Saturday, May 9, 2009

LDS Church Working To Secure National Historic Landmark Status For Mountain Meadows Massacre Site In Southwest Utah, Near Cedar City

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is continuing to work proactively to secure National Historic Landmark status for the site of the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre in southwest Utah, near Cedar City. Two media stories reflect the different perspectives, one from the Provo Daily Herald, and the other from the Pine Bluff (AR) Commercial. Most of the victims in the Mountain Meadows Massacre came from Arkansas.

According to assistance LDS Church historial Richard Turley, the National Park Service staff has given positive feedback on the proposal. "We're very optimistic about getting National Historic Landmark status. We haven't had anybody so far tell us, 'No way,'" Turley said. "Most people have said this sounds like a promising thing."

But the process can be complicated. "The two key things that we look for in a potential National Historic Landmark are the national significance and the high level of physical integrity of the site," said Lysa Wegman-French, a historian for the National Park Service's Intermountain Regional Office in Denver who has provided feedback on the initial proposal. It takes about nine months from the date of submission to get a decision.

The 2,500-acre Mountain Meadows site is already on the National Register of Historic Places. The grassy valley includes several mass grave sites and two monuments. A rock cairn marks the spot where the siege erupted, and a memorial wall inscribed with the names of the dead overlooks the valley. Most of the land is owned by the church, although some is federal forest land and a few parcels are privately owned.

Nearly a decade ago, some descendants began pushing for landmark status, believing that the site should not be controlled by the church. Landmark status would guarantee public access and federal oversight that includes public input on any construction or development. As a result, the LDS church announced its plans to seek landmark status in March 2008.

Despite the passage of time, the Mountain Meadows Massacre does remain somewhat tender in the memories of some. There is considerable disagreement on the extent of the Church's involvement, whether Brigham Young could have done more to avert the attack, and whether or not the Church originally did all it could to punish the perpetrators. The latter question is fueled by the fact that only one person, John D. Lee, was ever tried and convicted for the attack, although several others were indicted.

Nevertheless, what all parties agree upon is that on September 11th, 1857, 120 men, women and children from the Baker-Fancher wagon train were attacked and murdered at Mountain Meadows by Cedar City-area church and militia leaders, along with some American Indians. The wagon train was bound for California when their stopover in the meadows turned deadly. Only 17 children survived the attack; they were initially taken into local homes and cared for, then ultimately returned to their own extended family members.

Elder Turley and other church officials will meet with the three descendant organizations - Mountain Meadows Association, Mountain Meadows Descendants and the Mountain Meadows Massacre Foundation - on May 29th to update them on the proposal's progress. "There's a definite common purpose here. We've basically started a friendship," said Phil Bolinger, the president of the MMM Foundation, who lives in Hindsville, Ark. "It's taking longer than we expected, but I just feel like the church has the power and the influence to get it done."

A number of sources provide further information on the Massacre. There's an official Mountain Meadows Massacre site HERE. Richard Turley published a detailed article in the September 2007 issue of Ensign Magazine. Wikipedia account HERE. Also of interest is a conference at Utah Valley University on March 5th of this year, when UVU hosted a panel discussion on the Mountain Meadows Massacre featuring Rick Turley, Will Bagley, and Forrest Cuch and was moderated by Alex Caldiero, which can be read at the Juvenile Instructor.

In contrast, Frank Kirkman's website, although packed with information, has an anti-Mormon cast to it. Kirkman strongly believes that Brigham Young was involved in the Massacre, although the bulk of records from that time indicate he was not involved. Kirkman fails to understand that Brigham Young was preoccupied with preparing for a possible invasion and attack of the Salt Lake Valley by a Federal army, and could not supervise Utah Territory as much as he would have liked. It is questionable whether or not Utah Territorial officials prosecuted the crime as vigorously as they should; it took nearly two decades, and only one person was executed. But complaining about it now won't bring back the dead.

The Church and most Fancher descendants seem to be working well together to memorialize this event appropriately, and the Frank Kirkmans are the exception rather than the rule.

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