New graves discovered in connection with Mountain Meadows Massacre
(KUTV) There may be more details than originally thought in one of the bloodiest and darkest chapters in Utah's history.
A California archaeologist claims he has found two additional graves related to the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre in Southern Utah that ended in the killing of 120 emigrant men, women and children who were passing through the area in 1857.
The current memorial site, a National Historical landmark, is on private property about 25 miles northwest of St. George off State Route 18 in Mountain Meadows.
Archaeologist Everett Basset, who traveled from Northern California to reveal his findings, says there is a lot of compelling evidence, including military records to prove it.
"It's understandable that no one has found them because they've basically been lost through time," Bassett said.
He used military records and other evidence to lead him to the new grave sites. Bassett said when he used the coordinates, he found the sites quicker than expected.
"I was actually standing on top of one looking around and I realized the dimensions had taken me exactly to the grave site," Bassett said.
On Sept. 11, 1857, about 140 migrants from Arkansas were traveling with covered wagon through the Southern Utah territory on their way to California. During their journey, the migrants stopped for resources, and quickly were surrounded by an estimated 50 to 60 Mormon militiamen.
Edward Lyman, Dixie State University Professor of History, explains that was when a four-day assault began on the emigrants. By the end of the assault, Militia Major John D. Lee along with several militiamen waved a white flag to de-escalate the tense situation and agreed to escort the travelers northward to Cedar City. The only caveat was that the migrants would have to give up their weapons and possessions.
While the emigrants were being escorted, the militia separated the youngest children from the adults. During the march, the militia turned on the travelers -- murdering nearly 120 people. Seventeen children's lives were spared.
"There are an overabundance of women and children in the massacre," Lyman said adding that after more than 150 years, there is still a lot of finger pointing about who is to blame for the murders.
"The church does not take the blame, but they acknowledge that fanatical Mormons trying to be loyal went too far."
Since there are a number of unmarked graves at the site, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints built a memorial off State Road 18 in Mountain Meadows to not only represent all those who died, but also to serve as historical landmark depicting that horrific day.
While the landmark represents the massacre site as a whole, the California archaeologist asserts that some of the current memorials not even in the right place.
"The men and boys monument is about half a mile away (from where coordinates say it should be) from my interpretation," Bassett said.
However there are some people, like treasure hunter Tim Draper, who has studied the Mountain Meadows Massacre for years and doesn't believe Bassett's findings are correct and questions the authenticity of the newly discovered graves.
"I don't believe they're real. I do believe they're a pile of rocks and I believe there's some evidence to explain why the piles of rocks are there," Draper said.
James McDonald, Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at Southern Utah University says military records have helped triangulate the scattered graves.
"This wasn't discovered previously because the rock cairns are actually in ravines and if you look down on those from above it really just looks like rock scatters from the fields," McDonald said adding that you have to know what you are looking for.
Whether people believe him or not, Bassett says he believes the discovery of these graves offers the descendants of the victims a greater sense of closure.
"I don't think it brings complete closure but I think it gets them a lot closer," he said.
Draper says the only way to know for sure if the graves are real or not is to "dig them up, look at the bones."
At this time there are no plans to dig up the graves to prove Bassett's theory.
The private land owner where the grave site is, says at this point, he does not want anyone digging up his land.
The Mountain Meadows Massacre: LDS.org website account can be found here.
The Mountain Meadows Massacre: website is here.
Photos and a story from Smithsonian Magazine can be found here.