Monday, May 14, 2012

Visiting Some Relatives III: Mountain Meadows

The final side trip we took when we went to Zion's was to go to Mountain Meadows.  

Mountain Meadows is where the "Mountain Meadows Massacre" took place.  It is where about 120 out of 140 emigrants, heading for California, were murdered by local Mormon settlers in the area.  Only the youngest children were spared. The reasons for the attack are a source of great debate.  Many books have been written on the subject.  Even an awful movie was made.  My great-great-great-grandfather, John Doyle Lee, was part of the group of attackers.  He may even have been the leader.

There is now a large memorial and grave site there.

There is an original mound of rocks that the U.S. Army put there when investigating the massacre and to honor the dead, whose bones they collected and buried.  

The walls around it and around the burial site were built by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who bought land all around the site and dedicated the area in 1999 for a permanent memorial.

Descendants of those killed still bring flowers and notes to place at the graves.

It was very difficult to be there.  Because I had such mixed feelings.  It was a somber and sacred and silent place.  Only the sound of the incessant wind echoed over the little valley.  I felt the loss of all those people.  The horror they must have felt.  The betrayal.

But I also felt loss I didn't have the right to feel.  Loss of my great-great-great-grandfather.  He also died there.  Executed at the site of the massacre by the U. S. Government.  Twenty years after it happened. The only person ever tried and convicted and executed for the crimes committed there.  Many historians have called him a scapegoat.  Others have portrayed him as a monster.  Being his descendant is a source of shame.  A source of confusion. And a source of doubt.

I have read much about this incident.  I own several books.  John D. Lee, by Juanita Brooks seems the least biased.  I have read some of John D. Lee's journals.  But still I am bewildered.

I don't know what the truth is.  I wasn't there.  I want to believe my ancestor's account of what happened.  I want to believe he had some level of innocence. But I don't know.  

I thought I would feel some sort of peace from visiting this site.  But I didn't.  Just an empty feeling.  And that may be all I can ever hope for.

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