Welcome to the Read Rinaldo Blog. Over the next several weeks this site will analyze different people involved in the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857. This week, WOMEN VICTIMS.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon) began in rural New York, moved to Kirtland, Ohio, then to Nauvoo, Illinois before stopping in Utah Territory. The LDS experienced a great deal of persecution at each location before settling in the distant and unpopulated Utah Territory. The persecution in Illinois included gunfights between locals and the Mormon Militia, eventually named Avenging Angels or Danites. The Mormons stockpiled weapons for these encounters. Having to guess at the cause of these fights from what I know about humans, I suspect the locals and the Mormons share fault for reaching this level of violence. Prophet Joseph Smith, LDS originator and leader, died when a mob of gentiles lynched him (Mormons define gentiles as non-Mormons). Brigham Young filled the void atop the LDS hierarchy and moved the Church to Utah.
During Brigham's leadership, approximately 150 Arkansans were slaughtered during a four day siege of their encampment in 1857. Eerily, though the siege lasted from September 7th to September 11th, nearly all of the emigrants died on September 11th. This ranked as the most deadly killing of Americans by Americans outside of the Civil War until the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Local Mormons allegedly committed this atrocity. In 1999 two men digging with a backhoe unearthed bones at Mountain Meadows. Forensic scientists flocked to the area to quickly study the remains. Within days Governor Mike Leavitt ordered the bones reburied. Interestingly, Mike Leavitt is allegedly a direct descendant of one of the killers at Mountain Meadows in 1857. Mormons consider lineage of vital importance, and one's ancestry is something a faithful Mormon would definitely know. Please note that despite Mormons blaming local Paiute Indians for the killings, the scientists definitively concluded that every death they could account for happened with bullets, something the Paiute tribes in the area did not possess. Science, the limited federal investigation in the years following the massacre, and the surviving historical record irrefutably declares that Mormons killed these travelers. In 2007 the LDS officially expressed regret that the local Mormons participated in the massacre, but failed to admit sanctioning these murders.
After the Arkansan emigrants agreed to John Doyle Lee's truce [read more about John D. Lee below], the Mormons led the children out of Mountain Meadows followed a quarter of a mile farther back by the women. While the men had individual armed escorts another quarter mile behind, the Arkansan women well outnumbered their escorts. Living in Arkansas during the 1850s meant suffering through Indian attacks. This experience served the women at Mountain Meadows. When the "escorts" began shooting many of the women chose to run, rather than freeze.
Witnesses seeing Mountain Meadows in the years immediately after the massacre described female hair and clothing still hanging from shrubs at the edge of the clearing. Not hard to image the chaos after the initial shots rang out. Naturally the women would head for the closest concealing feature. Rather than reload or risk missing a moving target, the murderers chased down the fleeing women.
Stories have survived that tell of the women being raped and forced to dance around naked for the amusement of their Mormon captors. The women allegedly begged for their lives and promised themselves to any man willing to have them if they could only live. None of them survived.
Not enough is known about these strong women. They lived through Indian attacks in Arkansas, presumably fought back, traveled on foot, horseback, or in a wagon across most of North America, survived a four-day siege under heavy fire, only to be shot on their way to a new life.
Remembering these women as half-starved and exhausted while begging for their lives is a disservice to their memory. I prefer to think of these women as strong optimists willing to move from Arkansas to California for a better life. These women had carved a life on the frontier in Arkansas and agreed to start again in the newly settled land of California. They took cattle with them to California because they wanted to sell beef to the people flowing to the west coast for the gold rush. In my mind, these women possessed strength a person alive today can hardly imagine. Moving anywhere in the US today will have a great many similarities to the place you live now [McDonalds, Taco Bell, mega-groceries]. For these women the plants and landscape would be a completely foreign world, and yet they saw opportunity, not disaster.
The legacy of the women murdered at Mountain Meadows should be one of strength and courage.