Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Traveler from Fort Smith describes "Trophy" of the Mountain Meadows Massacre

19th Century Engraving of the Mountain Meadows Massacre
As late as February of 1861, the frontiers remained stunned by the Mountain Meadows Massacre, a bloody slaughter that took place when Mormon militia and Indian allies attacked a wagon train making its way from Arkansas to California near present-day St. George, Utah.

The attack on members of the Fancher-Baker party came on September 11, 1857, as they were driving a herd of hundreds of cattle west to California where beef was desperately needed in the golf fields. Noted Mormon or L.D.S. missionary Parley Pratt had recently been killed in Arkansas and the tension between the Mormon emigrants who had settled in Utah and the United States was growing. For reasons that continue to be debated today, militia members and their Indian allies attacked the wagon train, took the cattle and other supplies, and killed an estimated 120 or more members of the party. Only 18 small children were spared to be adopted into local Mormon families. They were subsequently taken into the custody of the U.S. government and returned to their families in Arkansas.

Arkansas Grave of Parley Parker Pratt
In February of 1861, a traveler from Fort Smith reached Stockton, California, with the gruesome story of having seen a riata or lasso made from the hair of the victims of the massacre:

A RIATA MADE OF WOMAN’S HAIR. – The Stockton (California) Republican learns that Mr. Connolly, who has just returned from Fort Smith, Arkansas, via Salt Lake, reports having seen a Texan purchase a riata one hundred feet in length of an Indian, for which he paid $20. The hair from which it was made was shorn from the heads of the women who were slain at the ever-to-be-rememebred massacre of the Mountain Meadows. The gentleman states that the riata was one of the most beautiful ever beheld, even while the scene of cold-blooded slaughter rose to his view as he looked upon this trophy of the savages and their Mormon allies, worse than savages. - Various Newspapers, February 1861.
Only one person was ever punished by man for his role in the massacre. John D. Lee, a leader in the Mormon militia at Mountain Meadows, was executed after the Civil War after being convicted of murder.

Beaver Bridge in Arkansas
There are several places in Arkansas where more can be learned about the events leading to the massacre. A monument to the victims stands in Harrison in northern Arkansas, where many of the members of the ill-fated party had lived prior to joining the wagon train. At Beaver near Eureka Springs, although few visitors realize it, the picturesque Beaver Bridge - often called the "Golden Gate of Arkansas" - spans the White River at the point where members of the Fancher-Baker party waded across during the early stages of their journey west. Learn more about the beautiful bridge and early history of the crossing at

Also of interest is the monument near Alma and Van Buren marking the grave of slain LDS leader Parley Pratt, who was killed in Crawford County in May of 1857 (the same year as the massacre) by a part of vigilantes headed by the irate first husband by one of his plural wives. You can read more about the murder and monument by visiting

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