We’re pleased to present today’s guest post from Barbara Jones Brown. Barbara was the content editor of Massacre at Mountain Meadows (OUP, 2008) and is now at work on the book’s sequel. She holds a master’s degree in American history from the University of Utah and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Brigham Young University. She serves on the board of directors for the Mormon History Association and on the Mormon Women’s History Initiative Team.
On September 11, 2014, dozens of people from throughout the United States gathered at the lower monument of southern Utah’s Mountain Meadows. We were there to remember the victims of the atrocity that took place in that valley exactly 157 years before, when Mormon militiamen led a massacre of some 120 California-bound emigrants. Most of the victims were from Arkansas. Only seventeen children aged six and under survived. The monument, dedicated September 11, 1999, marks the spot where the emigrants took cover behind their wagons during the five-day siege and where U.S. troops laid many of their bones to rest in 1859.
This year’s commemoration drew the usual motley crowd—descendants of massacre victims and perpetrators, historians and documentary filmmakers, LDS Church and National Park Service representatives, and local residents. But this time, something was different.
A new, gravel path beckoned us to continue west from the monument up a gentle slope, providing access previously limited by ranch fencing and rocky terrain. At a high-point on this trail, we came to a new marker honoring the emigrants killed in the initial stand-off. Here we paused to look back, not only on this rarely seen view of the siege site but also on the tragedy that brought us there. Descendants blessed the new memorial with song, prayer, wreaths, and a reading of the victims’ names.
The new walkway circles back to the 1999 monument, but on this day a rancher guided us off the path through his private property northward. We walked along the old California wagon trail that once cut a clear path through the Meadows, the same trail along which the militiamen led the unsuspecting emigrants from their wagon corral to their deaths. I had been down this road before, but my heart still tightened and my breath became shallow as we trudged a mile in the dusty heat. I was thinking of my third-great-grandfather, twenty-seven-year-old William Hawley, who took this path on September 11, 1857. At a given signal, he turned on the unarmed emigrant walking beside him and shot him. Dozens of other militiamen did the same to the men and older boys they were pretending to escort to safety.
Here another granite marker stood (placed in 2011), and here again we paused. Billy Hightower, a descendant of emigrant Milam Rush, was one of those who memorialized the victims. Rush was about the same age as Hawley in 1857. As I listened to Billy, I cringed at the thought that my ancestor could have been the one who killed his in the fields behind the marker.
Finally we made the last leg of our trek, to where the women and children, who made up the large majority of the company, were massacred after their men were executed. I found myself walking beside Mary Dunlap Bump. Like some of the other descendants, Mary wore 1850s-style costume in remembrance of her many relatives who died here. This stretch, too, was difficult for both of us, for different reasons. We walked with our arms around each other, me telling her how sorry I was about what my forebears did to her kin, she telling me a happy story about the three little Dunlap sisters’ running into their grandma’s arms after the surviving children were recovered and returned to Arkansas.
The day’s journey ended at a third new marker, this one honoring the women and children killed and the seventeen children who survived. Their descendants dedicated this memorial, too, with song, prayer, talks, and reading of the victims’ names.
Many people of diverse backgrounds came together to make these three new memorials and public access to them possible. My hat goes off to the victims’ relatives who doggedly sought federal protection for the Mountain Meadows; to historians who have worked to keep its history in the public conscience; and to members of the LDS Church History Department who collaborated with descendants’ groups to achieve National Historic Landmark status for the Meadows, to ensure its preservation, and to create its monuments and markers.
After visiting each new memorial in succession, I was struck by their common message. “Ever Remembered,” “Never to Be Forgotten,” and “In Honored Remembrance,” read their three titles, engraved in stone. I thought of the same message five years ago when I dreamed of bringing the same diverse group of people together to create two memorial quilts, one for Arkansas and one for Utah. Across the top of those completed quilts, the title “Mountain Meadows: Remembrance and Reconciliation,” is stitched in fabric.
On September 10, the night before we walked the Meadows, many of us climbed the steps of St. George’s Old Washington County Courthouse to celebrate the new and permanent display of one of the quilts there. The other, near-identical quilt (pictured above) is already on display in northwest Arkansas.
I first dreamed of making the two quilts in 2008, after editing Walker, Turley and Leonard’s Massacre at Mountain Meadows. The idea was inspired by a conversation with Diann Fancher, a new friend from Arkansas. As we spoke about reconciliation, Diann said that each of our lives is like a thread, and that if we brought our individual threads together, we could make a beautiful quilt. Wondering if we could make Diann’s metaphor a reality with two quilts, I was soon on the phone with a master quilter, my aunt Anna Rolapp of California. Anna, who had just finished reading Massacre at Mountain Meadows, loved the idea and made it her dream, too.
She designed the quilts’ borders with “log cabin” squares arranged to look like hills or mountains. The right or “eastern” border represents the green hills of Arkansas. The left or “western” border represents the red cliffs of southern Utah. The colors of the hills and mountains gradually blend together on the top and bottom of the borders, symbolizing reconciliation. Stitched on the leaves of the vine overlying the border are the names of massacre victims, grouped in families. The names of the seventeen surviving children are on the flowers that adorn the vine. The quilt’s fabrics are Civil War-era reproductions, representing textiles Americans used in the second half of the nineteenth century.
As Anna created the symbolic borders, I invited descendants of victims, perpetrators, and others with ties to the massacre to embroider individual squares with any message they cared to share on the themes of remembrance, healing, or reconciliation. Nearly every family of the wagon train was represented by a descendant, while multiple descendants of thirteen of the perpetrators participated. The ninety-six personal squares of the quilts express varied messages of remembrance, sorrow, condolence, apology, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, transcendence, healing, and hope for a better future. Close-ups of some of these squares can be seen here.
Over the past several years, I’ve been blessed to become friends with many descendants of massacre victims and perpetrators. Their friendship has healed me from the mental anguish I used to suffer after studying the horrific details of the massacre. Mary Dunlap Bump and Billy Hightower are just two of those years-long friends.
I hope that even long after we are gone, people who see the quilts and the markers and monuments at the Mountain Meadows will remember not only the victims of the massacre, but also the later generations who worked together to heal from it.