A national landmark designation would ensure that the 120 Arkansas emigrants of the Fancher/Baker wagon train company who were killed by Mormon militia and some Paiute Indians "will always be remembered as part of our nation's history," said Marlin K. Jensen, an LDS general authority and official historian for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Jensen met Friday in Arkansas with about 20 representatives of the Mountain Meadows Association, the Mountain Meadows Massacre Descendants and the Mountain Meadows Monument Foundation. Each group has a slightly different mission, but all had asked the church to seek landmark status for Mountain Meadows.
The site is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but requirements for a landmark designation are much more stringent, according to Jensen. The process involves documenting the historic significance of the site, a public comment period, and reviews by the National Park Service and a government-appointed board of experts. The secretary of the interior will make the final decision.
At Friday's meeting, Jensen also discussed proposed plans to create a second memorial with interpretive markers at the Burgess upper grave site, where remains of some of the victims are thought to be buried. Descendants were worried that new housing might encroach on the area, which they consider to be sacred land, so the church purchased 600 additional acres to avert any development.
The descendant groups were surprised and pleased by the church's gesture, said Patty Norris, president of the MMM Descendants. The church had declined to support previous requests to seek national landmark status for the massacre site.
"It was a very good meeting and a very good day for the church and the descendants," said Norris, great-great-great- granddaughter of Tryphenia Fancher, a toddler who witnessed the slaughter of her entire family on the plains of Utah. "When I got involved some 10 years ago, one of my main goals was to work toward making sure that site was preserved and that we found those upper graves and properly marked them. So today was a huge thing for me personally."
There is not much else to do, Norris said. "Everybody's on the same page. We are going to move forward together. It's a big relief."
LDS officials were relieved, too.
"It couldn't have been a more amicable meeting," said Jensen, who was joined in Arkansas by Richard Turley, assistant church historian, and Steven Olsen, managing director of the LDS history department. "We brought good news and they gave us several standing ovations."
The meeting was held in Carrollton, where the 17 surviving children were returned to their next of kin in 1859. The town erected a marker for the massacre victims in 1955.
"To come here and put a human face [on] this tragedy really has been sobering and humbling," Jensen said.
Six months ago, Mormon leaders gathered at Mountain Meadows with the three descendants groups, Paiute representatives and others at a 150th anniversary memorial service to honor the victims of the massacre.
At that time, Henry B. Eyring, then an LDS apostle and now a member of the church's governing First Presidency, acknowledged that the responsibility rested with regional LDS leaders who also held civic and military positions and with members of the church acting under their direction.
"What was done here long ago by members of our church represents a terrible and inexcusable departure from Christian teaching and conduct," Eyring said at the September service. "We cannot change what happened, but we can remember and honor those who were killed here."
Jensen, Turley and Olsen will remain in Arkansas through Sunday, speaking to various LDS groups about Mormon involvement in the massacre.
LDS Church members there still experience some tension with their neighbors over this episode, Jensen said. "We need to equip them to deal with it in a good way. . . . When we are open and listen and express our regret, walls come tumbling down."