"Horrible Massacre of Emigrants!!" The Mountain Meadows Massacre in Public Discourse

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Gwin-Houston Debate on Mountain Meadows

Mr. GWIN. I offer the following resolution, and if there be no objection I should like to have it considered at the present time:

Resolved, That the Secretary of War be requested to communicate to the Senate what steps have been taken, if any, to punish the parties implicated in the massacre of one hundred and eighteen emigrants to California, at the Mountain Meadows, in the Territory of Utah.

There being no objection, the Senate proceeded to consider the resolution.

Mr. GWIN. I have not called attention to the subject-matter embraced in this inquiry before this for the reason that I had supposed that a military expedition would have been organized in California for the purpose of cooperating in Utah Territory with Colonel Johnston. When it is considered that a force composed of as fine a material as the world affords could have left California, and long before this could have traversed half their journey to Salt Lake City, it cannot be denied, if the Federal Government need additional troops in Utah, that my supposition had some foundation. Contrary to my own ideas and vote, the executive authority has been denied by Congress the increased military means which were asked; and hence it is now apparent that no large force can be sent from California to Utah.

I am afraid that in this we have committed a grave error. I am afraid that if the Federal arms should be resisted by misguided an rebellious men, the power and dignity of our country will not be vindicated by so imposing a force as the serious necessities of the case may require.

But, sir, I am induced by reasons peculiar to my position as Senator from California, to invite your attention to the incidents referred to in my resolution.

In September last, an emigrant train, composed of fifty-six men and sixty-two women and children, according to the best information that I can procure, were passing through Utah Territory, on their way to my own State. They were on our own soil, engaged in no unlawful pursuit; and yet, Mr. President, they were all murdered except a few children. I am unable to give to you the details of this horrid massacre, as they still remain shrouded in mystery. All that I can tell you, sir, is that one hundred and eighteen American citizens, including in this number sixty-two women and children, have been massacred without cause, and that as yet their blood is unavenged.

It is true, sir, that this outrage was not committed within the limits of California, or we, ourselves, without awaiting the tardy action of the Federal Government, would have sought and obtained a bloody vengeance; but the murdered victims had an intention to become Californians. They had left their homes in what you call the Far West, and, gathering their household goods, had taken up their march for our golden land of promise. Nay, sir, when they had reached the fatal Mountain Meadows, their longing eyes could almost behold the snow-covered peaks of our mountain ranges.

In all that constitutes unity of feeling and interest, they had become citizens of California, and as such, sir, as a Senator of that State, I am here to ask an account of the blood of my constituents.

As I before remarked, the details of this awful massacre are not known. There is no doubt that the various Indian tribes in the vicinity of the Mountain Meadows were the immediate agents in this butchery; and, sir, it is lamentable to say that, in the opinion of many well-advised parties, the Mormons themselves were their instigators and approvers. Upon this point no such positive evidence has been received as would justify me in asserting positively that they were guilty; and charity will gladly avail herself of any doubt which would hold our common nature to be free from so horrible a crime.

It is true, sir, that an intelligent and respectable meting of citizens of Los Angeles, after an examination into the facts, expressed their deliberate conviction that the Mormons were equally guilty with the Indians, and asked the interposition of the President.

But, sir, there is no doubt that the Indians are culpable, and whether their guilt be shared by the Mormons or not, still their responsibility is the same, and the exactions of vengeance against them are undiminished.

Mr. President, since the Americans commenced to travel over the plains, since our hunters and adventurous trappers penetrated the remote valleys and gorges of the vast country lying between the Mississippi and the Sierra Nevada, since the Indian tribes between the Oregon and Sonora lines first heard the American name, no such reverse, no such loss, has been inflicted on us as the destruction of these one hundred and eighteen emigrants. We are accustomed to pity the poor Mexicans along our frontier line who suffer from the fierce inroads of the Camanches and Apaches; but, sir, the sad history of their border warfare will show but few, if any, more mournful and disgraceful massacres than the one of which I am speaking.

The intelligence of this massacre has spread throughout the numerous Indian tribes. The impunity with which it was effected, and the richness of the plunder that rewarded it, will be incentive to similar acts. Heretofore, when American citizens traveled together, particularly in large numbers, no Indian tribe would dare to attack them, for fear of the vengeance of a Government represented to them as strong and warlike; but, sir, if this matter be permitted to go unavenged; if this reverse be unrepaired, our prestige is destroyed, and new and more frequent massacres will take place.

We are now opening up the center of this continent, we are crossing it with wagons roads and mail lines, and unless we crush these vile and savage tribes with a strong hand, we expose to dreadful massacres our citizens, invited to travel in these inhospitable regions by our own action.

I have before remarked that these emigrants were murdered without cause. There was a report, derived from the Mormons, that the emigrants had poisoned the Indians back at Corn creek; but investigation has proved this statement to be utterly unreliable, and I have no hesitation in stating my belief that it is a calumny on the unburied dead. Yes, sir, on the unburied dead! No Christian has ever extended the rites of sepulture to the bodies of these victims; and an American who traveled near there, in a Mormon train, a few days after, was informed, by Mormons living in the vicinity, that it would be unsafe to attempt their burial.

Therefore, sir, I ask that the Secretary of War may be charged to investigate this matter. If this be proved true, I hope that an expedition will be sent from southern California to inflict upon the guilty parties a vengeance so summary as to be talked of with terror in every wigwam in the great Salt Lake basin.

MR. HOUSTON, I think the resolution would be more perfect if it were to require an inquiry to ascertain who did this act—to find out first who perpetrated the act. Before we punish them, I think we had better ascertain who they were.

MR. GWIN. We know that our fellow—citizens were murdered. There is not one left to tell the story.

MR. HOUSTON. Some persons killed them. The Mormons are suspected of it. Some Indians must have been in the vicinity. Now, Indians frequently go several hundred miles to start an expedition for the purpose of killing the Indians resident near that place; and Indians from another quarter may come there, and be inculpated and brought into jeopardy, while those who committed the crime escape. I think the inquiry would be more proper to ascertain who perpetrated the act, and not make war without any foundation.

MR. GWIN, It is well known that the Indians in the neighborhood had a part of the spoils. That has been ascertained. They were implicated; they ought to be punished, and every one to whom it can be traced. I have no doubt that an expedition, if sent there, could soon ascertain the tribe of guilty Indians, and the white persons, if any, who instigated it, as has been charged.

MR. HOUSTON, That would be very unsatisfactory evidence, because Indians traffic, as well as white people, and exchange commodities. The murderers may have stripped them, and in passing back may have disposed of the articles to the tribes contiguous to where the massacre was perpetrated. I am opposed to this indiscriminate warfare upon Indians, or Mormons, or any other people, until their guilt is ascertained. I want the facts as to who perpetrated the crime ascertained, and then inflict punishment according to the offense. But to imagine that somebody has done it, and therefore that some one must be killed or massa-  
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cred in retaliation, is not the way to retaliate; it is the way to produce war by inflicting chastisement, as they call it, on people who have perpetrated no offense on the Government. That is the way our Indian wars are kept up. The Treasury would be drained by hundreds of millions annually, if every occasion of an outrage were immediately to be redressed by falling upon the first Indians upon our extended frontier that are suspected, or upon any tribe, because they had in their possession articles taken on the occasion of a massacre.

A resolution requiring the Secretary to ascertain and to report the facts, I should be glad to pass; and if it can be ascertained who were the perpetrators of the deed, inflict upon them a punishment commensurate with their offense; but do not fall indiscriminately on the Indians who are at peace on our borders, and thus provoke hereafter the massacre of perhaps ten for every one that has fallen. We know that the Indians, if they can, never go unavenged of injuries done to them, and you may attack an innocent tribe that had no participancy in this transaction, and inflict on them a great wrong. Redress on their part is the consequence, and other innocent persons have to fall victims to this indiscriminate mode of warfare that we are conducting on our frontier.

MR. GWIN., I did not think that a member of the Senate of the United States could be found who would object to punishing what we know has been one of the most outrageous massacres that has ever been committed in the country. What does the Senator propose? That we shall make inquiries; that is to say, send persons there to be murdered as these emigrants were. I ask that a force shall be sent there that shall punish these persons, an they will only punish them when it is ascertained who they are. That is what I propose. I want a force sent there of sufficient power to inflict the most condign and summary punishment on these murderers, who have massacred men, women, and children—American citizens—passing peacefully through the country, and then, after they are murdered and left unburied, bring forth a false accusation that they had attempted to poison the Indians, as some excuse!

It is a charge which has never been sustained by any testimony. All that I ask is that the murderers shall be punished. I do not want innocent Indian tribes attacked, and I do not expect they will be attacked. They have made this attack on American citizens. On nearly the only emigrant route now open to California this massacre has taken place. We hear a great deal of sympathy for the massacres of citizens by the Apaches and other tribes of Indians, but there is nothing like this atrocious deed in the history of our country. Not one of the whole party of one hundred and eighteen was left. They only spared a few children under five years of age, in order to make slaves of them; all the adults were murdered so that they should not have an opportunity to divulge who committed this terrible crime. I want force to be sent there to make the inquiry, and then to inflict punishment. That is all I ask.

MR. FOOT. I move to postpone the further consideration of this question and all other orders, and that the Senate now proceed to the consideration of the bill for the admission of the State of Kansas into the Union, which was the unfinished business yesterday.

MR. GWIN. Does the Senator from Texas object to the passage of the resolution?

MR. HOUSTON. I do not, if the gentleman will amend it in such a way as to ascertain—

THE VICE PRESIDENT, The Senator from Vermont is on the floor and has made a motion.