Frank Kirkman's Mountain Meadows Massacre Site
Deseret NEWS

S. Utah town rejects Lee statue
By Nancy Perkins
Deseret Morning News
Published: April 29, 2004

WASHINGTON, Washington County — Peg Whitwood is delighted that a bronze statue of her controversial grandfather, John Doyle Lee, won't be erected on a pedestal at Washington City's Pioneer Plaza after all. "I was so worried the council would vote the other way," Whitwood, 88, said following the vote. "He was a brave and innocent man. His family has suffered enough."

The City Council voted 3 to 2 Wednesday night against displaying a commissioned statue of Lee, the only person tried, convicted and executed for participating in the Sept. 11, 1857, massacre of 120 Arkansas emigrants in a grassy Washington County valley pasture — Mountain Meadow.

"This was the right decision. It was the right decision for the descendants of the wagon train and for others," said Kent Bylund, a board member of the nonprofit Mountain Meadows Association. "If the council had voted the other way, there were dozens of families who would have canceled their vacations and reunions here."

Descendants from both sides of what became known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre were at Wednesday's council meeting and clashed often on the subject of recognizing Lee with a statue.

In the end, the council decided Lee's place in history does not belong on a pedestal in Washington city.

"Yes, we are elected to face controversy, but we were not elected to continue it," said council member Jean Arbuckle. "Certainly, whether John D. Lee did something wrong or not isn't the point, it's not the issue. But this has turned the city against itself."

The City Council commissioned local artist Jerry Anderson to sculpt the Lee statue more than a year ago, along with four other statues of city founders. Lee's statue remains in Anderson's studio, while the others are now prominently displayed on the grounds of the city's historical museum.

Arbuckle, who earlier voted in support of the statue, said she wanted the mayor to find the $35,000 Lee statue another home, preferably one outside of the city limits or on private property.

"As a city we would be far better off to not put the statue up at all," said council member Steve VanDerHeyden, who voted to get rid of the Lee statue. "It degrades the memory of the innocent and will have a negative impact on the city, county, state and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints."

Lee, a former LDS bishop and adopted son of Brigham Young, was taken back to Mountain Meadows for his execution, years after the attack on the wagon train.

"We ought to sell the John D. Lee statue, put him on eBay, melt him down or get rid of him somehow," suggested VanDerHeyden, who said maybe the Lee family would like to purchase the statue as a family heirloom.

Raeola Connell, another Lee descendant, said the council's actions, and VanDerHeyden's comments in particular, were "very upsetting."

"There is so much hatred, and there shouldn't be," she said. "We all ought to be able to forgive."

Council members Trent Staheli and Michael Heaton both voted against the motion to dump the Lee statue.

"I really thought that we were a forgiving enough people, but this thing really disappoints me," said Heaton. "Are we so hard hearted and so full of hate that there are threats of violence? We still have that spirit here today. This hate has gone on to another generation. I really feel bad about that."

"It looks like we're outvoted tonight — you folks can go celebrate tonight," Staheli said to those in the audience who applauded the council's split decision. "I'm disappointed that this council can't stand by their earlier decision. What happens if someone buys the statue and puts it up in a prominent place in town anyway?"

Arbuckle said that by then the statue would belong to someone else.

"That'll be their problem. Not the city's," she said.



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