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For week ended August 15, 1999 Posted 29 Aug 1999

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BYU Unearths Bones of 1857 Massacre Victims

Summarized by Kent Larsen

BYU Unearths Bones of 1857 Massacre Victims
Salt Lake Tribune 14Aug99 C7
By Paul Foy: Associated Press

Workers restoring the monument at Mountain Meadows, where 120 California- bound pioneers were massacred by Mormon settlers and Indians in 1857, have unearthed the remains of 10 people buried at the site. The LDS Church is working with the Mountain Meadows Association to restore the memorial, and had hoped to avoid disturbing any remains at the site. The remains have been shipped to BYU for archaeological evaluation and will be re-buried in a private ceremony now being planned.

The remains were exposed August 3rd by a backhoe removing a masonry wall around the memorial. BYU archaeologists were called in and spent two days tediously recovering the bones. "The discovery was accidental," said BYU archaeologist Shane Baker, "We disinterred the remains so they wouldn't be further damaged. We have the partial remains of a number of individuals. All evidence substantiates they were victims of the Mountain Meadows massacre."

Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith, who was on hand for the excavation of the bones, was deeply affected by his experience, "It was a very humbling, spiritual experience," he said, "It just really touched me deeply. I saw buttons, some pottery, and bones of adults and children. But the children -- that was what really hit me hard."

Two years following the massacre, U.S. Major James H. Carleton of California gathered the remains of 36 of the victims and buried them under a large pile of rocks. Over the years, the remains were reburied several times and a series of makeshift monuments were constructed. In 1932, a masonry wall was built around the pile of rocks. It was during the removal of the masonry wall that the remains were discovered.

In 1990 the LDS Church erected a granite wall listing the names of the pioneers. However, recently visitors to the site have noticed that the memorial has been deteriorating, and the Mountain Meadows Association sought to rebuild the monument. After the association met with LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley about the monument, the Church decided to help. Church spokesman Dale Bills said that the Church is "restoring the Mountain Meadows grave site as a dignified, lasting memorial to the victims of the 1857 massacre."

A contractor has now resumed building a 4-foot wide and 2-foot tall wall around the memorial, which is scheduled to be dedicated September 11th. "This was a very tragic event and many still have deep feelings about it. We're doing everything we possibly can to remain sensitive to that," said the BYU archaeologist Baker. "The LDS church is working in good faith to make this spot as a respected place for those who lost their lives. We are trying not to let this [discovery] disturb the positive strides the church has taken to memorialize the place."

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information