September 11, 1857 was the largest mass-murder in American history. Over 100 immigrants from Arkansas were killed in southern Utah. John D. Lee was the only person executed for this atrocity. In our conversation with Steve Mayfield, we’ll talk more about Lee’s involvement in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
GT: So as I understand it from what I understand what the Mountain Meadows Massacre, there’s a lot of tensions going on. John D. Lee kind of spurs the Indians to attack, says it’s going to be an easy target, but it’s not an easy target. And so, they surround themselves. So, John D. Lee and William Dame and Klingonsmith and Higbee, they’re kind of the leaders of this whole thing. So, they come out and they say, “Well, if you’ll turn over your weapons we will save you from the Indians.”
GT: So as I understand it, every Mormon man had a gun. [Each Mormon] was walking each man from the Fancher Party out. And then the women and children were kind of in the back and somebody gave a signal. Was it Lee that gave the signal?
Steve: I can’t remember.
GT: There was something to the effect of “Do your duty,” and then every Mormon man turned to the Fancher [Party] and shot and killed them. And then they left the women and children to be attacked by the Indians.
Steve: Yeah. Again, you’ve got so many different stories and the fact is I think they realized, whoops. Because when they reported back to Brigham in Salt Lake, what happened is not what they actually did. You know, they, they kind of lied to Brigham.
GT: Because Lee was one of the people that went to Brigham and told him what happened. But he lied about it.
Steve: Yeah. One of the interesting things is that supposedly the church or the church leaders trying to hide this. But I saw an article in New York Times two months later, before the end of the year, were talking about this massacre of white people done in southern Utah. I mean, it’s not like we have instant news today. But it was very quick when this started going around and when the government comes and then they to look into it. And again, the Johnston’s army there and all the government investigation. Here comes Mountain Meadows in the middle of it. Now of course, you know Brigham kind of telling John D. Lee to take off and hide because they were trying to find him. And of course, it was 20 years later when they [try him.]
GT: Ok, let’s make sure we’ve got those details there. So, Lee participates in the massacre. Of course, he wasn’t the only person that was in the massacre.
This leads to a discovery in John D. Lee’s home. Lee owned a river crossing company on the Colorado River. A lead scroll was found at Lee’s Ferry in Arizona, now known as the Dead Lee Scroll. What is it exactly?
Steve: Well, one of the documents or artifacts that came up in 2002 was a lead plate they found down in Lee’s Ferry and it’s been given the nickname of Dead Lee Scroll. Will Bagley gave it that name. It’s a piece of lead. [It’s] very thin. So, it’s not the hardest thing.
So, he is in there cleaning. And all of the sudden he come across this thing rolled up. He opens it comes up and starts reading John D. Lee. Whoa! That has something to do with it. So, he cleans it off and they look at and they come up, hey, is this a confession? Is just some document that points out to it. Well, of course, boom, everybody loves it. Well, March of 2002, the archaeologist for the Park Service, she’d taken it to Phoenix and showed it to Bill Flynn who worked with George Throckmorton on the Hofmann documents. Bill Flynn’s not LDS. Then she brings up to Salt Lake to George Throckmorton who was my boss at the time in Salt Lake Police crime lab. And so, he examined it, taking pictures of it and everything.
Was it a long-lost admission of guilt from the only person convicted of participating in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, John D. Lee? Steve Mayfield will tell us more about it and attempts to authenticate it. (It features forensic expert George Throckmorton, who we interviewed previously!) If you want to see photos of the scroll and Lee’s Ferry, Go to Youtube.com/GospelTangents to see the video. Steve was kind enough to share some of his photos with me.
It isn’t clear of the Dead Lee Scroll is a Hofmann forgery, but we talked about another of Mark’s forgeries. Mark Hofmann tried to create evidence of the Spalding Conspiracy. There has long been a theory that Book of Mormon was plagiarized from a manuscript originally written by Solomon Spaulding (or Spalding.) The problem with the theory is that there was never a connection between Joseph Smith and Solomon Spaulding—until Mark Hofmann came up with a document. Steve Mayfield talks about buying this Hofmann forgery.
Steve: So, in January of 2000, the former owner of Cosmic Aeroplane sold it to Ken Sanders who used to work there. He now had his own bookstore there in Salt Lake, Ken Sanders Books. Well he had it on display and I’m just sitting there just [thinking], “Oh, oh, I love it.” But it was like $4,000 they wanted for it. Well, I had enough in a credit card, so I bought it from him.
GT: Oh my goodness.
Steve: In August of 2000. So, for four years I owned a Hofmann.
GT: You knew it was a forgery.
Steve: Yeah, Yeah. I mean he sold it as that. The minute he sold it after I bought it, I take it back to the office and show George [Throckmorton.] He showed some things on the document that only he and I know.
I guess this proves there is a market for Hofmann forgeries! What do you think of Steve’s purchase? What are your thoughts on the Dead Lee Scroll? What lessons should we learn from the Mountain Meadows Massacre?