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Mountain Meadows meetings in Arkansas

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Elder Marlin K. Jensen

Elder Marlin K. Jensen

Pursuing a vow they made last fall during the 150th anniversary of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, descendants of 120 murdered wagon train members are scheduled to meet with Elder Marlin K. Jensen this weekend, seeking the LDS Church's cooperation to pursue National Historic Landmark status for church-owned land in southern Utah where the killings occurred.

Elder Jensen, Richard Turley and Steve Olsen of the church's Family and Church History Department are to meet Friday in Arkansas with three different organizations: the Mountain Meadows Monument Foundation, Mountain Meadows Association and the Mountain Meadows Massacre Descendants.

An LDS Church spokesman said Wednesday the church had no comment on the meeting or what will be discussed.

All three groups provided a copy of the same letter to Elder Jensen, who serves as historian for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in December. They said that although they have different goals, all reached consensus on five points of agreement that they hope to get church cooperation or help with, including:

• Support for National Historic Landmark designation for the massacre site.

• Locating and marking of the "upper grave sites" believed to be located on church property, but which remain unmarked.

• How the church feels about designating the grave sites as a cemetery.

• Finding one or more graves located on property the church does not presently own and taking steps to protect those sites.

• Communication and transparency, including "an open and honest dialogue between each of our groups and the LDS Church from this point forward."

Terry Fancher, president of the Mountain Meadows Association, met with Elder Jensen on Dec. 14 and discussed the status of property at Mountain Meadows, according to a report of the meeting. "There was discussion about protection of the land in the valley of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

"It was noted that Mountain Meadows Estates was being developed by Ence (a St. George development company). ... The church is doing what they can to protect the valley from development encroachment," the report said.

Half-acre building lots are being offered for sale in central Utah, just south of Mountain Meadows, and the groups are worried the area could become a magnet for homeowners seeking refuge from rising home prices in St. George and surrounding areas in Washington County.

The report of the meeting with Elder Jensen also said he was "sensitive to the letters we had provided and acknowledged that the church will take the lead on the issue of national Historical Landmark Status. He noted the importance of having a single letter from the three organizations.

"He indicated that at some point in the near future efforts would be made to provide information on how the process might take place. He also indicated the church had been working on drawings, to be presented to the three organizations, on concepts for the northern grave sites."

The discussions come six months after hundreds of massacre victim descendants gathered at Mountain Meadows in September for a three-day commemoration of the murders, which took place Sept. 11, 1857, west of Cedar City at the direction of LDS leaders who also served as military officers.

President Henry B. Eyring, then a member of the church's Quorum of the Twelve, attended a service at Mountain Meadows on Sept. 11, 2007, and delivered a message expressing "profound regret" for the fact that local church leaders in Cedar City had planned the massacre and ordered LDS militiamen to participate in the slaughter of 120 unarmed men, women and children.

At that meeting, Phil Bolinger, president of the Mountain Meadows Monument Foundation, presented then-Elder Eyring with a letter he read from two U.S. senators from Arkansas — Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor — supporting the foundation's quest for National Historic Landmark status for church-owned property at Mountain Meadows.

Bolinger also gave Elder Eyring a packet of additional support letters, which he said included requests from Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe and 55 members of the Arkansas State Legislature "requesting that the LDS Church cooperate in securing National Historic Landmark designation."

He said the packet also contained letters from descendants of more than 400 massacre victims, and a signed petition. Bolinger asked Elder Eyring to let then-LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley know that "his cooperation would truly help us close the book of the past and signal the beginning of the honest forgiveness we all seem to want."

Elder Eyring, now first counselor in the church's First Presidency, took the packet but did not offer any further remarks.

At that time, leaders of the three organizations expressed gratitude for the church's public acknowledgement of the fact that local LDS leaders planned and carried out the massacre, but acknowledged mixed feelings among members of their respective organizations regarding future stewardship of the area.

Harley Fancher, a board member with the Mountain Meadows Monument Foundation, confirmed the three groups will meet with Elder Jensen and his group on Friday. He told the Deseret Morning News the groups are "hopeful we've developed a dialogue and may be moving forward. We've got our fingers crossed — we don't know the exact details yet."

He said the meeting will take place at the Old Yell Lodge in Carrollton, Ark., where the few children who survived the massacre eventually were returned to relatives and friends years after the killings. An advisory announcing the private meeting among the three groups and LDS officials was sent to Arkansas media organizations by the LDS Church, Fancher said, informing them of a press conference to follow the meeting.

Church representatives also will host a "fireside" meeting Friday night for LDS members in Arkansas, Fancher said, adding he didn't know what the topic for the meeting will be.

Richard Turley is one of three LDS historians who have researched the massacre in depth, and he authored an article in the church's official publication, The Ensign, last year acknowledging that local LDS leaders were responsible for planning and carrying out the massacre.

The authors are scheduled to detail their findings later this year in a book to be titled, "Massacre at Mountain Meadows," published by Oxford University Press.

Fancher said he doesn't know if LDS leaders have talked with any of the Arkansas politicians who have expressed support for national historic landmark designation at Mountain Meadows. "I know the local senator here has not been contacted."

E-mail: carrie@desnews.com