09 August 2012

Massacre Scapegoat Executed – John D. Lee

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, 2003, Excerpts

In November 1874, a U.S. marshal named William Stokes cornered John D. Lee in the settlement of Panguitch, where he was visiting one of his remaining wives. Stokes discovered the fugitive hiding in a chicken coop under a pile of straw, and arrested him. Lee was put on trial in Beaver, Utah, but the jury deadlocked and failed to convict. Newspapers from coast to coast expressed rabid outrage, generating a hurricane of anti-Mormon sentiment.

Conceding the inevitable, Brigham adopted a pragmatic new strategy that was as brilliant as it was callous. He stopped claiming that the Indians were responsible for the massacre and decided to blame the whole thing on Lee, offering up his adopted son as a scapegoat. Lee was put on trial a second time in 1876. On this occasion the LDS First Presidency carefully screened the jurors, all Mormons, to ensure that Lee, and Lee alone, would be convicted. The court sentenced Lee to die, thereby satisfying Gentile America’s demand for justice, or at least the appearance thereof. “Better for one man to die than for the whole nation to dwindle in unbelief.”

On the morning of March 23, 1877, under the watchful eye of his guards, Lee stepped out of a carriage onto the sandy loam of the Mountain Meadow, the first time he had returned to the site of the massacre in twenty years. The condemned man completed his will, sat down on the coffin that would shortly hold his corpse, and listened to a marshal make a formal recital of his death warrant. Then he stood and calmly addressed the crowd of some eighty people who had traveled to the meadow to watch him die. “A victim must be had, and I am the victim,” Lee declared with a mix of registration and accusation. “I have been sacrificed in a cowardly, dastardly manner.”

A moment late, a deafening blast shattered the peace of the morning and four bullets tore into his chest. John D. Lee tipped back from the waist into the wooden box, his feet still planted on the meadow, as the rifles’ report echoed form the surrounding hills.

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