Mountain Meadows Massacre/FAQ

Table of Contents

Frequently-asked questions about the Mountain Meadows Massacre

What is the Mountain Meadows massacre?

On September 11, 1857 a group of Mormons in southwestern Utah brutally killed all the adult members of a non-Mormon wagon train on its way to California. The group was encamped in an area commonly called the Mountain Meadows.

Where is the Mountain Meadows?

The Mountain Meadows, or las Vegas de Santa Clara, is an area near the west end of the Pine Valley Mountains, about 30 miles west of Cedar City and 28 miles north of St. George in Southern Utah. Today it is easily accessible by improved roads, on Utah Route 18.

Who were the members of the wagon train?

The wagon train consisted of two parties, one led by John T. Baker and the other by Alexander Fancher. The Baker party originated in Missouri, and the Fancher party in Arkansas. The exact number of people in the combined groups is estimated at 120, but some reports have put it as high as 140. This number consisted of men, women, and children.

How was the Baker-Fancher wagon train traveling through Utah?

The most direct route for the wagon train to reach California was to travel over established routes through Utah. The wagon train arrived in Salt Lake City, without incidence, about the end of July 1857 where they were advised by Elder Charles C. Rich to circle around the northern edge of the Great Salt Lake on their way to California. The group started north, but then decided to double back and take the southern route to California. This caused them to again pass through Salt Lake City, and then further south through Provo, Springville, and Payson. The plan was to continue through southern Utah, and then on into California.

When did the wagon train run into problems?

There were no reports of problems until the wagon train reached Fillmore, about 150 miles south of Salt Lake City. Commencing at this point and through settlements to the south, there were complaints that the emigrants boasted of participating in the violence against Mormons in both Missouri and Illinois, poisoned a spring, and that they threatened to destroy one of the Mormon settlements.

There was another wagon train that was traveling less than a week behind the Baker-Fancher train. This was the Turner-Dukes train and, while they had people from Arkansas and other places, a good portion of their train was made up of Missourians. They were the trouble makers. The problem is that people down in southern Utah heard stories about a troublesome wagon train and thought it was the Baker-Fancher train rather than the wagon train behind them.

Previous historians have believed that the Saints heard that the wagon train members may have participated in the killing of Parley P. Pratt in Arkansas, but more recent historical analysis has shown this not to be the case.

Thus, a series of tragic misunderstandings led to this particular train being targeted, though the attack was not justified even if the southern Utah worries had been based in fact.

Was there any truth to these rumors?

It appears that the complaints where just that--rumors. There has been no evidence uncovered to substantiate the rumors.

What was the general feeling in Utah at the time?

The feeling among residents was generally very tense. The early and mid 1850s were the time of the Utah War, when people expected the US Army to enter Utah and either kill the Mormons or force them from their homes. It was a time of great anxiety, tension, and attendant rumors among the general populace.

Why did the wagon train stop at Mountain Meadows?

It was common for emigrant parties (not just the Baker-Fancher wagon train) to camp at Mountain Meadows for several days or even weeks. The area provided excellent grazing, so animals traveling with the wagon trains could refresh and prepare for the gruelling desert crossings still to come.

Why did the massacre take place?

The isolation of the Mormon communities (this was before the telegraph was available), incomplete news of the approaching U.S. Army, fear of non-Mormons, and other factors lead to paranoia on the part of the Mountain Meadows community.


Shining New Light on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, Gene A. Sessions , 2003 FAIR Conference