Tuesday, May 04, 2004

A Visit to Mountain Meadows 

by Dave
Last month, I took the family on a mountain biking trip to Southern Utah, and took in a few Church History sites along the way (chatty first installments in this series here and here). To round out the Church History tour, on Friday afternoon DW and I pointed the SUV northwest and drove the thirty miles to the Mountain Meadows site. About five miles out of St. George a really nasty hailstorm slammed into us (a sign or just a hailstorm?) and we got off the road for two minutes, but it blew through and we continued on.

At Mountain Meadows, there are two small sites commemorating the awful events of September 1857. For details, go here or read this short review article by writer Sally Denton. I'm only going to describe what I saw on my visit. At the crest of a small hill overlooking a broad, sparse valley is a small site established by the State of Utah, with explanatory tableaus, some viewing tubes that identify locations in the valley below, and a twenty-foot long granite wall that bears the names of roughly 120 men, women, and children who perished there. It's disturbing to note the number of children, listed by family, name, and age (although the youngest were spared and evenutally repatriated to relatives in the East). The following statement is etched in the granite wall: "In the valley below, between September 7 and 11, 1857, a company of more than 120 Arkansas emigrants led by Capt. John T. Baker and Capt. Alexander Fancher was attacked while en route to California."

About a mile below, in the valley but not too far from the foot of the hill, is a rebuilt rock cairn gravesite surrounded by a cement walkway with explanatory plaques. This is the site owned by the Church; it was refurbished and rededicated in 1999. Several plaques give general information. One reads in part (photo here): "Complex animosities and political issues intertwined with religious beliefs motivated the Mormons, but the exact causes and circumstances fostering the sad events that ensued over the next five days at Mountain Meadows still defy any clear or simple explanation." As corporate apologies go, that's about as good as you get.

I'll keep my usual editorializing to a minimum, and just note that a visitor is likely to find a 30-minute self-tour of the two sites to be rather sombre and reflective. I think it's worth the effort to make the drive on your next trek through St. George.
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