Occasionally a major, previously published document such as this one falls between the historical cracks and becomes virtually forgotten. Although Joseph Clewes’s statement on the Mountain Meadows Massacre was published in 1877 and was widely discussed at the time, current scholars have made little or no use of it. Their omission is unfortunate.
Clewes’s statement has its limitations. It was written twenty years after the massacre and was therefore subject to the vagaries of memory. Also, like many of the several dozen affidavits made by people who participated in the massacre, it is self-serving in its attempt to minimize or avoid personal responsibility. Still, it is a pivotal piece of evidence. Most importantly, it contains details of the massacre not found elsewhere, including information that helps us construct a sequence for the five-day-long event. Clewes’s statement also allows scholars to evaluate the conflicting claims of other eyewitnesses, in part because Clewes seems so credible: his details fit a logical pattern, and they are convincingly told. Apparently no longer associated with the Church at the time of the statement, Clewes made no effort to justify his former neighbors or the institution of Mormonism. Rather, his narrative is straightforward and neutral in tone.
Clewes’s contributions to historical knowledge include the following: (1) His statement confirms that John D. Lee was present at the initial Indian attack on Monday morning and played a leading role on Friday as the events of the massacre unfolded. Lee later denied or minimized these roles. (2) Clewes affirms that Isaac C. Haight, who shared command of the Iron County militiamen at Mountain Meadows and whose role as stake president gave him ecclesiastical responsibility for the men, apparently oscillated between a policy of attack and peace. Throughout the episode, Haight, who apparently remained about forty miles to the east in Cedar City, was probably in contact with his men at the Meadows. (3) Clewes makes it clear that Native Americans were a factor in the massacre. According to Clewes, Native Americans appear to have become restive after suffering serious casualties in the initial attack on Monday. Clewes also says that a new group of them arrived on Thursday. He suggests that, under the direction of Lee and others, they took part in the final killing. (Because Clewes was not present at this event, he can relate only what was planned.) (4) Nothing in Clewes’s account suggests that Brigham Young planned the massacre. Instead, Clewes describes the ebb and flow of local decision making. Even on the day of the initial attack, Haight is reported to have sent “an order to save the emigrants and render all the assistance that could be given.” Further, after learning that the disaster had probably taken place, Haight and his military superior, William H. Dame, who had just arrived in Cedar City from Parowan, “were angry at each other,” perhaps quarreling over the role each of them had played in the event. The two men’s argument is evidence that they and the others were not simply obeying orders from Salt Lake City. And Haight’s last-minute message to “use your best endeavors” to protect the emigrants shows that he was not operating under higher directives to eliminate them.
Biographical Sketch of Joseph Thomas Clewes
Joseph Thomas Clewes was born October 12, 1831, at Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England, the son of Andrew and Mary Ann Thomas Clewes. At the age of sixteen, he was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1849, while en route to Utah, his parents and younger brother died in St. Louis, apparently of a local cholera epidemic that took more than 4,500 lives that year.Joseph and his sister Emma Jane paid their way to Utah by promoting Emma’s skills with a horse pistol. Once the twenty-year-old Joseph was in Zion, he settled in Cedar City and became a member of the Iron Mission. He worked as a stonemason, helping to build the Iron County ovens. He also briefly held stock in the Deseret Iron Company. During this time, he and his wife, Mary Ann Balden Clewes, also a British immigrant, began a family of a dozen children.
In 1854, Clewes became embroiled in a small controversy when he was among a dozen young men charged with “Dancing and merriment Contrary to Council given and Covenants entered into on Sunday Jany 4th 1854.” The Iron County Saints were not opposed to dancing but were trying to abide counsel, for “Council had being given by the president to have no Dancing until the fort was enclosed.” Clewes acknowledged “he had manifested a bad spirit” and obtained the forgiveness of local authorities.
While Joseph Clewes was active in the Sixty-Third Quorum of Seventy in the weeks prior to the tragedy at Mountain Meadows, he later fell out of favor with his brethren. On October 7, 1857, he asked the quorum’s forgiveness for undisclosed errors and assured them he had the support of Isaac Haight, the stake president. At the quorum meeting on October 21, Clewes testified, “I am desireous to do right and be one with you. I have not been received into good fellowship yet by the quorum,” though, he argued, the Church considered him to be in good standing. Haight himself stood then and rebuked the quorum, “Bro Clewes is a member of this quorum and you cannot help yourselves.” Whether some connection exists between what took place at the Meadow and his standing in the quorum remains unclear.
By 1858, Clewes had again assumed an active role in quorum life. Throughout 1858 the quorum charged him with building projects and music instruction, and he apparently performed satisfactorily in these roles. By late 1859, however, Clewes was listed among those who “but very seldom attend; and their Standing is quite suspectable.” Quorum members were sent to reclaim Clewes if possible. They reported at a November 30, 1859, quorum meeting, “We visited Joseph Cluse, he felt bad, found fault with the Authorities of the church, thought he had a perfect right to go where he pleased, to attend meetings when he pleased and that no one had a right to cut him from the church.” A deliberative council followed in which quorum members unanimously determined that “Joseph Cluse be cut off from this Quorum.”
In 1858 the Iron Mission was in its final throes, and many settlers, including Joseph Clewes, left the area.Along with a number of other Utah immigrants and sixteen wagons, the Clewes family arrived in San Bernardino, California, on December 24, 1859. While San Bernardino was once a Mormon-dominated area, many Saints had left for Utah during the Utah War. Perhaps with the less-fervent remnant that remained, Joseph Clewes found congeniality. Instead of involving himself with Church activity, he farmed, mined, and worked as a mason. His latter work provided the foundation for such buildings as the first San Bernardino courthouse, the town’s opera house, and an early high school. When he died in 1894 of an illness incident to diabetes, he was remembered by the San Bernardino Sun as a well-educated man who was a pioneer and the father of a large family.
Context of Clewes’s Statement
When his name surfaced in the second John D. Lee trial in 1877, Clewes started out for the courthouse in Beaver, Utah, to clear his name. While on the road east, however, he decided to avoid the public controversy and turned back. As a substitute for his testimony, he issued a statement that was published in the San Bernardino Times, which cannot be located because only partial runs of the newspaper now exist. Fortunately, Clewes’s statement was soon republished both by the Salt Lake Daily Herald and, in abbreviated form, by such national newspapers as the New York Herald.Its circulation must have had a public impact, for Clewes was reportedly soon sought by authorities for additional information. Once more, to avoid involvement Clewes fled “to the mountains.”
The Salt Lake Daily Herald version, reproduced below, is the most complete text of the Joseph Clewes statement now available. This same version is included in Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints under April 5, 1877, the date of its Utah publication.The papers of Seymour B. Young housed at the Utah Historical Society in Salt Lake City, Utah, include a Clewes statement. It differs from the Herald account only in inconsequential details and is apparently a variant. Caroline Parry Woolley, a granddaughter of Isaac Haight, copied Young’s version of the Clewes statement for use in chronicling Haight’s life.
Unfortunately, more Clewes material is unavailable. As will be seen in his statement below, Clewes reported that two days before the massacre he and John D. Lee “sat down and talked awhile.” While Clewes promised to provide a record of this important conversation at a later time, diligent effort to find it has been unsuccessful. So full of enigmatic promise for revealing still more mysteries of the massacre, that record, too, at least for the moment, has seemingly fallen by the historical wayside. Nevertheless, the following statement of Joseph Clewes sheds considerable light on events that much of the historical record seems to cloud.
Statement of Joseph Clewes
On Monday before the massacre(I forget dates) Bishop Philip Klingensmith came to me about 10 o’clock and said Isaac C. Haight wanted him to find him a good rider and he (Smith) thought I was just the boy for a quick trip. I must have expressed something in my countenance for he said, “Do not be afraid, it is a good cause you are going to ride in,” or words to that effect. He told me where to get a horse and be ready about noon; I would find Haight at the iron works store in the old town. I lived in the new city, as it was called, probably about a mile from the old town of Cedar. This conversation was in the new city, close to Smith’s house. About 12 o’clock I was mounted and armed with an old rusty horse pistol, I borrowed from Tom Gower I think, that had the appearance of not having been used for twenty years at least. After waiting some time James Haslam came up on a fine horse to the store; meeting me he asked, “Where are you going?” I answered, “I don’t know; where are you going?” He said he was waiting for orders. In a little while he received his documents, put spurs to his horse and started north, I learned afterward that he went to Brigham Young. I then received a letter from Haight with instructions to carry it to Amos Thornton at Pinto Creek and get there as quick as I could. It was now near two o’clock. I put out as fast as I could go. After crossing the valley and near the mouth of the cañon I met two men going in towards Cedar, Mormons of course. One asked me where I was going and I replied that I was going to Pinto Creek with a letter for Amos Thornton. He said, “O, come and go back with us, your letter is of no use; Lee with the Indians jumped on the emigrant camp this morning and got a lot of Indians wounded, but—” considering a moment—“no, go on, I cannot interfere with his orders,” meaning Haight; “here, give me that old pistol and take these,” handing me a pair of flint-lock horse-pistols. On I went as fast as I could. I found Thornton there and delivered my letter. I was anxious to know its contents. He opened it and read it aloud in my presence. I looked over his shoulder and saw that he read it aright. It read thus, as near as I can recollect:
“Bro. Amos Thornton—Take this dispatch to John D. Lee as quick as you can get it to him.”
The tenor of the dispatch on the same sheet to Lee was about as follows, to the best of my recollection:
“Major John D. Lee:
“You will use your best endeavors to keep the Indians off the emigrants and protect them from harm until further orders.”
(Signed) “I. C. HAIGHT”
I felt relieved to know that such was the case, for I always understood that he [Lee] was a sort of chief among the Indians and they would do his bidding and there would be no more of it.I saw no more of Thornton. I then met Wilson at Pinto and he proposed to me to go over the ridge to Hamlin’s. Mr. Hamlin was up at Salt Lake city at the time and Mrs. Hamlin was at home alone with the family. He said she needed protection, the Indians being mad, no telling what they might do. I went there with him and guarded the house all night. Next morning (Tuesday) I started home and when I got well through the cañon I met John M. Higbee with a posse of men. He told me to come along with them, he should want me. I had to obey, there was no other alterative. We then moved on to Hamlin’s house, at the north end of the meadows about six miles from the emigrant camp, which was at the south end of the meadows. If I remember aright, we stayed the remainder of the day at Hamlin’s. Wednesday morning Higbee sent me and Wilson to the Indian camp, which was on the east side of the meadows, to find out how the Indians were acting and how many there were. About two and a half miles from the Indian camp, between two low ridges, there lay a number of Indians mortally wounded and a number of Indians lying around on every side. When the Indians saw us they came around pretty thick. We could not see the camp of emigrants from this position. They wanted to show us where the camp was and pulled and pushed us to go with them. Finally we agreed to go with them. About half a mile from the Indian camp we were hailed from the ridge on our left; we looked around and there stood John D. Lee. He came to us and showed us how his shirt and other clothes had been cut with bullets on Monday morning, but his “garments” had not been touched. These garments pertained to the endowment some way and have curious cuts in them about the breast, bowels and knees and are considered proof against all harm or evil.
He told the Indians to go back to camp, and we sat down and talked awhile. Some of the conversation I recollect well, and will give it at some other time. He then went over the ridge, and in the evening Higbee came over from Hamlin’s with his men. Thursday I was sent back to Hamlin’s to kill a beef; in the evening I returned with it. During the day more men came from Cedar city. When I got to camp with the beef I found some strange faces. They were some men from St. George, or about there; I did not know them.The Indians had been largely reinforced during the day. Friday morning came that fatal day. The old men and leaders were to themselves, sitting in something of a circle I know. I was warned not to go near them, as it was something sacred they were going through. When that was through with, it was made known by Higbee that the emigrants were to be wiped out. Lee made quite a speech, and also spoke through an interpreter to the Indians, instructing them what part to take. When everything was ready, they moved off toward the emigrant camp. I kind of hesitated about moving; I had no arms; I felt as though riveted to the ground. I was perfectly dumb with I know not what—terror it must have been; I have a very sympathetic nature; I was almost frantic. I was awakened from my momentarily semi-conscious state by Higbee’s voice (he was standing on the right hand of the men as they moved out): “Clewes, we have no further use for you here; get on that mule and ride back to Haight, and tell him how things are up to this time; and,” shaking his finger at me, “remember, not a word of this (meaning, of course, their acts there) to any one.” My heart beat light at this order. I got on that mule, and you may rely on it, reader, I made him travel out of that. I now call on the witnesses, both for prosecution and defence, to bear me out in this truth: I left the place before that massacre occurred. For the love of mercy and my children, clear me at once by a statement, any or all of you! When I got about half-way home to Cedar, I met Elias Morris and Christopher Arthur, going towards the Meadows. They stopped me and asked me how things were. I was afraid to to say much, but Morris hurriedly told me they were going out with an order to save the emigrants and render them all the assistance that could be given. I exclaimed, “Go! go! as fast as your horses can take you. You may be in time to save them.” They put spurs to their horses and rode as fast as they could while in my sight. I waved my hand after them and bid them God speed, but my heart sank within me a moment afterwards for I could not see how they could be in time. I arrived at Cedar about three o’clock and met Col. Dame from Parowan and others, likewise Haight. I was with them privately and told them the latest news. They were angry at each other but said nothing much in my presence but I could see it in them. I went home again, but oh! what a horrible remembrance of those five days! They have been the bane of my existence, have kept me in the back ground and in the shade, have kept me out of society and away from people I should like to have associated with. Such has been my lot or strange fatality.
I will continue this statement further at my earliest opportunity and show how things went on up to my arrival in San Bernardino, eighteen years ago. I forward this by Col. Parisfor publication.