About John Doyle Lee
The History of John Doyal Lee
From the Book, "Our Pioneer Heritage,
John Doyle Lee was born in Kaskaskia, Illinois, on September 12, 1812. At that time Kaskaskia, the capital city of the Territory of Illinois, was the most important town on the Mississippi River, the center of activity for a large area. Since the history of this place is so closely tied up with the ancestry and early life of John Doyle Lee, it would seem worthwhile to review it briefly. Kaskaskia was settled in 1703, when a French Jesuit Priest gathered a small tribe of Indians on the site. Soon French settlers arrived until within thirty years it was almost French and Negro. It was located in a meadow land, which lay between an out-jutting rock peninsula in the stream and the high bluffs along the banks, a strategic position for river travel, and soon became an important trade center. It was captured by the English during the Indians wars of 1763, then in 1778 was taken from the English by the American General George Roger Clark in a stroke of military genius. One member of that intrepid little army was John Doyle, the maternal grandfather of John Doyle Lee.
Early records of Randolph County show that John Doyle was one of the first to claim land in this area by reason of his service in the army. His 400-acre allotment lay in this area on the bluffs opposite the village and below the point where the Kaskaskia River empties into the Mississippi.
Of his wife we know nothing, except that she must have been the daughter of one Henry Smith whose will named the two Doyle daughters as his only heirs. These two girls, Elizabeth and Charlotte, were also the only children of their father. Elizabeth, the older, married Oliver Reed, by whom she had a daughter, Elizabeth, usually called Eliza Virginia, and a son, William Oliver. In 1802 her husband was brutally murdered by a man named Jones, who was apprehended, tried and hanged in what was the second execution in the Territory of Illinois. Elizabeth returned to live in the home of her father, where she remained until her marriage to Ralph Lee on February 26, 1811. Her son, William Oliver, had died before this time.
John D. Lee was born eighteen months after this marriage. Writing of his mother, Lee says that she was in poor health all the time and an invalid for more than a year before her death. He also said that his father, at first ambitious and thrifty, took to drinking until he became a confirmed alcoholic. The court record of Randolph Co., records in May 1815 that Ralph Lee and his wife, Elizabeth Doyle, executed a deed of trust for children, Elizabeth Reed and John D. Lee, the deed was made to George Fisher to be held in trust for the children. This gave proof of his statement, for his mother died within six months after the deed was executed, in November 1815. Some time later his father, Ralph Lee, left for Texas or other point's west and was never heard of again.
After the death of their mother, Eliza, then about fourteen years of age, went to live with the family of her guardian, George Fisher. Little three-year-old John Doyle Lee was taken to the home of his aged grandfather, where he was placed in the care of a colored nurse who spoke French entirely. His grandfather spoke Indian as well as French. He had been a schoolteacher, and was known as a man of honor, but he was now an older man, whose health failed until he died on Oct. 20, 1819. Charlotte's husband, James Conner, was named administrator of the Doyle estate. John D., now seven years old, was taken to live with his Aunt Charlotte's family. Years later he was to write with bitterness of the treatment he received in the Conner home, and of the difficulty of adjusting to a new language and a family of children. His Aunt was a quick-tempered, sharp-tongued woman who did not spare the rod upon her own children nor the little extra boy of the group.
By the time he was sixteen, John D. Lee determined to go on his own. He first secured a job riding the mail through a long stretch of sparsely settled country. Later he worked on a river boat on the Mississippi, and still later was employed at a warehouse and store in the Northern mining town of Galena. During these years he built up a reputation for industry and trustworthiness. He left the mines and returned briefly to the home of his Uncle Conner, then went to visit his sister, who was now married and living near Vandalia. He met the Woolsey family and soon fell in love with the oldest daughter, Agatha Ann. They were married on July 24, 1833, and set up their home nearby. Their first child, William Oliver, died before he was two years old; their second child, Elizabeth Adeline, also died young. Their third child was named Sarah Jane.
John had sheltered the Mormon elders, and listened to their message, but was not impressed. When his neighbor, Levi Stewart, brought him a copy of the Book of Mormon and told him of a personal meeting with the youthful Prophet, John decided to read the book. He finished it the night he sat up with the corpse of his little Elizabeth Adeline. As he neared the end and read the words of Moroni in Chapter 10, Verse 4, he decided to follow the counsel of the writer and ask God concerning the truth of the book. He received a manifestation, which converted him instantly. Now he felt that he must gather with the body of the Saints.
Traveling with Levi Stewart and others, the Lee family made their way across the Mississippi River, west to central Missouri in the vicinity of the new-formed city of Far West. Here they took up land on the prairie and called their settlement Ambrosia. At this place the Lees were baptized on June 17, 1838. The Saints in this place were already being threatened again by the Missourians, and being in a majority in this area, they resolved to try to protect themselves and their property. John, being young and full of vitality, quickly joined in the defense of his people and became a member of the military organization. During the summer a condition of civil war prevailed in which one excess called forth another, until an attack on Far West was threatened. John was one who was ready to fight to the death in its defense, but when word came of the massacre at Haun's Mill, Joseph Smith decided to surrender himself in order to save another bloody tragedy. The leaders were taken to prison and the citizens forced to give up all their property, except their teams and wagons, and sign affidavits to the effect that they would leave the state. Thus, six months after he was baptized, John and his family were on their way back to safety at Vandalia, Illinois. But his faith in the Church was only made stronger by this experience.
He set a pattern for the next five years, spending about half his time traveling as a missionary, and half providing for his family. As a preacher he had remarkable success. He worked [p.401] among the well-to-do class, and never lacked for friends and prospects. Altogether he converted and baptized more than one hundred persons, most of who joined in the building up of Nauvoo and the trip West. He started his first mission with Levi Stewart, traveling with him into Tennessee, where they separated, Stewart to work among his own kinfolk, and John to proselyte among strangers. Upon their return to their families, they again joined in the move to Nauvoo, where both acquired lots and built homes. Now their ways parted again, though all their lives they were friendly.
When the Lees arrived in Nauvoo in the fall of 1843, he decided that he should spend his time working in that city. He had several appointments of importance, one of them being made a member of the group of forty special police officers who were selected in December of that year. He was also appointed secretary of the Seventies Quorum and asked to assist in building a hall for their meetings. In the meantime, the doctrine of plural marriage was being secretly taught and practiced in Nauvoo. His position of guard over the Prophet and also Brigham Young made it possible for Lee to be taught this principle also. Joseph Smith took his first admitted plural wife, Louisa Beamon, on April 5, 1841; Brigham Young took his, Lucy Deeker, on June 15th, 1842. John D. Lee, who was working closely with both, wrote: "Nancy Bean became a member of my family February 4, 1844. April 19, Louisa Free, Caroline Williams, Abigail Woolsey and Rachel Woolsey."
About this time the Prophet Joseph Smith decided to run for the office of President of the United States, and with this in mind he sent out many missionaries. John was one of a large group who left Nauvoo on May 28, 1844, for this purpose. When word came that Joseph had been killed by a mob at Carthage Jail, John could not believe it. Surely, he argued, God would not permit such a thing to happen to his chosen servant. Only after fasting and prayer and a special manifestation could he accept the reality of the death. Broken in spirit and sick at heart, he started back to Nauvoo. He arrived after the incident wherein the people of the church voted for and sustained Brigham Young as their leader. Now John became important indeed in the activities of the Church. Brigham Young appointed him private secretary to keep his records and write his letters, in addition to the responsibility of completing the Seventies' hall and keeping their books. John was such a good manager that he not only finished the hall for the Seventies, but erected a home for himself. By this time trouble with their neighbors had become so acute that the Mormon leaders had agreed to leave the state as soon as "grass grows and water runs." Late in January of 1846, it became evident that some must cross the river and prepare for the general migration. On February 12th, John crossed with one wagon, two horses and one cow, with provisions to sustain the family for two months or more. With him were his wives, Nancy Bean, with her six-week old baby girl in her arms, and Polly Workman, his youngest wife. President Young and a part of his family joined the group on February 15. This was the time when the winter storms set in, snow, hail, wind, and extreme cold so that the people coming in wagons on the prairie suffered greatly from exposure. On March 4th, John crossed the remainder of his family. This time he had four wagons and a number of cattle. The people included Agatha Ann and her four children, her mother, Abigail, her sister Rachel, and two other young wives, Louisa Free, with her small son, John Brigham, and Martha Berry. Driving the outfits were Hyrum Woolsey, one of Polly Workman's brothers, and Horace Rowan, a recent convert, with his wife.
For the next six months the family shared the experiences of the exiles on the prairie, inching westward as the weather permitted, to arrive in late August at Winter Quarters. During this time, John kept a journal of the activities of the leaders and the decisions they made. His own family is mentioned rarely; in fact we do not know definitely as to where all his wives were during this period and the years following. John was sent on several missions of great importance, the first on Feb. 18, 1846. He was given all the money that was collected and ordered to go to St. Francisville, Missouri, to buy up wagon covers and material for the Church migration. In late August 1846 he was sent to Santa Fe to collect what he could of the wages of the Mormon Battalion to help with the general maintenance of the people. This trip lasted nearly three months, as he reported back and turned over the money on November 20. He remained in Winter Quarters with his family just one month when he was to go on another trading and buying expedition. The bishops of twenty-two wards had reported that the foodstuffs of the camp were almost depleted, and the only chance for survival seemed to be to send to the Missouri settlements for more supplies. John was responsible for two four-mule teams. He was gone three weeks through bitter weather and besides what he hauled back himself he secured a load of provisions consisting of salt, dried fruit, molasses, honey, tallow, dry beans and 1200 pounds of pork, which he sent back by gentile traders. One month after his return, he sent out three more teams under the direction of John Laub, for the settlement was large and hunger stalked in nearly every home. This was February 1847.
The talk now was of all moving to the mountains, but it was clear that only a picked company could make the trip the first season. Others must remain and cultivate the land, or work for supplies to last through the second winter, and a surplus to provide them for the trek. John wanted desperately to be one of the band of first pioneers, but President Young told him that he was needed more to stay and raise corn. He, and twenty-seven others, moved out of Winter Quarters about 18 miles to a location they called Summer Quarters, and during the summer of 1847 raised more than 4,000 bushels of corn to aid in the migration of the next year.
In the meantime his family affairs had become complicated. He records his marriage to Emmaline Woolsey, youngest sister of Agatha and Rachel, on December 12, 1846. Then on February 27, 1848, he took three additional wives in one ceremony: Nancy Gibbons Armstrong, and two sisters, Polly and Lavina Young. All were girls whom he had converted. The strains and privations of frontier life, his long absences on trips for the church, and the natural jealousy common to women, resulted in some friction in his household. One wife, Delethia Morris, left him and married another man; Emmaline Woolsey gave aid to one of Lee's enemies, so she deserted; Polly Workman was prone to stir up strife, hence she was sent to live with her brother. Nancy Armstrong fell a victim to the plague. And died at Summer Quarters in August 1847. Nancy Bean and Louise Free, each of who bore him a child, left him and crossed the plains with their parents. Caroline Williams, though she was sealed to him early, remained with her Aunt Marcia Allen and did not join the Lee family until 1850.
Thus it was that when John set out on this trip across the plains with the 1848 company, he had along Agatha Ann with her children, her mother Abigail, and her sister, Rachel, both of whom were sealed to him, and three other plural wives: Martha Barry, Polly Young and Lavina Young. The trip started on June 1st, and lasted until September 23rd, and was characterized by the difficulties which would attend overloaded wagons and underfed teams on heavy roads. There was some sickness also, and one death. Abigail Woolsey was taken violently ill on September 1st, and on September 3rd was buried by the roadside. Upon their arrival in the Valley so late in the season, two major problems presented themselves; shelter from the winter storms and feed for the stock. John had a cabin finished before the first snow in November, and had taken the cattle to the banks of the Big Cottonwood creek where he found some natural pasture and took up land.
For the next two years, everyone worked diligently to clear and fence land, to raise crops, to build homes, and to accumulate some few comforts. John was a member of the Council of Fifty, which directed the general policies; he attended their meetings regularly and carried out many assignments in the public interest. In December he was called to be one of the company sent to colonize the Iron mission at Parowan, in the extreme southern part of the state. This call was a severe test of his faith and loyalty; just ready to reap some of the fruits of his two years of hard labor, and now he was asked to leave it and start all over again.
Since the journey was to be in mid-winter, he left most of his wives and all of his children at home, and took with him only Polly and Lavina, each of whom would bear him a child in about three months. Although this trip was less than three hundred miles, they were five weeks on the road. During this time the people suffered from cold and exposure and the animals from lack of food. The arrival at the site of the new settlement did not better the situation, for the spring was late that year. Within a few weeks, John had a cabin built and some land cleared, though the late snows made it impossible to plant crops, and the cold froze all the seed potatoes. But spring did finally come, grain and gardens were planted, and the new fort town hummed with activity. In the Lee home, Lavina gave birth to a son, John David, on March 19, 1851, and on April 24, 1851 Polly had a daughter whom they named Elizabeth.
On June 4th, John returned to Salt Lake to attend to his affairs. All summer he remained, caring for his farm, disposing of his property and preparing to move the remainder of his large family. At the October conference his name was read from the pulpit as being in charge of a colony on the Virgin river. As soon as possible they were on their way, arriving in Parowan in early November. The next season, John and a few other families moved south to Ash Creek and built a small enclosure of houses, but in early 1854 they pulled on still further to a large plain east of the present town of Harmony. President Brigham Young and a number of other leaders were present and helped to select the site and lay out the fort, May 20, 1854. By 1857, Fort Harmony was the center of a community of 32 heads of families, some living outside the fort at the present site of the town. Other families from the north had settled at Santa Clara, Washington, Pine Valley, and Pinto. The reformation within the church had been started the year before, wherein all members were catechized and exhorted to renew the covenants they had made in earlier days in Nauvoo. The fragmentary diary of Rachel Lee gives much detail of this activity.
By this time also, matters at Salt Lake City had reached a climax in relation to the public officials appointed at Washington, D.C. One after another had returned to report that the Mormons were in a state of rebellion and that they acknowledged no authority except that of Brigham Young. President Buchanan, for political reasons, authorized the sending of an army west to put down this supposed rebellion. Word of this decision reached Salt Lake City on July 24, 1857, as the Saints were celebrating the 10th anniversary of their entrance into the Valley. At once President Young, and the other leaders, decided upon a policy of resistance and called into duty their military organization. Word of the action reached the southern settlement on August 4th. Immediately there was a call to arms, much drilling, and repeated rehearsals of the persecutions of the past.
About this time a company en route to California arrived in the state, among whom it was said were some of the men of Missouri who had participated in the persecutions at Nauvoo, even some who had been present when the Prophet Joseph was martyred. As they moved through the state along the Old Spanish Trail, they met with opposition at every town. People refused to sell them grain or other foodstuffs, having been counseled to store it all against the need during a long war. By the time the company reached Cedar City, the Indians were following them. John D. Lee had been appointed Indian agent some time before, and so was called in also. In a tragic combination of circumstances the entire train, with the exception of eighteen young children, was massacred at the Mountain Meadows. This marked the climax of the Mormon War, the end of the policy of resistance, and the beginning of the move south from Salt Lake Valley. For Lee, it marked a change in the whole course of his life. Although there were at least fifty other white men on the ground as participants, and Lee was not the commanding officer of the militia, he was in charge of Indian affairs in the south. The decision to call the tragedy an Indian massacre, brought Lee's name into the later reports, until as the years passed the general public's attitude grew up that he was first, chiefly responsible, and later that he was almost entirely responsible for the crime. The massacre occurred on September 11, 1857.
Immediately after, on September 20th, John started for Salt Lake City, taking with him part of the loot, and going directly to his adopted father, Brigham Young, with a report of the affair. This also helped to identify him with the incident, but the fact that President Young ordered him to be in charge of the cattle and outfits helped to direct the finger of blame upon him in the South. Still, for more than seventeen years, he went into headquarters and took his place in the Council of Fifty. He entertained President Young and most of the visiting authorities in his home in the south and traveled as a member of the parties through the southern settlements. With the outbreak of the Civil War in the East, the Church authorities decided to establish a cotton mission in the extreme Southern part of the state. Since 1856, there had been experiments in its culture at Santa Clara, Washington, and various Church farms along the Virgin River. In the fall of 1861 some 300 families were called to settle St. George, their business to provide the Church with cotton. At this time Polly and Lavina were living at Washington, where later Lee built an impressive rock mansion. At Harmony he was preparing to leave the Fort and move to a site about three miles above the town near the base of the mountain, where he had smaller houses under construction.
This winter of 1861 has become known as the year of the floods in Southern Utah. Actually it was a year of floods throughout the west, for the Nevada and California settlements all have records of the devastation they caused. At Santa Clara, the rock fort was washed away, along with the flour mill and molasses mill on the upper Virgin; Philip Klingensmith was completely wiped out of home, barns, cattle, and farm land. At Harmony, Lee tried to move his families from the Fort, which was beginning to disintegrate in the steady downpour. The roof had been blown from one section, but his homes were not ready, and the business of moving in hub-deep mud was slow and heartbreaking. The final tragedy came when a part of the fort wall blew down and killed two of his children as they lay in bed on the evening of Feb. 6, 1862. They were little George A. and Margaret Ann, children of Sarah Caroline. In June 1866, Agatha Ann died at Harmony, after a lingering illness, during which she asked her sister, Rachel, to take charge of her children. Her loss was felt by all, since as the first wife she had much to do with family policies. By this time the family was prospering financially, Lee had holdings at Toquerville and Parowan and his farm at Harmony was large and productive, as were also his orchards and vineyards at Washington.
His family had also grown in numbers. Although Martha Berry had left him in 1858, taking her younger children, Lee had married other wives after his move south. These included Mary Leah Groves, 1851; Mary Ann Williams, 1858; Emma Bachellor, 1858; Teressa Morse, 1859; and Ann Gordge, sometime before 1866. Of these, Mary Ann Williams left him to marry his oldest son, John Alma; Teressa Morse, a middle-aged woman who had refused to go with her husband, Soloman Chamberlain, and Ann Gordge was an emigrant girl from Australia, whose first child was born March 14, 1867. She later left him also, taking her baby with her, and leaving a little girl and boy with the family. Emma Bachellor remained faithful until his death. By this time he was beginning to feel more and more the weight of public disapproval. New settlers in the area had come to look upon him as the one wholly responsible for the tragedy at Mountain Meadows, and though President Young continued to stay at the Lee home and to give him some public recognition, the family all suffered from the stigma of his name. In September 1870, Lee accompanied Brigham Young and a group of explorers to the Colorado River via Kanab. Lee was, in fact, the man who rode ahead to mark out the road, cut down high banks, and select camping places for the night. They laid out the town of Kanab and made Levi Stewart the bishop. When President Young advised the Bishop to set up a portable sawmill in the area to get out lumber for the settlement, he replied that he would be glad to do so provided John D. Lee should be called to run the mill. President Young then suggested that Lee buy a half interest in the mill, sell out his property at Harmony, and move out to the new settlement.
This was another great sacrifice, for the prospective home was in the midst of a desolate area. Lee, however, did not question but proceeded to get the mill set up, and began operations. This was in mid-September. When Lee was forced to start back to the settlements in November, he met a messenger at Pipe Springs with a number of letters, one of which was a notification that he had been excommunicated from the Church but it did not specifically name the cause. The action had been taken on October 8, 1870, immediately after Brigham Young's return to Salt Lake City. Nothing could have been harder to take than this, for Lee had been loyal for so many years that he loved the Church better than life itself and nothing could be more eloquent of his feelings than the entry he made in his diary under date of November 22, 1870.
"My love for the Truth is above all other things and is first with me, and I believe that President Young has suffered this to take place for a wise purpose and not for any malicious intent. My prayer is, May God bless him with light and with the intelligence of Heaven to comprehend the things of God and discriminate between truth and error...."
His excommunication was evidently made public at the Stake Conference held in St. George the following spring, though there is no mention of it in the minutes. This seems strange because other men's names were recorded as being cut off, and unofficial sources tell it. The L.D.S. Church Historian, Assistant A. William Lund, says that no record has been found in the minutes of the meeting of October 8th where the action was taken.
With this formal declaration against him, Lee was now a hunted man. He came immediately to St. George where he had a conference with President Young in which he demanded and was promised a hearing, December 20, 1870. Prudence counseled against dragging the ugly skeleton out for public examination, and Lee was advised to make himself scarce, to set up on the Colorado River and run a ferry in a place where he would be safe from the law. The move out to this area during the winter of 1870-71 was attended by hardship and heavy hearts. His wife, Teressa, moved north to live with a married son by a previous marriage; Ann Gordge later took her baby and went north to seek employment. Lavina and Polly had homes at Skutumpah; Caroline at Panguitch; Rachel at Jacob's Pools; and Emma at Lonely Dell. Lee spent his time among them as he could, even visiting the settlements occasionally. But life here was one continual struggle with the elements, in a land where there was little of either plant or animal life, it was difficult for man to survive. Hardest of all were the long, empty times when for months they would see no human being.
Then in 1872, the church leaders decided to colonize Arizona and ask John to operate a ferry across the Colorado. They sent out "Uncle Tom Smith" to superintend the building. He brought his material and his son to assist, and with John's cooperation the ferryboat was completed and dedicated on January 11, 1873. By the first of February an exploring party reached the river, from that time until June 16th many people crossed on the ferry, both going and returning from Arizona. It was a dry year, so that many of the water holes on the Arizona side of the stream were dry, and most of the people sent to establish colonies were forced to return. Then on June 16, 1873, a great storm blew a large tree into the boat, broke it loose, and carried it away. There could be no more crossing of emigrant trains until another boat was built. Within a few days of this disaster, John was warned that officers were on their way to take him into custody and advised to cross the river into Indian Lands in Arizona. This he did, and remained in isolation for nine months, until mid-March of 1874. During this period he planted and raised crops, suffered one serious illness as a result of which his wife, Rachel, joined him, having received a message from a little bird. This story of John telling a bird to fly swiftly to his home, written in a fine lyrical verse in his diary, and of Rachel's having a bird appear at her door and act in such a way that she knew she must go to her husband, is one of the priceless traditions of the Lee family. While he was away, his wife, Emma, gave birth to a baby at Lonely Dell, attended only by her 12 year-old son. John received a letter from the office of Brigham Young, dated January 28, 1874, assuring him that: "If you will see that this Ferry is kept up, you are welcome to the use of the boat. You should charge a suitable price for your labor. When we come along with our company we shall expect to pay you liberally for your services-." This was the real reason for his returning, the whole tenor of the message was so favorable that John was overjoyed. Referring to President Young he wrote in his diary: "It was only another evidence of the high minded philanthropy that ever characterized the Nobleness of his character."
Now John went back to Lonely Dell and as soon as he could arrange it, started back to the settlements. En route he visited his family at Skutumpah where his two wives, Polly and Lavina, lived. Together with his son, John David, and his friend, Tom Clark.
More about John D. Lee
The John D. Lee story:
After the successful American Revolution, John Doyle, Lee's maternal grandfather, had traveled to Illinois from Virginia to claim 400 acres of frontier land allotted under the grant of 1787, earned as part of his military service. Lee's mother was Doyle's first daughter, Elizabeth. She married Ralph Lee, on 26 February 1811.
Ralph Lee was a cousin related to the Lees of Virginia and plied the carpenter's trade. When Elizabeth's health failed, Ralph began drinking to excess. In May 1811 they executed a deed of trust to care for their children. Elizabeth died in November 1815. John D. spent the next four years in the care of a black nurse, in the home of John Doyle, who died in 1819. At that time John D. went to live with his uncle, James Conner, and his wife, Charlotte. They had six children, and John D. soon felt like an extra child where there were already too many.
At age twenty, John D. left to find work. He worked on a steamboat and proved his trustworthiness to a merchant, a Mr. Boggs, at Galena, Illinois, where he learned more of the world and business. When he moved to Vandalia, where his sister Elizabeth lived, he became acquainted with Agatha Ann Woolsey, whom he married 24 July 1833 after a brief courtship.
Introduced to the LDS Church, Lee and his wife moved to Far West, Missouri, in June 1838 and began the association which influenced the rest of his life. Lee and his wife were baptized on 17 June 1838 after meeting Joseph Smith for the first time. The experience of baptism was powerful enough to cause him to dedicate his life to the Mormon Church. As part of the work of building up the Kingdom of God, Lee eventually married eighteen more women and fathered sixty children. Lee became a member of the Danites, a secret fraternal order that was pledged to defend the rights of Mormons. Election day, 6 August 1838, provided Lee an opportunity to defend the rights of Mormon voters when Missourians who objected to Mormons voting started a riot.
When one member of the secret order made the sign of distress, eight others, including Lee, waded in with clubs and brought calm to the street. Organized marauders on both sides set loose looting and burning; Lee later admitted to looting. Governor Lilburn Boggs sent in the state militia with his "Extermination Order" to protect the public good. The Mormons, including Lee, left Missouri for Nauvoo, Illinois.
Lee served several brief missions in nearby states and enjoyed success as a preacher, organizer, and healer. He returned to Nauvoo in August 1843 and resumed his duties as a guard at the home of Joseph Smith-a duty he regarded as a privilege. He felt that, "save Jesus Christ," no greater man than the Mormon Prophet had ever lived. When spring came, Lee was called on another mission and went to eastern Kentucky, where he was serving in June 1844 when Joseph and Hyrum Smith were murdered. He returned in August to face a new and threatening situation from neighbors who did not want Mormons in Illinois. Brigham Young, the defacto leader of the Mormons, had started
preparations for a move to the West where the Mormons could practice their religion in peace.
Lee was a member of the "Council of Fifty," an organization of Mormon leaders. Lee's role proved to be as a clerk and purchasing agent, positions in which his skills proved valuable. When the first party of pioneers left for the Great Basin in 1847, Lee and his family stayed in Iowa, sixteen miles north of Winter Quarters at "Summer Quarters," to farm and raise crops for those left behind and others to follow. On his own journey across the plains the next year, he was appointed a "Captain of Fifty" and secretary of the train by Brigham Young.
Once he arrived in the Great Basin, Lee, as a member of the Council of Fifty, was kept busy. Other Mormon leaders valued his industry and loyalty. In 1850 he was called to help open the Iron Mission. He took two of his wives and left the Salt Lake Valley in late December 1850. The journey was made in deep snow to what is now Parowan, Iron County. Lee returned to Salt Lake in July 1851 to move his family south to the place he planned to call his home, a place called Harmony.
In January 1856 Lee was appointed U.S. government Indian Agent in the Iron County environs. His job was to distribute tools, seed, and supplies, and to assist the Indians with farming methods. Because of this assignment, Lee became the central figure in the tragic Mountain Meadows Massacre which occurred in September 1857.
After a group of 120 to 150 California-bound men, women, and children, known as the Fancher Party, was attacked by Indians in a four-day siege while they were camped at Mountain Meadows, Lee and William Bateman met with members of the wagon train and arranged for them to be escorted to safety under a flag of truce by the Mormon militia. With no other alternative, the company surrendered their weapons, but as they marched away from their wagons, Mormon militiamen, including Lee, shot and killed the male members of the party while Indians killed the women and older children. Seventeen small children were spared and cared for by Mormon families until they were returned to relatives in Arkansas.
The reasons for the massacre are complex, but center around a wartime hysteria that had built up in Utah with the announcement in July 1857 that a federal army was en route to Utah to put down an alleged Mormon rebellion. Rumors also circulated that members of the Fancher party had stolen from the Mormons, poisoned their reservoirs, and boasted of their role in the assassination of Joseph Smith.
After the massacre, John D. Lee remained an active leader in Mormon affairs in southern Utah. However, by the late 1860s, questions about the massacre became more and more difficult to avoid, and in October 1870 Brigham Young excommunicated Lee from the Mormon Church for his role in the affair. Lee was the only one so punished and would later maintain that he became a scapegoat to take the public pressure off the more responsible Mormon leaders.
In a search for safety from arrest, in 1872 Lee moved to a remote crossing of the Colorado River,where he established Lee's Ferry, a vital link connecting southern Utah with Mormon settlements in northeastern Arizona.
Lee was arrested in November 1874, and was tried and convicted of murder at Mountain Meadows. He was taken to the massacre site, where he was executed by a firing squad on 23 March 1877. His body was buried in the Panguitch cemetery. On 20 April 1961 Lee was restored to membership in the Mormon Church.
More of the John D. Lee History:
Of note: There may be some replete of items above in this Article.
His excommunication was evidently made public at the Stake Conference held in St. George the following spring, though there is no mention of it in the minutes. This seems strange because other mens names were recorded as being cut off, and unofficial sources tell it. The L.D.S. Church Historian, Assistant A. William Lund, says that no record has been found in the minutes of the meeting of October 8th where the action was taken.
With this formal declaration against him, Lee was now a hunted man. He came immediately to St. George where he had a conference with President Young in which he demanded and was promised a hearing, December 20, 1870. Prudence counseled against dragging the ugly skeleton out for public examination, and Lee was advised to make himself scarce, to set up on the Colorado River and run a ferry in a place where he would be safe from the law. The move out to this area during the winter of 1870/71 was attended by hardship and heavy hearts. His wife, Teressa, moved north to live with a married son by a previous marriage; Ann Gordge later took her baby and went north to seek employment. Lavina and Polly had homes at Skutumpah; Caroline at Panguitch; Rachel at Jacob's Pools; and Emma at Lonely Dell. Lee spent his time among them as he could, even visiting the settlements occasionally. But life here was one continual struggle with the elements, in a land where there was little of either plant or animal life, it was difficult for man to survive. Hardest of all were the long, empty times when for months they would see no human being.
Then in 1872, the church leaders decided to colonize Arizona and ask John to operate a ferry across the Colorado. They sent out "Uncle Tom Smith" to superintend the building. He brought his material and his son to assist, and with John's cooperation the ferry boat was completed and dedicated on January 11, 1873. By the first of February an exploring party party reached the river, from that time until June 16th many people crossed on the ferry, both going and returning from Arizona. It was a dry year, so that many of the water holes on the Arizona side of the stream were dry, and most of the people sent to establish colonies were forced to return. Then on June 16, 1873, a great storm blew a large tree into the boat, broke it loose, and carried it away. There could be no more crossing of emigrant trains until another boat was built.
Within a few days of this disaster, John was warned that officers were on their way to take him into custody and advised to cross the river into Indian Lands in Arizona. This he did, and remained in isolation for nine months, until mid-March of 1874. During this period he planted and raised crops, suffered one serious illness as a result of which his wife, Rachel, joined him,having received a message from a little bird. This story of John telling a bird to fly swiftly to his home, written in a fine lyrical verse in his diary, and of Rachel's having a bird appear at her door and act in such a way that she knew she must go to her husband, is one of the priceless traditions of the Lee family. While he was away, his wife, Emma, gave birth to a baby at Lonely Dell, attended only by her 12 year-old son. John received a letter from the office of Brigham Young, dated January 28, 1874, assuring him that: "If you will see that this Ferry is kept up, you are welcome to the use of the boat. You should charge a suitable price for your labor. When we come along with our company we shall expect to pay you liberally for your services." This was the real reason for his returning, the whole tenor of the message was so favorable that John was overjoyed. Referring to President Young he wrote in his diary: "It was only another evidence of the high minded philanthropy that ever characterized the Nobleness of his character."
Now John went back to Lonely Dell and as soon as he could arrange it, started back to the settlements. En route he visited his family at Skutumpah where his two wives, Polly and Lavina, lived. Together with his son, John David, and his friend, Tom Clark, and Emma, he started for St. George. At Pipe Springs he met the outfit taking out materials for the new boat. He left Emma and the wagon at Washington and rode over to St. George horseback, arrived at Brigham Young's home Sunday evening April 5, 1874. Here he was greeted cordially, was invited to stay for supper, introduced to the family and given the full evening for visiting and discussion.
The next three days, he traveled with the group from the North, taking leave of them at Kanarraville on April 8th, where he recorded that; "President Young implicitly enjoined it upon me to see after the ferry, and not let the boat get away from me into the hands of our enemies, and not to hire the gentiles to tend it."
Six months later, on November 7, 1874, John was apprehended at Panguitch, Utah by United States Marshal William Stokes, and brought to Fort Cameron at Beaver for trial for his part in the Mountain Meadow Massacre. The trial dragged on, with no witnesses in good standing in the Church appearing, the defense taking the stand that John was not responsible for what happened as he was but one of a group and not the one in command, that it was all a result of the teachings of the Mormon church and the covenants that had been made "to avenge the blood of the Prophets." At the close, the jury was divided, half for acquittal, and half for the death penalty. On August 9, 1875, under heavy guard he started from the Beaver Jail to the United States Penitentiary. Here he was confined for nine months during which time he kept a daily record of what went on.
This is a most remarkable document, not only from John's personal experiences but for what it shows of the treatment of criminals in the State. He was able to purchase a limited freedom because he inspired the confidence of the officials, he was helpful and cooperative, and he paid $5.00 a month to the warden. Thus he was allowed to help pick and can fruit in the fall, to milk the cow, feed the horse, and shovel snow during the winter. Best of all, he was allowed to teach a school among the young men in the jail in which he made a table and benches for their use, set copy for them to write, listened to them read, and generally encouraged them to a better life. His wife, Rachel, was allowed to join him in the penitentiary, paying for her way and part of his freedom by cooking and washing for the prisoners. Through all of this, his great desire was for a retrial in which he felt certain that he would secure his freedom.
John was finally released on bail of $15,000 on May 11, 1876, during the next three months he visited all his families, tried to get his affairs in order and reconcile himself to the thought that this might be the end for him. Though his bondsman, William H. Hooper, had indicated that the would be pleased if he escaped, and his sons at the ferry urged him to cross the Colorado and flee to Mexico, he took the stand that he would rather die like a man than live like a dog. Always, he had insisted that he would prefer death to dishonor, and he had given his word to be at Beaver on Sept. 11th. The second trial moved with dispatch. Now other participants took the stand as witnesses, and men in good standing in the church testified as to what they had heard. Now the lawyers were careful to ask only questions concerning John, without incriminating anyone else. Under these conditions, memories were sharpened and answers were prompt so far as the conduct of John was concerned; if the witness forgot all else that transpired he was not condemned. In just a week the all-Mormon jury was unanimous for conviction, some admitted later that they had salved their conscience by the thought that "it was better that one man should perish than a whole nation dwindle in unbelief." Between the time of his conviction and the execution, a petition was circulated in his behalf. This was signed by more than eight hundred citizens of the Beaver and Panguitch areas. John was given the alternative life and freedom, if he would tell all that he knew of what went on that fateful day, or death before a firing squad if he would not. He chose the latter.
Transporting him all the way to the Mountain Meadows for his execution was another attempt to arrange the stage props for his final tragedy, a last effort to break his will. He remained calm; he spoke clearly; he asked only that his executioners center his heart and not mutilate his body. Five simultaneous shots rang out. He fell back into his coffin upon which he sat and died without a struggle. He was buried in the cemetery at Panguitch, where a simple shaft marks his grave. Today his published writings have brought him before the world in his true light as a man of great ability and integrity, and above all, a deep and true loyalty to his Church. Others of his records will no doubt be found in the future years to shed light upon the tragic period which is still clouded, but it is likely that these will only increase the stature of this man who now stands as a lonely, tragic figure; one of the great among the builders of this western empire.
Excerpts From John D. Lee's Farewell Letter To His Family
Morning clear, still and pleasant, since my confinement here, I have reflected much over my sentence, and as the time of execution draws near I feel composed and as calm as a summer morning. I hope to meet my fate with manly courage. I declare my innocence. I have done nothing designedly wrong in that unfortunate and lamentable affair with which I have been implicated. used my utmost endeavors to save them from their sad fate. I freely would have given worlds, were they at my command, to have averted that evil. I wept and mourned over them before and after, but words will not help them, now it is done. My blood cannot help them, neither can it make that atonement required. Death to me has no terror. It is but a struggle and all is over. I much regret to part with my loved ones here, especially under the odium of disgrace that will follow my name. That I cannot help.
I know that I have a reward in Heaven, and my conscience does not accuse me. This to me is a great consolation. I place more value upon it than I would upon my eulogy without merit. If my work is done here upon earth, I ask God in Heaven in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, to receive my spirit, and allow me to meet my loved ones who have gone behind the veil. The bride of my youth and her faithful mother, my devoted friend and companion, N. A., also my dearly beloved children, all of whom I parted with sorrow, but shall meet with joy. I bid you all an affectionate farewell.
Be kind and true to each other. Do not contend about my property. You know my mind concerning it. Live faithful and humble before God, that we may meet again in the mansions of bliss that God has prepared for his faithful servants. Remember the last words of your most true and devoted friend on earth, and let them sink deep into your tender aching hearts; many of you I may never see in this world again, but I leave my blessing with you. Farewell.
John D. Lee
His family had also grown in numbers. Although Martha Berry had left him in 1858, taking his younger children, Lee had married other wives after his move south. These included Mary Leah Groves, 1851; Mary Ann Williams, 1858; Emma Bachellor, 1858; Teressa Morse, 1859; and Ann Gordge. sometime before 1866. Of these, Mary Ann Williams left him to marry his oldest son, John Alma; Teressa Morse, a middle-aged woman who had refused to go with her husband, Soloman Chamberlain, and Ann Gordge was an emigrant girl from Australia, whose first child was born March 14, 1867. She later left him also, taking her baby with her, and leaving a little girl and boy with the family. Emma Bachellor remained faithful until his death. By this time he was beginning to feel more and more the weight of public disapproval. New settlers in the area had come to look upon him as the one wholly responsible for the tragedy at Mountain Meadows, and though President Young continued to stay at the Lee home and to give him some public recognition, the family all suffered from the stigma of his name.
In September 1870, Lee accompanied Brigham Young and a group of explorers to the Colorado River via Kanab. Lee was, in fact, the man who rode ahead to mark out the road, cut down high banks, and select camping places for the night. They laid out the town of Kanab and made Levi Stewart the bishop. When President Young advised the Bishop to set up a portable sawmill in the area to get out lumber for the settlement, he replied that he would be glad to do so provided John D. Lee should be called to run the mill. President Young then suggested that Lee buy a half interest in the mill, sell out his property at Harmony, and move out to the new settlement.
More pertaining to John D. Lee
Extracts from letters written by John R. Young, pioneer of 1847, to his grandson, John A. Young, by whom they were submitted.
In September, 1865, Brigham Young visited St. George where I then lived. Just before he started on the return trip I got a program of the meetings to be held, so I could follow and attend. The one at Cedar City was held at 2 P. M. When I reached Cedar City the meeting was in session. Hitching my horses to the wagon so they could eat I slipped into the meeting and found a seat near the door. At the close of the meeting I passed out and lingered on the outer circle of the crowd. Uncle Brigham came out, paused at the door and looked to the south. Then he glanced hurriedly over the crowd and came direct to me and asked if I had time to take a walk with him. With joy I placed my hand in his. We walked to the street and then turned southward. Just as we came to the last house in Cedar we met John D. Lee. He had a blind bridle in his right hand. He changed it over to the left and reached out his hand to shake with uncle Brigham. But uncle refused to shake hands with him and said, "John. what made you lie to me about the Mountain Meadow Massacre?" Lee looked down to the ground. Uncle upbraided him and told him that he never wanted to see him again. Then he walked from Lee and I knew, if nobody else did, that John D. Lee had lied to Brigham Young about the Mountain Meadow difficulty.
My brother-in-law, Samuel Knight, gathered the seventeen little helpless children into his wagon and cared for them until provision was made for their protection. George Adair and I were sleeping together near the bridge at Marysvale when Adair was arrested by deputy marshals and taken to Beaver and put in irons and treated cruelly for months trying to bribe him to testify falsely against Brigham Young. For years I was closely associated with Jacob Hamblin, Ira Hatch, and James Pearse who knew all about that unfortunate Mountain Meadow tragedy. Our historian, Orson F. Whitnev's statements about that most regrettable deed are correct. John D. Lee was the most active white agitator in that shameful butchery. He was justly punished. Beyond that the mantle of charity and forgetfulness should be dropped. It was in a day of nervous fearfulness, of a tremulous dread lest the cruel experiences of Missouri and Nauvoo would be visited again upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints.
More John D. Lee stories:
Now in the year 1851, I left Salt Lake to go to Parowan to live, to help strengthen the place against Indians; for they were very doubtful neighbors and committed some trespasses against us which was very hard to bear, such as killing our young calves on the range to eat and were otherwise very saucy [p.186] and turbulent, especially among the women. One Indian struck John D. Lee's wife over the head and cut a gash some three or four inches long and we like to had war over it; and if it had not been for the old Piede Captain we do not know what trouble we might have had. He truly was a good Indian; he said he would whip the Indian until Brother Lee said it was enough, if that would do. So Brother Lee agreed to that. So the Captain had him tied to a liberty pole [Community flag pole], and took the end of a short lariat and he did his duty to him, too. He made him rise and twist every lick he gave him, but he took it like a soldier, although his back was mangled considerable. The old captain seemed to get tired and would stop to rest, and would say, "How much more?" They would say "More yet," until I thought the atonement was fully made. The last time he stopped he said, "Will that do?" Lee said, "Yes," and the white man and the red man was glad that the difficulty was settled.
John D. Lee and the Indians - The Deseret News, September 4, 1852
Parowan, Aug. 7, 1852.
Dear Bro. Richards: A few days ago we had a visit from the Toquer Captain (or Black Chief), so called by the South Pah Eed Indians, with about thirty of his warriors. They were from the Santa Clara and Rio Virgin country, and wished to hold a council with me upon the subject of forming a settlement in their country. I was absent from Parowan at the time, which to them was quite a disappointment, but fortunately, though accidentally, I fell in with them on their return near Coal Creek. They met me with the greatest warmth of Indian friendship, they all recognized me on sight, and said that I had been in their country, and promised to settle there. They wished to know if I still intended to comply with my promises, and how soon; I replied, whenever the Big Captain told me to go, perhaps it would be within four moons. They expressed great anxiety to have us settle among them, so they could "manika" (work) for the Mormons, like the Pah Eeds at Parowan.
The settlements at Parowan and Cedar City are in a flourishing condition; crops of almost every kind look well. The Iron company have labored under many disadvantages which are common in every new country, which has caused the work to move on slowly, yet the most of the brethren are determined never to cease their exertions until iron is made, and I believe they will accomplish it. The health of the saints is good in general. The spirit that led them to form this colony in the depth of winter, and that, too, under many adverse circumstances, is still here to unite the people together in their exertions to build up the Kingdom of God.
The natives in general are peaceable and well disposed, though some few are reckless and have need to be looked after. On Saturday, the 7th, one of those characters, a brother to Ow-wan-nop the Chief, came into my house in my absence, and was very saucy. Mrs. Lee bid him leave which he took as an insult, and instead of going out, struck her over her left eye with a piece of plank, leaving the skull bare about four inches. He struck her three blows, which set up his present weapon, he then seized a stick about three inches over, and aimed the fatal blow, when she was rescued by Brother William Barton, who caught the blow with one hand, and struck him two licks with the other hand, almost dislocating his neck; this ended the affray. It is but due to Mrs. Lee to say that she fought like a heroine to the last moment, although her face and clothes were bathed in crimson gore. This transaction caused a doleful sensation throughout the camp for a little season. This morning Ow-wan-nop, the chief, and a Pahvante chief, together with a few of their leading men met in council at my house. President Smith, Brother Steele, Brother Lunt, and myself told them through my boy, who was our interpreter, that we were not mad with all the Indians, but were not pleased with the Indian who had abused our squaws, and if they wanted to be our friends, they must bring and tie him to the liberty pole, and give him forty lashes, well put on, and we would then be satisfied for that and other offenses which he had previously committed on other females. We sat in council about two hours, and fully explained our intentions and feelings towards them. They readily promised to comply with our proposition and be friendly. Accordingly, about sun-down the two chiefs, with twenty two of their braves, marched the criminal to the spot appointed, armed with their bows and arrows. We told them that if they were our friends, they would leave their weapons at their camps as a token of their sincerity, they were disarmed in a moment, and two men were appointed to convey them without the Fort. The victim was then stripped and tied to the liberty pole, and with a raw hide lasso doubled five times, received thirty-eight lashes, pretty well tucked on. He was whipped by his own brother, the chief, who, while repeating the blows, said, "you would not hear, your ears were stopped up, but now I will open them so that they will always stay open." He then told him that if he attempted to shoot our cattle in retaliation, he would kill him. We told the chief to stop,that we were satisfied.
The pipe of friendship was then smoked, though previously a prayer was offered to the Great Spirit by one of their chiefs, as an evidence of their innocence of the misdemeanor alleged to one of their tribe. In return for their prompt compliance with our request, the chiefs were presented with a shirt each, and the braves with bread. A greater degree of fidelity in the performance of their promises was never before witnessed among any of the Indian tribes, and they set an example worthy to be followed by many of the more civilized and enlightened whites.
With grateful feelings, I subscribe myself your friend and brother in the new and everlasting Covenant.
John D. Lee
John Doyle Lee
A man whose life was stained by tragedy, John D. Lee is perhaps the most controversial figure in Mormon history.
Born in 1812 in Kaskaskia, Illinois Territory, Lee had a tumultuous childhood. At age three, his mother died after years of lingering illnesses, leaving Lee to his alcoholic father. From age seven to sixteen Lee was raised in an uncle's family. He worked for a time as a mail carrier before assuming managerial responsibility for his uncle's farm, then worked several years as a store clerk in Galena, Illinois. Finally, Lee moved to Vandalia, Illinois, where he met and married Agatha Ann Woolsey in 1833.
It was in Vandalia that Lee and his wife encountered Mormonism. In 1837 a Mormon missionary converted the couple to the young religion, which had been formally organized only seven years before. Lee's religious passion quickly became the driving force in his life, prompting him to move in 1838 to a homestead near the Mormon town of Far West, Missouri.
The large influx of Mormons into Northwest Missouri caused enormous tensions with the non-Mormon "gentile" population. Many of the gentiles were hostile on purely religious grounds, but they also resented the political and economic power which the cohesive Mormon community had acquired. Individual confrontations soon exploded into near warfare involving murder, destruction of property, and cycles of raids and counter-raids between the Mormons and gentiles. Lee played an active role in many of the military conflicts, and soon became a member of the Danite Band, the formally organized Mormon militia. Finally Missouri's governor ordered the Mormons expelled or exterminated, sending an army which surrounded their community and forced the Mormon leadership to surrender.
As the Mormons began preparing for their trek eastward to Nauvoo, Illinois, Lee's religious devotion continued to strengthen. In 1838 he was promoted within the priesthood and made a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, the body which directed the church's extensive missionary activities. From 1839 to 1844 he spent much of his time winning converts in Illinois, Tennessee and Kentucky. His commitment impressed the church leadership, and in 1843 he was chosen to guard the home of the church's founder and prophet, Joseph Smith.
John Lee's religious fervor only grew in intensity as the young religion entered its darkest hour. In June 1844 a mob dragged Joseph Smith and his brother from their jail cell in Carthage, Illinois, and murdered them, causing a crisis of leadership within the church. In addition, there was internal dissension over the doctrine of plural marriage, which had been formally announced within the church in 1843. Lee accepted the new doctrine, soon taking five more wives, and he remained devotedly loyal to the church leadership, especially the new leader, Brigham Young, whom Lee assisted during the Mormon flight to the "Winter Quarters" near the confluence of the Platte and Missouri rivers.
Having been persecuted from their religion's birthplace in New York to Missouri and Illinois, the Mormons had by 1846 decided to seek their own Zion in the American West. This journey, the first leg of which was the removal from Nauvoo to Winter Quarters, was to take the Mormons to Utah. By 1847 the first wagons began arriving in Utah's Salt Lake valley. After serving briefly in the Mexican-American War as a member of Brigham Young's "Mormon Battalion," Lee joined the gathering masses of Zion in Utah.
For the next decade, Lee played an important role in expanding the Mormon refuge in the West. He became a prosperous farmer and businessman in Southwestern Utah, helping to establish communal mining, milling and manufacturing complexes. He became the local bishop and the Indian agent to the nearby Paiute Indians. And he continued to be a frequent visitor and trusted confidant of the church leadership in Salt Lake City.
Even in the far West, however, neither Lee nor his co-religionists were beyond the reach of the country whose persecution they had fled. In 1857, prompted by complaints about church power in the territory and a public outcry against polygamy, the United States sent an army to Utah, raising Mormon fears that the final annihilation was at hand. This invasion was the backdrop for the still-controversial Mountain Meadows Massacre, in which a wagon train of about 120 gentile immigrants, suspected of hostility toward the church, was destroyed by Mormon and Paiute forces in southwestern Utah.
Lee's involvement in the massacre -- the extent of which is still vigorously disputed and will probably never be known -- was to haunt him for the next two decades, and would ultimately lead to his execution. He had written a letter to Brigham Young shortly after the massacre which laid the blame squarely on the Paiute Indians, but even among his own neighbors rumors of Lee's guilt abounded. In 1858 a federal judge came to southwestern Utah to investigate the massacre and Lee's part in it, but Lee went into hiding and local Mormons refused to cooperate with the investigation. Folk songs dating back to this year blamed Lee for the massacre. A warrant for his arrest remained outstanding.
Although the church sought to lower Lee's profile, by removing him as a probate judge, the Mormon leadership continued to return his immense loyalty. In 1860, Brigham Young visited one of Lee's mansions and publicly praised his personal industriousness and communal economic contributions. In 1861 the residents of Harmony, Utah, elected him as their presiding elder.
But Lee could not escape the legacy of Mountain Meadows. By the late 1860s, his diary, and letters from several of his wives, speak of persistent harassment by his Mormon neighbors for his connection with the massacre, including threatening letters and the ostrasization of his children. In 1870 a Utah paper openly condemned Brigham Young for covering up the massacre. That same year Young exiled Lee to a remote part of northern Arizona and excommunicated him from the church, instructing his former confidant to "make yourself scarce and keep out of the way."
The next several years brought a continued decline in Lee's fortunes. He had several episodes of severe illness; drought followed by torrential rains destroyed many of his buildings and crops; former neighbors preyed upon his livestock and otherwise took advantage of his absence; several of his wives deserted him. Nevertheless, he was managing to eke out a living in a homesteader's cabin near the Colorado River in Northern Arizona (at one point hosting John Wesley Powell's 1869 expedition before their trip through the Grand Canyon) when a sheriff captured him in November 1874.
Lee's first trial ended inconclusively with a hung jury, probably because of the prosecution's misguided attempt to portray Brigham Young as the true mastermind of the massacre. A second trial, in which the prosecution placed the blame squarely on Lee's shoulders, ended with his conviction. The trials were the subject of enormous public attention and gave rise to many accounts of the massacre and of Lee's life. These accounts, naturally, vary widely in their factual accuracy, but many contain the classic elements of anti-Mormon paranoia: fear of Mormon political and economic power and horror at the sexual depravity assumed to be implicit in plural marriage. Most play up the fact that Lee had numerous wives and emphasize the plight of the women and children killed and captured at Mountain Meadows. Lee himself continued to profess his innocence.
Nearly twenty years after the massacre, Lee was executed at Mountain Meadows. Although angry at Brigham Young's treatment of him, Lee's final words maintained the deep religious faith that had marked his entire adult life:
I have but little to say this morning. Of course I feel that I am at the brink of eternity, and the solemnities of eternity should rest upon my mind at the present... I am ready to die. I trust in God. I have no fear. Death has no terror.
Lee was born in Kaskaskia, Illinois Territory and joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) in 1838. He was a friend of Joseph Smith, Jr., first prophet of the LDS Church. In 1839, Lee served a Mormon mission with his boyhood friend, Levi Stewart. Together they preached in Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. During this period Lee converted and baptized "Wild Bill" Hickman. Lee practiced plural marriage and had nineteen wives (at least eleven of whom eventually left him) along with sixty-seven children. He was allegedly a member of the Danites although this has been disputed. He was an official scribe for the Council of 50, a group of men who in the days of Joseph Smith, Jr and Brigham Young worked together to provide guidance in practical matters to the church, specifically concerning the move westward out of the United States of America to the Rocky Mountains.
After Smith's murder, Lee joined the bulk of the LDS Church's members in what is now Utah and worked towards establishing several new communities. A successful and resourceful farmer and rancher, in 1856, Lee became a US Indian Agent in the Iron County area, assigned to help Native Americans establish farms. In 1858 Lee served a term as a member of the Utah Territorial Legislature. Following church orders in 1872, Lee moved from Iron County and established a heavily-used ferry crossing on the Colorado River. The site is still called Lee's Ferry.
The Fancher party, an emigrant group from Arkansas, camped at Mountain Meadows, a staging area in southern Utah used to prepare for the long crossing of the Mohave desert by groups traveling to California. They were attacked by a group of Mormon militiamen dressed as Native Americans. After a siege, Lee approached the Fancher encirclement and convinced the emigrants to surrender their weapons and property to the Mormons in return for safe conduct to nearby Cedar City, whereupon approximately 120 of the Fancher party were killed by Mormon militia, leaving only about 17 small children as survivors.
William Ashworth notes in his autobiography that after the massacre, that the "leaders among the white men had bound themselves under the most binding oaths to never reveal their part in it." Lee told Brigham Young that the Indians had been solely responsible, that "no white men were mixed up in it."
Lee later maintained that he had acted under orders from his military leaders, under protest. Lee remained active in Mormonism and local government for several years.
In 1874, he was arrested and tried for leading the massacre. The first trial ended in a hung jury, but he was tried again in 1877 and sentenced to death. Lee never denied his own complicity, but claimed he hadn't personally killed anyone. He said he had been a vocally reluctant participant and later a scapegoat meant to draw attention away from other Mormon leaders who were also involved.
Lee further maintained that LDS President Brigham Young had no knowledge of the event until after it happened. However, in the Life and Confessions of John D. Lee he wrote, "I have always believed, since that day, that General George A. Smith was then visiting southern Utah to prepare the people for the work of exterminating Captain Fancher's train of emigrants, and I now believe that he was sent for that purpose by the direct command of Brigham Young"
Drawing of Lee's execution.On March 23, 1877, Lee was executed by firing squad at Mountain Meadows on the site of the 1857 massacre. His last words included a reference to Young: "I do not believe everything that is now being taught and practiced by Brigham Young. I do not care who hears it. It is my last word... I have been sacrificed in a cowardly, dastardly manner."
In April 1961, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posthumously reinstated Lee's membership in the church.
According to Morris K. Udall's book "Too Funny to be President," John D. Lee was Udall's great-grandfather.
SOME DESCENDANTS OF JOHN DOYLE LEE
-------------------- Birth: Sep. 12, 1812, Kaskaskia, Randolph County, Illinois, USA
Death: Mar. 13, 1877, Pinto, Washington County, Utah, USA
Burial: Panguitch City Cemetery, Panguitch, Garfield County, Utah, USA
Mormon Pioneer. Leader of Mountain Meadows Massacre. He was an early member of the LDS Church, becoming a member about seven years after it was founded by his friend, Joseph Smith. After Smith was murdered, he went to Utah with most of the other Mormons. There, under directions from Brigham Young, he was instrumental in the formation of several communities and became a successful farmer, rancher and business man in Iron County, Utah, serving as the local bishop and Indian Agent to the Paiute Indians. He practiced plural marriages and is reported to have had nineteen wives and sixty-seven children. In 1857 there were complaints about excessive church abuse of powers and an outcry against polygamy. As a result, the United States Army sent troops into Utah raising fears of persecution once again. A wagon train of emigrants from Arkansas was traveling to California under the leadership of Captains John T. Baker and Alexander Fancher. Jacob Hamblin, the noted Mormon Peacekeeper and owner of the Mountain Meadows grazing rights, invited the wagon train to camp for a while in the safety and security of the meadows. Hamblin, completely innocent in the tragedy that followed, might have been able to prevent it had he not gone to Salt Lake City to visit Church leaders. On September 7, 1857 a group of Mormons under the leadership of Lee, and disguised as Paiute Indians, laid siege to the wagon train. Perhaps there were some Indians involved, but Isaac Haight, a stake president and leader of the militia group that joined Lee's group, reported that they unsuccessfully tried to incite the Indians to attack, but they quickly withdrew when they understood what was happening. After three days of holding the wagon train under siege, Lee approached them and negotiated an end to the hostilities. In exchange for safe passage through the area, the emigrants were to give up all their arms, abandon their wagons, possessions, and cattle and be escorted out of the meadows. The emigrants finally agreed and with each adult and larger child escorted by an armed guard, they were marched away. About a mile from the camp, and upon a signal, each guard shot his escort. Besides the men, twelve women and 35 children were murdered in a matter of moments while they thought they were headed for safety. All together, over 120 innocent lives were taken in what was the worst massacre in the history of the Oregon and California Trails. Seventeen children under the age of seven survived the ordeal and, under Federal orders, were eventually returned to family members in Arkansas. One or more other children may have remained in Utah. In the aftermath of the tragedy, church leadership continued their support of him for some time. By the late 1860s he was being harassed by his Mormon neighbors who were also ostracizing his children. In 1870, one Utah newspaper publicly castigated Brigham Young for covering up the massacre. In the same year, Young excommunicated him from the church and exiled him to Arizona. In Arizona he settled on the Colorado River and established Lee's Ferry which is to this day a top resort draw. In 1874, a sheriff went into Arizona and arrested him. He was returned to Utah for a trial which ended without a verdict. The reason for that was probably because the prosecution was actually putting Brigham Young on Trial. He was found guilty at the second trial and sentenced to death. Offered the choice of hanging, beheading, or a firing squad, he chose the latter. Twenty years after the massacre he was taken back to Mountain Meadows for the execution. Lee faced death bravely, instructing his executioners, "Center my heart, boys". His body was then taken to his final resting place. (bio by: Tom Todd)
Nancy Gibbons Armstrong 1799 - 1847
Nancy Gibbons Lee 1799 - 1847
Aggatha Ann Woolsey Lee 1814 - 1866
Rachel Andora Woolsey Lee 1825 - 1912
Emma Batchelor French 1836 - 1897
Nancy Bean Decker 1826 - 1903
Louisa Free Wells 1824 - 1886
Sarah Caroline Williams Young 1830 - 1907
Martha Elizabeth Berry Dorrity 1827 - 1885
Nancy Gibbons Lee 1799 - 1847
Mary Vance Young Lee 1817 - 1890
Lovina Young Lee 1820 - 1884
Terressa Morse Phelps 1813 - 1882
John Alma Lee (1840 - 1881)*
Mary Adeline Lee Darrow (1842 - 1924)*
John Heber Lee (1846 - 1847)*
Cornelia Decker Lee Mortensen (1846 - 1937)*
John Willard Lee (1849 - 1923)*
Harriet J. Lee Bliss (1850 - 1922)*
John David Lee (1851 - 1922)*
James Young Lee (1852 - 1939)*
Helen Rachel Lee Stocks (1852 - 1943)*
William Orson Lee (1852 - 1908)*
Armelia Lee (1854 - 1854)*
Thirza Jane Lee Anderson (1855 - 1894)*
Melvina Lee Clark (1855 - 1920)*
Rachael Amorah Lee Smithson (1856 - 1945)*
Samuel Gulley Lee (1857 - 1891)*
Henrietta Lee (1858 - 1860)*
William Lee (1860 - 1920)*
Charles William Lee (1862 - 1941)*
Mary Elizabeth Lee Lamb (1864 - 1941)*
Josephine Helen Lee Jorgensen (1865 - 1947)*
Robert Edmond Lee (1866 - 1928)*
Walter Brigham Lee (1869 - 1939
Maintained by: Find A Grave
Originally Created by: Tom Todd
Record added: Jul 17, 2007
Find A Grave Memorial# 20490902
John Lee's Timeline
September 6, 1812
Kaskaskia, Randolph, Illinois, USA
December 20, 1812
Kaskaskie, Randolph, Illinois
December 20, 1812
Kaskaskie, Randolph, Illinois
December 20, 1812
Kaskaskia, Randolph, Illinois
December 20, 1812
Kaskaskia, Rdlph, IL
December 20, 1812
Kaskaskia, Randolph, Illinois, USA
December 20, 1812
July 23, 1833
Vandalia, Randolph, Illinois
July 3, 1834
Kaskaskie, Randolph, Illinois
April 8, 1837
Luck Creek, Vandalia, Fayette, Illinois