Connell O’Donovan is an independent researcher, genealogist, and historian of early Mormonism. He has generously shared the following material related to his volume of Augusta Adams Cobb Young’s life writings, forthcoming with the University of Utah Press.
In transcribing the scores of letters and drafts in the Augusta Adams Cobb files, archived in the Theodore Schroeder Collection on Mormonism at the Wisconsin Historical Society, I found an undated draft of a letter (PDF of the holograph document here), which may be the earliest written account of the massacre at Mountain Meadows in September 1857.[i] In preparation for publishing the Cobb letters next year through the University of Utah Press, I was elated to find the draft in question, written by Augusta’s daughter, Charlotte Ives Cobb, to her married sister in Boston, Mary Elizabeth Cobb Kellogg. Augusta Adams Cobb was the wife of Henry Cobb of Boston and Lynn, Massachusetts, when she was baptized LDS in 1832. In September 1843, Augusta separated from her husband, and left six of her eight children (plus one foster daughter), to accompany Brigham Young when he left his mission in Boston to return to Nauvoo. Immediately upon their arrival at church headquarters, Augusta was re-baptized and then sealed for time and eternity to Young with Joseph Smith officiating, despite not being civilly divorced from Henry. Charlotte, born in 1836, was then raised as Young’s stepdaughter, and migrated with her mother to Utah territory in 1848, in the Brigham Young company.[ii]
Charlotte, considered one of the “reigning belles” of Salt Lake in the 1850s, was somewhat gifted musically, and on at least one occasion, played the piano for dignitaries visiting Young at the Lion and Beehive House compound.[iii] Charlotte resided upstairs in the Lion House in her own room toward the southwest end of the house, while mother Augusta inhabited two small rooms on the west side of middle story.
Although the letter draft in question is undated, from the contextual evidence it can be certainly dated between September 15 and 20, 1857, and I believe it was written either on the nineteenth or twentieth. Charlotte reported to her sister, “Capt Vanfleet attended our meeting last Sunday,” and then referred to speeches given by John Taylor and Brigham Young on the same occasion. Capt. Stewart Van Vliet, an old friend to the Mormons, arrived in Salt Lake City on September 8, 1857, bearing a letter from Gen. William S. Harney, ordering the Mormons to supply, by purchase, the Army troops who were on their way to the territory. On the tenth, Van Vliet requested of Young to see the “domestic workings of the ‘Peculiar Institution’” of polygamy, so Young took him to the Lion and Beehive Houses, and introduced the captain to “his numerous family of wives and children.” It is likely that both Augusta and Charlotte were there to meet the captain.[iv] Then on Sunday, September 13, Van Vliet was courteously asked to speak to the gathered Saints at the Bowery during their worship services. John Taylor and Brigham Young also spoke immediately thereafter. Given that Charlotte noted these three men spoke “last Sunday”, the latest she could have written this draft was therefore the following Sunday, September 20.
Having settled the general dating of the letter, here is a transcription in full (with the most pertinent section in bold):
My precious Sister Mary Lizza,
I have at length commenced a letter for you, and while I write I Sincerely pray that your dear hands (and yours only <none others>) may open this letter. My thoughts throng so rappidly towards you all that it is with difficulty I can express <any of> them clearly. But first I must try to tell you of the unbounded love I feel. as I ever have felt for you and also your little chereb’s,[v] And daily, I pray that the Lord will hasten the time when I may behold them, with my own beloved Brother<s> and Sisters. Oh Mary Lizza dear Sister how is it with you, are you happy? I have so many questions to ask. but when can they ever be answered we hail a letter from home with such joy, and think it the greatest boon granted to mortals. The government in its infinite wisdom has seen fit to stop the Eastern Mail, so we are dependent on individuals for transportation of letters on West route.[vi]
But we think letters would come safe Via San Francisco. I intend to Mailing this that way. Do not be any way<s> frightened <alarmed> about us dear Sister for we are in the hands of the Lord and He hath said, he will fight the battles of his if his people are faithful He will fight their battles. There is no spirit of fear in man woman or child. Gen Harney sent one of his officers on here by the “Capt Vanfleet was his name” on here to see the state of things xxxxxxxx in Utah and how the Mormons felt about receiving a <new> Govornor inforced upon them by the point of the baronet [sic]. Capt Vanfleet attended our meeting last Sunday. Br John Taylor addressed the congregat<ion> I will enclose his sermon, not being able to do it justice in report<ing>. Our Gov [Brigham Young] then arose and said “Brethren we have been xxxxx <mobed> and driven time and time again and those that feel as I do would rather lay waste our beautiful City burn our houses destroy every vestage of vegitation take their Wives and children and flee to the Mountai<ns> Then again be brought to succumb to laws that will persicu<te> us in worshiping God by the dictates of our own consciences [p. 2] our lovely Constitution freely guarenteed that to every individu<al> and we will never deviate from the Constitution, but we will from those that are continually doing it so, There was then a vote taken to see who would uphold our Gov it was unamam<ous> they would all follow his example. he then beged if there were any who might feel to leave us, that they would now withdraw and if any wished so to do and need picuneary assistance he would help them[vii] as the time was drawing near when it would be very unsafe for imegration either to or from <this place> on account of the red men of the forest who are very much exasperated and swear vengance on all white men but Morm<ons> whom they as firmly swear to protect so you see we have str<ong> allies as these Mountains are filled with Warriors ––– Our Gov has held them in subjection a long time or there would have been far greater number of depredations on the white the emegrants. But when the Lord takes the reins it is time for man to cease control. There was a small company of Gold diggers come through here this summer it seems that for spite or fun they shot at every Indian they saw. the Indians very much incensed collected a large band of warriors to get itse[l]f ready for the next company which proved to be men women and children, attacked them put the after perssing [sic – pressing] the usual question “You Mormon” finding they were not put them all to death. thus it is the inosent has to suffer for the guilty and with <them>. But the band nearest us called the Utahs are very much improved a number of them have adopted our religion[viii] and do not kill the inocent for the guilty near as much though the feelings of revenge are so strong that the Indian nature will sometimes predominate. Why our dear Mary Lizza how often my thoughts wander back to scenes in childhood when we were one united happy family, and night and morn my prayers go up to the throne of Grace, for <the> time to be hastened when we may have <once more enjoy> that bliss on earth a united family
[Top of page 1, upside down:]
You need not think now that this letter is writen by Mother’s instegation No Mary Lizza She does not know I am writing. It is my own feelings I have tried to portray.
[Top of page 2, upside down:]
though <but,> do not think dearest Sister I reflect on any one. No Mary Lizza it was the Lord’s will that it should be so, and all we can do is to pray for to be reconciled. And daily my prayer is that you may all be brought to a knowledge of the truth in the due time all of the Lord[ix]
[end of manuscript]
Herein Charlotte reported two companies travelling through Salt Lake City that summer – the first being a group of “Gold diggers” who shot at every Indian they encountered. The second company was asked if they were Mormons and because they were not, the Indians attacked and put to death all the “men women and children.” As to the first group, in fact Brigham Young referred to them directly in his September 13 speech at the Bowery, which was then reported in the Deseret News that same day. Young said:
I have been told that the first company of packers that went through here this season, on their way from California to the States, shot at every Indian they saw between Carson Valley and Box elder, and what has been the result? Probably scores of persons have been killed, animals have been taken from nearly all the emigrants that have passed on that road…[x]
Young also had written a letter the day before to Commissioner of Indian Affairs, James W. Denver, giving a few more details on this first company:
I learn by report that many of the lives of the emigrants and considerable quantities of property has been taken. This is principally owing to a company of some three or four hundred returning Californians who travelled those roads last spring to the Eastern States, shooting at every indian they could see, a practisce utterly abhorrent to all good people, yet I regret to say one which has been indulged in to a great extent by travellers to and from the Eastern States and California, hence the Indians regard all white men alike their enimies and kill and plunder wherever they can do so with impunity and often the innocent suffer for the deeds of the guilty.[xi]
Thus Charlotte apparently quoted verbatim from the Deseret News her stepfather’s words regarding the actions of this large, eastbound company, while also incorporating a paraphrase from Young’s letter to Commissioner Denver about the suffering of the innocent.
Regarding the second company from Charlotte’s report, who were annihilated by vengeful Indians, two important questions must be answered. First, can Charlotte Cobb, in Salt Lake City, have known about the September 11 massacre of the Baker-Fancher party in southern Utah by Sunday, September 20? And secondly, could she have been referring to another company of “emegrants” who were all killed, men, women, and children? The answer to the first is “yes,’ while the second is more complicated and demands a “possibly.”
It has been generally assumed that Brigham Young and others in Salt Lake City did not find out about the Baker-Fancher tragedy until John D. Lee arrived on September 29 to report their murders by “Indians.” Wilford Woodruff recorded in his journal that day, “Elder John D. Lee also arived from Harmony with an express and an awful tale of Blood.” He continued that Lee said “The Indians…killed all Their men about 60 in Number[.] They then rushed into their Carrall & Cut the throats of their women & Children except a some 8 or 10 Children which they brought & sold to the whites…”[xii] Nearly forty years later, Woodruff clarified that this was indeed the first that Brigham Young had heard of the news of the massacre. In a General Conference address Woodruff gave in 1894, in which he fully revoked the “Law of Adoption,” halting the practice of adoptive sealings in LDS temples, he implied that one reason for this momentous change in doctrine and practice, was because men like John D. Lee had “electioneer[ed] and labor[ed] with all their power to get men adopted to them,” and Lee in particular had asked “every man he could” to “be adopted to me, and I shall stand at the head of the kingdom, and you will be there with me.” Woodruff then reminded his audience that Lee “was a particular in that horrible scene – the Mountain Meadow massacre.” “Men have tried,” Woodruff continued, “to lay that to President Young. I was with President Young when the massacre was first reported to him. President Young was perfectly horrified at the recital of it, and wept over it.” Young also asked if any white people were involved, and was told that none were.[xiii] However none of these details are found in Woodruff’s contemporaneous journal account, and are highly specious. Young may have cried over Lee’s gruesome recital, but it was certainly not the “first report” of it he had received.
While Charlotte was correct in noting that the U. S. postal contracts with the Utah Territory had been canceled, the Mormons themselves had an extensive express postal system connecting the settlements along the Wasatch front in the north to the far-flung settlements in central and southern Utah. The John Hunt family ran the mail from Cedar City to Salt Lake City, and they certainly would have made at least one run to the territorial capitol sometime between September 11 and September 29, and thus could have easily borne news of the tragedy. Unfortunately no diarist in Salt Lake I have read noted their arrival during that time period, as they were all either down with constant illness (like Wilford Woodruff and Judge Elias Smith), or were preoccupied recording the details of the Mormon militia members who were out near the Sweetwater tracking the movements of and preparing for the arrival of Johnston’s army.[xiv]
Fortunately Indian scout and interpreter Dimick B. Huntington did relate in his journal that news of the massacre reached him in Salt Lake on Sunday, September 20. This is also the last possible date on which Charlotte could have penned the draft letter to her sister.
[September] 20 Arapene came to see Brigham Brigham told him now was the time to helpt himself to what he wanted [from non-Mormon emigrant trains] but he sayed he was [wants?] a squaw he sayed the Americans [i.e. non-Mormons] had not hurt him & he Did not want to hurt them but if they would only hurt one of his men then he would wake up he told me that the Piedes [Paiutes] had Killed the whole of a Emigrant Company & took all of their stock & it was right that was before the news had reached the City
Arapeen was the brother of Chief Walkara of the Timpanogo band of Utes, and his successor as chief upon Walkara’s death in 1855; and like his brother, he had also been baptized LDS.[xv] Charlotte’s mention that the Utes near Salt Lake had “greatly improved” and had been converted could have come to mind as a result of Arapeen’s visit that same day. From Huntington, we learn that Arapeen visited Brigham Young and received permission to attack any non-Mormon groups to steal their goods and livestock, although Arapeen was primarily interested in getting a wife. After meeting with Young, Arapeen then apparently told Huntington, who worked in the Young compound at South Temple and State Street, that the Piedes Cedar City band of Paiutes had killed an entire wagon train and stolen their stock “& it was right” or apparently somehow justified. (John D. Lee deflected culpability onto the Paiutes as well, claiming the Baker-Fancher party had poisoned springs that the Indians used, for example.) I am sure that Chief Arapeen had given the same news to Young, although Huntington did not mention it. Dimick Huntington however made the notation that this news reached him before it was generally known in the city on September 29, when Lee arrived with his fabrication of the events. This reveals that this entry was written a few days after the fact, but it remains a reliable and credible source, as the rest of Huntington’s journal for that period is consistently accurate. While we do not know for certain that Arapeen’s report of the massacre reached Charlotte on the same day, the fact that Dimick Huntington was employed in the Young compound, near Charlotte’s residence in the Lion House makes it quite possible.
To address the possibility that Charlotte Cobb was referring to some other wagon train’s tragic fate, we must look carefully at the scant information Cobb does give us. First is the timing – the murderous train of “Gold diggers” passed through Salt Lake in the summer of 1857, and the ill-fated train followed soon thereafter. We know that the Baker-Fancher parties left Salt Lake to head south to St. George on August 9, which fits perfectly well in the given time frame. Michael Landon, a brilliant historian employed at the LDS Church History Library whose knowledge of the overland companies is nearly exhaustive, generously provided me with a brief summation of the various other trains which both passed through Salt Lake (whether east- or westward bound, since the Cobb letter does not specify their direction) and were the victims of Indian predation that summer. Besides the Baker-Fancher company, Landon believes that the only other company that fits most if not all of the criteria is the Holloway company, led by Smith Holloway of Rockport, Missouri. Their company however was quite small, consisting of ten people on the morning of the attack. They had passed through Salt Lake in the early summer, thus far aligning with the Cobb report, and from there had taken the northern route across what is now Nevada. On the morning of August 14, 1857 they were ambushed by a band of about 30 “Snake” Indians on the banks of the Humboldt River, about 30 miles east of Winnemucca.[xvi] Six of the ten people were killed, including one woman and the Holloways’ infant daughter. In addition, 20 year-old Nancy Ann Bush Holloway, wife of Smith Holloway, was shot with numerous arrows and one bullet. Indians then prodded her to check if she was alive, but Mrs. Holloway pretended to be dead and did not even move or make a noise as they sliced her scalp from her head with an arrowhead. Her brother, Jerry Bush, was gravely wounded but survived, and two other men escaped without harm. Nancy Holloway’s scalp was found near her and was taken with her to California, where it was made into a wig. She died in Napa in 1862 at the age of 25, mentally deranged and “brooding” from her attack.[xvii]
While Charlotte Cobb could have been referring to the Holloway company, their circumstances do not quite fit what Cobb described. Her account seems to imply a larger company than merely ten, and she reports that all were killed, when nearly half the Holloway party survived. Also Cobb claimed that those killed included “men women & children” but the Holloway migrants who died were four men, one woman, and one child. Lastly, we have Charlotte’s report that the Indians queried if the migrants were Mormons. Landon personally informed me that it would have been extremely unlikely that Bannock or Shoshone Indians near Winnemucca – in fact, any Indians along the northern route – would have been asking such a question. If Indians were in fact asking such a question of emigrant trains, they would surely have been those traveling along the southern route, through central and southern Utah, and then on to Las Vegas, which is the route that the Baker-Fancher party took. Charlotte’s account that Indians “put them all [i.e. men, women, and children] to death” seems to echo much more accurately Arapeen’s report of a band of Piedes killing “the whole of a Emigrant Company.” (Of course Arapeen – and Charlotte? – were wrong, because the Baker-Fancher children aged seven and under were not killed.)
Given the scant but intriguing details of Charlotte Ives Cobb’s letter to her sister about a massacre of an emigrant train in the summer of 1857, I conclude that she was very likely referring to the Baker-Fancher massacre in southern Utah from September 7 to 11, 1857, perpetrated by zealous Mormon militia men and a few local Indians. Although the extremely compact timing is problematic, I think the evidence shows that Charlotte could have heard about the massacre, if not by the regular north-bound mails, at least by Chief Arapeen’s report of it to Dimick Huntington on Sunday, September 20 – the last possible date which she could have penned the letter draft in question. If Cobb did refer to the Mountain Meadows massacre, then it is certainly the earliest written account of it found to date, predating Huntington’s retroactive journal entry by several days, and Wilford Woodruff’s journal entry by nine days.
[i] The letter is clearly a draft. It is undated, unsigned, and unfinished; and Charlotte practiced writing the capitol letter “N” many times at the top of the sheet of paper.
[ii] Charlotte Ives Cobb herself led quite a fascinating life. Her first marriage was as a plural wife of William S. Godbe, and she reportedly was a spiritualist medium for the Godbeite movement. She was also a radical feminist and politicked relentlessly for years in favor of women’s equal rights, but was too radical for the more centrist Emmeline B. Wells, and was therefore virtually banned from the pages of Wells’s Woman’s Exponent. Still, LDS President John Taylor appointed Charlotte Cobb Godbe to present Utah’s petition for women’s franchise to the US Congress, the first of its kind. After divorcing the excommunicated Godbe, she married John Adams Kirby, her first cousin once removed, who was a wealthy mine owner and 20 years her junior. Although she never bore children, she and her second husband adopted a male relative to raise. She died in her home in the Avenues of Salt Lake City in 1908. See for example Beverly Beeton, “‘I Am an American Woman:’ Charlotte Ives Godbe Kirby,” Journal of the West, April 1988, vol. 27, no. 2, 13-19.
[iii] “Complimentary Dinner,” Deseret News, September 9, 1851, 5.
[iv] “Further Remarks by President Brigham Young,” Deseret News, September 16, 1857, p. 5.
[v] Mary Elizabeth Cobb had married the prominent New York trader Charles Day Kellogg in 1850 and by September 1857 had borne three “cherubs”: Grace Kellogg, born about 1854; Lucy Candler Kellogg, born September 26, 1855; and Mary Elizabeth Kellogg, born July 15, 1857. A son named Henry Burr Kellogg, born in 1853, died a month after his birth.
[vi] The U. S. government canceled all contracts with Mormon postal carriers (like Porter Rockwell and Abraham O. Smoot) in July 1857 as Johnston’s Army began their march to Utah.
[vii] Another contemporary account reports that Young said that Sunday morning:
If it were any use, I would ask whether there is one person in this congregation who wants to go to the United States; but I know I should not find any. But I will pledge myself that if there is a man, woman, or child that wants to go back to the States, if they will pay their debts, and not steal anything, they can go; and if they are poor and honest, we will help them to go. That has been my well-known position all the time. (Brigham Young, “The United States’ Administration and Utah Army,” Journal of Discourses, September 13, 1857, vol. 5, p. 230.)
While Charlotte reported that Young generously said he would financially assist those wishing to leave the territory, this report indicates Young would only allow to leave those who had paid off their debts first.
[viii] For example, 120 Utes were baptized LDS on July 27, 1854 in Manti, Utah. See Lillian H. Armstrong Fox, “Sanpete’s First Public Institution: The Manti Council House, 1851-1911,” Saga of the Sanpitch (Manti, Utah: Messenger-Enterprise press) vol. 27, 1995, 34.
[ix] Charlotte Ives Cobb to Mary Elizabeth Cobb Kellogg, undated draft [September 19 or 20, 1857?], Theodore Schroeder Collection on Mormonism, Theodore Albert Shroeder Papers (microfilm edition, 1986), Wisconsin Historical Society, Box 2, Folder 3, Reel 2, images 663 and 664.
[x] “Remarks by Pres. Brigham Young, Bowery, Sunday Afternoon, Sep. 13, 1857,” (J. V. Long, reporter) Deseret News, September 23, 1857, pp. 228-229.
[xi] Brigham Young to James W. Denver, September 12, 1857, Second District Court, Criminal Case Files, Series 24291, Box 2, Utah State Archives. I am grateful for Michael Landon pointing out this letter to me.
[xii] Wilford Woodruff Journals, September 29, 1857, MS 1352, Box 3, Folder 1, LDS Church History Library.
[xiii] “Law of Adoption,” Wilford Woodruff (Arthur Winter, reporter), April 8, 1894 – Deseret Evening News, April 14, 1894, 9.
[xiv] Elias Smith noted in his journal that John Hunt delivered the southern mail on September 1 and then again on September 30. There surely would have been one if not several more postal runs during that busy and important month.
[xv] James Linforth (ed.), Route from Liverpool to Great Salt Lake Valley, Illustrated, etc. (Liverpool & London: Franklin D. Richards, 1855) 105.
[xvi] Snake Indians were the Bannocks and Shoshones who lived in the Snake River valley of southern Idaho and eastern Oregon.
[xvii] William Audley Maxwell, Crossing the Plains, Days of ’57 (San Francisco: Sunset Publishing House, 1915) 62-75; and William C. Killums, “Letter from California,” September 27, 1857, printed in the Springfield Mirror (Springfield, Missouri), November 21, 1857. Killums was one of the Holloway survivors who escaped unharmed, although he witnessed his wife shot to death in the neck. His first-hand account, written less than two months after it occurred, is a chilling and emotionally jarring narrative.