Mountain Meadows Massacre – Kenneth Rorie
By Freda Cruse Phillips & Bob Fleming
In 1845, Absalom Rorie and his family arrived in present day Stone County. Followed by friends and more family the community around “Mill Creek” (Middle Sylamore at Newnata) became a thriving community long before the Civil War. The Rorie’s built and operated a grist mill and a two story saw mill that in addition to producing the regions best wagons, provided white oak for barrels, bins and barns throughout the area. Kenneth Wayne Rorie, ggg-grandson of Absalom Rorie & Sarah Jane Elizabeth Meador, gg-grandson of Hezekiah Columbus Rorie & Louisa A. Ticer, g-grandson of Newton Monroe "Newt" Rorie and Sarah Beaver is the son of Eulis and Cleo Graddy Rorie. Eulis learned to make wagons from his father Newt. Kenneth learned as a young child how to guide a team, including the meaning and use of the words, Gee and Haw.
When the Baker family started making plans to go west to join the California Gold Rush, John Tweety Baker from Searcy County purchased wagons built by the Rorie’s knowing they would be the strongest and surest, able to make the torturous trek west from Arkansas. Outfitting a wagon suitable for a cross country trek was a special order, costing around $5,000, the “Aire Steams” of the 1850’s.
In March 1857, the Baker wagon train met up with other families from the area at Caravan Springs on Hiway 7 near Harrison to begin the journey. A monument stands at the site from which they departed. Squire Beaver, after whom Beaver Lake was named, operated a trading post in Carroll County where the wagon train made its last stop purchasing final supplies for the arduous trip.
On May 13, 1857, in Alma, Ark, Parley P. Pratt, one of the 12 Mormon apostles, was killed by Hector McLean. Pratt had usurped the marriage of McLean and his wife Eleanor, taking her as his 12th plural wife leading to an outraged McLean stabbing then shooting him. Pratt died 2 ½ hours later from loss of blood. Word arrived to Utah of the murder making Pratt yet another martyr to the Mormons, who had been chased out of both Missouri and Illinois. In 1838, the state of Missouri had issued Executive Order #44 also known as the extermination order which Gov. Boggs stated was a result of “open and avowed defiance of the laws, and of having made war upon the people of this State ... the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace—their outrages are beyond all description.” This order was not formally lifted until 1976. The fiery rants of Brigham Young citing the on going persecution led him to declare martial law in Utah issuing a command that they would not provide any supplies to passers through, directing followers instead to cache supplies of food, grain and munitions in the hills and caves in order to fend off aggressors. It was in accordance with Mormon policy to hold every Arkansan accountable for Pratt's death, just as every Missourian was hated because of the expulsion from there.
The following is excerpted from depositions in the National Archives given by survivors, Martha Elizabeth Baker and her brother, William Twiddy Baker during the post Civil War investigation into the massacre; “My father (George), mother (Minerva Beller Baker), grandfather (John Twitty Baker), several uncles and aunts were among those killed.” “My brother, sister and I were kept in the family of John D. Lee,” leader of the Mormon sect who attacked the wagon train, “until the soldiers came a year later upon the insistence of families here, to retrieve the survivors.” “Only 17 children under the age of 8, who were deemed “too young to tell” were spared. The wagon train was under attack for 5 days.” “We ran out of water with people dying in the hot sun from thirst as much as from wounds. There really was no choice but to surrender to John Lee who said he had worked out with the attacking Indians to allow safe passage,” “but the men had to give up their guns. They loaded us children into a wagon.” Elizabeth recalled the last time she saw her mother alive was as she was being placed into a wagon. Seeing the men wash the Indian paint from their faces, they realized these were white men, dressed as Indians. But it was too late. Given a signal by Lee, the Mormon’s turned and shot each unarmed person with whom they were walking. More than 120 innocent men, women and children over 8 years old were killed. The survivors recalled seeing their mother’s dresses worn by the Mormon women, their daddy’s guns used by the men and Brigham Young himself riding around in one of the fine carriages” made by Absalom Rorie. When the soldiers came to retrieve the children over a year later, they found the remains of the slaughtered and stopped to bury the bodies that had been left exposed, ravaged by animals. Elizabeth, Sally Ann and William’s grandma Mary came from Arkansas to claim them.
In 1864, brothers, Andrew and Hezekiah Rorie were tortured and killed along with their father Absalom by Union soldiers who were looking for Confederate troops and the powder work munitions being made in the caves of Stone County. Hezekiah’s widow Lousia Ticer was left alone to raise their young children, Martha 4, Sarah 7 and Alan 11. Their four oldest children, sons, became men and heads of the house overnight, responsible for not only themselves but their siblings and mother. Their 18 year old son Newton “Newt” Monroe Rorie had become a skilled wagon maker. In 1869 he married Sarah Beaver, niece of Squire Beaver, who had supplied the Baker wagon train. Sarah Beaver Rorie lived to be over 100. She was the oldest person attending the 1941 Folk Festival at Blanchard where she sang and played, and won the hog calling contest. The desecration and irreverence of our nation’s history continues, from the horrendous unconscionable acts of bulldozing cemeteries to renaming roads, mountains and lakes. Squire Beaver’s trading post lay’s beneath Beaver Lake. Succumbing to political pandering Beaver Lake was recently renamed Hobbs Lake.
In 2006 the movie September Dawn was released. It tells the story of this shocking piece of our nation’s history and the lengths to which people will go when they are fighting for religious freedom. A full investigation into the massacre did not occur until after the Civil War. In 1879 John D Lee was tried, convicted and returned to the site of the massacre for hanging. It was no small footnote that the Pratt murder occurred on May 13, 1857 and the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the slaughter of Arkansas’ people in the Baker wagon train occurred just four months later on September 11.
***Bob Fleming completed the research and writing on this story on Saturday night May 22nd. He died the following morning. Born in 1946 to Beulah Bryce Fleming, he is the great grandson of early Mormon settler Ebenezer Bryce (1830-1913), of whom Utah’s Bryce Canyon is named. Bob was raised as a Mormon and served as a missionary in Brazil. He was a devoted member of this community, researching and writing and photographing people and places in an effort to preserve the history of Stone County. He will be greatly missed.