John Lee was an American pioneer and a prominent member of the Latter Day Saint Movement, Utah. He was born September 6, 1812 in Kaskaskia Territory, Illinois. His mother died when he was three years old. As a young boy, his parents adopted him from the alcoholic father. They then hired him to work on their farm. John D. Lee was twenty-one when he began to date Agatha Ann Woolsey, Vandalia, Illinois. She was his first of 19 wives in 1833 and he joined the fledgling Latter-day Saints movement.
Lee was sentenced to death for his involvement in the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Many believe he was honest. However, he believed he was honest due to religious fanaticism, his faith in corrupt Church leaders, and he began to commit crimes on the orders his superiors. He thought he was doing the right things and continued to work for God’s glory.
This is based upon his life and confessions. His writings reveal that Joe Smith, Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders used Joe Smith as a tool for carrying out their dirty work since his time in the Church. He was eventually too worn out to be of any assistance to them and they decided to throw him away with the same sense of morality that a carpenter would discard an old saw or chisel.
What crime did Lee commit?
In April 1857, 120 to 150 settlers set out on a journey to California to find better lives. Most of them were Arkansans. A group of Mormons attacked them while they were camping on Mountain Meadows plateau in southern Utah. All of the travelers died, except for seventeen children who were taken to Mormon homes. John D. Lee was the only person who was convicted of participating in the massacre.
John D. Lee’s troops and the troops of his army were promised to accompany the emigrants in Cedar City. The soldiers offered a truce under a white flag as they approached the campsite on September 11. They would only need to leave the Paiutes and their livestock and possessions.
Since they had no other choice than to follow Lee and the militia out of the camp, the emigrants—about 120 men, women, and children—lay down their weapons and divided them into three groups, the last of which was made up entirely of adult males. It was over quickly. Arkansas men were killed in close quarters; the ambush group was able to kill the children and women. No one was older than seven years of age. They were quickly buried.
Lee maintained that he was used to make a scapegoat for the murder and that other Mormons had been more closely involved in the planning and execution of the crime. Brigham Young excommunicated Lee as well as Haight, but Lee was the only one prosecuted. Following a first trial that ended in a mistrial Lee was found guilty. He was sentenced to firing squad death.
John Lee’s Trial and Conviction
Lee was taken into custody and brought to trial for the orchestration of the massacre in 1874. Due to what appears to have been the prosecution’s attempt to implicate Brigham Young as the ultimate planner of the massacre, the first trial concluded inconclusively with a deadlocked jury. Following a second trial, which was held in 1876 and in which Lee was directly blamed by the prosecution, Lee was convicted and sentenced to the death penalty. Lee stated that he had not killed anyone. Lee never denied that he was involved. Lee claimed that Brigham Young didn’t know about the incident until it took place.
John Doyle Lee, dressed in a scarf and coat, sat on the casket, where his remains would be interred at Mountain Meadows. This is the site of the 1857 massacre. The photographer was also nearby. Lee asked for copies of all photographs taken to be given to his three previous spouses. The cameraman agreed. Lee smiled. Lee smiled.
U.S. commander ordered gunfire to be launched. The U.S. Marshal William Nelson was in the ravine, where many shots had been fired 20 years before. Lee fell to his death on his casket.
On April 20, 1961, the Church approved “reinstatement to membership and former blessings to John D. Lee” “after evaluating all the evidence available.” Four decades later, however, the Church took full ownership of the incident that resulted in Lee’s execution.
What is the point of a bright man, like Lee, allowing himself to be fooled while still believing in his leaders?
His former associates would have jeopardized his life as well, as he admits, and either “blood atoned” for him or denounced his crimes to the civil authorities, securing his conviction. The answer to this is that he had fanatical, unwavering confidence in the Mormon religion’s honesty and felt that no other religious philosophy would grant him immortality and happiness in the afterlife.
Additionally, he was a father to several of his children’s wives. He would have had to give up all his wives if he left the Mormon Church. His children would have been called heretics.
John D. Lee was therefore guided, little by little, from one crime to another until his bosses had used him to the fullest extent before they killed him as a felon to rescue themselves and hide the Church’s transgressions.
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