First Sept. 11 attack occurred 150 years ago
Sept. 11 is the anniversary of a date when Americans going about their business were killed in cold blood by religious zealots: This is the 150th anniversary of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.It happened near Cedar City, Utah. Just about everything except the date and location remain subjects of contention to this day.To put things into context, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as LDS or Mormons, had been persecuted in Missouri and Illinois. So a party headed by Brigham Young ventured west in search of a sanctuary. As the story goes, in July 1847 Young saw the valley of the Great Salt Lake and proclaimed, “This is the place.”Young was the most successful colonizer in American history. His followers, by and large, were obedient and industrious, and they began implementing a self-sufficient theocracy that was supposed to extend from the Continental Divide in present Colorado west to the Pacific Coast.One irony was that the Mormons had fled from the United States to a remote desert, and then found themselves back in America as a result of the Mexican War of 1846-48.Mormon theology seemed weird to most Americans, as did the notion of a theocratic realm called Deseret. And then there was the alarming matter of plural marriage. In summer 1857, President James Buchanan sent the U.S. Army west to install a new territorial governor, as well as ensure federal control of the territory.Many Mormons, remembering the persecutions of earlier years, feared that the troops were being sent out to annihilate them. The Mormons attacked federal supply trains and burned forage, delaying the army long enough for a settlement to be negotiated.So, there was a fearful and edgy Deseret in summer 1857, with local militias drilling and organizing. Young, still in office as territorial governor, had declared martial law. Instead of selling supplies to emigrants passing through the territory, Mormons were supposed to build up stockpiles in preparation for the military invasion they feared.In the spring of that year, several wagon trains formed in Arkansas, bound for California on a route that took them to Salt Lake City in early August. History knows them as the Fancher-Baker party, which at one time had 200 members. After replenishing in Salt Lake, some took the California Trail that went almost due west; most headed southwest on the Old Spanish Trail toward Los Angeles.They reached Mountain Meadows on Sept. 4, 1857. There, they were attacked by Paiute Indians, or at least warriors who were dressed like Paiute Indians, on Sept. 7. Seven emigrants were killed in the first assault. The others chained their wagons into a circle, and otherwise fortified themselves.On. Sept. 11, Mormon militiamen appeared and offered to escort the emigrants to safety if they would turn over their livestock to the Paiutes. They agreed. As they walked toward Cedar City, the men, women and older children were killed. The only survivors were 17 children, who were turned over to Mormon families. Major efforts were made to cover up the massacre or blame it on the Paiutes, but word soon got out.Just how many died remains unknown, with estimates ranging from 80 to 130. Various investigations were interrupted by the Civil War, and the extent of formal LDS involvement is something historians and history buffs still argue about.The only person formally charged in the massacre was John Doyle Lee, local constable and Indian agent. He was tried and convicted, then executed by a firing squad in 1877 at Mountain Meadows.Lee’s great-great-grandson, Mark Udall, is a U.S. congressman from Colorado now running for the U.S. Senate.Mormons are pretty much mainstream America these days, 150 years after the first Sept. 11 attack. There have been apologies and ceremonies of reconciliation. But it does seem to take awhile to recover from a Sept. 11 massacre.Ed Quillen is a writer in Salida, Colo., where he produces regular op-ed columns for The Denver Post and publishes Colorado Central, a small regional monthly magazine.