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


The Mountain Meadow Massacre 

Statement of one of the Few Survivors

The Dardanelle Independent published the statement of Mrs. Nancy S. Cates, of Yell county, one of the seventeen children who survived after the terrible massacre in 1857:

I am the daughter of Peter Huff; my mother’s maiden name was Salidia Brown, daughter of Alexander Brown of Tennessee. I was born in Benton county, Arkansas, in 1853. My father started to move from that county in the spring of 1857, with the ill fated train bound for California. I was then a little past four years old. I can recollect my father and mother very well, as [well as] many little incidents that occurred about that time—our travels on the road, etc. I recollect passing through Salt Lake City, and passing through other places, and I recollect we were in a small prairie. One morning before day I was woke up by the firing of guns, and learned that our camp had been attacked, we suppose[d], by Indians. Some of the men folk were wounded. The men dug a ditch around our camp, and fortified [the camp] the best they could. The women and children got in the ditches, and were comparitively out of danger.

The fighting went on at intervals for six days, when failing to drive our men from their fortifications, the attacking party went off. Soon afterward a party that we thought to be friends came up with a white flag, and said that they could protect us. They said they were our friends, and if we would come out and leave what we had they would take us to Cedar City, where we would be safe, and that they would protect us, and see that none of us were hurt. Our people agreed to this, and all started out, men, women and children, and left everything we had behind. When we had got out a short distance from the wagons, where we had been fortified, we came to a place where tall sage brush was growing on both sides of the road, and as we were passing through this place we found we were trapped, as men had hid in it, and began to shoot among us, and then rushed upon our people from both sides, killing everybody they came to. Capt. Baker had me in his arms when he was shot down, and fell dead. I saw my mother shot in the forehead and fall dead. The women and children screamed and clung together. Some of the young women begged the assassins after they had run out on us not to kill them, but they had no mercy on them, clubbing [them with] their guns and beating out their brains.

Some of the murderers were white men and some I supposed were Indians from their dress. At the close of the massacre there was eighteen children still alive, one girl, some ten or twelve years old, they said was too big and could tell, so they killed her, leaving seventeen. A man, I afterwards learned to be named John Willis, took me in his charge (the children were divided) and carried me to his house next day in a wagon; he lived at Cedar City and was a Mormon; he kept me there that winter. Next spring he moved to a place called Topersville [Toquerville]. I stayed there about a year, until Dr. Forney had us children gathered up and carried us to Santa Clara, from there we went to Salt Lake City and remained two months, from there we came back to the states. I know that most of the party that did the killing were white men. The Mormons got all the plunder. I saw many things afterward.

John Willis had, in his family, bed clothes, clothing, and many other things that I recognized as having belonged to my mother. When I claimed the things, they told me I was a liar, and tried to make me believe it was the Indians that killed and plundered our people, but I knew better, because I recollected seeing them kill our folks, and knew many things that they carried off that I saw in their possession afterward. I saw Willis during the massacre; he carried me off from the spot; I could not be mistaken. Living with him made me know him beyond a doubt. I saw them shoot the girl after we were gathered up. I had a sister that was nearly grown, and four brothers that they killed. I was the youngest child of our family—the only one that was spared. They kept the children all separated whilst we remained with them. The scenes and incidents of the massacre were so terrible that they were indelibly stamped on my mind, notwithstanding I was so young at the time.