SILVER REEF, Washington County — A bronze statue of John Doyle Lee, the only man ever tried, convicted and executed for his part in the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre, may never find a home in the town he helped colonize.
In April, after months of objections voiced by massacre descendants, the Washington City Council voted to repeal its decision to erect the $35,000 statue of Lee in the town's Pioneer Memorial Park.
Washington City Mayor Terrill Clove was authorized to seek a buyer for the statue, and he finally sold the sculpture back to the artist who created it — local sculptor Jerry Anderson. "I think it worked out as well as it could," said City Manager Roger Carter. "The Lee family talked about buying it, and a few others did, too, but at the end of the day no one stepped up with real cash except for Jerry Anderson."
"We never intended to honor him (Lee) for his part in the Mountain Meadows Massacre," said Harold Cahoon, treasurer of the Washington City Historical Society. "We're not condoning what went on there, but John D. Lee did a lot of great things for Washington City. He was a good man. He built the cotton mill and taught people how to get the water here to grow the cotton. He did a lot for this area."
Cahoon said the society tried to convince the City Council to put the Lee statue inside the museum, instead of displaying it outside, on a large pedestal facing statues of other area pioneers.
"But they said 'no,' they said the statue had to be sold, and it could never be erected on public property," he said. "Since that happened, I've had more than 100 people talk to me about the statue, and I haven't heard any negative comments. The only people who were against it were from out of town."
The statue is now standing outside the artist's gallery inside the old Wells Fargo Bank building in Silver Reef.
Anderson decided to buy back the statue and put it on display, something he said is vitally important to any artist.
The ground the statue now stands on, however, belongs to Washington County. So far, there have been no complaints.
"Well, if putting the statue there gives anybody heartburn, I guess we'll hear about it," said Washington County administrator John Willie.
"We've got a perfect place for it. John D. Lee established the New Harmony Fort, which was the first county seat, and we're building a library adjacent to it. Lee's statue would fit in perfectly there. I think people would be pretty hard pressed to object to that location," he said.
Lee's legacy as an important pioneer leader is undisputed. But history also remembers Lee for his role in the Sept. 11, 1857, slaughter of 120 Arkansas emigrants in nearby Mountain Meadows by local Mormon Militia and Indians.
Descendants of the massacre victims voiced outrage and disbelief that city leaders ordered the statue in the first place.