Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Mountain Meadows Massacre


John Doyle Lee
John Doyle Lee
From the rim of the basin above the meadow, John Lee watched the battle of attrition that his Indian warriors were now engaged in. Their halfhearted charge on Monday had been unsuccessful, although the Indians did manage to rustle some of the immigrants stock. In 1910, Josiah Gibbs reported that Lee knew he had a very serious problem on his hands. 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, he wrote. 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.

Lees confession attempts to blame the Paiutes. They threatened to kill me unless I agreed to lead them against the emigrants, and help them kill them, John Lee wrote as he sat in prison awaiting his execution. They also said they had been told that they could kill the emigrants without danger to themselves, but they had lost some of their braves, and others were wounded, and unless they could kill all the Mericats, as they called them, they would declare war against the Mormons and kill every one in the settlements.

I did as well as I could under the circumstances. I was the only white man there, with a wild and excited band of several hundred Indians. I tried to persuade them that all would be well, that I was their friend and would see that they had their revenge, if I found out that they were entitled to revenge.

Isaac C Haight
Isaac C Haight
Lee rode back to the nearest settlement to confer with his militia commander, Col. William Dane, and the Stake President, Isaac Haight. The three men conferred and decided that the immigrants would be slain and that the Indians would have to be reinforced with Mormon troops. The three men agreed that no innocents - meaning young children -- would be killed. The question was how to accomplish the task with the least risk to the Saints.

Heading back to Mountain Meadows on Tuesday with a troop of Mormons, Lee lost his nerve. His men killed a small beef for dinner, and after eating a hearty meal of it we held a council and decided to send a messenger to Haight, Lee said in his confession. I said to the messenger, who was either Edwards or Adair, (I cannot now remember which it was), Tell Haight, for my sake, for the peoples sake, for Gods sake, send me help to protect and save these emigrants, and pacify the Indians.

On Wednesday, the two camps continued to trade sporadic fire. More of the wounded had died, Sally Denton writes. The smell of decaying corpses and carcasses became unbearable. As a last-ditch effort to get help, three men managed to sneak out of the immigrant camp and travel some miles before they were tracked down and slain.

The standoff continued through Thursday, and Lee bitterly reports that his Mormon brethren were more savage than their Indian counterparts as they awaited further orders from the Stake President. I soon learned that the whites were as wicked at heart as the Indians, for every little while during that day I saw white men, taking aim and shooting at the emigrants wagons, he said. They said they were doing it to keep in practice and to help pass off the time.

Thursday night, Lee received his response from Haight in the form of reinforcements. Three wagons of well-armed men arrived from the nearby settlements, under the command of Major John Higbee. According to Lee, when he asked what their mission was to be, Higbee replied, It is the orders of the President, that all the emigrants must be put out of the way. President Haight has counseled with Colonel Dame, or has had orders from him to put all of the emigrants out of the way; none who are old enough to talk are to be spared.

The fate of the Fancher train had been sealed.