9/11 is remembered for the attack in 2001, but on that same day in 1857 another tragedy occurred.
It all took place in an area known as Mountain Meadows in the South-Western area of the Utah Territories.
It was a horrible mixture of paranoia, obsession, revenge, hate, and just bad timing.
Though the exact nature of the events are debated even today, some things are known.
The mid 1800's was a tough time for the Mormons. To put it simply, America hated them. Why? Reasons range from the practice of polygamy to the possibility of political aspirations from church leaders. Widespread mob attacks, murders, rapes, plundering, pillaging was common practice. In 1838 the "Extermination Order" was issued in Missouri which legalized the killing of Mormons who refused to get off their land. The last straw was the brutal murder of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith in 1844.
Under the leadership of Brigham Young the Mormons left what was America and fled into Mexico establishing settlements all across the west.
Time went by and Utah became a US territory with Brigham Young as the governor. Even so, the Mormons maintained an isolation from the US for fear that the persecutions would follow them. Early in 1857 rumors, that turned out to be true, told of an expedition from the US government meant to abolish the Mormon hold of the area by force if necessary. (General Albert Johnston who headed this party noted that the Mormons were no threat to the government and were ready to "burn down everything they built up" before allowing themselves to be run off their land again.)
Along with this many different wagon trains were traveling in and around Utah that had historical and recent violent confrontations with Mormon groups. (Most notably a group called the "wild cats" who, among other things, claimed to have Joseph Smith's head in their wagon).
Due to these problems Brigham Young issued an order than no wagon train was to pass through Utah without specific permission from him.
Unfortunately, this order was issued after a group from Arkansas traveling toward California, known as the Fancher-Baker party, were already in Utah when the order was given. Being stopped by groups of Mormons in Cedar City, they stopped at Mountain Meadows to decide what to do next.
A group of Mormons living in Cedar City, for reasons both feverish in reason and obtuse, thought that this group wanted to harm them. No indication from the wagon train was given that they meant the Mormons any harm. John D. Lee and other local church, government, and military leaders riled the people up and was able to garner support from a local Paiute Indians.
Early in the morning on September 7th a group of roughly 200 Paiute Indians, and a few Mormons dressed like Indians began to attack the Francher-Baker party. The party put up a good defense by circling their wagons but even so several were killed and dozens injured. The siege by the Indians (and a few Mormons) lasted five days during which time the party had no access to food or fresh water.
During this time, September 10th to be exact, Brigham Young wrote this letter to be delivered to the people of Cedar City: "In regard to emigration trains passing through our settlements, we must not interfere with them until they are first notified to keep away. You must not meddle with them. The Indians we expect will do as they please but you should try and preserve good feelings with them. There are no other trains going south that I know of. If those who are there will leave let them go in peace." Some people claim this letter contains a hidden message that the massacre should go on. Either way, the massacre was already in effect when Young wrote the letter. Young was in Salt Lake at the time, about 250 miles away from Cedar City. Another church group in a town closer to Cedar City, Parowan, met and decided that the wagon train should be allowed to leave, though some believe that those responsible for enforcing this ignored it for fear that the wagon train knew about the Mormon's part in the attack. They didn't want bad publicity.
On September 11th a group of Mormon militia men, under the direction of John D. Lee, they raised a white flag and met with the leaders of the wagon train. Lee told them that they were able to negotiate a surrender with the Indians. That if they gave up their weapons and livestock to the Indians, and put themselves under the care of the Mormons, that they would be led away safely. The wagon train agreed and gave up their weapons.
They lined up with the supposed caretakers. The wounded were put in a wagon nearby. Then John D. Lee gave the order "Do Your Duty" and the Mormon militia and some nearby Indians, Shot and killed the settlers. Some tried to run but were quickly killed as well. Every Man, Woman, and Child, save those the Mormons thought too young to recall what happened, were brutally and heartlessly killed.
It's 2007 now. 150 years after what happened and the wound of what happened then still stings. It is a black spot on Utah and Mormon history that may never be healed, and I'm not entirely sure it should.
I'm a Mormon. An active and fully participating Mormon. Growing up not twenty miles away from Mountain Meadows I've always been aware of the mistakes from the past. Descendants of the wagon train met with descendants of John D. Lee and have made official, and genuine reparations for what happened. Today the two families are actually good friends, but lessons are learned.
What do I, a modern Latter-day Saint take from this?
1. Never let fear prevent you from following the admonition of Jesus Christ to love one another.
2. Don't get caught up in "group-thought" always stand up for what you know to be right. There were those back then who wanted to stop what happened, but didn't. Their blame, in my book at least, is just as severe.
3. Paranoia and extremism only leads to sadness and despair.
All good lessons for todays world to be sure. With modern feelings of hostility between different groups, with religious extremism and hostility growing, I hope people will look at what happened in Southern Utah 150 years ago and take note.
Please, if you wish to argue or debate the particulars of this event (something that historians have been doing since it happened) do it in another thread. This is for remembering the victims and learning from the mistakes of the past.