Senate Committee Moves To Memorialize Mass Murderer

The Men and Boys Memorial marks the spot where migrants were massacred by Mormon militiamen in Utah during the Mountain Meadows Massacre in 1857. (Photo by: Wikimedia Commons)

By Erik Kolsrud

PHOENIX — The Senate Government Committee voted 6-1 Wednesday in favor of establishing a memorial on the Arizona Governmental Mall for a man who helped to plan and carry out the mass murder of over 120 people.

According to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, John D. Lee was an LDS major in the militia of Iron County, Utah, when he led the attack on a caravan of settlers from Arkansas who were travelling through Utah to reach California. On September 7, 1857, Lee, around 50 fellow Mormon militiamen and a contingent of Paiute Native Americans attacked the wagon train of the Baker-Fancher Party at a place called Mountain Meadows.

This brick building is all that remains of Lee’s Ferry, a service that brought settlers over the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. (Photo by: National Parks Service)

Over the course of four days, Lee and his men laid siege to the circled wagons and the families within. After a fake truce that lowered the guard of the settlers, the attackers killed all of the men, women and children above the age of seven, leaving their bodies out to be eaten by wild animals, according to information from the National Parks Service.

Years later, Lee fled to Arizona where he built a ferry service at a crossing point in the Grand Canyon, subsequently known as Lee’s Ferry, according to the National Parks Service. He lived there with his two wives and children until 1877, where he was tried, convicted, and executed by firing squad for his role in the Mountain Meadows Massacre. He was the only person to be punished for the attack.

Rep. Brenda Barton (R-Payson) introduced HB 2509 to build a monument to Lee right here at the Capitol, with the bell from the Lee’s Ferry church tower installed somewhere on the Mall.

“I’m a direct descendant of Lee, good bad or indifferent,” Barton said. “It is important to me and my family and many other descendants.”

Barton’s bill apparently won’t cost the state of Arizona a dime, as the bell is donated and the design, construction and installation of the proposed monument done by a non-profit organization. Fred DuVal, who lost the governor’s race against Doug Ducey in 2014, is the owner of the bell in question. DuVal claims he will deed the bell over to the state when the monument goes up.

“The bell does not have much of a value, the value is in the history,” DuVal said.

What part of Lee’s history is valuable to the state of Arizona is uncertain. While the crossing is named for him, Lee did not discover the location and wasn’t the first to ford the river at that point. After he was executed, one of his wives ran the ferry for two years before the LDS Church purchased the operation and sent a different family to run it.

“What we are passing doesn’t do enough to cover the entire history of it,” Sen. Juan Mendez (D-Tempe) said.

Mendez was the sole vote against the bill, citing the legacy of oppression that settlers inflicted on Native Americans as they took land that they felt was unoccupied.

The Governmental Mall already has a bell — Arizona’s Liberty Bell was installed in 1950. (Photo by: Erik Kolsrud)

If this bill is signed into law, the proposal will be submitted to the Arizona Department of Administration, which determines a suitable location for the memorial. The ADOA recommendations would then go to the Legislative Governmental Mall Commission for final design approval. Monuments must be finished and dedicated within two years of the legislation passing.

The Governmental Mall already has a bell, featured prominently in front of the Capitol building. Arizona’s Liberty Bell is one of 53 replicas of the bell that rang out the nation’s independence in 1776. The bell was installed in 1950 as part of a savings bond drive across the nation, and was restored 10 years ago. It is one of 34 monuments already in place in and around the State Capitol.

Barton’s bill would bump that up to 35.

Erik Kolsrud is the Don Bolles Fellow covering the Legislature for Arizona Sonora News, a service provided by the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach him at


  1. You have got to be kidding me of all the people the Mormon community of Senators and Representatives choose to honor and memorialize it’s a MASS Murderer.

    “Rep. Brenda Barton (R-Payson) introduced HB 2509 to build a monument to Lee right here at the Capitol, with the bell from the Lee’s Ferry church tower installed somewhere on the Mall.”

    It is no wonder the Arizona legislature is so often rated as the worst in the country. They have so much else to deal with and they choose this outrageous event.

    The next thing you know they will insist that the Church of LDS be recognized as the official religion of the State of Arizona.

  2. According to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, John D. Lee was an LDS major in the militia of Iron County, Utah, when he led the attack on a caravan of settlers from Arkansas who were travelling through Utah to reach California.

    Why, Why, Why, Why, Why, Why, Why, Why, Why, Why, Why, Why, Why, Why, Why?

    Those people were just passing through on the way to California. This is one of the most disgusting and repulsive ideas I have ever heard of coming out of the brain dead legislature. Rep Barton should be ashamed.

  3. Hey — this is nothing new. Tucson has a street, park and recreation center named for William Oury, who organized the slaughter of over 100 Aravaipa Apaches, mostly women and children, who had surrendered their weapons and sought peace in April, 1871. Sam Hughes supplied weapons to the killers, rapists and kidnappers, and there’s a prestigious neighborhood named for him, along with an elementary school. Others involved who have been honored in Pima County and the City of Tucson include Arizona Citizen editor John Wasson, Jesús María Elías, Hiram Stevens, and Sidney DeLong. Note that the vote was taken two days before the 50th anniversary of the My Lai Massacre, For the whole story, read my Comments from the Chemo Couch column on April 8. I’ve asked the various authorities if they will do anything to change the namings. Stay tuned!

    • Don’t forget, Pancho Villa, hero to the white guilt liberals, riding high in the most prominent spot in Tucson. Almost everyone gets to pay homage as they pass Vente de Augosto Park to the marauder, murderer, kidnapper and rapist of American gringos.

      I believe your omission was intentional.

      • Actually, Pancho Villa wasn’t born yet when the Camp Grant Massacre took place. But I know you won’t let yourself get confused by the facts.

        • Has nothing to do with his birthdate. It’s about white guilt liberals institutionalized by the City of Tucson memorializing in a positive way a brutal Mexican criminal, killer and rapist of whites to assuage their own racism and insecurities and curry political favor

          Will the memorial of the Tucson shooting be a remembrance of the horrible activity or an altar to Gabby Giffords and the democrat party?

    • Thank you, Albert Lannon! Every time I drive passed Aravaipa Creek, there is a solemn and sad feeling I get, knowing that so many mostly older men, women, and children were wiped out by Oury and his crew of cut-throats. It feels like a time warp in which one can feel the terror of those innocent people who were slaughtered there.

  4. Well at least he got his, He was later convicted and executed for the mass murders in 1877 at the site of Mountain Meadows by firing squad.
    What’s next? A Jeffery Dahmer monument or how about one for Nikolas Cruz?
    This legislature spends it’s time in the Absurd Zone. This is disgusting and a poor representation of the great state of Arizona, along with mccain and flake.

  5. Agreed this is wrong, which is also why we shouldn’t memorialize Confederate leaders who lead massacres on Union POWs.

    • You would rather rewrite/sanitize history?

      How would future generations know/learn of the tragedies so they will have create a better future?

  6. I read the Writings of John D. Lee several years ago which included his confession about the massacre. One thing Lee made very clear was that the massacre had the complete approval of Brigham Young who was the designated prophet, seer, revelator, and president of the Mormon Church at that time. In fact, Young referred to Lee as his “son.”

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