Chronology

Mountain Meadows Monument (circa 1900)
April 6, 1830
A group of six men including Joseph Smith organize "The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints" (later often called the Mormon Church) in Fayette, New York
July 1847
Leading a band of Mormons fleeing persecution in the East, Brigham Young (successor to the martyred Joseph Smith) arrives in the valley of the Great Salt Lake (in present day Utah) and declares it the permanent home of his people.
1850
A territorial government is established in Utah, with Brigham Young its first governor.
1856
Brigham Young announces the Reformation, a plan to arouse religious consciousness among Mormons that also had the effect of encouraging fanaticism and suspicion of outsiders.
January 14, 1857
The Utah legislature reorganizes the territorial militia by reactivating what was called the Nauvoo Legion.  Daniel Wells is named commander-in-chief of the Legion.
Spring 1857
Reports of harassment of federal officials and destruction of court records by Mormons convince President Buchanan to send an army to Utah to quell the "rebellion."  (A federal judge, a territorial surveyor, and the U.S. marshal--all the federal officials in Utah except for one Indian agent--fled the territory on April 15, convinced that they were about to be killed.)
April and May 1857
Several extended families leave Arkansas on what is planned to be a long emigration via wagon train to California.  The route for the Fancher party, consisting of about 140 men, women, and children, will eventually take them through Utah.  In May, Parley Pratt, one of the original apostles of the LDS Church, is murdered in western Arkansas by an aggrieved husband whose wife Pratt had taken. 
June 1857
News of Parley Pratt's killing reaches Utah in late June and inflames Mormon hostility against non-Mormons.
July 1857
Word reaches Mormon officials in Utah that a federal army is on its way to the Territory to quiet what federal officials call "a rebellion."
September 1, 1857
As the Fancher party camps 70 miles north of Mountain Meadows, Brigham Young meets in Salt Lake City with southern Indian chiefs to devise a strategy to stop overland emigration through southern Utah.  In the meeting, according to an entry in the diary of Dimick Huntington, Young's brother-in-law, Young encouraged the Indians to seize "all the cattle" on the "south route" to California.
September 4, 1857
The Fancher party arrives in Cedar City, Utah.  About this time, Isaac Haight, second in command of the Nauvoo Legion's southern brigade, tells John Lee that he planned to arm the Paiute Indians and "send them after the emigrants."  Two chiefs meet with Haight and John Higbee and receive orders to kill the Fancher party members and take their property as spoil.
September 5, 1857
John Lee heads south and camps with his Paiute war party.  Men ordered by Haight and Higbee to participate in the action against the emigrants are told to report to a place in the hills near the ranch of Jacob Hamblin.  The Fancher party heads south toward Mountain Meadows.
September 6, 1857
Brigham Young, in a sermon, declares that the Almighty recognizes Mormon Utah as a free and independent people, no longer bound by the laws of the United States.
September 7, 1857
The Fancher party, encamped near Mountain Meadows, wakes to gunfire coming from about 40 to 50 (some accounts give a much higher number) Indians and Mormons disguised as Indians.  The well-armed Fancher party puts up strong resistance and the battle turns into a siege.  Haight, responding to pressure from some Mormons, sends a courier to Brigham Young (a 600-mile round trip that would take at least four days) informing him of the situation at Mountain Meadows and asking him what to do next.
September 8-10, 1857
Mormon reinforcements, totally about 100 men, arrive at Mountain Meadows and join the fight.  Haight and Colonel William Dame, the head of southern Utah's militia, are kept informed of developments.  A meeting is held at Dame's house at which he says, "My orders are that the emigrants [except the youngest children] must be done away with."  On September 10, militia commanders ring the town bell in Cedar City, calling out trusted members of the Nauvoo Legion.  The same day, the messenger carrying news to Salt Lake gives Haight's letter to Brigham Young.  Young, according to published Mormon reports, sends a message back to let the Indians "do as they please," but--as for Mormon participation in the siege--if they will leave Utah, "let them go in peace."
September 11, 1857
Mormon leaders devise a plan to end the stand-off.  Carrying a white flag, Mormons meet with members of the Fancher party and pledge the emigrants safe passage back to Cedar City as a way of getting them to give up their arms. The Fancher party is divided into two wagons, carrying the wounded and the youngest children ("the innocent blood"), with the older children and women marching behind, followed by the men, marching in single file.  The men are led off to a place near the side of the road where Higbee orders a group of Mormons guards to begin the killing: "Do your duty!"  A quarter of a mile away, John Lee leads the wagons until they reach a point where Nelphi Johnson orders the slaughter of the women and older children. Men rush at the party from both sides, and the killing continues amidst "hideous, demon-like yells."  It is over in just a few minutes. 120 members of the Fancher party are dead.  The youngest children, those under about age seven, are taken away.
September 12, 1857
Col. Dame and Lt. Col. Haight visit the massacre site with John Lee.  Dame seemed appalled at what he saw and said, "I did not think there were so many of them [women and children], or I would not have had anything to do with it."  Dame's comment angered Haight, who expressed concern that Dame might try to throw the blame on him for an action that he ordered.  (Lee's account) The men pledge to keep Mormon participation in the massacre secret.
September 13, 1857
The messenger sent to ask of Brigham Young what to do with the emigrants at Mountain Meadows returns to Cedar City and presents a letter from Young to Isaac Haight.  "Too late, too late," Haight says as he reads the letter and begins to cry.
September 15, 1857
Brigham Young issues a proclamation (of questionable legality) declaring martial law in the Utah Territory.  The proclamation prohibits "all armed forces...from entering this Territory," orders the Nauvoo Legion to prepare for an invasion, and prohibits any person from passing through the Territory without a permit from "the proper officer."
September 16 or 17, 1857
Brigham Young hears his first reports concerning Mormon participation in the massacre at Mountain Meadows.
September 20, 1857
John Lee leaves for Salt Lake, where he will provide Young with a detailed account of the massacre.  According to Lee, Young first expresses dismay and concern that the massacre will damage the LDS reputation.  The next day, however, Young tells Lee, "I asked the Lord if it was all right for the deed to be done, to take away the vision of the deed from my mind, and the Lord did so, and I feel first rate.  It is all right.  The only fear I have is from traitors."
September 27, 1857
Garland Hurt, the federal Indian agent for the Territory, hears reports that he will be assassinated by Mormons who fear that he knows too much about the massacre and, with the help of Utes, flees to safety.
October 1857
Federal forces, under General Albert Johnston, sent to suppress the Utah rebellion decide to overwinter at Fort Bridger, rather than fight the men of the Nauvoo Legion guarding the canyons leading to Salt Lake.  Meanwhile, the first published reports of the massacre begin to appear in the press.  The reports place much of the blame on Mormon fanatics, and many people call for military action against those responsible. The San Francisco Bulletin, for example, calls for "a crusade against Utah which will crush out this beast of heresy forever." 
November 20, 1857
Lee writes a fictionalized report of the massacre, attributing all the killing to the Indians, and sends it do Young.
January 6, 1858
Brigham Young submits a report to the Indian Commissioner laying the blame for the massacre on mistreatment of Indians by non-Mormons.
February 25, 1858
Thomas Kane, sent to Utah by President Buchanan to attempt to work out a peaceful solution to the Utah problem, arrives in Salt Lake City. 
March 18, 1858
Congress debates the massacre at Mountain Meadows.  It orders an inquiry.
April 1858
Alfred Cumming, the newly appointed governor of Utah sent from Washington, arrives in Salt Lake to assume office.  Cumming announces that he will head south to begin an investigation of the massacre.  Young assures Cumming that he is also determined to get to the truth of the matter, and Cumming seems to believe him.
May 11, 1858
Gov. Cumming declares the California trail open and says emigrants can once again "pass through Utah territory without hindrance or molestation."
June 26, 1858
Federal troops (one-fourth of the United States Army) march through Salt Lake City toward their headquarters at Camp Floyd, forty miles away.  They do so after Young, recognizing the overwhelming size of the federal force, accepted federal terms--including a pardon for acts of rebellion.
August 6, 1858
George A. Smith, one of the twelve apostles in the LDS Church, begins drafting an apostolic report on the massacre.  The report blames the emigrants for inciting Indians.  It also places John Lee at the scene, thus identifying him as the best possible Mormon scapegoat for the crime.  (Historian Juanita Brooks believes to be the person ultimately responsible for the massacre, having told Dame to issue the order that all the emigrants be killed.)
November 1858
U. S. District Judge John Cradlebaugh arrives in Utah and begins to take an immediate interest in prosecuting those responsible for the massacre.  Prosecution will be frustrated by a Utah law that places jury selection in the hands of Mormon officials.
March 1859
Indian Superintendent Jacob Forney travels through southern Utah, rounding up children orphaned by the massacre.  He eventually retrieves 17 children.
April 1859
Judge Cradlebaugh issues arrest warrants for John D. Lee, Isaac Haight, and John Higbee.  The men, all accused in connection with the Mountain Meadows murders, flee.
May 5-6, 1859
The army and Judge Cradlebaugh inspect the massacre scene.  Skulls, bones, masses of women's hair, and bits of clothing still litter the scene.  Remains of the victims are buried by troops.  Cradlebaugh follows up his visit with a letter to President Buchanan outlining his conclusion that the murders were committed "by order of council."
May 12, 1859
An arrest warrant is issued for Brigham Young.  He appears voluntarily before Judge Joseph Smith (in a Mormon probate court) to give a statement about the massacre, in which he accused of being an accessory after the fact.  The case is apparently dismissed for lack of evidence.
June 3, 1859
The federal case against 38 Mormons for the massacre is essentially dropped when the U. S. Marshal declares his unwillingness to make arrests without federal troops to protect him from local citizens, and that help is not provided.
August 13, 1859
A report from the scene of the massacre, accompanied by a grisly cover sketch, appears in Harper's Weekly.
December 12, 1859
Indian Superintendent Forney arrives in Washington, D.C. with the two oldest surviving boys from the massacre.  Forney hopes the boys will be allowed to testify before Congress.
1860
With the Union ready to split apart, interest in prosecuting the Mountain Meadows massacre begins to wane.  In Utah, Governor Cumming is unwilling to press prosecution, which he sees as futile:  "God Almighty couldn't convict the butchers unless Brigham Young was willing."
1861
With the onset of the Civil War, federal troops leave Utah.
1862
Abraham Lincoln appoints non-Mormons to fill all federal offices in Utah and signs a law outlawing polygamy, although the law is largely ignored in Utah.
March 1864
John D. Lee, a man with a domineering personality who repeatedly boasted of his role in the massacre, is relieved of his position as elder of the Harmony, Utah branch of the LDS.
1868
Gov. J. Wilson Schaffer, appointed by President Grant, abolishes the Nauvoo Legion.  The Mormon political condition generally begins to deteriorate.
1870-71
Charles W. Wandell, under the pen name "Argus," writes a series of stories in the Utah Reporter challenging Brigham Young's response to the Mountain Meadows massacre.  Wandell's articles eventually produce the first confession by a massacre participant.  About this time, Young meets with Lee, Haight, Dame, and others involved in the massacre.  Historians suggest that Young singles out Lee to take the blame, confident in the belief that Lee will do as he is told at any trial. Lee is excommunicated.
April 10, 1871
Philip Klingensmith, a former LDS bishop who subsequently left the Church, appears in a Nevada court and swears out an account of the massacre, including his own role in it.
1874
Congress passes the Poland Act, which redefines the jurisdiction of courts in Utah.  The law restricted the authority of Mormon-controlled probate courts and opened Utah juries to non-Mormons.  The Poland Act finally makes prosecution for the murders at Mountain Meadows a real possibility.
October 1874
Arrests warrants are issued for Lee, Higbee, Haight, Stewart, Wilden, Adair, Klingensmith, Jukes, and Dame.
November 7, 1874
John Lee, a fugitive for fifteen years, is captured in a chicken coop near Panguitch, Utah.  Soon thereafter, federal authorities arrest William Dame.
July 23, 1875
The trial of John Lee opens in the courtroom of Judge Jacob Boreman.  Payment for Lee's defense is arranged by Brigham Young.  The prosecution's star witness is Philip Klingensmith.
August 5, 1875
The trial of John Lee ends in a hung jury, with the nine Mormon jurors voting to acquit and the three non-Mormon jurors voting to convict.  The trial, however, severely tarnishes the reputation of the LDS Church in the eyes of most Americans.
September 1, 1875
George A. Smith dies.
Summer 1876
Prosecutor Sumner Howard, the new U. S. attorney for Utah, makes a deal with Brigham Young.  Young agrees to find witnesses to convict John Lee in return for his affidavit being placed in evidence (largely exonerating him) and charges are dropped against William Dame and other Mormon officials. 
September 14, 1876
The second trial of John Lee opens in Beaver, Utah.  Numerous Mormons testify against Lee, but the testimony does not implicate other Mormons.  Lee asks that no witnesses testify in his behalf. 
September 20, 1876
After only a few hours of deliberation, an all-Mormon jury convicts John Lee.
Winter 1876-77
While his appeals play out, John Lee writes his autobiography and confession, which he gives to his attorney, William Bishop, and which is later published under the title, Mormonism Unveiled.
March 23, 1877
John Lee is executed by firing squad while sitting on his coffin in Mountain Meadows.
August 29, 1877
Brigham Young dies, possibly of appendicitis.
August 3. 1999
A back hoe's claw exposes the skeletal remains of men, women, and children massacred in 1857.
September 11, 1999
Gordon B. Hinckley, President of the LDS Church, dedicates a new monument to the victims of the 1857 massacre.  He says, "[The past] cannot be changed.  It is time to leave the entire matter to God."

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