Memorial Day is the day when we remember our war dead, but I don’t think many people consider the Fancher-Baker party as victims of war violence. Clearly it was the main deaths of the Utah War. Historian Mel Johnson says Mormon pioneer John Pierce Hawley rode with the Fancher-Baker party through Utah for a short time.
Mel: On the way back, the Hawleys end up riding along for about a week with the Fancher-Baker wagon immigrant train, and then they go on their way.
GT: So they got on their way before they got to the Mountain Meadows,
GT: Good thing for them.
Mel: Well, they still met up again. John says that he was very opposed to the plans to wipe out the train.
GT: So he was aware of these plans?
Mel: Early on [he was aware]. He was part of the men that were called out.
GT: So part of the Nauvoo Legion?
Mel: Well, it wasn’t the Legion, though they were Legion members. Notice the units were not called out. They were called out by priesthood relationship, and family relationships. Look at the number of brothers, uncles, nephews, cousins, that are among those 50 men. You don’t have a pattern, a militia organization. You have a pattern of family and relationships, and that makes sense.
Was his pistol used in this atrocious crime?
Mel: Several Masonic Mormon scholars have suggested that John D. Lee gave Masonic signs and promises that the immigrants would be protected. Whatever. They were lured out and we have all read the stories of the massacre. The only small thing other than John Hawley’s story that I’ve come up with would have been…
GT: Because you said the John Hawley was involved in the planning?
Mel: No, no, not at all. Let me finish this, then we’ll go to John Hawley. Medical forensics work showed that there were a number of pistol holes in the skeletons and skulls of men, women and children. The only two revolvers that I can find in the Iron County Militia Musters: men who owned revolvers that were thought to be at the killing fields was Indian missionary Ira Hatch and John Pierce Hawley.
Mel: Now Hawley says that he did not approve. Hawley says he was not there. But his brother, George, was there. His brother, William, was there and at least one, if not both, actively participated. Maybe George or William borrowed John’s pistol. I don’t know. But, also, there’s another possibility for those pistol shots. Maybe revolvers were removed from the possession of the immigrants and then used against them. But, there’s indication that John could have been there. John D. Lee said John was there.
Historian Mel Johnson tells us that Hawley was a vocal critic of the crime, and his life may have even been on the line for his opposition. But the main question goes to Brigham Young. There is dispute among historians about Brigham Young’s knowledge about the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Is it true Brigham knew in Sept 1857? Did John D. Lee tell him the truth about the massacre?
Mel: Well, Brigham Young argued that he didn’t know the story for a long time after. I agree with Will Bagley and others that John D. Lee did not lie to Young and that Jacob Hamblin told him the truth within two weeks. Hamblin is reciting second hand what the killers had told him.
GT: Because I know Barbara said that John D. Lee went up, I want to say September 29 to Salt Lake to talk to Brigham and Barbara says that John D. Lee lied and blamed it on the Indians.
Mel: That has been one of the standards of protection for President Young for a very long time, that John D. Lee lied.
GT: Okay, so you’re saying that Will Bagley believes that John D. Lee told Brigham the truth right from the get go?
Mel: And I do, too.
GT: You do, too.
Mel: And some other historians do. Jacob Hamblin was up there within 10 or 11 days. And I can imagine…
GT : Well, Jacob wasn’t part of the massacre.
Mel : No, he was not. He would be repeating what he heard second hand. But everybody lived in everybody’s hip pocket down there. You know, we have this idea that Dixie is this vast place, which it is, that takes forever for people and information to travel. No. On horseback from what is now Panguitch, or say, Circleville, the fort there is no more than a two-day travel down to Santa Clara. Native Americans, Mormons, other whites, Mexicans, and what they know are moving through this area all the time. It’s fluid, it’s constant.
Mel Johnson tells us what he thinks, and discusses pioneer John Hawley’s possible involvement, and his vocal disagreement, with the massacre.
Mel: Medical forensics work showed that there were a number of pistol holes in the skeletons and skulls of men, women and children. The only two revolvers that I can find in the Iron County Militia Musters: men who owned revolvers that were thought to be at the killing fields was Indian missionary Ira Hatch and John Pierce Hawley.
The evidence seems quite mixed. When do you think Brigham learned about the Mountain Meadows Massacre? Was he involved in the planning? Do you think John D. Lee lied, or told the truth to Brigham Young?