September 7, 1857
Mountain Meadows, Utah Territory (present day: Washington County, Utah)
A 5-day siege begins between emigrants traveling to California, and the Utah Territorial Militia and Paiute Native Americans, ending in the deaths of all emigrants older than 7
The Militia had been composed of Mormon settlers (members of the Church of Latter Day Saints) from southern Utah. They convinced members of the Paiute tribe to take up arms with them. To make the attack appear to have been perpetrated by Natives only, they disguised themselves as Natives.
Emigrants from Missouri and Arkansas traveling to California fought back until the fifth day, September 11, when a commander for the militia named William H. Dane and some men under his command approached the group with a white flag. They claimed they would take the emigrants under Mormon escort safely to the edge of the territory in exchange for the remainder of their supplies. The emigrants agreed and the militia separated the men from the women and children, each man paired with a member of the militia.
After the signal was given, then men were killed by the militiamen accompanying them while the women and children were killed by more forces lurking nearby. The massacre left over 120 men, women, and children dead. The only ones spared were 17 children, all younger than 7. These surviving children were taken to live with local families; the possessions of the deceased were auctioned off.
Mormon leader Brigham Young began an investigation into the massacre on September 29 and, following an interview with John D. Lee, arrived at the conclusion Native Americans had attacked the emigrants. However, the federal government conducted its own investigation and indicted 9 men. Of these men, only John D. Lee was tried. He had two trials, sentenced to death, and given his choice of execution method: hanging, beheading, or being shot. He chose to be shot and was executed on March 23, 1877, professing he was merely a scapegoat for others involved. Brigham Young officially stated Lee’s execution was just though the sole execution was not sufficient blood atonement considering the number of lives lost in the massacre.
A memorial plaque dedicated to the lives lost during the massacre, erected in 1932
A photograph taken shortly after Lee’s execution
The body of John D. Lee