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Mountain Meadows Group Walks Path of Victims for First Time

 

Mountain Meadows Descendants of the victims of the Mountain Meadows Massacre and others interested in the 1857 atrocity had an opportunity Saturday to walk through history.

More than 100 people gathered in Washington County at the site of the infamous massacre of 120 California-bound emigrants by a Mormon militia. Thanks to land ownership changes, they were able for the first time to walk the path taken by the doomed, unarmed men and women from Arkansas as they were led away from the security of their besieged wagons under the guise of being taken to safety, then ruthlessly gunned down.

Saturday's activities included the dedication of a new memorial where it is believed the boys and men of the group were murdered, a little more than a mile north of the siege site.

A stone from a cairn constructed by Army soldiers in 1859 to mark where they buried the remains of the massacre victims has been incorporated into the new memorial dedicated Saturday. That rock bears the faint impression of a cross carved into it.

On Sunday, the actual anniversary of the massacre, the entire site will be dedicated as a national historic landmark.

The designation culminates years of work between descendant groups, federal agencies and the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns the site after several years of land swaps and acquisitions.

"We want to thank the LDS Church for all they've done and being a wonderful host," said Phil Bolinger, president of the Mountain Meadows Monument Foundation that helped create the national landmark along with the Mountain Meadows Descendants and Mountain Meadows Massacre Descendants.

He said while many of the annual descendant reunions at the site have been sobering reminders of what happened to their relatives, "This time we have something to celebrate, so let's have a great time."

Bolinger then requested a moment of silence for the massacre victims and those killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, that occurred on the anniversary of the massacre in 2001.

Richard E. Turley Jr., assistant historian for the LDS Church, said Saturday it was a "wonderful" experience working with the organizations in getting the national landmark status, granted by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in June.

Turley said the process required satisfying a lot of government regulations but he hopes it strengthened the bonds between the descendant groups and the church.

During a box-lunch meal at Saturday's ceremonies before the hike to the new memorial, Arthur Richards, an elder with the Cedar Band of Paiutes, spoke to the audience.

He said stories about the role of the tribe, originally accused of carrying out the attack, are largely untrue; and that while there may have been a handful of Paiutes aiding the militia, they did not participate in the siege.

Richards said he bases his information on what he learned from a tribal member named "Issac" who was 12 years old when he was an eyewitness to the massacre. He said Issac, who died at age 116, told him he saw the militia shoot the emigrants.

Logan Hebner, author of Southern Paiute: A Portrait, published by Utah State University Press, also attended Saturday's event. Hebner said he wrote the book because after more than 150 years, it was time to hear the version of the massacre from the Paiutes, who had been vilified for their perceived participation.

"They [tribe] were initially blamed for everything," Hebner said.

mhavnes@sltrib.com


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