John D Lee wrote the only eyewitness account of the massacre at Mountain Meadows. Yet his account is most often left out or relegated to a minor section in any reporting of the event. Here then is his own account of the event.
In the confession of Lee left to be published after his death, Lee gives the following description of his efforts to save the emigrants:
"After the first attack on the train had started the emigrants hoisted the white flag in the midst of their corral. Friday afternoon four wagons drove up with armed men. When they saw the white flag in the corral they raised one also, but drove where we were and took refreshments, after which a council meeting was called by President Bishop and other church officers and members of the high council, societies, high priests, etc. Major John M. Higbee presided as chairman. Several of the dignitaries bowed in prayer and invoked the aid of the Holy Spirit to prepare their minds and guide them to do right and carry out the councils of their leader Higbee. President I. C. Haight had been to Parowan to confer with Colonel Dame and their counsel and orders were that this emigrant camp must be used up.
I replied, "Men, women and children?" "All," said he, "except such as are too young to tell tales and if the Indians cannot do it without help we must help them."
I commenced pleading for the company and I said though some of them have behaved badly they have been pretty well chastised. My policy would be to draw off the Indians, let them have a portion of the loose cattle and withdraw with them under a promise that they would not molest the company and more; that the company would then have teams enough left to take them to California. I told them that this course could not bring them into trouble.
Higbee said, "The white men have interposed and the emigrants know it, and there lies the danger in letting them go."
Ira Allen, a high counselor, and Robert Wiley and others spoke, reproving me sharply for trying to dictate to the priesthood; that it would set at naught all authority; that he would not give the life of one of our brethren for a thousand such persons. "If we let them go," he continued, "they will raise hell in California, and the result will be that our wives and children will have to be butchered, and ourselves, too, and they are no better to die than ours, as he has always been considered one of the staunchest in the church. Now he is the first to shirk from duty."
I said: "Brethern, the Lord must harden my heart before I can do such a thing." Allen said: "It is not wicked to obey counsel." At this juncture I withdrew, walked off some fifty paces and prostrating myself on the ground, wept in bitter anguish of my soul and asked the Lord to avert that evil.
While in that situation, Councellor C. Hopkins, a near fiend of mine, came to me and said: "Brother Lee, come, get up and don't draw off from the priesthood. You ought not to do so. You are only endangering your own life by standing out. You can't help it. It this is wrong the blame won't rest on you."
I said, "Charley, this is the worst move our people ever made. I feel it." He said, "Come, go back and let them have their way." I went back, weeping like a child, and tried to be silent, and was until Higbee said the emigrants must be decoyed out through pretended friendship. I could no longer hold my peace, and said, Joseph Smith said that god hated a traitor and so do I. Before I would be a traitor I would rather take ten men and go to that camp and tell them they must die, and to defend themselves, and give them a show for their lives. That would be more honorable than to betray them like Judas.
Here I got another reproof and I was ordered to hold my peace, it having been agreed upon to decoy them out under a flag of truce. Higbee called me out to go and inform them of the conditions and if accepted, Dan McFarland, brother to John McFarland, a lawyer who acted as aid de campe would bring back word and then tow wagons would be sent for the firearms, children, clothing, etc.
I obeyed and the terms proposed were accepted, but not without distrust. I had as little to say as possible. In fact my tongue refused to perform it's office. I sat down on the ground in the corral near where some men were engaged in paying the last respects to some person who had just died of a wound. A large fleshy old lady come to me twice and talked while I sat there. She related their troubles and said that seven of their number were killed and forty-seven were wounded in the first attack, and that several had died since. When all was ready Samuel McMurdy, counselor to Bishop P. K. smith and Klingen Smith drove out on the lead. His wagon had seventeen children, clothing and arms. Samuel Knight drove the other team with five wounded men and one boy about fifteen years old. I walked behind in the front wagon to direct the course and to shun being in the heat of the slaughter, but this I kept to myself.
When we got turned fairly to the east I motioned to Mc Murdy to steer north across the valley. I at the same time told the women who were next to the wagon to follow the road up to the troops, which they did. Instead of saying to McMurdy not to drive so fast as he swore on my trial, I said to the contrary, to drive on, as my aim was to get out of sight before the firing commenced, which we did. We were about half a mile ahead of the company when we heard the first firing. We had driven over a ridge of rolling ground and down on the low flat. The firing was simultaneous along the whole line.
The moment the firing commenced, McMurdy halted and tied his lines across the rod of the wagon box, stepped down, cooly with a double-barreled shot gun, walked back to knight's wagon which contained the wounded men, and was about twenty feet in the rear. As he raised his piece he said, "Lord, my God, receive their spirits, for it is for the kingdom of heaven's sake that we do this." He fired and killed tow men. Samuel Knight had a muzzle-loading rifle and he shot and killed the three men, and then struck the wounded boy on the head, who fell dead.
In the meantime, I drew a fiveshooter from my belt, which accidentally went off, cutting across McMurdy's buckskin pants in front. McMurdy said: "Brother Lee, you are excited. Take things cool. You were near killing me. Look where the ball cut."
At this moment I heard the scream of a child. I looked up and saw and Indian have a little boy by the hair of the head dragging him out of the hid end of the wagon with a knife in his hand getting ready to cut his throat. I sprang for the Indian with my revolver in one hand and shouted, "Arick ooman cot too scoet." (stop you fool) The child was terror stricken, his chin was bleeding. I supposed it was the cut of a knife and afterwards learned that it was done on he wagon box as the Indian yanked the boy down by the hair of the head.
I had no sooner rescued this child than another Indian seized a little girl by the hair. I rescued her. As soon as I could speak, I told the Indians they they must not hurt the children, that I would die before they should be hurt, that we would buy the children of them. Before this time the Indians had rushed up around the wagon in quest of blood and dispatched the two runaway wounded men.
In justice to my statement I would say that if my shooter had not prematurely exploded I would have had a hand in dispatching the five wounded men. I had lost control of myself and scarce knew what I was about. I saw and Indian pursue a little girl, who was fleeing. He caught her about 100 feet from the wagon and plunged his knife through her. I said to McMurdy that he had better drive the children to Hamblin's ranch and give them some nourishment.?