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Posted: 10:27 AM- MOUNTAIN MEADOWS - To Christians, a wooden cross is a powerful symbol of suffering and redemption. It is a ubiquitous presence in church cemeteries and along roadways, marking the spot where believing loved ones have died.
But there are no crosses on the LDS Church-owned Mountain Meadows memorial site, where some of the 120 men, women and children slaughtered in 1857 were buried.
That is unacceptable to Patty Norris, president of Mountain Meadows Massacre Descendants, one of the three organizations representing those with ties to these hallowed grounds.
The Arkansas emigrants of the Fancher-Baker company were predominantly old-time Methodists and Presbyterians, Norris said this week. "Mormons don't use crosses, but it is a huge symbol of our faith. It should be the victims' religion that is predominant there."
For the massacre's 150th anniversary, Norris came up with the idea of erecting a cross for every person who was killed by Mormons and some Paiute Indians on that terrible September day, as well as the 17 children younger than 8 who survived. It would help participants at memorial services get a sense of the magnitude of the loss.
Rather than carting the crosses from her home in Arkansas, Norris said, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints agreed to build them.
Thirty 18-inch crosses, representing the men killed, and 90, 12-inch crosses, for the women and children, featured black ribbons fastened in the middle. An additional 17, 12-inch crosses, for the children who were spared, were adorned with red ribbons. All were tied to the posts of the black wrought iron fence surrounding the memorial grave site.
In front of the large stone memorial, descendants laid down photographs, copies of family trees, wreathes, flowers and crosses to honor their dead.
At a special memorial on Tuesday, Norris stepped up to the microphone to welcome the crowd, as they awaited the arrival of descendants who were working their way toward the site behind an antique wagon. She wanted the people to know about and notice the crosses. To her, it was a fitting reminder of earlier markers.
In 1859, U.S. Army Major J. L. Carleton erected the first memorial on the site: a rock pile topped with a large, wooden cross, bearing the inscription, "Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord. I will repay."
Two years later, Brigham Young visited the site, repeated the inscription's wording and added: "And I have repaid."
Historians argue about the meaning of Young's words and about what happened next. Juanita Brooks, in her ground-breaking book, The Mountain Meadows Massacre, writes that Young "didn't say another word. He didn't give an order. He just lifted his right arm to the square, and in five minutes there wasn't one stone left upon another."
Others believe the cross was destroyed by natural causes or by vandals.
"It was probably gone not long after Brigham Young got there," said Richard Turley, managing director of the LDS Church's historical department. "In 1863, the rock cairn was rebuilt by another group of soldiers who came through the area and again destroyed."
In 2005, members of the Mountain Meadows Monument Foundation, Inc. added a replica of the Carleton cairn to its memorial site in Carrollton, Ark., which marks the place where the surviving children arrived in 1859. It features a large, wooden cross, modeled after the original.
The foundation's president, Phil Bollinger, donated a 19-foot cedar log for the cross's vertical piece and Burr Fancher, an earlier president, did the engraving in his son's Arkansas barn.
After the commemoration events this past weekend, many descendants of the massacre victims took one of the symbolic crosses home as a memento of the day's events.
If the Meadows became a national historic site, as Norris and others hope, a cross could be a permanent fixture. Fancher agrees.
"I am not religious, but I have a healthy respect for all religions," he says. "These people died under the sign of the cross and I think it should remain. If they make it a landmark, a cross would show up on the hill. It would give the place far-ranging visibility."
And, Fancher added, "I'd love to carve one."