John D. Lee was the only person convicted (and executed) for the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Was he the guiltiest? Richard Turley answers that question, as well as many others.
Turley : Contrary to popular belief, John D. Lee is not the only one who was indicted. A grand jury in September of 1874 indicted nine persons. The key figures in the massacre were, first Isaac Haight. Isaac Haight was the militia major and also the stake president in Cedar City at the time. He seems to be the linchpin, the person who was at the center who organized the events that lead to the massacre and gave approval for the massacre to occur.
William Dame, who was his military superior, the commander of the militia in southern Utah, he lived in Parowan. He was also a stake president. Then, John D. Lee, who was the person who Isaac Haight brought in to make an initial attack on the immigrants and who was on the ground at the time of the final massacre and helped to massacre people. Then, in addition to those, all told, there were probably at least 50 people, maybe 60 people, who played some kind of role in the massacre at some point. So, it was clearly group violence. The people who were investigating the massacre and who were trying it, were not necessarily interested in getting all those people into a courtroom. They were interested in trying the leaders. This is not unusual. If you look at group violence across the United States and across the world, often it’s the leaders that that law enforcement officials go after. That was certainly the case here.
Some have said the Fancher Party were insulting Mormons on their way through Utah. Others have said they were peace-loving people who did not deserve to die. Likely the truth is somewhere in the middle. What led the Mormons to become so angry with the Fancher-Baker party?
In those days, many cities in the United States, including cities in Utah, had anti-profanity ordinances. If somebody profaned in public, you can arrest them, and then either imprison them or give them a fine. Isaac Haight, before the company arrives said we’re going to try to get some cattle from these people. Why get cattle? Well, in the event of a siege, they’d have food that they can use to help supply themselves. So, if these people were expressing themselves verbally, they could have used their anti-profanity ordinance as a way of arresting these people and then taking cattle from them as a fine. So, while the exact details are somewhat murky, we probably had something about like that going on. In short, there was nothing that these immigrants did, nothing, that would justify an attack on a single person, let alone a wholesale execution of men, women and children, who had been promised protection under a white flag.
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Check out our previous conversation with Richard!