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John D. Lee

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Title: John D. Lee  
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Subject: Blood atonement, Mountain Meadows massacre, Udall family, September Dawn, Thomas Fitch (politician)
Collection: 1812 Births, 1857 Crimes, 1877 Deaths, 19Th-Century Executions by the United States, 19Th-Century Executions of American People, 19Th-Century Mormon Missionaries, American Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, American Mass Murderers, American Mormon Missionaries in the United States, American People Convicted of Murder, American People Executed by Firing Squad, Arizona Pioneers, Converts to Mormonism, Danites, Deaths by Firearm in Utah, Executed Mass Murderers, Executed People from Illinois, Members of the Clergy Convicted of Murder, Members of the Council of Fifty, Members of the Utah Territorial Legislature, Mormon Pioneers, Mountain Meadows Massacre, People Convicted of Murder by the United States Federal Government, People Excommunicated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, People Executed by the United States by Firing Squad, People Executed by the United States Federal Government, People of the Utah War, Utah Politicians Convicted of Crimes
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John D. Lee

John D. Lee
Member of the Council of Fifty[1]
1844 – March 23, 1877 (1877-03-23)
Called by Brigham Young 14 March and 11 April 1844.
End reason Released due to age[1]
Utah Territorial Legislature
In office
Political party unknown
Personal details
Born John Doyle Lee
(1812-09-12)September 12, 1812
Illinois Territory, United States
Died March 23, 1877(1877-03-23) (aged 64)
Mountain Meadows, Utah Territory, United States
Resting place Panguitch City Cemetery
Spouse(s) Aggatha Ann Woolsey
Nancy Bean
Louisa Free
Sarah Caroline Williams
Abigail Shaffer Woolsey
Rachel Andora Woolsey
Polly Ann Workman
Martha Elizabeth Berry
Delethia Morris
Nancy Ann Vance
Emoline Vaughn Woolsey
Nancy Gibbons
Mary Vance Young
Lavina Young
Mary Leah Groves
Mary Ann Williams
Emma Louise Batchelor
Terressa Morse
Ann Gordge
Children 56

John Doyle Lee (September 6, 1812 – March 23, 1877) was a prominent early member of the Latter Day Saint Movement who was executed for his role in the Mountain Meadows massacre.


  • Early Mormon leader 1
  • Mountain Meadows massacre 2
  • Descendants 3
  • Film portrayals 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early Mormon leader

Lee was born in Kaskaskia, Illinois Territory and joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1838. He was a friend of Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saint Movement. He was the adopted son of Brigham Young under the early Latter Day Saint Law of Adoption doctrine. In 1839, Lee served a mission with his boyhood friend, Levi Stewart. Together they preached in Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. During this period Lee converted and baptized "Wild Bill" Hickman. Lee practiced plural marriage and had nineteen wives (at least eleven of whom eventually left him) along with sixty-seven children.

He was allegedly a member of the Danites vigilante group, although this claim has been disputed. Lee was an official scribe for the Council of 50, a group of men who, in the days of Joseph Smith, Jr. and Brigham Young, worked together to provide guidance in practical matters to the church, specifically concerning the move westward out of the United States of America to the Rocky Mountains.

After Smith's death, Lee went with Brigham Young and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) to what is now Utah and worked towards establishing several new communities. Some of those communities included Lee's Ferry and Lonely Dell Ranch, located near Page, Arizona. A successful and resourceful farmer and rancher, in 1856, Lee became a US Indian Agent in the Iron County area, assigned to help Native Americans establish farms.[2][3] In 1858 Lee served a term as a member of the Utah Territorial Legislature. Following church orders in 1872, Lee moved from Iron County and established a heavily-used ferry crossing on the Colorado River. The site is still called Lee's Ferry. The ranch was named the Lonely Dell Ranch and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, together with the ferry site.

Mountain Meadows massacre

Photograph of Lee (seated next to the coffin) just prior to his execution.

In September 1857, the Baker-Fancher party,[4] an emigrant group from Arkansas, camped at Mountain Meadows, a staging area in southern Utah used to prepare for the long crossing of the Mohave desert by groups traveling to California. They were attacked by a combined group of Native Americans and Mormon militiamen dressed as Native Americans. On the third day of the siege, Lee (not dressed as a Native American) approached the Baker-Fancher encirclement under cover of a white flag and convinced the emigrants to surrender their weapons and property to the Mormons in return for safe conduct to nearby Cedar City, whereupon approximately 120 of the Baker-Fancher[5] party were killed by Mormon militia, leaving only about 17 small children as survivors.

William Ashworth notes in his autobiography that after the massacre, the "leaders among the white men had bound themselves under the most binding oaths to never reveal their part in it." Lee told Brigham Young that the Indians had been solely responsible, that "no white men were mixed up in it."[6]

Lee later maintained that he had acted under orders from his militia leaders, under protest. Lee remained active in Mormonism and local government for several years.

In 1874, he was arrested and tried for leading the massacre. Lee's first trial ended inconclusively with a hung jury, seemingly because of the prosecution's attempt to portray Brigham Young as the true mastermind of the massacre. A second trial in 1877, in which the prosecution placed the blame squarely on Lee's shoulders, ended with his conviction and he was sentenced to death.[7] Lee never denied his own complicity, but claimed he had not personally killed anyone. He said he had been a vocally reluctant participant and later a scapegoat meant to draw attention away from other Mormon leaders who were also involved.

Lee further maintained that Brigham Young had no knowledge of the event until after it happened. However, in the Life and Confessions of John D. Lee he wrote, "I have always believed, since that day, that General [8]

Drawing of Lee's execution.

On March 23, 1877, Lee was executed by firing squad at Mountain Meadows on the site of the 1857 massacre. His last words included a reference to Young: "I do not believe everything that is now being taught and practiced by Brigham Young. I do not care who hears it. It is my last word... I have been sacrificed in a cowardly, dastardly manner."[9]

On April 20, 1961, LDS Church posthumously reinstated Lee's membership in the church.[10]


Lee had 19 wives and 56 children, and his descendants are now numerous. Former Solicitor General Rex E. Lee is a direct descendant of John Lee, as are his sons Senator Mike Lee of Utah and Utah Supreme Court Justice Thomas R. Lee.[11][12] See also the Lee-Hamblin family for a list of more of his noteworthy descendants.

Film portrayals

John Lee was portrayed by Jon Gries in the film September Dawn (2007).


  1. ^ a b  
  2. ^ Haymond, Jay M. (1994), "Lee, John D.", in Powell, Allan Kent, Utah History Encyclopedia, Salt Lake City, Utah:  
  3. ^ "[Lee] became the local bishop and the Indian agent to the nearby Paiute Indians." John Doyle Lee (1812-1877),
  4. ^ Parker, B.G. (1901), Recollections of the Mountain Meadow Massacre, Plano, CA  Digital reprint (pdf) by the Mountain Meadows Massacre Descendants organization
  5. ^ Denton, Sally (2003), American Massacre, New York:  
  6. ^ Ashworth 1934, p. 37
  7. ^, web page on John Doyle Lee
  8. ^ Lee 1877, p. 225
  9. ^ The Last Words of John D.,
  10. ^ Haymond, Jay M. (1994), "Lee, John D.", in Powell, Allan Kent, Utah History Encyclopedia, Salt Lake City, Utah:  
  11. ^ Esplin, Ronald K.; Turley, Richard E., Jr. (1992), "Mountain Meadows Massacre", in  
  12. ^ "'"Mountain Meadows event remembered: Descendants join together in 'spirit of reconciliation,  


  • Ashworth, William B. (1934), Autobiography of William B. Ashworth 1845-1934, Family History Collection, Brigham Young University .
  • .  
  • Cleland, Robert Glass; . Reissued in single-volume paperback: Huntington Library, June 2004: ISBN 0-87328-178-0  
  • Kelly, Charles, ed. Journals of John D. Lee, 1846–47 and 1859. Salt Lake City, Priv. print. for R. B. Watt by Western printing company, 1938. Republished: Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1984.
  • Lee, John D. (1877), Bishop, W.W., ed., ) HimselfMormonism Unveiled; Or The Life and Confessions of the Late Mormon Bishop, John D. Lee; (Written by, St. Louis: Bryan, Brand & Company .

External links

  • John D. Lee Family Association Official Website:
  • Online tree of Lee Descendants:
  • Excellent sketch of Lee's life
  • Works by John Doyle Lee at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about John D. Lee at Internet Archive
  • John D. Lee at Find a Grave
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