"Although only three years old at the time, Sara Baker later said, "Its funny how you will recall unimportant details, after so many years." She remembered the black borders on the bright red blankets in the wagon. "[The] wounded and the young children, including me, my two sisters and my baby brother were put in another wagon. My mother and father had been wounded during the fighting, so they were in the wagon with us children." Sarah's older sister , Martha Elizabeth, told a reporter in 1938 that "she heard her father tell her mother to get up and put the children in the wagon. That was the last time she saw her mother." Read Her Story Here!
“The Mountain Meadows Massacre: An Episode on the Road to Zion ,”
Sallie [Sarah Francis] Baker Mitchell
The American Weekly
1 [?] September 1940
Collected by Will Bagley.
I've been interested in the series of articles running in The American Weekly about the Mormons, specially what ís been said about the Mountain Meadows Massacre, way back in September 1857.
I'm the only person still living who was in that massacre, where the Mormons and the Indians attacked a party of 137 settlers on the way to California , murdering everybody except 17 children, who were spared because they were all under eight years of age.
I was one of those children and when the killing started I was sitting on my daddy's lap in one of the wagons. The same bullet that snuffed out his life took a nick out of my left ear, leaving a scar you can see to this day.
Last November, I passed my 85th birthday and at the time of the massacre I wasn't quite three years old. But even when you're that young, you don't forget the horror of having your father gasp for breath and grow limp, while you have your arms around his neck, screaming with terror. You don't forget the blood-curdling war-whoops and the banging of guns all around you. You don't forget the screaming of the other children and the agonized shrieks of women being hacked to death with tomahawks. And you wouldn't forget it, either, if you saw your own mother topple over in the wagon beside you, with a big red splotch getting bigger and bigger on the front of her calico dress.
When the massacre started, Mother had my baby brother, Billy, in her lap and my two sisters, Betty and Mary Levina, were sitting in the back of the wagon. Billy wasn't quite two, Betty was about five and Vina was eight.
We never knew what became of Vina. Betty saw some Mormons leading her over the hill, while the killing was still going on. Maybe they treated her the way the Dunlap girls were treated, later on I'm going to tell about the horrible thing that happened to them. And maybe they raised her up to be a Mormon. We never could find out.
Betty, Billy and I were taken to a Mormon home and kept there till the soldiers rescued us, along with the other children, about a year later, and carried us back to our folks in Arkansas . Captain James Lynch was in charge of the soldiers who found us, and I've got an interesting little thing to tell about him, too, when I get around to it.
But first I want to tell all I remember and all I've heard about the massacre itself, and what lead up to it.
My father was George Baker, a farmer who owned a fine tract of bottom land on Crooked Creek, near Harrison , Arkansas . He and my grandfather, like a lot of other men folks at that time in our part of the country, had heard so much about the California gold rush of 49 that they got the itch to go there. So my father and some of the other men from our neighborhood went out to California to look over the lay of the land and they came back with stories about gold that would just about make your eyes pop out.
There wasn't anything to do but for everybody in the family to pack up, bag and baggage, and light out for the coast. Everybody but Grandma Baker. She wouldn't budge. She put her foot down and said:
“ Arkansas is plenty good enough for me and Arkansas is where I'm going to stay.” Her stubbornness saved her life, too, because if she had gone along she would have been killed, just as were all the other grown-ups, including my grandfather, my father and mother and several of my uncles, aunts, and cousins. Our family joined forces with other settlers from neighboring farms under the leadership of Captain Alexander Fancher, and the whole outfit was known as Captain Fancher's party.
It wasn't made up of riff-raff. Our caravan was one of the richest that ever crossed the plains and some people have said that that was one of the reasons the Indians attacked our folks to get their goods.
We traveled in carriages, buggies, hacks and wagons and there were 40 extra teams of topnotch horses and mules, in addition to 800 head of cattle and a stallion valued at $2,000. Altogether, the property in our caravan was valued at $70,000.
Captain Fancher's party spent the Winter getting ready and when Spring came and everything was all set to go, John S. Baker, who was related to us, was sick with erysipelas and couldn't travel. So he and his family, along with some of his wife's relatives, waited a few days and then set out to overtake us. A number of times they came across places where we had camped and found the coals from our campfires still warm, but they never did catch up with us, and that ís why they missed the Mountain Meadows Massacre but they ran into the tail-end of the trouble, just the same, and had a terrible time themselves.
A lot has been said, both pro and con, about what caused the massacre. It wasnít just because we had a lot of property the Indians figured was well worth stealing. There were several other things that entered into it.
In the first place, the members of our party came from a section of the country not far from the district in Missouri and Illinois where the Mormons had been mighty badly treated. If you've been reading Mr. Robinson's articles in The American Weekly, you'll recall how the Mormons were driven out of Missouri into Illinois , where Joseph Smith, their Prophet and the founder of their religion, and his brother, Hyrum, were assassinated. Then they were driven out of Illinois and, after suffering all sorts of hardships crossing the plains, they finally got themselves established in Utah .
So it ís only natural that they should feel bitter about anybody who came from anywhere near the part of the country where they had had so much trouble.. Iím sure nobody in our party had anything td do with the persecution of the Mormons in Missouri and Illinois, or anything to do with the assassination of Joseph Smith and his brother. But that didn't make any difference. The word got around, somehow, that somebody in our party was bragging about having in his possession the very same pistol that was used to kill the Mormon Prophet, and that he even said he aimed to use it on Brigham Young, who had taken over the leadership of the Mormons.
So far as I know there wasn't a word of truth in that, but the rumor got around, right after we reached Utah , and it made a lot of Mormons see red. Then somebody started working the Indians up against us, by telling them our party had been poisoning springs and water holes, to kill their horses. Now that just isn't so, nobody in our party would do a thing like that. Even if they had been mean enough, they wouldn't have been such fools as to do a thing like that in a country filled with Indians that were none too friendly to begin with. Then there was the fact that our party came from the same general district where Parley Pratt, a Mormon missionary, had been murdered by J. H. McLean, because Pratt had run away with McLean 's wife and two small sons.
McLean didn't live in Arkansas . That just happened to be the place where he caught up with Pratt, after tracking him back and forth across the country. The McLeans lived in New Orleans , and in the Summer of 1854 Parley Pratt went there, hunting for new recruits, married women or unmarried women, it didn't seem to make much difference, so long as they would drop everything and follow him. I don't know why she did it, but Mrs. McLean listened to his arguments, took up with him, and ran away with him taking her two children with her… [Baker retells the Hector McLean story, not very accurately.]
Mrs. McLean took charge of the funeral. She got Blacksmith Wynn to order some boards, all planed and dressed, from a sawmill run by the father of John Steward, who was 16 at the time and afterwards became deputy sheriff of Crawford County, and the coffin was made out of them. Then young Steward hauled the body in the coffin out to the burial grounds in his daddy's ox-cart. They didnít have any preacher. Mrs. McLean did the only talking that was done and among other things she said Pratt had been crucified.
After that, she went on to Salt Lake City , and nobody in our part of the country ever heard anything more about her. But early in 1857, just before our party set out for California , two Mormons showed up at Wynn's blacksmith shop and asked him a lot of questions. Then they turned back north, along the same route our party followed a few weeks later, and it certainly looks like those two Mormons found out that we were figuring on passing through Utah on our way to California and told the Danites, or Destroying Angels of the Mormons, to be on the lookout for us, because we were from the same district where Pratt was murdered.
At any rate, we sure did get a mighty unfriendly reception when we finally did reach Utah . By that time, the Mormons didn't have much use for anybody who wasn't a Mormon.
Off and on, ever since they took over Utah , the Mormons had been bickering with the Federal Government, insisting that they had a right to run everything to suit themselves. It finally got so bad President Buchanan issued an order removing Brigham Young as governor of the territory, and appointing Alfred Cumming to take his place. And just before we landed in Utah , the Mormons heard that Cumming was on his way out, backed up by an army of 2500 men. That made the Mormons mad as hornets, so mad, in fact, that Brigham Young issued a proclamation defying the Federal Government and proclaiming martial law, but the members of our party didn't know anything about that, and walked right into the hornet's nest.
When our caravan reached Salt Lake City in August, our supplies just about out, everybody tired and hungry, and our horses and cattle lean and badly in need of rest and a chance to graze, we were told to, move on and be quick about it. On top of that, the Mormons refused to sell us any food, that ís what I was told when I was growing up and I've always believed it was so.
So we had to move on, down to Mountain Meadows, in what is now Washington County , Utah . Mountain Meadows was a narrow valley, lying between two low ranges of hills, with plenty of fresh water, supplied by several little streams, and lots of grass for our stock to graze. So it looked like a good place for our party to rest up before tackling the 90-mile desert that lay just ahead. A lot has been written about what was going on among the Mormons while our party was resting at Mountain Meadows. Both sides of the question have been gone into pretty thoroughly, with a lot of arguments and evidence on each side, so anybody who wants to form his own opinion can took up the books on the subject and make his choice.
Some writers say that officials of the Mormon church stirred the Indians up and kept egging them on till they attacked us, and then told their own folks to jump in and help the Indians finish up the job, after tricking our men into giving up their guns. But the Mormon writers insist that nobody with any real authority in the church organization knew what was going on till it was too late for them to stop it, even though they tried their best. They admit, though, that there were some Mormons mixed up in it, and years after it was over, they laid most of the blame on John D. Lee, who was a Mormon and an Indian agent. But I'll tell about that later.
On the morning of September 7, our party was just sitting down to a breakfast of quail and cottontail rabbits when a shot rang out from a nearby gully, and one of the children toppled over, hit by the bullet.
Right away, the men saw they were being attacked by an Indian war-party. In the first few minutes of fighting, twenty-two of our men were  shot down, seven of them killed outright. Everybody was half starved to death and I reckon the whole crowd would have been wiped out right then and there if Captain Fancher hadn't been such a cool-headed man.
He had things organized in next to no time. All the women and children were rounded up in the corral, formed by the wagons, and the men divided into two groups, one to throw up breastworks with picks and shovels and the other to fire back at the Indians.
The fighting kept up pretty regularly for four days and nights. Most of our horses and cattle were driven away. Our ammunition was running out. We were cut off from our water supply. Altogether, it looked pretty hopeless but I donít think our men would have ever surrendered if John D. Lee and his crowd hadnít tricked them.
According to the way I heard it, while we were trapped down there in the valley, just about perishing for lack of water and food, John D. Lee and some of the other Mormons held a strange kind of prayer meeting back in the woods, just out of sight of our camp. They knelt down and prayed for Divine instructions, and then one of them named John M. Higbee, who was a major in the Mormon militia, got up and said: “I have evidence of God ís approval of our mission.”
“He said all of our party must be put out of the way, and that none should be spared who was old enough to tell tales. Then they decided to let the Indians kill our women and older children, so no Mormon would be guilty of shedding innocent blood. They figured that more than likely all of our men were guilty of some sin or other, if it wasn't any thing worse than hating Mormons, and really should be killed, but maybe the women and older children were innocent of any wrong-doing, and it seems Mormons prided themselves on being right scrupulous about shedding innocent blood.
Years later, when he was put on trial, John D. Lee insisted he was against the whole idea and tried to talk the others out of it, but that Major Higbee, Philip Klingensmith, who was a Mormon bishop, and some of the others told him he would have to go through with it, He said Higbee told him: “Brother Lee, I am ordered by President Haight to inform you that you shall receive a crown of Celestial glory for your faithfulness, and your eternal joy shall be complete.”
I don't know whether or not that ís true, but that ís what Lee said, and he claimed he had to follow orders because Haight was president of the Stake of Zion, or division of the church, at Cedar City .
But anyway, on the morning of September 11, John D. Lee and another Mormon came down toward our camp carrying a white flag and our men sent out a little girl dressed in white, to show that they were ready to come to terms.
Then Lee came on down to the camp and said the Indians had gone hog wild but that the Mormons would try to save us and take us all to Cedar City, the nearest big Mormon settlement, if our men would give up their guns.
Well, our men didn't have much choice. It was either stick it out and fight till the last of us was killed or starved, or else take Lee up on his proposition, even though it did sound fishy.
So the guns were all put in one wagon and sent on ahead. Then the wounded and the young children, including me, my two sisters and my baby brother were put in another wagon. My mother and father had been wounded during the fighting, so they were in the wagon with us children.
It ís funny how you will recall unimportant details, after so many years. I remember, for instance, that the blankets we had with us in that wagon were bright red and had black borders.
After the wagon I was in had set out, the women and the older children followed us on foot. Then the Mormons made the men wait until the women and children were a good ways ahead before starting the men out single file, about ten feet apart. I think my grandfather must have been in that procession. Betty and I never could find out for sure just when he was killed, all we could learn was that he was killed during the massacre.
Each of our men had an armed Mormon walking right by his side. They said that was because the Indians might start acting up again, but that wasn't the real reason, as you will soon see.
The line had been moving along slowly for some little distance, when all of a sudden the figure of a white man appeared in the bushes with Indians all around him. I've heard that he was Higbee and that he shouted: “Do your duty!”
Anyway, the Indians opened fire and then charged down with their tomahawks. Each Mormon walking along with our men wheeled around suddenly and shot the man next to him, killing most of them on the spot.
The women and older children screamed at the top of their lungs and scattered every which way, but the Indians ran them down. They poked guns into the wagon, too, and killed all of the wounded. As I have already said, my father and mother were killed right before our eyes.
One of the Mormons ran up to the wagon, raised his gun and said: “Lord, my God, receive their spirits, it is for Thy Kingdom that I do this.î Then he fired at a wounded man who was leaning against another man, killing them both with the same bullet.
A 14-year-old boy came running up toward our wagon, and the driver, who was a Mormon, hit him over the head with the butt end of his gun, crushing the boyís skull. A young girl about 11 years old, all covered with blood, was running toward the wagon when an Indian fired at her point blank.
In the midst of all the commotion, the two Dunlap girls I spoke about before, Ruth, who was 18, and Rachel, who was 16 made a wild dash for a clump of scrub oaks on the far side of a gully.
Hidden in the scrub oaks, they must have thought they were safe but they weren't. Their bodies were found later, and the evidence is that they suffered far worse than any of the other women.
John D. Lee confessed to a lot of things about the Mountain Meadows Massacre before he was finally executed for his part in it, but he never would admit that he had anything to do with what happened to the Dunlap girls. Just the same, a 16-year-old Indian boy, named Albert, who worked on the ranch of Jacob Hamblin, a Mormon who lived near the Meadows, said that he saw the whole thing and here ís the way he told it:
Albert said another Indian found the girls, and sent for Lee. At first, Lee wanted to kill them then and there, because they were old enough to tell tales,î but the Indian begged him to wait a while, because they were so pretty. Ruth was old enough to realize what that meant, so she dropped on her knees and pleaded with Lee to spare her, promising that she would love him all her life if he would.
But, according to Albert, Lee and that Indian mistreated those poor girls shamefully and then slit their throats.
I don't know whether or not Lee himself attacked the Dunlap girls and murdered them, or was directly responsible for what happened to them. But there doesn't seem to be much doubt that they were brutally mistreated by somebody, before being murdered just as Jacob Hamlin's [sic] Indian boy said they were. Hamblin was on his way back to his ranch from Salt Lake City at the time of the massacre and when he got home Albert told him about the Dunlap girls. Then the Indian boy led Hamblin to a clump of oak bushes not far from where the massacre took place and showed him the bodies of the two girls, stripped of all their clothing.
At Lee's second trial, Hamblin took the stand and testified that what he saw seemed to bear out Albert's story, and that later on he talked to the Indian who was supposed to have been with Lee at the time, and that his account of it was pretty much the same as Albert's.
There has been a lot of argument over how much part the Indians played in the massacre and how much of it was due to the Mormons, some people even saying that the Indians didn't have anything to do with it at all, and that some of the Mormons disguised themselves as Indians just to lay the blame on them. I canít say as to the truth of that but I do know that my sister Betty, who died only a few months ago, always insisted that she had seen a lot of the Mormons down at the creek after it was all over, washing paint off their faces, and that she some that some of them at least had disguised themselves as Indians.
At any rate, while the Indians, or a crowd of savage looking men that appeared to be Indians, went around making sure that all the grown-ups were dead and giving a final shot to any who looked as if they had a spark of life left in them and also robbing the bodies of valuables well, while that was going on the Mormons rounded up all us children and took us off to their homes.
As I said, there were 17 of us, John Calvin Sorel, Lewis and Mary Sorel, Ambrose, Miriam and William Tagget, Francis Horn, .Angeline Annie and Sophronia Mary Huff, Ephriam W. Hugg, Charles and Triphenia Fancher, Rebecca, Louise and Sarah Dunlap and us three Baker children, Betty, Sallie and William Welch Baker. I remember that we were treated right well in the Mormon home where we lived until we were rescued.
I recall, too, that we had good food, and plenty of it. We had lots of rice and also honey right out of the comb. The only unpleasant thing that happened while we were there was when one of the older Mormon children in the house got mad at me and pushed me down stairs. I hurt my right hand, pretty badly and as a result of it I still have a long scar across the knuckles. That makes two scars I got from the Mormons.
The way Captain Lynch and his soldiers found us was by going around among the Mormons in disguise. I got to know him right well later on, and, he used to slap his leg and laugh like anything, as he told how he said to those Mormons: “You let those children go, or I'll blow you to purgatory.”
I never will forget the day we finally got back to Arkansas . You would have thought we were heroes. They had a buggy parade for us through Harrison . When we got around to our house, Grandma Baker, the one who refused to go to California , was standing on the porch. She was a stout woman and mighty dignified, too. When we came along the road leading up to the house she was pacing back and forth but when she caught sight of us she ran down the path and grabbed hold of us, one after the other and gave us a powerful hug.
Leah, our old Negro mammy, caught me up in her arms and wouldn't let me go. She carried me around all the rest of the day, even cooking supper with me in her arms. I remember she baked each of us children a special little apple turnover pie. We had creamed potatoes for supper that night, too, and they sure tasted good. Iíve been specially fond of creamed potatoes ever since. I remember I called all of the women I saw “mother.” I guess I was still hoping to find my own mother, and every time I called a woman “mother,” she would break out crying.
A good ways back I spoke of how the John S. Baker party set out behind our party but never could catch up with us, and now I want to tell what happened to them. At the time of the massacre, they were only about two days travel behind us, and somebody came along and told them about it. They were just about scared out of their wits, of course, so the next morning they broke camp early and set out to skirt around the Meadows and head on across the desert.
The women had just tied their sunbonnets to the covered wagon bows and taken-off their shoes, as they usually did while traveling, when somebody shouted: “Indians coming!”
I don't know whether they were some of the same Indians that were in on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, or another band that heard about it and decided  to do a little killing on their own hook.
But anyway, they opened fire and galloped around and around, whooping and yelling.
As near as I can recollect, the members of the John S. Baker party were: Mr. and Mrs. Baker; their young daughter, who later became Mrs. Perry Price and died a few years ago near Berryville, Arkansas; their baby son, William Baker, who shouldnít be confused with my baby brother, Billy Baker; Dal Weaver, Mr. Bakerís uncle; Mrs. Dal Weaver; Dal's brother, Pink Weaver; two Weaver sisters; and three young men named Smith and their old mother.
Dal Weaver was shot and killed in the first attack and later robbed of $1,000 in gold he had in a money belt. One of his sisters was killed in the first attack, too, and a bullet hit little William Baker, inflicting a scalp wound, but he got over it. Several others were also wounded, but not seriously.
There were several wagons in the train and before the men could wheel them around and form a corral, one of the teams got away and lit out with its wagon. Some of the Indians took out after that wagon and when they captured it they found it had a couple of ten-gallon kegs in it, one of whisky and the other of peach brandy. So that whole band of Indians took time out from the pleasure of killing for the pleasure of getting drunk.
That ís the only reason any of the John S. Baker party managed to escape, it gave them a chance to figure out a trick.
Meanwhile, one of the Smith brothers jumped on a horse and took out in the hope of getting help. but the Indians saw him and one of them lassoed him. The last anybody saw of him he was being dragged away.
When the Indians were all good and drunk they started to close in on the little party, huddled behind their wagons. But just as the Indians were about to pounce on them, the men ripped open all the feather beds they had, and threw a big cloud of feathers into the Indians faces, setting up a kind of smoke screen. Before the stupefied Indians had time to figure out what had happened, the grown folks in the party lit out for the bushes, carrying the children. Two of the Smith boys carried their old mother by making a pack-saddle with their hands. I guess by that time the Indians were too drunk to follow them up.
Pink Weaver hurried on back down the trail as fast as he could, looking for help, and finally he ran across some of the soldiers sent out to back up Governor Cumming. Meanwhile, the others followed him, as best they could. When the soldiers finally located them they were so weak they could hardly walk. They were taken to Fort Leavenworth , Kansas , and cared for till they were able to travel on back to Arkansas .
In the Spring of 1859, Major James H. Carlton [sic] passed through Mountain Meadows and stopped there long enough to gather up the bones of the victims of the massacre. He found 34 skeletons and buried them in one place, under a heap of stones, and put up a cedar cross with these words on it: “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”
Later on, Captain R. P. Cam[p]bell passed through the Meadows and found 26 more skeletons, which he also buried there. That only accounts for about half of the victims. Nobody knows what became of the other bodies.
In later years, a granite slab was put up in the Meadows, and on it were these words: “Here one hundred and twenty men, women and children were massacred in cold blood in September, 1857. They were from Arkansas .”
Long after I had grown up and married and settled down, Captain Lynch, the man who rescued us, came to see me one day. He was in mighty high spirits and I could see right away he had something up his sleeve. He asked me if I remembered little Sarah Dunlap, one of the children he had rescued, and a sister of the two Dunlap girls who were killed. I said I sure did. Sarah was blind and had been educated at the school for the blind in Little Rock . I don't recall whether any injury she might have gotten in the massacre was what made her blind, but I do remember she grew up to be a really beautiful girl. Well, Captain Lynch said: “Guess what? I'm on my way to see Sarah.”
When he mentioned her name it looked like he was going to blow up with happiness. Then he told me why. He was on his way right then to marry Sarah, and he did. I guess he must have been forty years older than she was, but he sure was a spry man just the same. I never saw anybody could beat him when it came to dancing and singing.
Some time after the massacre, Federal Judge Cradlebaugh held an investigation and tried to bring to trial some of the Mormons. He was convinced were responsible for the crime, but he never got anywhere with it, and he was finally transferred from the district at his own request. Then the Civil War came on and nothing more was done about it until 1875.
[Account concludes with derivative information on the capture and trial of John D. Lee.]