Led by Captains John T. Baker and Alexander Fancher, a California-bound wagon train from Arkansas camped in this valley in the late summer of 1857 during the time of the so-called Utah War. In the early morning hours of September 7th, a party of local Mormon settlers and Indians attacked and laid siege to the encampment. For reasons not fully understood, a contingent of territorial militia joined the attackers. This Iron County Militia consisted of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) acting on orders from their local religious leaders and military commanders headquartered thirty-five miles to the northeast in Cedar City. Complex animosities and political issues intertwined with religious beliefs motivated the Mormons, but the exact causes and circumstances fostering the sad events that ensued over the next five days at Mountain Meadows still defy any clear or simple explanation.
During the siege, fifteen emigrant men were killed in the fighting while trying to escape. Then late Friday afternoon, September 11th, the emigrants were persuaded to give up their weapons and leave their corralled wagons in exchange for a promise of safe passage to Cedar City. Under heavy guard, they made their way out of the encirclement. When they were all out of the corral and some of them more than a mile up the valley, they were suddenly and without warning attacked by their supposed benefactors. The local Indians joined in the slaughter, and in a matter of minutes fourteen adult male emigrants, twelve women, and thirty-five children were struck down. Nine hired hands driving cattle were also killed along with at least thirty-five other unknown victims. At least 120 souls died in what became known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Seventeen children under the age of seven survived the ordeal and were eventually returned to Arkansas. One or more other children may have remained in Utah.