Frank Kirkman's Mountain Meadows Massacre Site
Note: It appears that the LDS Church has given us an answer to our request for a change in stewardship. It came in the form of a Deseret news article written for Mormons and by Mormons for Mormon consumption.  

Mountain Meadows: Church asked to turn over site, take names off records

By Carrie A. Moore
Deseret Morning News

Published: Sept. 1, 2007 12:53 a.m. MDT

When three separate groups gather in southern Utah next weekend to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, it won't be a simple case of the living honoring the dead.

Two groups that include descendants of Mountain Meadows victims and survivors want The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to allow either federal control or a private trusteeship of the site about 35 miles northwest of St. George. One is seeking to have the church remove from LDS baptismal rolls the names of all wagon train victims and survivors.

And a third group said they simply are seeking to perpetuate a spirit of love and forgiveness.

While the LDS Church will be there to honor the memory of those who died, church historian Elder Marlin K. Jensen said the church has no plans to relinquish control of the site, where it owns about 125 acres, despite the anticipated requests.

He told the Deseret Morning News the church already has "indicated we're not interested in doing that, that we've owned much of the property for many years."

The church recently acquired about 70 acres near the monuments it owns there "as a buffer to protect our access" and another 16 acres about a mile north of the existing monument site adjacent to state Road 18, where it is believed many of the massacre victims are buried.

At that so-called upper grave site, the church is working in cooperation with the three descendant groups to "provide parking and a walkway to the actual site where the grave apparently existed, along with some type of memorial structure. We've sought to preserve it and to provide an appropriate memorial for those who were killed there," Elder Jensen said. "We'll keep that commitment into the future and attempt to do it in a cooperative way with the three interested organizations.

"I don't think our position on that will change."

As to what his response will be on Sept. 11, when the groups all meet and two of them are expected to ask the church for private control of the property, he said, "I think that day is to honor and remember the people who were slain there rather than debate the merits of whether the government or the church or someone else ought to own that property. But I'm sure we'll face that issue again in the future."

A request earlier this summer for federal stewardship of the site was rejected by the church, as was a similar request in 1999. But among the activities planned by the Mountain Meadows Monument Foundation during its meetings in Cedar City next weekend is a further discussion about stewardship of the site and another request that the church allow it.

The group, known as MMMF, has circulated a petition asking that the site "be under the custody and care of all the people of the United States of America . It is our strong belief that the current stewardship is not appropriate for the care and preservation of this battleground and the bodies interred there."

Another group, Mountain Meadows Massacre Descendants, also will discuss oversight for the area during meetings in Cedar City and ask members to vote on whether they would like to see the site placed in federal hands or governed by descendants of those who were either killed or survived the massacre.

MMMD president Patty Norris said she will then convey the feeling of the group to the LDS Church during a joint meeting on the morning of Sept. 11 of all the groups involved at Mountain Meadows. As to how the church will respond, she said there are "no LDS members buried there. I can't imagine why they would object to that, given the circumstance."

Norris' group is open only to descendants of massacre victims or survivors, and in a poll of members earlier this year regarding stewardship of the site, "the feedback from nearly 100 percent of the membership is that they would vote for one or the other (federal oversight or a trusteeship)."

She said while funding for a private trusteeship hasn't been discussed in detail, she anticipates the group would seek grant money, among other sources. She said the group has yet to decide whether to invite an LDS representative to share with the group what they would envision such an arrangement to be.

Though Mountain Meadows was designated by the National Register of Historic Places as a "historic site" in 1975, in order to secure federal oversight, the LDS Church , as the property owner, would have to cooperate in the move. The government has not expressed interest in taking over the site at this point.

This year will mark 150 years since Sept. 11, 1857, when 120 unarmed men, women and children wagon train emigrants on their way from Arkansas to California were murdered in the remote meadow by Latter-day Saint militiamen on orders from their superiors, who were local leaders of the LDS Church in the Cedar City area.

After nearly a century and a half of angst over what occurred there, top LDS leaders have attempted in recent years to properly memorialize the victims by erecting monuments, walking paths and parking lots at the site. This month, the church's widely circulated magazine, the Ensign, contains an article for Latter-day Saints that acknowledges the part local leaders of the church in that area played in planning and carrying out the massacre.

The church maintains that then-church President Brigham Young did not order the massacre, and in fact, sent word which arrived too late to let the party pass through the area unharmed. A book by three LDS Church historians detailing their research into the events is scheduled for publication by Oxford University Press in the near future.

Other historical accounts and a new fictionalized feature film, "September Dawn" have erroneously portrayed Young as the one who ordered the massacre.

The Ensign article, which was first posted on the church's Web site in June after a PBS documentary film "The Mormons" explored the massacre, is believed to be the church's first detailed public examination of LDS leadership and participation in the murders in more than a century.

As to whether the church will offer a formal apology for the massacre, Elder Jensen said he doesn't know. "I know that the (church's) First Presidency will authorize a statement to be made" during the Sept. 11 commemoration. "I'm sure it will be a statement in the spirit of that occasion, but I don't know the exact content at this point."

Only one local church leader, John D. Lee, was tried, convicted and executed in the 19th century for his leadership and participation in the massacre.

As next weekend's events unfold, members of the MMMF also are expected to discuss whether to formally request that the LDS Church remove the names of all wagon train victims and survivors from the church's baptismal data base. Latter-day Saints perform vicarious baptisms for the dead in their temples with the belief that such ordinances are required for exaltation in heaven after death.

Elder Jensen said such requests are considered on an individual basis and "under appropriate circumstances, we do grant requests to the extent that we no longer display those records in our public data bases. We have no way, as a church, of undoing ordinances that have been performed.

"But out of courtesy, if there is a strong relationship demonstrated between the submitter and the party for whom ordinance work was done, in some limited instances we've limited the view of those names in our public data bases out of respect to those making the request and out of respect to the dead."

He said the only such request from Mountain Meadows descendants he knows of to date came from Scott Fancher with the MMMF to have two or three names removed, and that request was granted.

While two Mountain Meadows organizations are seeking changes in stewardship, officials with the oldest and largest group the Mountain Meadows Association have centered their efforts around reconciliation, love and forgiveness, according to one of the founding members and current treasurer, LeRoy Lee.

The group which included descendants of both massacre victims and perpetrators was involved back in 1990 during the construction of the first major monument at the site.

"We felt love and harmony and thought it was all settled," he said. But after that, "others heard about it, and it all got stirred up again."

Lee, who is a descendant of massacre leader John D. Lee, said MMA members appreciate the LDS Church 's efforts to create harmony among the descendants of all the parties involved, and many are skeptical about those who seek to have the church surrender its stewardship of the site.

"This isn't the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone . There's no way to make any money out there. People spend a lot of money at those other venues. Experience shows that when you turn something over to the feds, you have to charge a fee to come in, and if it doesn't generate enough money, they just close it up," Lee said.

The group's commemorative activities include memorial services, a concert and a dinner meeting with Utah historian David Bigler at the Dixie Center in St. George. During the Sept. 11 memorial with all the concerned groups, Lee said MMA president Terry Fancher will tell those present that "we want the church to keep the property and maintain it, and they'll do it properly.

Response by: Ron Wright
 
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