March 28, 1877
As reported by his attorney, William W. Bishop, in Mormonism Unveiled;
Or the Life and Confession of John D. Lee (1877)
execution by firing squad in Mountain Meadows, Utah
JOHN D. LEE was executed on Mountain Meadows, Washington County, Utah Territory, at the scene of the massacre, on the 28d day of March, 1877.
As to the reasons which prompted him to act as he did during his lifetime, we have nothing to say. Judging from his Life and Confessions, and our personal acquaintance with him, we believe him to have been an honest man, but so blinded by religious fanaticism and faith in his corrupt Church leaders, that his moral vision was perverted, and he committed crimes under the orders of his superiors, believing that he was doing right and working for the glory of God. It appears from his writings that he was used by Joe Smith, Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders, from the time that he became a member of the Church, as a tool to perform their dirty work, and when he was worn out and could no longer be of any service to them, they sacrificed him with as little compunction of conscience as a carpenter would throwaway an old worn out saw or chisel.
The only wonder is that Lee, who was an intelligent man, would allow himself to be so often and so grossly deceived, and still repose confidence in his leaders. The answer to this is, that he had the utmost faith - a fanatical faith - in the truth of the Mormon religion, and believed that no other doctrine would enable him to attain immortality and future happiness. In addition to this, he had married a number of wives, who had borne him children, for all of whom he seems to have entertained a warm, fatherly affection; and if he had left the Mormon Church the law would have compelled him to give up all his wives except the first one, and his children would have been branded as bastards. His life, too, would have been in danger from his former associates, as he says himself, and they would either have "blood atoned" him or reported his crimes to the civil authorities and secured his conviction.
All these reasons kept him in the Church, and while there he felt that it was his duty, to himself, his family, and his God, to obey his rulers and those who were in authority over him.
The rulers of the Mormon Church teach their deluded followers that they are inspired men; that they act by direct authority from God, and that disobedience to their orders is rebellion against God. They also teach that those who carry out their orders in the commission of murders and other crimes, are only instruments to perform the will of God, and are not responsible for the sins which they commit in obeying the orders of their inspired rulers.
It is hard to believe that people. of any intelligence whatever, could be so shamefully deceived, but when men and women are thoroughly imbued with religious fanaticism, they are capable of believing or doing almost anything, provided it is sanctioned by a "thus sayeth the Lord" from the lips of some "holy" man or prophet, pretending to have his authority from revelation. Christianity itself furnished too many sickening examples of this kind a few centuries ago.
Thus John D. Lee was led on, step by step, from one crime to another, until his leaders had made all the use of him they could, and then they sacrificed him to a felon's death, in order to save themselves and cover up the sins of the Church.
On Wednesday preceding the day fixed upon for the execution, the guard having Lee in charge started from Beaver City, where Lee had been imprisoned, for Mountain Meadows, where it had been decided to carry the sentence into execution.
The party consisted of United States Marshal, William Nelson, a military guard, the prisoner, District Attorney Howard, a few newspaper correspondents, and about twenty private citizens.
The authorities had received information that an attempt to rescue Lee would be made by his sons and a body of his personal friends, and precautions were taken to prevent the success of any such attempt. The place of execution was kept a profound secret, except with the Marshal and a few trusted friends, and a strong guard was procured. Lee either knew nothing about the intended attempt at rescue, or else he placed no confidence in it, for he uttered no word or expression to indicate that he had any hope. He was cheerful and resigned to his fate, and seemed to have but little dread of death
The party reached Mountain Meadows about ten o'clock Friday morning, and after the camp had been arranged, Lee pointed out the various places of interest connected with the massacre, and recapitulated the horrors of that event.
A more dreary scene than the present appearance of Mountain Meadows cannot be imagined. The curse of God seems to have fallen upon it, and scorched and withered the luxuriant grass and herbage that covered the ground twenty years ago. The Meadows have been transformed from a fertile valley into an arid and barren plain, and the superstitious Mormons assert that the ghosts of the murdered emigrants meet nightly at the scene of their slaughter and re-enact in pantomime the horrors of their massacre.
The ground is cut up into deep gullies, and the surface to covered with sage brush and scrub oak. Meadows Spring, where the emigrants were encamped when they were first attacked, is situated at the lower part of the plain. At the time of the massacre this spring was on a level with the surrounding country, but it has since been washed out until it forms a terrible gulch some twenty feet in depth and eight or ten rods wide.
About thirteen years ago, Lieutenant Price and a party of soldiers collected all the bones of the murdered emigrants that could be found on the field, and erected a monument of loose stones over them, on the banks of this ravine. The monument is about three feet high, oblong in shape, and some twenty feet in length. Many of the stones of which it was composed have fallen into the ravine, and the monument is in keeping with its surroundings - dreary, desolate and decaying. The curse rests upon the whole landscape. The Marshal's party removed some of the loose stones down to the level of the earth, but no trace of bones or human remains could be found. Decay and desolation mark everything. The accompanying illustration, engraved from a photograph taken a few minutes before Lee's execution, gives a correct view of the present appearance of the Meadows.
To this dreary spot, the scene of one of the most revolting crimes that ever disgraced humanity, John D. Lee had been conveyed to bid farewell to life and be suddenly hurled into the unknown realities of eternity. His sentence, doubtless, was just, but if so, what ought to be the fate of the men who counseled and commanded him to do what he did? Among the number Brigham Young stands head and foremost, by reason of his position, and if the curse which rests upon the scene of the butchery does not follow him with the horrors of the damned fate is unjust. He proved himself a traitor to his faithful friend and slave, as well as a murderer at heart, and as sure as there is a God in Heaven just so sure will be the curse of that crime come home to him. If the law should fail to reach him with its retributions. the ghost of John D. Lee will haunt his lecherous pillow and scorch his sleepless brain with visions of everlasting woe.
As the party came to a halt at the scene of the massacre, sentinels were posted on the surrounding hills, to prevent a surprise, and preparations for the execution were at once begun.
The wagons were placed in a line near the monument, and over the wheels of one of them army blankets were drawn, to serve as a screen or ambush for the firing party. The purpose of this concealment was to prevent the men composing the firing party from being seen by anyone, there being a reasonable fear that some of Lee's relatives or friends might wreak vengeance upon his executioners. The rough pine boards for the coffin were next unloaded from a wagon, and the carpenters began to nail them together. Meanwhile Lee sat some distance away, with Marshal Nelson, and quietly observed the operations going on around him. The civilians, and those specially invited as witnesses, were allowed to come within the military enclosure, but all others were required to station themselves at a considerable distance to the east of the ravine.
At 10:35, all the arrangements having been completed, Marshal Nelson began to read the order of the court, and at its conclusion he turned to Lee and said:
"Mr. Lee, if you have anything to say before the order of the court is carried into effect, you can now do so."
"I wish to speak to that man," pointing to the photographer (James Fennemore), who was adjusting his camera near by, preparatory to taking the group of which Lee was the central figure. "Come over here," said Lee, beckoning with his hand.
"In a second, Mr. Lee," replied Mr. Fennemore, but it was more than a minute before he could comply with the request. Lee, observing that the artist was occupied with his camera, said:
I want to ask a favor of you; I want you to furnish my three wives each a copy," meaning the photograph about to be taken. "Send them to Rachel A., Sarah c., and Emma B."
Hon. Sumner Howard, who was standing by the side of the instrument, responded for the artist, whose head at the moment was covered by the hood as he was adjusting the camera: "He says he will do it, Mr. Lee."
Lee then repeated the names of his three wives carefully, saying to the artist, who had just approached him,
"Please forward them - you will do this?"
Mr. Fennemore responded affirmatively, at the same time shaking Lee by the hand.
Lee then seemed to pose himself involuntarily, and the picture was taken.
He then arose from his coffin, where he had been seated, and, looking calmly around at the soldiers and spectators, said, in an even and unexcited tone of voice:
"I have but little to say this morning. Of course I feel that I am upon the brink of eternity; and the solemnities of eternity should rest upon my mind at the present. I have made out - or have endeavored to do so - a manuscript, abridging the history of my life. This is to be published. In it I have given my views and feelings with regard to all these things.
"I feel resigned to my fate. I feel as calm as a summer morn, and I have done nothing intentionally wrong. My conscience is clear before God and man. I am ready to meet my Redeemer and those that have gone before me, behind the veil.
"I am not an infidel. I have not denied God and his mercies.
"I am a strong believer in these things. Most I regret is parting with my family; many of them are unprotected and will be left fatherless." (Here he rested two or three seconds.) "When I speak of these things they touch a tender chord within me." (Here his voice faltered perceptibly.) "I declare my innocence of ever doing anything designedly wrong in all this affair. I used my utmost endeavors to save these people.
"I would have given worlds, were they at my command, if I could have averted that calamity, but I could not do it. It went on.
"It seems I have to be made a victim - a victim must be had, and I am the victim. I am sacrificed to satisfy the feelings - the vindictive feelings, or in other words, am used to gratify parties.
"I am ready to die. I trust in God. I have no fear. Death has no terror. "Not a particle of mercy have I asked of the court, the world, or officials to spare my life.
"I do not fear death, I shall never go to a worse place than I am now.
"I have said it to my family, and I will say it today, that the Government of the United States sacrifices their best friend. That is saying a great deal, but it is true - it is so.
"I am a true believer in the gospel of Jesus Christ, I do not believe everything that is now being taught and practiced by Brigham Young. I do not care who hears it. It is my last word - it is so. I believe he is leading the people astray, downward to destruction. But I believe in the gospel that was taught in its purity by Joseph Smith, in former days. I have my reasons for it.
"I studied to make this man's [Brigham Young] will my pleasure for thirty years. See, now, what I have come to this day!
"I have been sacrificed in a cowardly, dastardly manner." (Lee enunciated this sentence with marked emphasis.)
"I cannot help it. It is my last word - it is so.
"Evidence has been brought against me which is as false as the hinges of hell, and this evidence was wanted to sacrifice me. Sacrifice a man that has waited upon them, that has wandered and endured with them in the days of adversity, true from the beginning of the Church! And I am now singled out and am sacrificed in this manner! What confidence can I have in such a man! I have none, and I don't think my Father in heaven has any.
"Still, there are thousands of people in this Church that are honorable and good hearted friends, and some of whom are near to my heart. There is a kind of living, magnetic influence which has come over the people, and I cannot compare it to anything else than the reptile that enamors his prey, till it captivates it, paralyzes it, and it rushes into the jaws of death. I cannot compare it to anything else. It is so, I know it, I am satisfied of it.
"I regret leaving my family; they are near and dear to me. These are things which touch my sympathy, even when I think of those poor orphaned children.
"I declare I did nothing designedly wrong in this unfortunate affair. I did everything in my power to save that people, but I am the one that must suffer.
"Having said this I feel resigned. I ask the Lord, my God, if my labors are done, to receive my spirit."
Lee ceased speaking at 10:50, A.M. He was then informed that his hour had come and he must prepare for execution. He quietly and coolly looked at the small group of spectators. He was still very calm and resigned.
Rev. George Stokes, a Methodist minister who had accompanied Lee as his spiritual adviser, then knelt on the ground and delivered a short prayer. The minister was deeply affected by the solemnity of the occasion, and was very earnest in his supplications. The prisoner listened attentively.
At the conclusion of the prayer, Lee exchanged a few words with Mr. Howard and Marshal Nelson, saying to the latter:
"I ask one favor of the guards - spare my limbs and centre my heart."
He then shook hands with those around him, removed his overcoat and comforter, presenting the latter to Mr. Howard, and giving his hat to Marshal Nelson.
The Marshal then bound a handkerchief over the prisoner's eyes, but at his request his hands were allowed to remain free.
The doomed man then straightened himself up facing the firing party, as he sat on his coffin, clasped his hands over his head and exclaimed:
"Let them shoot the balls through my heart! Don't let them mangle my body!"
The Marshal assured him that the aim would be true, and then stepped back. As he did so, he gave the orders to the guards:
"READY! AIM! FIRE!"
The five men selected as executioners promptly obeyed. They raised their rifles to their shoulders, took deliberate aim at the blindfolded man sitting upright on his coffin, about twenty feet in front of them, and as the fatal word "fire" rang out clear and strong on the morning air, a sharp report was heard, and Lee fell back on his coffin, dead and motionless. There was not a cry nor a moan nor a tremor of the body.
There was a convulsive twitching of the fingers of the left hand, which had fallen down by the side of the coffin, and the spirit of John D. Lee had crossed over the dark river and was standing before the judge of the quick and the dead.
His soul had solved the awful mystery, and the CURSE that hovers over Mountain Meadows had marked "ONE" upon its list of retribution.