A Confusion of Massacres:
The Mountain Meadows Massacre Is Not the One
The Mountain Meadows Massacre Is Not the One
This story involves John Sherman Baker, grandson of our JOHN BAKER (via son Aaron Baker), and nephew of our SHEPPARD BAKER. John and his family were (almost) involved in the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre, surviving because of sickness. They were involved in their own massacre, however, and it has become confused, for reasons that will become obvious, with the more famous Mountain Meadows Massacre.
First, what is known of the Mountain Meadows Massacre (or the Fancher Train Massacre or the Arkansas Emigrants' Massacre) is described. Then the closely related, but different massacre of the Smith Train, which included John Sherman Baker and his family, is detailed. Finally, a well-documented history of the Smith Train event, by Wesley C Smith, a descendant of John Sherman Baker, is provided for its intrinsic interest and documentation of the details. A massacre map, showing the site of the Smith Train event, is also attached.
From a web page that no longer exists, for the year 1857:
"In one of the most shocking acts to occur in the westward migration, a band of Mormons and Indians slaughtered a group of Arkansawyers in southern Utah. The California-bound Arkansas emigrants surrendered to their captors, only to become their victims in the 'Mountain Meadows Massacre.' Of the 120 members of the wagon train, only seventeen children were spared."
From Lorena Shell Eaker, The Shoe Cobbler's Kin: Genealogy of the Peter (Ecker) Eaker, Sr. Family, Volume 2, 1985, SCK Publications, PO Box 2125, Church Hill, TN 37642, p 849:
"John Sherman Baker was a farmer & left his farm only twice after his marriage. The first time in 1857 was to try to make it to the gold fields of California. There have been many stories, articles, and books written and recorded about the terrible and cruel tragedy of the 'Mountain Meadows Massacre'. I have listened to my own grandmother & some of her relatives discuss and retell the stories handed down through the family by her father (my gr-grandfather) John Sherman Baker of the tragedy that befell them and how they missed by a day or so being massacred along with the other adults of the Fancher wagon train at 'Mountain Meadows'. The story similar to my grandmothers, was told by Sallie Baker Mitchell, a relative to our Bakers (and one of the seventeen children that lived through the tragedy) in an article in 'The American Weekly' August 1940, the only remaining survivor at that time … When William Wilkerson Baker returned from their investigative trip of the gold fields in 1856, the stories told inspired some relatives and friends and other families in the area to pack up, form a wagontrain to California...[account of the Sutter's Mill discovery of gold in CA]
The John Sherman Baker family worked through the winter of 1856 and early Spring of 1857 getting his wagon, oxen team, and family prepared for the trip. When the time came to pull out John was sick with Erysipelias (medical term—an acute febrile disease associated with intense local inflammation of the skin and subcutaneous tissue, caused by a hemolytic streptococcus) and could not travel. … [author's note about similar disease elsewhere in the family].
The John S. Baker family and some of his wife's relatives waited a few days and then set out to try and overtake the Fancher Train. A number of times they came across places where the Fancher train had camped and found the coals from their campfires still warm, but they never did catch up with the train & that is why they missed the 'Mountain Meadow Massacre'—but they ran into the tail-end of the trouble, just the same, and had a terrible time themselves.
At the time of the massacre, John S. Baker and party were only about two days travel behind the main train and someone came along and told them about it and warned them they might have trouble. They were all pretty scared as they made camp that night. They broke camp early next morning, and set out to skirt around the meadow and head on across the desert.
It is not known whether the band of Indians that attacked them soon after they got started that morning were those that were in on the Massacre, or another band that heard about it and wanted to kill these travelers for their belongings and livestock.
The members of this party were John S. and Elverine E. Weaver Baker, their young daughter, Sarah Melissa, about two years old (later became Mrs. Perry Price), their infant son William W. Baker; Dal and Mary Fanning Weaver (Mary - daughter of Wash and Celia Fanning—She m. (2) _____ Boren, m.(3) to Demps Brown); Dal's brother Pink Weaver; two Weaver sisters; and three young men named Smith and their aged Mother.
Dal Weaver and a sister was shot and killed in the first attack and he was later robbed of $1,000 in gold he had in a money belt. A bullet inflicted a scalp wound on little William W. Baker, but he recovered. Several others suffered minor wounds.
There were several wagons in the train and before the men could wheel them around and form a corral, one of the teams got away and took off with its wagon. Some of the Indians overtook that wagon and discovered the two ten-gallon kegs, one of Whiskey and one of Peach Brandy. The Indians then took time out from the pleasure of killing for the pleasure of their 'fire water'. That is the only reason any of the Baker party managed to escape.
Meanwhile, one of the Smith brothers jumped on a horse and took off for help, but the Indians saw him and one of them lassoed him. The last anyone saw of them, he was being dragged away.
When the Indians were all drunk they started to close in on the little party, huddled behind their wagons. But just as the Indians were ready to pounce on them, the men ripped open all the feather beds they had and threw a big cloud of feathers into their attackers' faces. Before the stupefied assassins had time to figure out what happened the adults ran for the cover of the bushes, carrying the children. (John S. Baker carried his young son in his shirt.) Two of the Smith boys carried their aged mother by making a pack-saddle with their hands.
Evidentaly their attackers were too inebriated to follow the Baker party as they fled back toward Arkansas over the trail they had so recently traveled westward. For nearly six days, they struggled without food or water before a detail of soldiers (that had been sent out in response to news of the massacre) from Ft. Riley, Kansas found them. They were so weak they could hardly walk. Ft. Riley was but an outpost at that time for scouting and fighting the Indians and keeping headquarters and the countryside alerted. A police force more or less. The remainder of the unfortunate party was taken to Fort Leavenworth, KS, treated and taken care of until they were able to travel back to their farm in Carroll County, AR.
The second time John Sherman Baker left home was during the Civil War when he enlisted in Co. F 4th Reg., Trans-Mississippi Infantry (Gauses). This Regiment designated as Matlock's Battalion Arkansan Cavalry; Gause's Regiment Arkansas Infantry and 32nd Regiment Ark. Infantry, August 31, 1862 at Crystal Hill by Captain Leslie. He deserted!—Joined from desertion at Little Rock, AR May 1, 1863 - detailed at Nitro Works in Searcy County, ARK. by order of Lt. Gen. Holmes. He was released sometime after Feb 1864."
Notes re Mountain Meadows Massacre:
The wagon train that was massacred was the Baker-Fancher party, led by John T Baker and Alexander Fancher, of 120 persons or so, mostly from AR. John T Baker is not a relative of our Bakers, so far as it is understood.
The Mormons thought they were under attack from the US and so enlisted help from the Indians in their area. Brigham Young sent a letter to leave the settlers alone, but it arrived too late.
The Massacre occurred between 7 and 11 Sep 1857 between current communities Enterprise and Central, UT (north of St George, UT). A monument to the killed was erected there in Sep 1990. The head of the Mormon Church attended and spoke.
Juanita Brooks has a book detailing the Massacre: The Mountain Meadows Massacre, revised ed, Norman OK, 1991. There is no mention of our Bakers in it, although it does refer to several trains that came through the same area in the several days just after the disaster. The Fancher (or Baker-Fancher) train was also to blame for the trouble. They had openly ridiculed the Mormons, saying things like "this is the gun that shot ol' Joe Smith". They also gave the Indians poison meat, killing four of them, and they also poisoned an Indian waterhole. Apparently part of the Fancher train was from Missouri, where the Mormons had been foully treated and Joseph Smith had been killed by a mob. This was an ugly incident from all angles.
The next train through was the Matthews-Tanner train of Mormons so could not be our settlers. At the same time there was the Powers train of only three wagons, hurrying to catch up with the Fancher train. This might be our party but no mention is made of their turning around and returning east, nor is Powers one of the names mentioned above (Baker, Weaver, Smith). The one after was called the Duke train (or Collins-Turner, or Duke and Turner, or Honea and Davis). It had trouble with the Indians but eventually made it to San Bernardino. This doesn't seem to match either unless some of the party turned around. Needless to say, there was great confusion at the time.
Re Sallie Baker Mitchell (surviving child of the massacre): There were indeed several Mitchells killed, three men, one woman, and one child. Only children too young to remember or talk about what they saw were allowed to live. I do not know her connection to our Bakers.
Added 25 Nov 2001, from an email received from Annie M Price, a descendant of Thomas Jefferson Price, whose aunt was Sarah Melissa Baker (wife of "Uncle Perry" Price), a survivor of the Smith Train Massacre, the version of events as passed down in her family, with her thoughtful commentary:
"After we studied your website in depth, we started to get a little bit confused about whether our family was really involved in the incident in Kansas, or in Utah, because the story that has been passed through my dad's brother Thomas, and through his dad matches both parts of the story.
This is the story that my part of the family knows:
He is uncertain of who told the story initially, although it could probably be assumed that it came from Sarah Melissa. He also doesn't know the exact names of the individuals involved, except that their last name was Baker.
The family was two days travel behind the wagon train (due to illness) when they noticed plumes of smoke coming from the direction that the Fancher train would have been. They hid in the grass (what my dad knows is that they did have a small child). After hiding, they saw a man on a horse dressed as an Indian. He had a child hostage with him that they recognized as coming from the Fancher party. He debated the wisdom of killing the captor, but decided not to, so as not to give away his location. The family's wagon was burned, but they were able to escape and walk 600 miles back to Fort Dodge, Kansas. Thomas Jefferson Price remembered a pair of buffalo horns from a buffalo that they supposedly killed and ate raw. We do know that the gentleman was a bootmaker, and he claims to have carried water in his boot.
We did find that it would have been impossible for them to have walked back to Fort Dodge after the incident, because at the time this happened, Fort Dodge Kansas was not yet in existence. This makes Fort Riley fit the story, but walking 600 miles would conflict with the Kansas episode. We think that it would have been impossible to walk all the way back to Kansas in the short time that was mentioned before rescue (6 days). Either way, there are parts of our story that match either the Smith Train story or the near miss of Mountain Meadows. "
Added 18 Dec 2002: A recent issue of The New York Review of Books (dated 21 Nov 2002) contains an article, on pages 18-23, entitled "The Mormon Murder Case," by Caroline Fraser. It is a review of two books: Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows by Will Bagley, University of Oklahoma Press, and Red Water by Judith Freeman, Pantheon. Ms. Fraser does not mess around, as evidenced immediately by the title she has chosen for her article: The Mormons did it, dressed as Indians. Or, in her words:
"the obscurity surrounding the Mountain Meadows Massacre has been part of a long and purposeful campaign orchestrated by the institution whose leaders provoked and whose members largely carried out the massacre: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which subsequently organized a cover-up of its culpability that continues to this day."
Of Bagley's book she writes:
"Will Bagley provides an exhaustive, meticulously documented, highly readable history that captures the events and atmosphere that gave rise to the massacre, as well as its long, tortuous aftermath. Bagley has taken great care in negotiating the minefield presented by what remains of the historical record."
So this new book promises to be a good read for all of us interested in this massacre. I, of course, am more interested in the closely related massacre of the Smith Train.
Added 1 Jan 2003: I have just read Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows by Will Bagley. It is a thoroughly and painstakingly documented work that makes a convincing case that the Mormons instigated and carried out the massacre at Mountain Meadows and that a coverup has been attempted ever since, starting with the story about the emigrants poisoning the Indians and shouting anti-Mormon insults. My check on the author was how he handled "our massacre." He did an accurate job of it (p. 68):
"Years later John S. Baker described his troubled trip across the plains in 1857. Although not related to John T. Baker, his party started out on the same route as the Fancher and Baker trains. They tried to overtake their fellow Arkansans. On the Kansas River Cheyenne warriors killed four of their men, wounded a man and a woman, and seized their property. Enduring "on the air and water," the survivors walked to Fort Riley, near present Junction City, where they gave up and returned to Arkansas.57"
where the footnote is (p. 400):
"57. John S. Baker, Affidavit, 27 December 1912; John S. Baker v. the United States and the Cheyenne Indians. In 1899 the U.S. court of claims awarded Baker $686."
This is the very affidavit quoted here. The one discrepancy that I have not reconciled is the path taken by the parties. Bagley claims that the Fancher party took the southern route, the Cherokee Trail, as opposed to the northern route, the Oregon-California Trail (map on his p. 57). In particular, the Cherokee Trail completely bypasses modern Nebraska and crosses the southwest corner of modern Kansas. John S. Baker claims he was on the same route as the Fancher party, yet he was clearly on the northern route through the northeastern corner of Kansas (where Fort Riley lies) and was massacred at just about the place where that trail crosses over into modern Nebraska.
Added 23 Jul 2003: Another new book is out that contains an account of the Mountain Meadows Massacre: Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer. This book is based on the work of Juanita Brooks and Will Bagley, both discussed above, so adds nothing new, but it is a very readable account. This book has nothing to say about "our massacre."
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