John M. Macfarlane

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John Menzies Macfarlane, his personal and family background, and his involvement in the Mountain Meadows Massacre

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John Menzies Macfarlane


Biographical Sketch

Early Years in Scotland

John Menzies Macfarlane was born in October 1833 in Stirling, Stiflingshire, Scotland, the son of John Macfarlane and Annabella Sinclair. His brother Daniel Macfarlane was born in 1837. In 1842, his mother was impressed with the message of the newly arrived missionaries of Mormonism and joined the new church. He was baptized in 1845. His father died in 1846 when John was about thirteen.

During the 1840s, several other members of the Macfarlane family joined the Mormons and attended the Glasgow conference. They were unable to immigrate, however, until the church established its Perpetual Emigration Fund to assist indigent European converts to immigrate to Utah Territory in the American West. He was baptized into the Mormon Church in 1845.

Immigration to America and then to Utah

With that assistance, John Macfarlane, his mother, Annabella Macfarlane, and his younger brother, Daniel, began their journey in early 1852 to the Mormon "Zion" in Utah. In Liverpool, they met Mormon elder Isaac C. Haight and traveled under his direction in their voyage. Arriving in the United States, they steamed up the Mississippi River to St. Louis and then Kansas City.

The Mormon Trail

After disembarking in Kansas City, Annabella Sinclair Macfarlane, 40, and her three children, John, 18, Ann, 17, and Daniel, 14, joined the Abraham O. Smoot Company which consisted of 250 individuals and 33 wagons when it began its journey. On the overland trail, there were at least ten deaths in the company from cholera, measles, or other causes. 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 the overland trail they arrived in Great Salt Lake Valley in September.

They were the first company whose journey to Mormon Utah had been funded by the church's Perpetual Emigration Fund. After their arrival in the valley of the Great Salt Lake, they moved north and settled in Bountiful.

To the Ironworks in Cedar City

The Early Ironworks in Cedar City

In October 1853, the Macfarlanes arrived in Cedar City, the headquarters of the Iron Mission where many Mormon converts from the British Isles had settled. Shortly before their move, his mother had become a plural wife of Isaac C. Haight. Her sons, John and Daniel, became his stepsons. Soon after their arrival, Macfarlane began teaching school which he continued for several years. Late in 1854, Macfarlane married Ann Chatterley (1837-1926), the daughter ofJoseph Chatterley and Nancy Morton, and the brother of John Chatterley. In the coming years, they had ten children together.

The Deseret Iron Company

By settling in Cedar City, John Macfarlane was 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.

John Macfarlane's Limited Role at the Ironworks in 1857

During this period in 1857, John Macfarlane’s occasional role was as a teamster hauling lumber. When it became imperative to have a reservoir for clean water for the steam engine, Macfarlane was in the crew of more than 40 who built the reservoir. That was the extent of his involvement in the ironworks that year.

In the Iron Military District: John Macfarlane, Adjutant to Major Isaac Haight, 2nd 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.

In June 1857, 23-year-old Macfarlane was listed as an adjutant to Captain John M. Higbee in one of the companies of the Iron County militia. However, over the summer the militia was reorganized. By September 1857, at the outbreak of the Utah War, Higbee had advanced to major of the 3rd Battalion, and Macfarlane became adjutant to Major Isaac Haight in the 2nd Battalion. See A Basic Account for a full description of the massacre.

lf John Macfarlane was at Mountain Meadows, he would have rode from Cedar City and arrived sometime between Tuesday, September 8 and Thursday, September 10. In John D. Lee's autobiography posthumously published in 1877, Lee named many Cedar City militiamen in attendance at the Thursday night militia council at Mountain Meadows that decided the fate of the Fancher-Baker company. Lee is categorical in naming most of these men. But as to Macfarlane, he was less certain. "I honestly believe that John Macfarland . . . was there -- I am not positive that he was, but my best impression is that he was there. . . ." There is considerable evidence that his brother, Daniel Macfarlane, was present at the massacre on September 11, and played a significant role in it. However, we have no information on the role, if any, that John Macfarlane played. In Massacre at Mountain Meadows, Walker, Turley and Leonard express uncertainty about whether John Macfarlane was present at Mountain Meadows.

In 1859, Judge John Cradlebaugh interviewed anonymous militiamen and citizens of Cedar City and based on this information, found probable cause to issue an arrest warrant against 38 militiamen, most of them from Cedar City. "John McFarlan" was named. Rocky Mountain Saints, published in 1873, also listed him. He had a role in the first trial of John D. Lee in 1875, discussed below.

Map of Washington County, Utah.

Move to Washington County

In 1859, Macfarlane moved to the new settlement of Toquerville in Washington County where he became the postmaster. He also worked as surveyor, surveying towns, fields and canals. By 1862, Macfarlane was one of those who mediated a dispute over water rights between the settlers in St. George and Santa Clara. Samuel Knight was among those who represented Santa Clara. In 1866, Macfarlane became the superintendent of schools in Iron County. In October of the same year, he took a second wife, marrying Agnes Eliza Heyborn (1846-1932) in Salt Lake City, the daughter of John and Sarah Ann Heyborn. Over the years, they had nine children together.

Musical Career

In Mormon communities, choir director was an important assignment. When John Weston/Western moved from Cedar City to Beaver, Beaver County in 1859 to build the choir there, Macfarlane was requested to return to Cedar City in Iron County to head the community choir. Then in 1868, Mormon leader Erastus Snow requested that Macfarlane move to St. George to take over the choir. Macfarlane turned over the reins of the Cedar City choir to his brother-in-law, John Chatterley. In St. George, he assumed the leadership of the community choir and held the position for nearly 20 years.

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While Macfarlane worked variously as teacher, surveyor, postmaster, lawyer, and justice of the peace, what garnered him the most renown in his community was his ability as a musician, chorister and song writer. His most famous composition was the Christmas carol "Far, Far Away on Judea's Plains," composed in 1869. More than 140 years later, it remains a Yuletide favorite in the English-speaking world. In addition, Macfarlane's St. George choir performed at important occasions and community ceremonies. In the 1870s, a spirit of cooperation among Catholics in the mining town of Silver Reef and Mormons in St. George led the Mormons to offer Father Lawrence Scanlan the use of the recently completed St. George Tabernacle to celebrate mass. MacFarlane's choir provided music for the mass.

The Black Hawk War and Mormon-Navajo War, 1865-1870

Nearly two decades after his death in 1892, John Macfarlane’s widow applied for Indian Wars veterans benefits for Macfarlane's service during Utah's Black Hawk War. According to the application, beginning December 1868, he served under Col. C. C. McArthur for fourteen months. Macfarlane “took charge of [the] home guard, mustered troops and secured supplies for the different expeditions.” In addition, he commanded an expedition to Canaan and took part in a skirmish south of St. George.

Macfarlane's Role in John D. Lee's First Trial, 1875

In 1875, after John D. Lee was arrested and charged with complicity in the massacre, five attorneys represented him in his first trial. Church leaders offered him the services of Jabez G. Sutherland. Lee also used Judge E.D. Hoge; Wells Spicer (who later conducted an inquest into the infamous shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona); and William Bishop, who later edited and published John D. Lee's autobiography, Mormonism Unveiled. John Macfarlane also provided Lee with legal assistance. Because of his Mormon contacts and familiarity with massacre participants, his main role seems to have been to aid Lee's defense team in providing background on the massacre and contacting witnesses. Macfarlane testified briefly in the 1875 trial on collateral matters such as the whereabouts of certain witnesses.

Evidently, he did not work for Lee in 1876 although he was present in Beaver for Lee's second trial. After Lee's conviction, Macfarlane and Joseph Fish interviewed U.S. Marshal William Nelson about the Lee proceedings.

In January 1879, Macfarlane took a third plural wife, marrying Elizabeth Jane Adams (1858-1948) in St. George, the daughter of Samuel Lorenzo Adams and Emma Jackson. They had seven children.

Final Years

In 1888, Macfarlane helped in establishing the first academy for advanced schooling in Washington County. During the anti-polygamy raid of the late 1880s, Macfarlane fled to the Mormon colony in Mexico to escape the warrants of federal marshals. He returned to St. George where he died in 1892 at the age of 58, survived by his three wives and many children.
Charles Lowell Walker attended Macfarlane's funeral, after which he recorded this sketch of John M. Macfarlane in his diary:

"Br John Macfarlane came from Scotland when a Boy; lived at Cedar City and was married there. He was called to this country [St. George] by the late apostle Erastus Snow on account of his Musical talent. He led the choir for many years, with much satisfaction to the saints. He was a good surveyor, and attorney at Law, a kind father and a husband to three wives. He was a jolly, good natured fellow, full of fun and pleasantry, fond of good living and merry company. When in robust health he weighed 235 lbs. Good bye, John; rest in peace and slumber sweetly but for a little while. . . . There was a large congregation at the funeral services and a large train of vehicles followed his Body to the Burying place." (Larson, ed. Diary of Charles Lowell Walker, Vol II, 740.)

The St. George Stake Chorus, 1880s, with its director John M. Macfarlane, back row, center. Annie Macfarlane is front row, second from right.


Alder and Brooks, A History of Washington County, 115-16, 143, 170, 171, 194; Book Review, “Yours Sincerely, John M. Macfarlane," Utah Historical Quarterly, 49/1 (Winter 1981), 100; Brooks, ed., Journal of the Southern Indian Mission, 106; Bradshaw, ed., Under Dixie Sun, 51, 256, 264, following 296 (photo of choir), 321, 325, 330; Buchanan, "Scots Among the Mormons,” Utah Historical Quarterly, 36/4 (Fall 1968), 342; “Culture in Dixie," Utah Historical Quarterly, 29/3 (July 1961), 257; Esshom, ed., Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah, 1018; Krenkel, ed., Life and Times of Joseph Fish, 59, 91, 165; Larson, I Was Called to Dixie, 30, 52, 326, 344, 383, 481-85, 487-489, 497, 506, 579, 608; Larson, ed., Diary of Charles Lowell Walker, 330, 428, 440, 466,, 485, 493, 502, 512, 515, 579-80, 670, 740; Larson, Erastus Snow, 382, 458, 551-52, 567, 578, 595-96, 607, 720; Lee trial transcripts; Lee, Mormonism Unveiled, 232, 380 (uncertain identification); Macfarlane, Yours Sincerely, John M. Macfarlane; Papanikolas, The Peoples of Utah, 77, 97; Pendleton, “Memories of Silver Reef,” Utah Historical Quarterly, 3/4 (Oct. 1930), 116; Peterson, “Life in a Village Society, 1877-1920,” Utah Historical Quarterly, 49/1 (Winter 1981), 81; Powell, ed., Utah History Encyclopedia, 561; Seegmiller, A History of Iron County, 191, 192, 239-40; Shirts and Shirts, A Trial Furnace, 484, 492; Utah State Archive and Records and Service, Commissioner of Indian War Records, Indian War Service Affidavits, affidavit re service of John M. Macfarlane, accessed at; Walker, et al, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, Appendix C, 260.

For full bibliographic information see Bibliography.

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