Frank Kirkman's Mountain Meadows Massacre Site
Housing lots sprout near Mountain Meadows site  
By Mark Havnes
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 10/21/2007 02:01:55 AM MDT  
MOUNTAIN MEADOWS - The place where Mormon settlers and Paiute Indians slaughtered 120 California-bound immigrants a century-and-a-half ago is hallowed. It's historic. It's - marketable.
    Yes, housing lots are being snatched up just north of the Mountain Meadows Massacre site in southwestern Utah - and that has preservationists and descendants of the murdered victims worried that the future is creeping painfully close to a painful past.
    "It has always been a pastoral site, and we don't want to see a Burger King or Blockbuster go in or [see] it surrounded by a sea of housing," said Robert Briggs, a member of the Mountain Meadows Association, one of three groups with ties to massacre descendants.
    After last month's ceremony marking the 150th anniversary of the massacre, Briggs said an association member noticed a sign off State Road 18 advertising 49 lots in the new Mountain Meadows Estate subdivision.
    Briggs concedes property owners have the right to build on their land, but he hopes development doesn't overshadow the area's solemn history.
    So far, the area has dodged widespread development - in part, Briggs believes, out of respect for the site. But there are no guarantees future builders won't unleash the bulldozers.
    Briggs and others especially fret that development will tread near the LDS Church-owned monument, which Advertisement document.writeln(AAMB11); marks the spot where the Fancher-Baker wagon train was held under siege. They also fear builders could encroach too close to a proposed monument, planned about a mile to the north, where the immigrants were actually murdered and buried.
    This new North Grave Site Memorial would be built in conjunction with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which recently bought 16 acres where the massacre victims are believed to be buried.
    "It's simply a dream now," Briggs said. "We'll solicit ideas from all three [descendant groups] for a consensus for a monument before we go forward."
    Briggs hopes the groups eventually can protect the land through conservation easements with property owners in the meadows.
    "We have the opportunity to do something, so we should," Briggs said, "or be criticized by future generations."
    Elder Marlin K. Jensen, an LDS general authority and historian for the faith, said the church wants to do what it can to remember the site.
    "It would be wonderful," he said, "if we could help bring some peace to the descendants."
    Jensen said the church plans to work with the groups to design a monument they all agree on and will conduct an extensive survey of the property.
    "We have a landscape architect and other resources to do something as below [at the siege monument]," he said. "We plan on some fencing, making provisions for parking with a trail leading to the memorial."
    Jensen said the survey will entail ground-penetrating radar and aerial investigation of the massacre site, but the ground will not be disturbed.
    "We know there is a principal burial site, but there are bones scattered all over."
    Jensen notes that earlier the church bought about 70 acres around the siege monument to act as a buffer and supports efforts by the descendant groups to obtain conservation easements around the planned North Memorial.
    Patty Norris, president of the Mountain Meadows Massacre Descendants, said her group has worried about preservation for decades.
    "In the 150 years that have gone by, people try to ignore what happened there, but it is an issue that will not be ignored," she said. "The whole area is a holy area."
    Norris and others view the few homes that have popped up in the meadows as a slap to the massacre descendants.
    "We are quite tired of people not respecting the area," she said.
    Tracy Ence said his family members have no plans to develop the 10 acres they own in the meadows.
    "We run some horses and cattle and have a garden," Ence said. "It's where we go when we want to get away."
    Ence, whose family is responsible for many Washington County developments, said other landowners in the meadows have never demonstrated a desire to subdivide their property.
    "But," he added, "who knows about the next generation."
    To guard against that, Don Baker, a member of the Mountain Meadows Association, would like to see the area designated as a National Historic Site. Such a label would offer some protection without shifting control to the government.
    "Putting it in control of the government would be disastrous," said Baker, who lives in California. "What we don't want is a bureaucrat making decisions for us concerning the site."
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