John M. Higbee

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John M. Higbee's background and his involvement in and statements about the Mountain Meadows Massacre

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John Mount Higbee


Biographical Sketch

Early Years: From Ohio Westward

John Mount Higbee was born in Clermont County, Ohio. His father's forebears were seventeenth century English religious dissenters who settled in Rhode Island and New Jersey before their descendants moved to the frontier, first, to western Pennsylvania and then to the Ohio territory. His mother's forebears were German emigrants to the Pennsylvania Dutch settlements.

Around 1800, Higbee's parents moved to Clermont County, Ohio, where Revolutionary War veterans were receiving land grants. His grandparents and parents joined the Mormons and moved to Jackson County in western Missouri in the spring of 1833. That fall when Higbee was six years old, the original settlers of the county drove the Mormons from their homes. In cold and inclement weather, Higbee's grandparents, Isaac and Sophia Higbee, his parents, John S. and Sarah A. Higbee, and their families were compelled to move. John S. Higbee feared for his wife's life but she survived and they relocated to nearby Ray County. In 1836, however, they were forced to leave, moving north to Caldwell County.

Over the winter of 1838-39, they were driven permanently from Missouri to Illinois. There his grandparents, his father and his uncle Elias Higbee wrote statements documenting their dispossession and prepared claims for their losses against the state of Missouri. His grandfather Isaac Higbee died within months of the departure from Missouri. In Nauvoo, Illinois, Higbee's father was bishop of one of the wards.

Migration to Utah

In 1846, the Higbees were forced from their settlements in western Illinois. Higbee's grandmother Sophia Higbee died while they crossed Iowa territory. From Higbee's perspective, the Illinois dispossession made the fourth time that he and his family had been "driven."

In 1847, his father, John S. Higbee, was recruited to join the first Mormon pioneers to continue their western migration to the valley of the Great Salt Lake.

The Mormon Trail

Young John and the rest of the family followed behind their father. They joined the Abraham O. Smoot - George B. Wallace Company. They passed the usual milestones on the trail: Fort Kearney, the South Fork of the Platte River, Chimney Rock, Fort Laramie, the Sweetwater River, Independence Rock, Devil's Gate, Green River, Fort Bridger, Bear River, and Weber River. After suffering the usual hardships of overland trail, John M. Higbee, his mother, younger sisters and brother arrived in the Salt Lake Valley later that fall as part of the "big company" that trailed behind the pioneer company.

Pioneering in Utah County

Within two years they moved south to Utah County and helped found a new settlement at Provo, building cabins, planting crops and digging irrigation ditches to keep their crops alive.

In summer 1853, the Walker War erupted and the conflict was particularly intense in Utah County. The pioneering settlers abandoned exposed settlements, made fortifications, guarded settlements and livestock and after their stock had been raided by Ute Indians, went in pursuit of it. The Higbees including John would have played some part in these events.

Perhaps the intensity of the Walker War conflict played a role in John M. Higbee's decision to relocate to the south, outside the traditional lands of the Ute Indians.

To Cedar City and the Ironworks

The Early Ironworks in Cedar City

Several years later, they moved to southern Utah. In 1853, Higbee married Ohio native Mary Clark (1833-1918) who was to bear him eleven children. In 1860, he married English emigrant Eunice Blanden (1844-1908), the daughter of Thomas Bladen, the chief engineer of the new ironworks. She eventually bore him eight children. In the mid-1850s, Higbee was president of the Cedar Dramatic Association and a counselor to Isaac C. Haight in the Cedar City stake (diocese) presidency.

The Deseret Iron Company

In moving to Cedar City, Higbee was settling in an area dominated by the Deseret Iron Company, known more familiarly as the Ironworks. See Summary of Deseret Iron Company for a brief summary of its early development.

The Ironworks in 1857

In April 1857, the delivery of a new steam engine from Great Salt Lake City seemed to breathe new life for the Ironworks. Working from April to June they installed the steam engine and completed the new engine house. In the first week of July, they were ready to begin smelting. They “put on the blast” and had a modicum of success. But they continued to be plagued with problems ranging from poor quality raw materials to smelting equipment that lacked technical sophistication. When in late July the steam engine seized with sand from the dirty creek water, they speedily dug a reservoir to store a supply of clean water for the boiler. They continued making smelting runs through August. All the while crews at the ironworks manned all the necessary functions there, while other crews, mainly miners and teamsters, gathered the raw materials – iron ore, coal, limestone, and wood – necessary to sustain smelting.

The smelting continued until September 13. In other words, around September 3, when a dispute arose between some settlers and several men in the passing Arkansas company, the blast furnace was running nonstop. And when Cedar City militiamen, many of them ironworkers, mustered to Mountain Meadows where they were involved in the massacre on September 11, other ironworkers in Cedar City continued the smelting runs night and day. For additional details, see Smelting at the Ironworks in 1857.

From late April to September, those working up the canyon in mining or hauling wood, coal, limestone, rock, sand or “adobies” to the ironworks were Isaac C. Haight, James Williamson, George Hunter, Joseph H. Smith, Ira Allen, Ellott Wilden, Swen Jacobs, Alex Loveridge, Joel White, Ezra Curtis, Samuel McMurdie, Samuel Pollock, John Jacobs, John M. Higbee, John M. Macfarlane, Samuel Jewkes, Nephi Johnson, Thomas Cartwright, William Bateman, Elias Morris, Benjamin Arthur, Joseph H. Smith, Robert Wiley, and Philip Klingensmith. Those working at the ironworks on the furnace, engine, coke ovens or blacksmith shop included Elias Morris, John Humphries, Ira Allen, John Urie, Benjamin Arthur, James Williamson, Joseph H. Smith, Samuel Jewkes, Joseph Clews, Richard Harrison, William C. Stewart, William Bateman, John M Macfarlane, John M. Higbee, John Jacobs, George Hunter, Samuel Pollock, William S. Riggs, Alex Loveridge, Ellott Wilden, Ezra Curtis, Eliezar Edwards, Swen Jacobs, Joel White, and Thomas Cartwright. (The two lists overlap because some worked both in the canyon and at the Ironworks.) Other prominent figures at the ironworks who were not later involved at Mountain Meadows were Samuel Leigh, George Horton, James H. Haslem, Laban Morrell, John Chatterley, Thomas Gower, Thomas Crowther and others.

Higbee's Role in the Ironworks in 1857

During this period in 1857, Higbee served briefly as a teamster, hauling sand. He was more involved in August because of pressing concerns at the ironworks. In early August, he was a part of a large crew of more than 40 who built the reservoir to provide a constant supply of clean water to the steam engine. At mid-month, he was among a large crew who hauled coal down the canyon to the ironworks. He also hauled wood to the ironworks.

In the Iron Military District: Major John M. Higbee, 3rd Battalion, Cedar City

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In 1857, the Iron Military District consisted of four battalions led by regimental commander Col. William H. Dame. The platoons and companies in the first battalion drew on men in and around Parowan. (It had no involvement at Mountain Meadows.) Major Isaac Haight commanded the 2nd Battalion whose personnel in its many platoons and two companies came from Cedar City and outer-lying communities to the north such as Fort Johnson. Major John Higbee headed the 3rd Battalion whose many platoons and two companies were drawn from Cedar City and outer-lying communities to the southwest such as Fort Hamilton. Major John D. Lee of Fort Harmony headed the 4th Battalion whose platoons and companies drew on its militia personnel from Fort Harmony, the Southerners at the newly-founded settlement in Washington, the Indian interpreters at Fort Clara, and the new settlers at Pinto.

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In June 1857, Higbee was captain of Company D in the Iron Military District, but during the militia reorganization that summer, Higbee was promoted to major of the 3rd Battalion, most of whose companies and platoons were from Cedar City. See A Basic Account for a full description of the massacre.

After the first attack on the emigrant train on Monday, September 7, Higbee led a detachment of militiamen from Cedar City that arrived at Mountain Meadows on Tuesday, the 8th. Between then and the massacre on September 11, Higbee carried expresses between the Meadows and Cedar City.

On Thursday the 10th, he brought orders from Col. William Dame and Major Isaac Haight to the Meadows and attended the council meeting that evening.

During the final massacre on Friday the 11th, Higbee's role is controversial. According to some sources, Higbee was the one who gave the signal to commence the slaughter. Higbee and John D. Lee each accused the other of leading the final massacre.

Higbee was named in the 1859 arrest warrant; in T.B.H. Stenhouse's list of participants in his Rocky Mountain Saints published in 1873; in the 1874 indictment issued by Judge Jacob Boreman; and in the 1875 (first) trial of John D. Lee.

Leaving and Returning to Cedar City

In 1858, the Higbee family was among those who departed Cedar City. Higbee, Samuel Pollock and others traveled to lower Ash Creek, below Fort Harmony and near the encampment of the Paiute headman Toquer. There they founded the new settlement of Toquerville. In 1859, Higbee heard that federal officials supported by government troops from northern Utah were coming to arrest those complicit in the massacre. Later that year Federal Indian Superintendent Jacob Forney prepared a list of the "most guilty" in the massacre. He named Isaac Haight, Ira Hatch, John Higbee, Philip Klingensmith, John D. Lee, David Tullis, and William Davies (the latter was probably not involved at all). Later that year, Higbee was among the accused in Judge John Cradlebaugh's arrest warrant.

By 1866, Higbee had returned to Cedar City. During the Black Hawk War, Higbee was a captain of a local militia unit and led various militia operations including one into the high country of the Sevier River Valley east of Cedar City.

In 1874, Higbee served as president of the United Order (community cooperative) in Cedar City.

Higbee Goes into Hiding After Being Indicted for his Role in the Massacre

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The same year he was among nine Iron County militiamen indicted for murder stemming from the 1857 massacre. As arrests were made, Higbee, Isaac Haight and William Stewart fled. The 1880 census lists his wives, Mary with seven children and Eunice with six, living next door to each other in Cedar City. Higbee was absent, reportedly in Arizona. But funding and enthusiasm for prosecuting the massacre perpetrators waned in the 1880s. In the 1890s, the criminal case was still technically pending but federal officials had not actively pursued it for years. In those years, Higbee eventually returned to Cedar City.

Higbee's Statements Relative to the Massacre

In those years Higbee prepared two written accounts of the massacre, one in his own name, the other under the pseudonym of "Bull Valley Snort." They include many important particulars. However, like John D. Lee's statements, an evident purpose of Higbee's statements was exculpation and blame-shifting and they must be read in that light.

In 1896, the federal district judge in Beaver formally dismissed the long pending criminal indictment against Higbee. He was the last of the principal indictees (William Dame, John D. Lee, Isaac Haight, Higbee and William Stewart) still alive.

Final Years

According to the 1900 census, Higbee and wife Mary were living together with an adult son. In 1904, at the age of seventy-seven, Higbee died and was buried in Cedar City, survived by his two wives and eleven children.

About five years after his death, Higbee's widow, Mary C. Higbee, applied for Indian War veterans benefits for Higbee's service under Captain Peter Conover during the Walker War while he lived in Provo in the early 1850s.


Aird, Bagley and Nichols, Playing With Shadows, 268, 269, 280, 281, 317; Bagley, Blood of the Prophets, 82, 83, 116, 117, 119, 120, 126, 127, 224, 326-29, 242, 275, 280, 290, 298, 323, 326, 328, 329, 344; Bitton, ed., Guide to Mormon Diaries, 155; Bradshaw, ed., Under Dixie Sun, 37, 134, 255; Brooks, The Mountain Meadows Massacre, Appendix II, 226-235 (statement of John M. Higbee); Brooks, Journal of the Southern Indian Mission, 108; Jenson, Encyclopedic History of the Latter-day Saints, 883 (Toquerville Ward); Lee, Mormonism Unveiled, 217, 226, 232-38, 240, 241, 243-45, 247, 250-51, 272, 273, 283, 293, 379; Lee Trial transcripts; Moorman and Sessions, Camp Floyd and the Mormons, 135, 136, 150;; Novak, House of Mourning, 158, 161; Robinson, ed., History of Kane County, 304, 445; Shirts and Shirts, A Trial Furnace, ; Smith, ed., Journal of Jesse N. Smith, 177, 415; U.S. census records; Utah State Archive and Records and Service, Commissioner of Indian War Records, Indian War Service Affidavits, affidavit of Mary C. Higbee re service of John M. Higbee, accessed at; Walker, et al, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, Appendix C.

For full bibliographic information see Bibliography.

External Links

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