SALT LAKE CITY — The Washington County site of the 1857 tragedy known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre is one of 14 locations officially designated this week by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as national historic landmarks.
"Each of these landmarks represents a chapter in the story of America," Salazar said in making the announcement.
In the case of Mountain Meadows, it is a sad and tragic chapter. As noted on the Department of the Interior website, "the Mountain Meadows Massacre Site … marks the location of the Sept. 11, 1857, massacre of 120 emigrants by militiamen associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The event was the apex of decades of violence, mistrust and fear."
At a memorial event held in 2007 in observance of the 150th anniversary of the massacre, Elder Henry B. Eyring, then a member of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and now a member of the church's First Presidency, referred to the horrific actions taken by members of the LDS Church against a company of emigrants from Arkansas as "a terrible and inexcusable departure from Christian teaching and conduct."
"We cannot change what happened," Elder Eyring said in 2007, "but we can remember and honor those who were killed here."
According to Assistant Church Historian Richard E. Turley, representatives from the Mountain Meadows Monument Foundation -- later joined by the Mountain Meadows Massacre Descendants and the Mountain Meadows Association — approached Elder Eyring during the 2007 event and delivered letters formally requesting the church seek historic-landmark status for the site.
"In 2008 we announced in Arkansas that we would seek that status," Turley said.
Church representatives followed the meticulous federal nominating process for securing the historic-landmark designation, receiving approval at every level leading up to Salazar's announcement Thursday.
"Our feeling, honestly, is one of immense gratitude for everyone working towards this," said Turley, who co-wrote what many believe to be the definitive book on the subject, "Massacre at Mountain Meadows." "This designation represents the culmination of years of collaboration with the leaders of the various Mountain Meadows groups. It's been a wonderful experience from that standpoint."
Which is not to say that the collaborative experience is over as far the LDS Church and the Mountain Meadows groups are concerned. Turley said the groups are working together to plan another event in September, during which a plaque noting the landmark designation may be unveiled.