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Utah Travel Headlines

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mountain Meadows Designated A National Historic Landmark

Mountain Meadows, a beautiful little valley in southern Utah southwest of Cedar City, has been declared a national historic landmark.

The valley was the site of one of the saddest events in Utah history. On Sept. 11, 1857, a group of Mormon militiamen slaughtered 120 men, women and children, totally destroying the Fancher-Baker wagon train, which was passing through the area while headed to California. All adults and older children were killed. Seventeen young children were spared.

A monument marks the spot where the massacre occurred. A group representing the descendents of those children has pushed to have the monument recognized for its national historic significant. Leaders from Utah and the Mormon Church have supported the designation.

I have watched with interest, from a different perspective. I happen to be a direct descendant of John D Lee, one of the militia leaders who carried out the massacre. Lee was the only man convicted of a crime associated with the massacre. He was returned to the site and executed.

It is difficult for us to understand how the massacre could have happen. Stories handed down in my family point out some of the context, noting that Mormons had been driven from their homes in Missouri and Illinois, many injured or killed, persecuted to the point that they actually fled from the United States. Shortly after becoming established in the Utah Territory, the US government sent an army to quash them. The settlers were on edge.

I am not trying to defend the massacre. Lee and others involved made a terrible decision, with tragic consequences. I'm pleased the the monument has won national recognition.

The Salt Lake Tribune has this article about the landmark designation. Below are excerpts.

"Utahns already know of the site’s historic significance," Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, said in a statement."Now, because of this designation, it will become better known to the rest of the country."

"The designation means the United States has recognized that this site is among the most important in U.S. history," said Lysa Wegman-French, a historian with the Intermountain regional office of the National Park Service. "I like to compare it to the Emmy or Oscar awards for actors. This is public recognition of the importance of the site to the nation."

Patty Norris, whose great-great-great grandfather and seven other relatives were murdered at Mountain Meadows more than 150 years ago, was overcome with emotion at Thursday’s news that the southwestern Utah site has been designated a national historic landmark.

"I’m ecstatic and excited. It’s overwhelming," Norris said from her northern Arkansas home. "I’m sure that all those who died out there that day would be extremely proud and grateful for those who have worked on this for so long."

"This is the culmination of a multiyear collaboration between the church as landowner, victim groups and the federal government," Richard Turley, assistant LDS Church historian, said Thursday. "We are grateful that so many people came together to make this a reality."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will continue to manage the part of the site it owns, while the U.S. Forest Service will oversee its portion of the property 35 miles southwest of Cedar City.

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