Silas Smith and Mountain Meadows

Silas Sanford Smith

I recently discovered that an ancestor, Silas S. Smith, was a valuable witness to the occurrences leading up to the Mountain Meadows massacre:

Know George A. Smith; saw him in August of 1857 at Parowan and traveled with him through the southern settlements, returning with him to Cedar Springs, Millard County. George A. Smith, in his speeches, referred to the necessity of saving grain and not feeding it to horses or stock; he disapproved of selling it for any such use. Heard nothing said to discourage the sale of provisions to emigrant trains for food. Witness camped at Corn Creek and found the Arkansas train in camp there on arrival. Some of them came over to witness’ fire and simply made inquiries. Nothing special was said. One of the party asked if the Indians would be likely to eat the flesh of an ox that lay dead near camp. Some said that they probably would.

Two days after, came to Beaver, passing the emigrants at Indian Creek, six or seven miles from here. Took supper with the emigrants there. Four days after this the emigrants passed through the town where witness lives, thirty miles south, and camped there. Spoke to some of the party; saw the leader; heard him called Mr. Fancher. Duke’s party followed several days after. They got into trouble with the Indians near Beaver and witness was sent over with ten men by Col. Dame, who called at his house to request witness to go to the relief of the emigrants. Reached Beaver at night, and in the morning found the train corraled and a rifle pit dug for their protection. Sent a runner, who brought in the chief, and witness placated the wrath of the red men by a liberal distribution of beef. The Indians claimed that some of their braves had been shot by men belonging to the train, and they must wash out the offense in blood. Witness understood that his intervention had settled the difficulty. Had no further connection with the emigrant trains.

Traveled with George A. Smith from Parowan to Santa Clara, I50 miles. Held five or six meetings on the way. George A. Smith invited witness to accompany him. The object of his visit was to preach to the people to lay up grain for their future support. Col. Johnston’s army was then approaching Utah. Heard nothing said against allowing emigrant trains to pass through the country.

It’s amazing how connected my ancestor was to this sad incident. Since I don’t have all the right words to say how I feel about this, I’ll quote the feelings of Elder Dallin H. Oaks from his interview with Helen Whitney for the PBS documentary The Mormons:

As a fourth- or fifth-generation Mormon growing up in Utah—but not in the area where the Mountain Meadow Massacre happened—I have learned about that tragic episode, and my heart has gone out to the descendants of those who perpetrated that atrocity and to the relatives of those who suffered it. I can only imagine the kind of pain that comes from contemplating the involvement of those that you love in such a tragic episode in the history of the West, so unexplainable. I have no doubt on the basis of what I have studied and learned that Mormons were prime movers in that terrible episode and participated in killing. What a terrible thing to contemplate, that the barbarity of the frontier and the conditions of the Utah War, whatever provocations were perceived to have been given, would have led to such an extreme episode, such an extreme atrocity perpetrated by members of my faith. I pray that the Lord will comfort those that are still grieved by it and I pray that He can find a way to forgive those who took such a terrible action against human beings.

5 thoughts on “Silas Smith and Mountain Meadows

  1. My great-great-grandfather was Silas Smith’s brother, Jesse N. Smith. I probably own every book ever written about Mountain Meadows Massacre. Silas and Jesse were extremely close, loving brothers who took care of each other and each other’s families. Unfortunately, I feel that both Jesse and Silas at least knew about the planning of Mountain Meadows Massacre and they definitely both helped in the cover-up following the massacre. I do not believe that either one of them were participants or that either one of them were in favor of what transpired. However, they did have complete blind obedience for whatever Brigham Young ordered and there is undisputable evidence that this is who issued the orders for the massacre. Anyone who knows the true history of what living in Utah was like back then knows without a doubt that NOTHING happened in Utah without Brigham Young’s approval and most likely on his orders.

    • Yeah, I’ve read quite a bit about the way Brigham Young led the people and I don’t think he was the kind of person, despite his hyperbole, to order the massacre. I do think he warned the people to be ready to defend since they were constantly threatened by the U.S. government. What information do you have about Silas and Jesse’s involvement other than that they ate with the party and later were involved in some of the trial. Very little is written about them.

  2. Jesse N. Smith was William H. Dame’s counselor in the Stake Presidency. Dame who admitted ordering the massacre (locally, but I believe he received orders from higher up to put these orders into action). There are records of the planning meetings that were held prior to the massacre and Jesse N. Smith is listed as one who was present. He definitely knew the massacre was going to take place.

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