In April 1857, several families gathered at Beller Spring near Harrison, Ark., to make final preparations before starting their wagons for the west. Soon, other Arkansas families joined the westbound wagon train. The emigrants had big herds of cattle and dreams to match, but they never reached their goal of California.
On Sept. 11 that year, about 120 of them were slain at Mountain Meadows, near Cedar City, Utah. Their killers were 50 to 60 Mormon militiamen, aided by American Indian allies. Only 17 children, age 6 and under, were spared the horrific slaughter.
Over the weekend, descendants of those children and other relatives marked the 150th anniversary of the emigrants' departure by gathering at Beller Spring from various parts of the country.
"I've always had visions of bringing everyone together like we did to remember our ancestors," said Patty Norris, president of the Mountain Meadows Massacre Descendants, which sponsored the two-day event. Norris is the great-great-great-granddaughter of Alexander Fancher, captain of the combined-emigrant train.
Participants some wearing period clothing enjoyed wagon rides, historical speakers and exhibits, live music, a quilting bee and dutch-oven cooking.
Members of the Mountain Meadows Monument Foundation, Inc. provided 19th-century saddle, wagon and firearm displays. On Saturday evening, relatives took turns sharing family histories and other accounts of their ancestors.
At a memorial service Sunday morning, Judge Roger Logan, a local historian who counts more than 20 relatives among the emigrants, read aloud the names and ages of those slain. Family members stood up in respect as their relative's name was read.
"Our goal is to honor and preserve the memory of our ancestors and to connect families of the wagon train," Norris explained.
Norris said the approximately 75 members of her association typically hold their annual meeting in Arkansas. This year was the first time an event was held at Beller Spring.
"I feel uplifted when I'm with others who are family of the wagon train people," said Cheri Baker Walker, the great-great-granddaughter of John Twitty Baker, a co-captain of the combined train. "I always tell everybody, 'The Bakers and the Fanchers are back together again!' ... I want people to know that they were people, they were our relatives, and we want them to never be forgotten."
The MMMF shares similar goals. One of the group's accomplishments has been to locate and mark the headstones of all but one of the 17 survivors of the massacre.
"It's been very exciting each time we find and mark one of those graves," said Phil Bolinger, president of the organization.
Bolinger will be in Salt Lake City on Wednesday for a screening and roundtable discussion of "September Dawn," a soon-to-be-released movie based on the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
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