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Mojave Desert History: Pioneer of the Mojave
Old Skeletons & New Trails


In late 1857, the year Aaron Lane came to San Bernardino, a series of incidents occurred in Utah, some quite tragic, which were to have an impact on the development of the desert and all of San Bernardino County. Non-Mormon federal appointees in Utah had reported to Washington that their orders were being ignored and that the Mormons were in a state of rebellion against the laws and authority of the United States.

These reports were given credence, and Alfred Cummings was appointed to replace Mormon leader Brigham Young as governor. Cummings was to proceed to Utah accompanied by an army under the command of Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston. Word reached the Mormons in late July, 1857, that an army had been ordered to Utah to put down the rebellion.

The immediate response of the Mormons was to call on their militia, the Nauvoo Legion, to prepare for battle. Word went out in August that not one kernel of grain was to be sold to any non-Mormon merchant or "sojourner" in Utah; trading with emigrants traveling through the area was considered tantamount to aiding the enemy. Speeches became increasingly inflammatory as preparations were made to repel the oncoming government troops.

Mormon George A. Smith was sent to the southern towns in Utah to deliver military orders and instruct the populace. His preaching was so fiery that it raised the emotions of the citizens to a fever pitch.

In the meantime, Brigham Young met with twelve Indian chiefs from the southern region of the state, presumably to coordinate their support in the upcoming war. Into this climate came a wagon train of California-bound emigrants, which was later identified as the Fancher train, named after one of its leaders.

In mid-September, near a place called Mountain Meadows, all of the adults and older children of the Fancher train, numbering 118 in all, were killed by Mormons from the Cedar City area with the aid of their Indian allies. Only infants considered too young to testify against the murderers were spared.

Word of the massacre reached the Mormon Colony in San Bernardino on October 1st with the arrival of two Mormon freighters, Sidney Tanner and William Mathews, who had passed near the site the day the tragedy occurred. The news first appeared in the Los Angeles Star in the October 3, 1857, issue. Star editor Henry Hamilton, an admirer of the qualities of the San Bernardino Mormons with whom he was familiar, at first refused to believe that Mormons had anything to do with it.

However, when the truth of the atrocity became known, he joined with the rest of the community in calling for justice, although he still distinguished between the vast majority of decent, industrious people he had come to know and the perpetrators of a horrible mass murder. This incident, which became known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre, inflamed the citizens of California, and adversely affected the attitude of the military towards the Mormon community as a whole for years to come.

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