Speech By Shirley Pyron at the Dedication Ceremony
Mountain Meadows, Utah
September 11, 1999
Good Morning. I bring you greetings from Arkansas and The Carroll County Historical and Genealogical Society located in Berryville. I was invited to speak to you briefly on the feelings of the descendants and relatives of the tragic massacre that took place at this very site 142 years ago today.
I would like to begin with the feelings of the immigrating families back in Arkansas as they eagerly loaded their wagons and carriages in the spring of 1857 for their journey to a new home in California. Although they looked forward to the trip with great expectation, the parting with friends and family must have been bittersweet as the prospects of seeing these loved ones again were very slim.
Approximately 140 members ranging from grandmothers down to very young infants began their journey to California.
When their letters ceased arriving to their friends and family in California who were eagerly awaiting their arrival, the California friends were filled with feelings of anxiety. Soon they began hearing rumors of an Indian massacre. They soon learned the wagon train they so eagerly awaited would never arrive. The families both in California and back in Arkansas were grief-stricken by the tragedy.
But as word began reaching the victim’s relatives of the Mormon involvement in the massacre, their grief became mingled with outrage that such a deed could be inflicted by their own fellow man. The outrage grew when they learned the bodies of the slain were left lying as they fell without burial.
As time passed relatives were given a glimmer of hope when they learned some small children may have survived the slaughter. These feelings were tempered with frustration because they couldn’t get the US Government to act promptly to investigate the matter. Records indicate it was nearly two years before the children were located and returned to waiting relatives in Arkansas. One and maybe others, it has been said, were never returned. It was with feelings of both sadness and joy that the little children were welcomed into the homes of waiting relatives.
The relatives waited for the government to exact some measure of restitution for the now orphaned children. Some of the slain parents had obtained considerable assets for that day and time.
Now, it was all gone.
Questions arose by the relatives. What happened to the stallion valued at $2000? What happened to the $4000 in gold coins, the cattle and horses, the carriages and keepsakes they were taking to California? Would anything ever be retrieved for the children, they wondered.
To date, I have never found any documentation for any such relief for the orphaned children.
Again, relatives were outraged that no such relief was ever forthcoming.
For many years the mention of Mormons brought instant distrust and hatred to bear. Sometime, after the turn of the century, two Mormon men came through Berryville. When it was discovered they were Mormon, they were told to keep going and not to stop as it would not be a safe place for them.
In time, the story of the massacre was spoken of less and less but would rekindle from time to time as one or another of the survivors would pen their memoirs or books would be written of the tragic event. However, the passage of time failed to heal the wounds.
It has only been in recent years that the healing process has begun to take place some three or four generations later. A great step to bridging the chasm that has separated so many for so long has been Ron Loving, Verne Lee and other Lee descendants who have worked together in one common effort to spearhead a meeting and establish dialog between the two sides. This historic meeting of two seemingly unlikely candidates took place in 1988, and transformed the tide of ill feelings once harbored into new friendships. Later, in 1989, Verne Lee and other Lee descendants along with Ron Loving and descendants of Alexander Fancher traveled to Arkansas to meet with the Carroll County Historical Society. This historic meeting precipitated a greater understanding of what the descendants of the Iron County Militia in this area have had to endure over the years as well. They did not escape altogether unscathed, either. It has kindled a spark of compassion in our hearts for them.
Before I left Arkansas, I called Mary Tryphenia Anderson, granddaughter and namesake of Tryphenia Fancher and great-granddaughter of Captain Alexander Fancher. She wanted to be here with you today, but is caring for ill family members and was unable to come. We talked at length about the massacre and the years since. Her words were, “It happened a long time ago, and you can’t blame the people living today for something their ancestors did way back then.” And, that expresses my sentiments as well.
This is not intended to place blame on any person, simply to relate to you how the descendants felt in 1857 and how we have come to feel today. Fortunately, the tide of bitterness has turned for most. I, personally, have worked with and established lasting friendships in the past few years with LDS members. Several I have met through their mission work at our research library. Most recently, I have had the pleasure of meeting Verne Lee, Bishop Lee Bracken, Prof. Gene Sessions, Prof. Larry Coates and Dr. Glenn Leonard through the Mountain Meadows Association. Most recently, I have met Kent Bylund and their lovely wives. I cherish these friendships.
I would like to thank Ron Loving for his untiring efforts in his work here at the Meadows and all the many volunteers who have helped in any way toward the rebuilding of this lovely monument to honor our dead.
I would also like to say how I appreciate the Boy Scouts for their work here. As a member of the Bois d’Arc Chapter NSDAR and current Arkansas State Chairman for American History, I want to especially recognize the scouts for their outstanding work in the preservation of American History.
I would also like to thank President Hinckley and the LDS Church for making the monument a reality. It is my hope that the resting places of the other slain immigrants will soon be located and a proper marker placed at each grave site so they will never again be lost to us.
This is my first visit to the Meadows and I thank you for your most gracious hospitality. I hope to return again. May this be a day of new beginnings; with feelings of forgiveness and love for one another and compassion for all who have been touched by this tragic event.
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