- A confession etched on a newly-discovered lead sheet
has shaken the Mormon Church by linking its revered leader, Brigham Young,
with one of the worst massacres in American history.
- The note claims that the founder of Salt Lake City ordered
the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre, when a wagon train of 120 settlers,
mostly women and children, were killed after they had thrown down their
weapons on a promise of safe passage.
- The Church of the Latter-Day Saints, as Mormons are properly
known, first tried to blame Indians for the slaughter but after huge pressure
from the federal government, John D Lee, a militiaman who was Young's adopted
son, was tried and executed 20 years later for organising the attack.
- The Church has always maintained that the militia acted
alone, despite persistent claims that documents incriminating its leaders
were burned at the end of the 19th century. Schoolbooks in Utah do not
mention the incident and it has been airbrushed out of the religion's official
- The lead sheet is the first evidence to directly link
the killings to Young, who is considered a modern-day prophet by Mormons
after he led them on their trek across America to found the city at Salt
- It was found during restoration work on the debris of
Lee's Fort, the citadel at which Lee's militia forces were based on the
Colorado River, under several inches of dirt and rat droppings in the main
- It is signed by Lee, who had 19 wives and 64 children,
and claims to be written "by my own hand", 15 years after the
events it describes.
- Filled with misspellings, grammatical errors and halted
sentences, it says: "I do not fear athorty for the time is closing
and am willing to take the blame for Fancher."
- The wagon convoy was known as the Fancher party, after
Alexander Fancher, who led it.
- It continues: "Col Dane, Maj Higby and me - on orders
from Pres Young thro Geo Smith took part - I trust in God - I have no fear
- Death hold no terror."
- The massacre occurred amid a climate of war hysteria
as Utah's Mormons prepared for an invasion by federal troops, who had been
dispatched to suppress the theocracy established in the region a decade
- As the settlers' convoy entered the state en route from
Arkansas to California, rumours spread that it contained men who had killed
a Mormon leader and church leaders vowed vengeance.
- After a five-day siege the Mormon militia sent in a party
under a flag of truce and promised safe passage. When the "gentiles"
left their encampment all but the youngest children were killed.
- Historians were yesterday clamouring to examine the sheet,
and tests were being conducted to determine where the lead was mined in
an attempt to date it.
- The possibilities of a forgery or a false claim by Lee
have not been ruled out, but experts said that at the time that it was
not unusual for people who wanted to preserve a record to etch it on lead.
- Scott Fancher, a lawyer in Harrison, Arkansas, who is
president of the Mountain Meadows Monument Foundation and a descendant
of Alexander Fancher, welcomed the discovery as a significant step in forcing
the Church to face up to the reality of its past behaviour. He said he
had long believed that Young sanctioned the massacre as a demonstration
to federal authorities that only he could control the Paiute Indians who
supposedly took part in the attack.
- "The only thing that surprises me is that it's taken
this long to find the letter, not the admission of guilt or that Lee pointed
the blame at Young," he said.
- In Salt Lake City, Mormon leaders insisted that further
checks had to be conducted on the authenticity of the note before it could
be accepted as a historical document.
- Dale Bills, a Mormon spokesman, insisted that Young did
not order the killings although "some members of the faith acted independently
at Mountain Meadows ".
- In 1999 work to restore a memorial at the settlers' burial
site turned up bones and forensic tests showed many in the group had been
shot and not bludgeoned to death by the Indians, who had no guns.