Baker–Fancher party

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The Baker–Fancher party, a wagon train of non-Mormon settlers crossing southern Utah Territory were attacked by the Utah Territorial Militia who perpetrated the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre during the Utah War.

The Baker–Fancher party (also called the Fancher–Baker party, Fancher party, or Baker's Company) was the name used to collectively describe the American western emigrants from four northwestern counties in Arkansas, specifically Marion, Crawford, Carroll, and Johnson counties, who departed Carroll County in April 1857 and "were attacked by the Mormons and Santa Clara tribe of Indians near the rim of the Great Basin, and about fifty miles from Cedar City, in Utah Territory, and that all of the emigrants, with the exception of 17 children, were then and there massacred and murdered"[1] in the Mountain Meadows massacre. Sources estimate that between 120 and 140 men, women and children were killed on September 11, 1857, at Mountain Meadows, a rest stop on the Old Spanish Trail, in the Utah Territory. Some children of up to six years old were taken in by the Mormon families in Southern Utah, presumably because they had been judged to be too young to tell others about the massacre.[2]


Fanchers' livestock brand,
a monogrammed J-F.

Registered in 1852 at
Tulare County, California
intended destination of ill-fated
Captain Alexander Fancher's
older brother John

The Baker-Fancher party consisted of several smaller parties that set out separately from the Ozarks in northwestern Arkansas, and then joined up along the way. Many of the families in the group were prosperous farmers and cattlemen with ample financial resources to make the journey west. Some of the groups had family and friends in California awaiting their arrival, as well as many relatives remaining in Arkansas. Among the groups were the Baker train, led by Captain John Twitty Baker from Carroll County, and the Fancher train, led by seasoned expeditioner Alexander Fancher,[3] which left from Benton County. Other groups included the Huff train, which also left from Benton, the Mitchell, Dunlapp, and Prewitt trains which left from Marion County, and the Poteet–Tackitt–Jones, Cameron, and Miller trains which left from Johnson County. Pleasant Tackitt, from the Poteet–Tackitt–Jones train, was a Methodist minister who led the others in worship and prayer services while on their journey.[citation needed] When the groups left Arkansas in April 1857, the total company numbered more than 200.[4] However, during the journey, some groups split off and others joined. Some of the trains that joined the company may have been from other states, such as Missouri.[5]

The party was well outfitted with wagons, traveling carriages, a large herd of cattle estimated at close to 1,000 head, oxen, as well as numerous horses. They joined the expedition for various reasons; some to settle permanently in California, some to drive cattle west for profit, and some to find California gold. Like other emigrant groups traveling to California, they took money with them and planned to replenish their supplies in Salt Lake City for the remainder of the trip.[6] The actual date of arrival in Salt Lake City is unknown, but historian, Juanita Brooks, places the arrival as August 3 or August 4, 1857 based on reports in the Journal History of the LDS Church.[7] The Arkansans arrived in Utah with over 800 head of cattle and were low on supplies when they reached the Salt Lake area, a major resupply destination for overland emigrants.

Emigrants associated with the Baker–Fancher Party[edit]

Families leaving before reaching Utah Territory[edit]

As the different wagon parties traveled across the plains, some of those left by the wayside, ended up traveling to other destinations in safety. If Missourians had ever been these trains' fellow travelers,[8][9] none are known to share these Arkansans' fate. The following is a list of those known to have separated themselves before arriving in the Utah Territory:

  1. Smith
  2. Morton
  3. Hudson
  4. Basham
  5. Haydon
  6. Reed
  7. Stevenson
  8. Hamilton
  9. Farmer
  10. Lafoon and/or Laffoon
  11. Poteet - cousins to the Tackitt family (left and went to Texas the day before the massacre)

(Various other Arkansas trains are believed to have been associated with the Fancher–Baker party while on their journeys westward, yet they did not perish with them, include the Crooked Creek, Campbell, Parker, and [John S.] Baker – as distinct from the [John Twitty] Baker – trains.)

The Page Family
The Page family - siblings Lewis (rear), L to R – Samuel, Clarissa (Coffman), and John. Left the Baker–Fancher Party before arriving at Mountain Meadows. Taken before 1918 in Clarksville, El Dorado County, California

Families leaving in Utah Territory[edit]

The following is a list of those believed to have separated from the Fancher–Baker party, while it was passing through the Utah Territory:

  1. Eaton, William M.
  2. Edwards, Silas
  3. Rush, Milum L., 28
  4. Stallcup, Charles, 25
  5. The John R. Page Family

Members of the wagon train who were at Mountain Meadows[edit]

The following table contains a list of those believed to have been killed during the massacre, along with the survivors (who are listed in bold). The table also lists if the person was listed on the 1955 Monument in Harrison, Arkansas, or on the 1990 Monument in Mountain Meadows.

Interactions with Mormons on road toward Mountain Meadows[edit]

As these smaller groups arrived in the Utah Territory, they combined together to create the Baker-Fancher Party. The settlers of the Utah Territory were almost entirely Mormons, who were busy preparing for the so-called Utah War, while troops from the United States Army were marching towards the territory to put down a believed rebellion. It was during this period of tension that the Baker-Fancher party passed through the Utah Territory, and soon rumors among the Mormons linked the Baker–Fancher train with enemies who had participated in previous persecutions of Mormons along with more recent malicious acts. The Mormons considered the emigrants of an alien status because of Brigham Young's war time orders forbidding travel through Utah without a required pass – which the Fancher–Baker party did not have.[10] However, Captain Baker and Fancher would not have been aware of Young's martial law order since it was not made public until September 15, 1857.[11]

Map of the California trail in southern Utah at the time of the massacre.[12]

With the Baker-Fancher party and the Missourians of William C. Dukes' wagon train having assisted each other on their western journeys, it was believed by some locals that the Baker-Fancher party were joined by eleven members of a Missouri militia calling itself the "Wildcats." (Yet there is debate on whether these miners and plainsmen stayed with the slow-moving Fancher party after leaving Salt Lake City, or even existed.)[13][14]

Meanwhile, the Mormons that the emigrant party encountered along the way were obeying Young's order to stockpile supplies in expectations of all-out war with approaching U.S. troops and declined to trade with the emigrants. This friction was added to by the "range war" that would be expected to erupt between local populations and any emigrants' leading vast herds of cattle – and indeed, both the Fancher and Dukes parties' stock would compete with locals' for grazing and sometimes would break through the Mormon colonists' fences. With the murder and the expulsion of U.S. Government surveyors, there was no demarcation of the territorial lands claimed by Native Americans, Mormons, and those that the Americans purchased from Mexico (Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo).[15] Yet in the war panic, such mundane complaints escalated into more ominous charges.

For example, according to John D. Lee, "They swore and boasted openly... that Buchanan's whole army was coming right behind them, and would kill every God damn Mormon in Utah.... They had two bulls which they called one "Heber" and the other "Brigham", and whipped 'em through every town, yelling and singing... and blaspheming oaths that would have made your hair stand on end."[16]

While Jacob Hamblin was in Salt Lake City he heard that the Fanchers had "behaved badly [...and had] robbed hen-roosts, and been guilty of other irregularities, and had used abusive language to those who had remonstrated with them. It was also reported that they threatened, when the army came into the north end of the Territory, to get a good outfit from the weaker settlements in the south."[17]

In his report of his investigation of the massacre, Superintendent for Indian Affairs in Utah Territory, Jacob Forney[18] said: "I [...made] strict inquiry relative to the general behavior and conduct of the company towards the people of this territory ..., and am justified in saying that they conducted themselves with propriety."

In Forney's interview with David Tullis who had been living with Jacob Hamblin, Tullis related that "[t]he company passed by the house...towards evening.... One of the men rode up to where I was working, and asked if there was water ahead. I said, yes. The person who rode up behaved civilly."[19]

In addition, William Rogers later related where Shirts related he "saw the emigrants when they entered the valley, and talked with several of the men belonging to it. They appeared perfectly civil and gentlemanly."[20]

On the way back from a circuit through southern Utah Territory, George A. Smith and his company camped near the Fancher–Baker party, at Corn Creek. Some members of Smith's party later testified that during their encampment they saw the Baker-Fancher party poison a spring and a dead ox, with the expectation that Native Americans would be poisoned.[21] Silas S. Smith, the cousin of George A., testified that the Fancher–Baker party suspiciously asked whether the Native Americans would eat a dead ox.[22] Although the poisoning story supported the old Mormon story that Native Americans had been poisoned and therefore conducted a massacre on their own,[23] modern historians generally discount the testimony and rumors about the poisoned ox and spring as false.[24] Nevertheless, the poisoning story preceded the Fanchers on their trip southward.[25]

Baker-Fanchers' arrival at Cedar City[edit]

Cedar City was the last major settlement where emigrants could stop to buy grain and supplies before a long stretch of wilderness leading to California.[26] When the Baker-Fancher train arrived there, however, they were turned a cold shoulder. Important goods were not available in the town store, and the local miller charged an exorbitant price for grinding grain.[26] As tension between the Mormons and the emigrants mounted, a member of the Baker-Fancher train was said to have bragged how he had the very gun that "shot the guts out of Old Joe Smith".[27] Other members of the party reportedly bragged about taking part in the Haun's Mill massacre some decades before in Missouri.[26] Others were reported by Mormons to have threatened to join the incoming federal troops, or join troops from California, and march against the Mormons.[28] According to one witness, the captain of the emigrant train, Alexander Fancher, rebuked these men on the spot for their inflammatory language against the Mormons.[26]

After staying less than one hour in Cedar City,[29] the emigrants passed over Leach's cutoff, passed the small town of Pinto and headed into Mountain Meadows. Here they stopped to rest and to regroup their approximately 800 head of cattle.

Siege and massacre[edit]

During the early morning hours of Monday, September 7[30] the Baker-Fancher party was attacked, at their Mountain Meadows camp, by as many or more than 200 Paiutes[31] and Mormon militiamen disguised as Native Americans.

The attackers were positioned in a small ravine south-east of the emigrant camp.[32] As the attackers shot into the camp, the Baker-Fancher party defended itself by encircling and lowering their wagons, along with digging shallow trenches and throwing dirt both below and into the wagons. Seven emigrants were killed during this opening attack and were buried somewhere within the wagon encirclement; sixteen more were wounded. The attack continued for five days, during which the besieged families had little or no access to fresh water and their ammunition was depleted.[10]

On Friday, September 11, 1857, two Mormon militiamen approached the Baker-Fancher party wagons with a white flag and were soon followed by Indian agent and militia officer John D. Lee. Lee told the battle-weary emigrants that he had negotiated a truce with the Paiutes, whereby they could be escorted safely the 36 miles back to Cedar City under Mormon protection in exchange for turning all of their livestock and supplies over to the Native Americans.[33] Accepting this, the emigrants were led out of their fortification. When a signal was given, the Mormon militiamen turned and murdered the male members of the Baker-Fancher party standing by their side. According to Mormon sources, the militia let a group of Paiute Indians execute the women and children. Some children were killed while in their mothers' arms or after being crushed by the butts of rifles or boot heels. The bodies of the dead were gathered and looted for valuables, and were then left in shallow graves or on the open ground. Members of the Mormon militia were sworn to secrecy. A plan was set to blame the massacre on the Indians. The militia did not kill 17 small children who were deemed too young to relate the story. These children were taken in by local Mormon families. The children were later reclaimed by the U.S. Army and returned to relatives, and there is legend that one girl was not returned and lived out her life among the Mormons.[34]

The site of the massacre, as seen through a viewfinder, from the 1990 Monument.

Leonard J. Arrington reports that Brigham Young received a rider at his office on the same day of the massacre. This letter asked Young's opinion on what to do with the Baker-Fancher party. When he learned what was contemplated by the members of the LDS Church in Parowan and Cedar City, he sent back a letter that the Baker-Fancher party be allowed to pass through the territory unmolested.[35][36] Young's letter supposedly arrived two days too late, on September 13, 1857. However Jon Krakauer claims that Brigham Young and other Utah territory officials encouraged the massacre beforehand and sought to deny their roles afterward.[37]

Some of the property of the dead was reportedly taken by the Native Americans involved, while large amounts of cattle and personal property was taken by the Mormons in Southern Utah. John D. Lee took charge of the livestock and other property that had been collected at the Mormon settlement at Pinto. Some of the cattle was taken to Salt Lake City and traded for boots. Some reportedly remained in the hands of John D. Lee. The remaining personal property of the Baker-Fancher party was taken to the tithing house at Cedar City and auctioned off to local Mormons.[38] Brigham Young, appalled at what had taken place, initially ordered an investigation into the massacre but in the end it must be acknowledged that through his own unwillingness to work with Federal authorities contributed both directly and indirectly to the blunder of justice, and was part of the reason two trials were necessary.[35]

Family legends[edit]

Several histories and legends have been passed down from the surviving children, the oldest of whom was only 6 years of age during the massacre, to today's descendants; some of these stories tell a slightly different tale of the massacre.

In 2007, the families/descendants of the surviving children came together in Utah, for the 150th anniversary of the massacre. The family stories were compared and found to be very similar. All of the families agree the stories told of Mormons dressed as Natives, and that none of the Native people participated in the Massacre of the wagon train. Family stories tell of being taken by "Indians who washed of their skin and turned white".

Surviving children[edit]

Survivor Nancy Sephrona Huff, four years old at tragedy, "was taken away by John Willis, whom she lived with until she was returned to relatives in Arkansas two years later."[39]

Seventeen small children, all under the age of seven, survived the Mountain Meadows massacre. Two years after the Massacre, the orphans were returned to their families. The following is a list of the surviving children:

  1. Baker, Mary Elizabeth, 5
  2. Baker, Sarah Frances, 3
  3. Baker, William Twitty, 9 months
  4. Dunlap, Georgia Ann, 18 months
  5. Dunlap, Louisa, 4
  6. Dunlap, Prudence Angeline, 5
  7. Dunlap, Rebecca J., 6
  8. Dunlap, Sarah E., 1
  9. Fancher, Christopher "Kit" Carson, 5
  10. Fancher, Triphenia D., 22 months
  11. Huff, Nancy Saphrona, 4 (Huff is prominently featured in the documentary Burying the Past: Legacy of the Mountain Meadows Massacre)
  12. Jones, Felix Marion, 18 months
  13. Miller, John Calvin, 6
  14. Miller, Joseph, 1
  15. Miller, Mary, 4
  16. Tackitt, Emberson Milum, 4 (Returned to their mother's family, the Millers)
  17. Tackitt, William Henry, 19 months (Returned to their mother's family, the Millers)


Following the massacre, the perpetrators swore each other to secrecy, and the murdered members of the wagon train were hastily buried; yet the elements and scavengers quickly uncovered their corpses. Two years after the massacre, United States Army officer James Henry Carleton was sent to investigate it. He was convinced that the Mormons were the main perpetrators. Some of these children, who had seen their families killed, recalled seeing white men dressed as Indians among the attackers. Carleton examined the scene of the massacre and believed that the Paiutes had played a minimal role, and that the attack had been planned and executed by the Mormons. The remains of about thirty-four people were found and buried. The troops then built a cairn over the graves, and made a large cross from local cedar trees, the transverse beam bearing the engraving, "Vengeance Is Mine, Saith The Lord: I Will Repay". This cross was placed at the top of cairn and a large slab of granite was leaned upon the side, with the engraving:

Here 120 men, women, and children were massacred in cold blood early in September, 1857. They were from Arkansas.[40]

Some claim that, in 1861, Young brought an entourage to Mountain Meadows and had the cairn and cross destroyed, while exclaiming, "Vengeance is mine and I have taken a little".[41]


  1. ^ Uncle Dale's Old Mormon Articles: Misc. Southern States, 1845-1919
  2. ^ Bagley 2002, p. 209
  3. ^ Finck 2005 Fancher had journeyed to California from Arkansas previously in 1850 and 1853. Bagley 2002; the 1850 San Diego County, Calif. census Roll: M432_35; Page: 280; Image: 544.)
  4. ^ Bagley 2002, pp. 55–68; Stenhouse 1873, pp. 424–427.
  5. ^ Bancroft 1889, p. 512; Gibbs 1910, p. 12.
  6. ^ Stenhouse 1873, p. 428.
  7. ^ Brooks 1950, pp. 28–29
  8. ^ Bancroft 1889.
  9. ^ Gibbs 1910.
  10. ^ a b Shirts 1994.
  11. ^ Young 1857a.
  12. ^ Bancroft 1889, p. 550
  13. ^ Brooks 1950, p. xxi.
  14. ^ Bagley 2002, p. 280
  15. ^ Professional Surveyor Magazine
  16. ^ "Death runs Riot - Mountain Meadows". PBS. 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-21. They swore and boasted openly... that Buchanan's whole army was coming right behind them, and would kill every God Damn Mormon in Utah.... They had two bulls which they called one "Heber" and the other "Brigham", and whipped 'em through every town, yelling and singing... and blaspheming oaths that would have made your hair stand on end. 
  17. ^ Hamblin 1881, pp. 42–43
  18. ^ Forney's report, given to U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, A.B. Greenwood, was printed in Senate Executive Document 42 of the 36th United States Congress in response to Senate requests for all the official documents relating to the Mountain Meadows massacre
  19. ^ Thompson 1860, pp. 75–80
  20. ^ Conversation between Carl (possibly Carlts) Shirts, Forney and himself. Shirts had been employed by Hamlin making adobe bricks at the time. (See Rogers 1860.)
  21. ^ Testimonies of Elisha Hoops and Bishop Philo T. Farnsworth, "Case of the Defense", Salt Lake Tribune, 3 August 1875.
  22. ^ Briggs 2006, p. 320.
  23. ^ Brooks 1950, p. 185; George A. Smith in the Journal History of the Church reported allegations concerning the poisoning of several springs and that this action by members of the Fancher train gave the Native Americans "a determination to exterminate the emigrants."
  24. ^ Brooks 1950, p. 105 ("The poisoned meat story was unlikely, while the poisoned springs was quite clearly fabrication; to poison a running stream of any size would take a great amount of poison, and if several Saints had died, their names and homes and other details would have been given."); Bagley 2002, pp. 109–10; Turley 2007 ("Historical research shows that these stories are not accurate. While it is true that some of the emigrants’ cattle were dying along the trail, including near Fillmore, the deaths appear to be the result of a disease that affected cattle herds on the 1850s overland trails. Humans contracted the disease from infected animals through cuts or sores or through eating the contaminated meat. Without this modern understanding, people suspected the problem was caused by poisoning."); Forney 1859 ("I regard the poisoning affair as entitled to no consideration. In my opinion, bad men, for a bad purpose, have magnified a natural circumstance for the perpetration of a crime that has no parallel in American history for atrocity.")
  25. ^ Bagley 2002, pp. 110 (citing George Davis, of the Dukes party that followed the Fanchers and camped at the same site in Corn Creek).
  26. ^ a b c d Turley 2007.
  27. ^ see Mountain Meadows Massacre Leader in Tietoa Mormonismista Suomeksi.)
  28. ^ Burns & Ives 1996, Episode 4; Salt Lake City Messenger #88; Mountain Meadows Massacre: An Aberration of Mormon Practice
  29. ^ Walker, Turley & Leonard 2008, p. 132
  30. ^ Brooks 1950, p. 50 Bigler 1998, p. 169.
  31. ^ Lee 1877, pp. 226–227 Lee said the first attack occurred on a Tuesday and the Native Americans were several hundred strong.
  32. ^ Walker, Turley & Leonard 2008, p. 158
  33. ^ Shirts, (1994) Paragraph 9
  34. ^ Brooks, 1950, pp 101–105
  35. ^ a b Leonard Arrington. (1986) Brigham Young: American Moses, p. 257
  36. ^ Brigham Young to Isaac C. Haight, Sept. 10, 1857, Letterpress Copybook 3:827–28, Brigham Young Office Files, LDS Church Archives
  37. ^ Krakauer, Jon (1999), "Chapter 18", Under the Banner of Heaven, NY, NY: Anchor Books, ISBN 1-4000-3280-6 
  38. ^ Brooks,1950. See also Klingensmith Testimony at first trial of John D. Lee
  39. ^ Nancy Saphrona Huff at Burying the Past: Legacy of the Mountain Meadows Massacre website
  40. ^ Carleton, James H. (1902), Special Report of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, Government Printing Office, p. 15 
  41. ^ Sally Denton (2003). American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, September 1857 (New York: Vintage Books, ISBN 0-375-72636-5) p. 210.


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