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Mountain Meadows




Plate 1498X. Mountain Meadows 1877 – 2004 During the early 1800’s, Mountain Meadows was a favorite resting place on the trail to California because of its cold, clear water and abundant forage. In 1851, Parley P. Pratt, an apostle of the Mormon church, noted that “this little mountain paradise was, by the present road, three hundred and eleven miles from …Salt Lake City, and was altogether the most beautiful place in all the route. One thousand or fifteen hundred acres of bottom, or meadow lands were spread out before us like a green carpet richly clothed with a variety of grasses, and possessing a soil both black [and] rich…it was everywhere moistened with springs…the surrounding hills were abrupt, but rounded off…and everywhere richly clothed with the choicest kind of bunch grass and bordered in their higher eminences with cedar [juniper] and nut pine [pinyon] sufficient for fuel” (Cottam 1929: 361-362). A lovely place indeed that unfortunately was seared into American history on September 7-11, 1857 as the site of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. According to the plaque that was erected in 1932 “In this vicinity…occurred one of the most lamentable tragedies in the annals of the West. A company of about 140 Arkansas and Missouri emigrants…en route to California was attacked by white men and Indians. All but 17, being small children, were killed. John D. Lee, who confessed participation as leader [of the attackers] was legally executed here [on] March 23, 1877” (Cottan and Stewart 1940). For additional details of the incident at Mountain Meadows see Brooks (1991). In 1862, the meadow was permanently settled by Europeans who brought in large herds of cattle and sheep, which proceeded to overgraze the area. “While waiting execution at the scene [in 1877 for his part in the Mountain Meadow Massacre], John D. Lee told the officer in charge that the entire landscape had, during the twenty years since the crime, undergone such great changes…as to make impossible the accurate designation of particular landmarks…” (Cottam and Stewart 1940). Then in 1884 heavy spring rains fell on the denuded range and generated an abnormally large flood that ripped open ugly washes in one protracted period of erosion. “Since that time the main wash has deepened, and side gullies have fingered out to nearly all parts of the meadow. With the meadow drained and with [livestock] herds on the increase, grassland rapidly gave way to desert shrub” (Cottam and Stewart 1940). That is to say, since European settlement, there has been a complete transformation of valley vegetation. Cottam and Stewart (1940) also reported that pinyon and juniper had begun to invade the surrounding hillsides. Plate 1498x is viewed north. Mayotsu Creek is on the right and is more heavily vegetated with cottonwoods and willows than it was when the original image was made. Note how heavily grazed the area was in 1877 and how few pinyon and juniper there were on the distant hills - - photo left-center edge. John D. Lee (the third person from the left) is seated on his coffin prior to his execution. The site is now owned by the Mormon Church and a new monument has been erected. As that monument now blocks the original view, the retake was made from just north of the metal fence. The small building in the retake is a well-house. The juniper in the foreground have been planted.

Photo Information:

Original photograph taken by James Fennemore on March 23, 1877; retake by Charles E. Kay on August 23, 2007 - - Photo No. 5832-29. Original photograph (12872) held by the Utah Historical Society, Salt Lake City, UT.

Vegetative Community:

Riparian, Pinyon, Juniper


South West: Section 16, Range 16 West, Township 38 South; UTM 266280 E, 4150990 N; elevation 5,675 ft.

January 2018