Chapter Thirteen – The Disintegrating Gospel: The Mountain Meadows Massacre – A Family Affair
My full given name is Steven Hamblin Lee. I am named after two Mormon murderers…
Hamblin is a very entrenched Mormon surname; it’s famous due to the fact that Jacob Hamblin was such a pivotal player in the early days of Mormonism. Jacob Hamblin was an accomplished man in many ways, including working directly with Native American nations to outline their reservation boundaries, their land deals and their land rights. He did many other things, including murdering innocent people in a massacre. There are those who speculate his involvement, but I know he was there, and I assume he murdered.
John Doyle Lee is also a pivotal figure in Mormon lore. Look at any map and you’ll see a small city called Lee’s Ferry located about 7.5 miles southwest of the town of Page, Arizona and the Glen Canyon Dam, and about 9 miles south of the Utah-Arizona border. That was where he was sent to set up a church-funded small town for the express purpose of shuffling polygamists back and forth across state lines when the feds came-a-callin’. Lee’s life was a tragic one as he was the *only* person to be executed for the crime of 140 innocent travelers being savagely murdered in Utah in September, 1857. Tragic only from the perspective that *many more* Mormons should have been executed for their murderous exploits on that fateful day.
When you do a search on LDS.org for an official description of what happened you find nothing, only news articles. Here’s the Wikipedia description which sums it up quite nicely: “The Mountain Meadows massacre involved a mass slaughter of the Fancher-Baker emigrant wagon train at Mountain Meadows in the Utah Territory by the local Mormon militia in September 1857. It began as an attack, quickly turned into a siege, and eventually culminated in September, 1857, in the execution of the unarmed emigrants after their surrender. All of the party were killed, except for a few children under eight years old. Some infants were killed while in their mothers arms. After the massacre, the corpses of the victims were left decomposing for two years on the open plain, their children were distributed to local Mormon families, and many of their possessions auctioned off at the LDS Cedar City tithing office.”
This was *not* the story I had heard growing up by my overprotective parents due to our family name being front and center of this horrific tragedy. When LDS historians hear the name John Doyle Lee, they *know* what it means and what weight it bares. When my parents and my extended family hear this name, they are always ready with a quick rebuttal exonerating Lee. It was, and still is quite a sore spot in our family’s history. And it should be: John Doyle Lee gave the signal to begin the massacre of the innocents. He was Brigham Young’s manipulated lap dog, and was a pawn of the church’s violent history.
After Joseph Smith Jr.’s early philandering demise, Brigham Young used Joseph Smith’s “martyrdom” as a way to instigate vigilante justice by embedding a phrase into the required Mormon Temple Endowment Ceremony to seek revenge for the innocent Smith’s death. To them, Smith was justified in every single act, he spoke and acted in God’s name and was given permission by God himself to do every act he committed, whether it be lawful or illegal. As each and every member heard that embedded call for revenge against *anyone* during that time period, they were forced to answer that yes, they would exact revenge in Joseph’s name. This is what drove these murders, this was the kind of mastermind Brigham Young was. They were all prepped and ready for a collision course with death.
That opportunity arrived in 1857 as a group of western travelers were trapped inside Utah without food or water, slowly being starved to death by the Mormons. Parley P. Pratt had been killed like Joseph Smith was due mostly to his unlawful polygamist acts. The men whose wives he had spiritually abused for sex killed him. This was after the Joseph Smith slaying, and the typical citizen was becoming aware of how the Mormon were unlawful wife stealers. After the Pratt killing, they were on guard, even more ramped, paranoid and ready to kill someone for “persecuting them”. Of course, it didn’t matter to these people that the persecution they so feared was driven directly by the philandering leadership of their own church.
The rumor had been started that this group was the same who killed Pratt. Of course, these people had nothing to do with that Pratt, except that they probably knew of the Mormon’s acts now so prominently addressed far and wide in newspapers. And they may have talked about it, but keep in mind that the entire *country* was talking about the crazy Mormons at that point. They were large enough to skew local political power if they happened to land in your area. And they were ruthless; they would destroy property and murder to get their way.
The Fancher party was in trouble as they tried to cross Utah. The Mormons had the power to stop them, and the Mormons were seething with anger and they wanted revenge of *any* sort. They began to hatch a plan as their paranoia increased with this foreign group asking for local supplies: they would kill them. The plan was put in action by Brigham Young and it involved everyone *but* Brigham Young to do the wet work. He was the coward mastermind, requiring his followers to do his own murdering. But the most tragic figure in all of this was John Doyle Lee, who would become the *only* person fully betrayed by Brigham Young. Lee had been adopted by Young, and raised as his own. And Young would rat him out, betray him and leave him to die by firing squad into his own coffin.
But don’t cry for him just yet, Lee gave the order for the 150 Mormon men to kill, by throat-slashing and gut-deboweling, the *entire* group of innocent travelers by sitting on a horse with a white flag and dropping that flag at the designated moment when the Fanchers were most vulnerable. Those murdering Mormons slowly led those travelers out of their campsite, one by one, one Mormon to one person: men, women, and children. They had already starved them, attacked them dressed like local Indians, and worn them down. By the time the Fanchers were being led to their deaths they were already terrorized and weak from starvation. This was gool ol’ home grown terrorism, Mormon style.
Once Lee gave the order, those people were slaughtered ruthlessly, by horrific means, and left to rot where they fell. A few young children were spared; any child younger than eight was taken and assimilated into the Mormon families. Mormons believe that children under the age of eight are unable to “sin”, therefore any child older than eight was murdered in that moment. Brigham Young threatened anyone who would show remorse to them, they were forbidden to bury them. At a later date Brigham Young stumbled upon the same location and saw that someone had erected a pile of stones as a burial marker, he ordered his men to tear it down. Mormonism is a violent faith, and Brigham Young was its most violent leader.
Many decades later, federal authorities would finally seek justice from these murderers, and the only one to be its executed victim was John Doyle Lee, Brigham Young’s own adopted son. I have an image of Lee standing in front of his coffin awaiting his fate with the firing squad waiting to the right of the photo. He is dressed in his temple garments, just as I had seen my mother in her casket. Mormons are to be buried in their temple clothes so that they can arise on the “morning of the first resurrection”, pole position for all faithful Mormons; they are the chosen ones after all. They must be buried feet to the east, head to the west, so they can hop up facing Christ as he returns in all his glory. That’s the moment when Mormons believe the entire earth will be burned like a furnace, except for the righteous ones…meaning them.
Most Mormons avoid this event like the plague. There is simply no way to avoid the culpability of its membership in the largest terrorist activity on American soil since September 11th, 2001. Oddly, the day they did this sickening massacre was also September 11th, but in 1857. September 11th seems to contain recurring events that shape my life.
Universal Alignment: It happens to me a lot.
The Mormon Church keeps trying to make this go away; they’ve even reconstructed a monument on the site, but the ceremony where Fancher family members were invited was only attended by one LDS leader, it wasn’t their prophet, and his speech was not an apology, it was another fumbling of gigantic proportions. They simply cannot just say what they need to say, and that is, “We are guilty. We have been horrible. We will learn from our errors.”
There is little doubt that Jacob Hamblin was present that day, doing as he was told. So, in essence, I am named after two Mormon murderers.
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