To feed a tree in Zion: Osteological analysis of the 1857 Mountain Meadows massacre

Shannon A. Novak, Derinna Kopp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


In September 1857, some 120 men, women, and children on a wagon train bound for California were massacred in southwestern Utah. Who was responsible for the Mountain Meadows Massacre is a question that still sparks considerable debate. According to traditional historical accounts, the adult males of the company were shot by local Mormon militiamen, while the women and children were killed by Paiutes or other Native Americans. An unexpected opportunity to assess the skeletal evidence in the case arose in summer 1999, when a mass grave containing 28 of the victims was accidentally unearthed. Bullet wounds were found to affect primarily young men, although one subadult and possibly a female also exhibited gunshot trauma. The crania of three children, two subadult males, and one adult female were fractured by blunt force trauma. No wounds were identified that would corroborate historical accounts of the victims being scalped, having their throats cut, or being shot by arrows.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-108
Number of pages24
JournalHistorical archaeology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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