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


Over the course of the past two hundred years, an area in the extreme southwestern corner of Utah known today as Mountain Meadows has witnessed numerous attempts to fix it in the public consciousness. The first recorded efforts sought to establish the place as a valuable natural resource for seasonal overland traffic as early nineteenth-century traders, trappers, and explorers championed the lush grasses of this well-watered resting-place, giving it the name las Vegas de Santa Clara. By mid-century Mormon settlers had arrived in southwestern Utah and the Anglo moniker Mountain Meadows had replaced the Spanish name in the vernacular and on maps. But instead of continuing to cultivate its reputation as a welcome green oasis, a blood-red stain would color the Mountain Meadows after 11 September 1857, when approximately 120 Arkansas men, women, and children of the Baker-Fancher party, the first southbound wagon train that year, were killed under mysterious circumstances by members of the local Mormon militia and their Indian allies. Speculation concerning responsibility for the massacre continued as fodder for journalists in and out of the Territory. Despite the best efforts of Church leaders, details from official government investigation reports and stories of murder printed in newspapers throughout the region and across the nation combined to transform the Mountain Meadows from a well-known haven to a notorious site of shame.

One significant problem that faces Mormon and non-Mormon scholars, both professionals and amateurs, regarding research into the Mountain Meadows Massacre is ready access to verifiable sources related to the event; this project aims to remedy that situation while producing a significant work of collaborative digital history. This archive contains newspaper account of the event, government investigation reports, early Mountain Meadows Massacre histories in works of Western Americana, Apostate and Anti-Mormon publications, as well as works of fiction, drama, and film. By creating machine-readable electronic texts and digital objects, this collection of core documents can be searched and browsed by users, providing not only increased access to key sources, but also potential for the emergence of previously unforeseen research questions.