William H. Dame

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William Horne Dame, his personal and family background, and his involvement in the Mountain Meadows Massacre

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William Horne Dame


Biographical Sketch

Early LIfe: From New England to Illinois

William Horne Dame was born July 15, 1819 in Farmington, New Hampshire to William and Jemima Dame. While in his early twenties he became acquainted with the Mormon message in 1841 and joined the Mormon church in 1842. He moved to Hancock County in western Illinois and eventually married Lovina Andrews. Dame worked on construction of the the Mormon temple in Nauvoo, continuing in that occupation until 1846 when Mormons were forced by armed conflict with the original settlers in western Illinois to withdraw and move west.

Migration to Utah

Dame and his family joined the departing Mormons in their westering saga.

In 1848, he and his wives joined an unknown company to make the overland trek. They probably started in late spring or early summer.

The Mormon Trail

They would have passed the milestones on the trail that later became commonplace landmarks: 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 they would have arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake in late summer or early fall 1848.

Move to Southern Utah

In late 1850, Dame joined an exploratory party lead by Mormon leader George A. Smith that traveled southward to reconnoiter potential settlements in the southern territory. This expedition included John D. Lee and Charles Hopkins. Arriving in southern Utah in January 1851, Dame helped plan Fort Louisa (later Parowan) in Iron County and became its first mayor and a member of the first high council of the Iron stake. Also in the company were Thomas Cartwright, 36, Richard Harrison, 43, George Hunter, 22, Nephi Johnson, 17, John D. Lee, 39, Carl Shirts, 15, and Robert Wiley, 41.

In 1852, Dame settled near Red Creek (modern Paragonah) in Iron County. He also helped in surveying and laying out the new settlement at Cedar City in the same county. Cedar City was to become the headquarters of the newly-formed Iron Mission. In 1853-54, Indian unrest arising from the Walker War forced Dame and other settlers to abandon Red Creek and return to Parowan. In 1855, he and his family returned to Red Creek (Fort Paragoonah) where stronger fortifications were built under his supervision. Early the next year, Dame returned to Parowan and became the second president of the Parowan stake, a position which he held until 1880. Contemporaneously, Dame was a colonel in the militia and commander of the Tenth Regiment, or Iron Military District (the official designations of the Iron County militia). He was also a member of Utah’s territorial legislative assembly for three successive terms, 1854-56.

Preparations for Feared Invasion

In summer 1857, the Tenth Regiment was reorganized to improve its military readiness. In early August, reports from Salt Lake City brought news of that United States Army troops were approaching Utah Territory. Rumors also circulated that an army detachment was maneuvering to "invade" southern Utah. Colonel William H. Dame, 38, was the commanding officer of the Iron Military District. He oversaw military preparations in southern Utah, including harvesting and stockpiling foodstuffs, guarding inlets, surveying arms, obtaining munitions and drilling local militias. Dame also ordered scouting parties into the eastern mountains to encounter the army detachment thought to be approaching. But militia units from the 10th Regiment, or Iron Military District, were responsible for the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

Col. Dame and Unfolding Events at Mountain Meadows

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.

Events sparking the conflict between local Mormon settlers and the passing Arkansas emigrant company began in Cedar City. There was some explosive episode involving a few emigrant men and a few local settlers. What led to the exaggerated perception of events and response in Cedar City was the wild rumors that had circulated since mid-August that the approaching U.S. Army was sending a detachment to invade Utah through the backdoor -- an invasion through southern Utah. What cemented perceptions in Cedar City was when community leaders heard and accepted as true the rumor that the passing emigrants were in league with the U.S. Army detachment thought to be invading their valley over the Fremont Trail.

Isaac C. Haight held virtually every leadership position in Cedar City -- mayor, stake president, major in the militia, and director of the Iron Works. However, Colonel William H. Dame was the commander of the regional militia, the Iron Military District. Thus, Haight had to consult with Dame about how to address the flareup in Cedar City. Haight recommended retaliation but Dame urged caution. Haight was dissatisfied and with the connivance of majors John M. Higbee and John D. Lee, Cedar City bishop Philip Klingensmith, and most (but not all) of the local high council, Haight pursued a plan involving an Indian incursion against the wagon train under the shadow leadership of local Indian Farmer, John D. Lee. See A Basic Account for a full description of the massacre.

Monday, September 7

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This led to the surprise attack early Monday morning, September 7, followed by intermittent fighting with no clear winner emerging. By mid-week, Isaac Haight and John D. Lee realized that their ploy to have an all-Indian force do the dirty work was doomed to failure. Also, because of the killing of William Aden by Mormon sentries, it seemed probable to them that the emigrants knew of Mormon connivance in the attacks.

Meanwhile, in Parowan -- 20 miles north of Cedar City -- Dame sent his own scouts to Mountain Meadows to observe conditions. They came back expressing "disgust" with what they saw. The Haight-Lee gambit was becoming a fiasco.

Wednesday, September 9

On Wednesday evening, September 9, 1857, Dame held a council in Parowan attended by Major Isaac C. Haight, his adjutant Elias Morris, and other militia officials. This meeting was characterized by considerable vacillation on Dame’s part in responding to the emergency at Mountain Meadows. In the wee hours of the following morning in the so-called "Tan Bark Council," and evidently at the urging of Major Isaac C. Haight, Dame approved an order authorizing further attacks on the train if such was deemed necessary to maintain peaceful relations with local Indians.

Thursday, September 10

Isaac Haight and Elias Morris returned to Cedar on Thursday morning and sent new orders to Major Higbee. These arrived Thursday afternoon and lead to the fateful Thursday night council meeting at Mountain Meadows attended by Lee, Higbee, Klingensmith and members of the Cedar City church and community leadership (who also held positions in the militia) who were on the grounds. It was a highly contentious meeting. Opinions varied from letting the emigrants leave unmolested to massacring them. The argument that ultimately prevailed was a coldly rational one -- at least it seemed rational based on what they believed at the time. The emigrants must be silenced because they had learned that Mormons were behind the Indian attacks. They would carry this news to California which would lead to a new invasion of U.S. troops into Utah from the west. In the surreal war environment that existed, they reasoned that they had to silence all old enough "to tell the tale," so that they could then face the Army invaders from the east without fear of a separate army contingent from California. In the end, the senior officials -- Lee, Higbee, Klingensmith, and their subordinates -- agreed to the plan and steeled themselves to execute it. 

Friday, September 11

On Friday, September 11, they executed the plan involving a ploy of offering safe passage to the emigrants. With the emigrants' guns loaded in the wagons and the emigrants on the road north shadowed by the militiamen from the Iron Military District, they were defenseless when the militia turned on them and, except for 17 small children, shot them all dead. 

Saturday, September 12

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Meanwhile, Dame and several subordinates including Major Haight rode toward Mountain Meadows and arrived Saturday morning after the final massacre had occurred. John D. Lee reported that Dame appeared frantic at the sight of the dead, especially so many women and children. He was heard to exclaim, "I didn't know there were so many of them!" Lee observed Col. Dame and Major Haight quarreling among themselves over the disastrous result of their orders.

Upon Dame’s return to Parowan, he encountered his adjutant, James H. Martineau, who days earlier Dame had sent on a 300-mile scouting expedition through the eastern mountains. Martineau informed him that the scouts had not encountered any sign of troop movements and that the rumor of an army "invasion" was false. The report that the U.S. Army was invading southern Utah over the Fremont Trail was only a wild rumor fed by war hysteria, just as was the report that the California-bound immigrants were in league with this phantom army detachment.

In modern sociological terminology, they had experienced a severe "moral panic": Through the fog of war, they came to think that they were being invaded by the U.S. Army. Next, they convinced themselves that the passing emigrants were in league with the supposedly invading army detachment. Wild rumors proliferated, leading to equally wild perceptions and an extreme overaction out of all proportion to their actual condition. In its distorted perception and extreme overreaction, the massacre at Mountain Meadows is similar to other moral panics such as the European witch craze of the 14th through 17th centuries or, more recently, the Satanic ritual abuse craze of the 1980s. In time of war, such crazed perceptions are so common as to be ubiquitous.

The 1858 Search for New Places of Refuge

In early 1858, while the U.S. Army was still in its winter quarters near Fort Bridger in modern Wyoming, Colonel Dame organized an exploration of the western desert to reconnoiter new safe havens for Mormons in the event of an army invasion of northern Utah. The end result was that they found no new sanctuaries to which Mormons could retreat.

The 1858 Church Council Considering Dame and Haight

Later in 1858, after the peace accord between the Buchanan administration and Mormon officials, George A. Smith and several other church leaders held a council in southern Utah to investigate charges against Dame in his ecclesiastical role. There was a laundry list of complaints about Dame's leadership, none of which specifically mentioned Mountain Meadows. But Isaac C. Haight and several other witnesses to events at Mountain Meadows were in attendance and the council surely considered aspects of the chain of command regarding the massacre. The details of the council are not fully known but the outcome of the council was favorable to Dame. Following several days of testimony and deliberations, Dame retained his position in Parowan but a while later Isaac C. Haight was removed from his church positions in nearby Cedar City. According to the council minutes, those who found that the complaints against Dame were "without foundation" were the Mormon "general authorities," George A. Smith and Amasa Lyman, and the local community, church and militia leaders and members, James H. Martineau, Calvin C. Pendleton, H. M. Alexander, John Steele, Nephi Johnson, F. T. Whitney, Silas S. Smith, S. West, E. Elmer, William Barton, O. B. Adams, J. Lewis, C. Hall, J. T. Hall, Isaac C. Haight, S.O. White, M. Ensign, John M. Higbee, Tarlton Lewis, Piddy Meeks and Joseph H. Smith.

Mission to England

In 1860, Dame was called to serve a church mission to England. He remained in England until 1862 until ill health forced him to return to southern Utah. There Dame resumed his former positions and activities.

Utah's Black Hawk War, 1865-1870

During Utah's Black Hawk War of the mid-1860s, there were various military operations in southern Utah against hostile Indians. The Iron Military District was reorganized to include the newly redrawn counties of Beaver, Iron, Washington and Kane. However, brigade headquarters were transferred from Parowan to St. George and church leader Erastus Snow became its commanding officer with Dame in a subordinate role to Snow. The Circleville Massacre in Piute County occurred in 1866 during the height of the war. The local militia killed at least 16 Piedes (Southern Paiutes), including women and children. The massacre appears to have resulted when an officer subordinate to Colonel Dame contravened his orders.

Dame's Involvement in the United Order

Beginning in 1866, Dame acted as a kind of business agent for the church until his death in 1884. When the Mormons implemented an experimental economic cooperative movement known as the United Order in the 1870s, Dame operated what was reportedly the first cooperative store in Utah.

Indicted for Murder for Complicity in the Massacre

In 1874, a grand jury sitting in the federal district court in Beaver, Utah, returned an criminal indictment for murder against Dame and eight other current or former Iron County militiamen for their complicity in Mountain Meadows Massacre. Dame was arrested in November 1874 and incarcerated until May 1876 when he was released on bail. Meanwhile, majors Isaac C. Haight and John M. Higbee and several others went into hiding. In September 1876, U. S. Attorney Sumner Howard reached an agreement not to prosecute Dame further. Howard proceeded to trial against John D. Lee in the second Lee trial which resulted in Lee’s conviction and subsequent execution by firing squad.

Final Years

Dame continued as stake president in Parowan until 1880. According to the 1880 census, he was employed as the manager of a cooperative store. Since the 1850s, Dame had several polygamous wives but he left no surviving children. He died of a stroke on August 16, 1884 at the age of sixty-five.

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For full bibliographic information see Bibliography.

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