the post (first “here” link in second paragraph).

    Nate, I gave the link to the Denton essay because it is short, readable, and available at the MMA site. After returning from MM, we stopped by Deseret Book and I bought Arrington’s American Moses bio of Brigham Young, which has a good if sketchy discussion of the whole MM episode which comes off as quite informed and balanced. It exonerates Brigham from foreknowledge or complicity.

    PS – Have LDS apologists (using the term very broadly but not unfairly) ever characterized an article or book critical of orthodox LDS history or doctrine as anything other than sensationalistic and under-researched?

  11. Wilford Woodruff formally ended the law of adoption in the 1890s. Their is an excerpt for his sermon announcing the change in _Discourses of Wilford Woodruff_ (G. Homer Durham, ed.)

    He transcribed a couple of really interesting sermons that BY gave to his adopted family in Winter Quarter’s discussing the doctrine. Fun stuff…

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