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Roger Ebert didn't think much of “September Dawn,” but Harley Fancher liked it a lot. And if Fancher lacks Ebert's critical credentials, he surely knows more about the movie's subject, the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Fancher's is a somewhat slanted view, admittedly. He's a descendant of one of the massacred.

Harley Fancher's ancestor, Alexander Fancher, was the principal leader of a wagon train that came to be known as the Fancher Party. The group of 120 to 150 settlers, mostly Arkansans, left from Boone County near Harrison in April 1857, on the way to California. They never got past Utah. On Sept. 11, they were killed by an attacking force of Mormons and Indians — mostly Mormons, authorities today seem to agree. Only a few children were spared.

There's some disagreement about the reason for the massacre, but it's well known that Mormons had fled west to escape persecution in other states. They may have perceived the Fancher Party as the vanguard of persecution catching up with them. The on-line Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture is one source of information about the massacre.

Harley Fancher, who lives in Omaha, near Harrison, is the secretary of the Mountain Meadows Foundation. Phil Bollinger of Huntsville is the president. Established nine years ago, the foundation represents about 400 descendant families, Fancher said. Its purpose is to educate the public about the massacre, which was little noted in history books, even Arkansas history books, for years.

“We have no anti-Mormonism in our agenda,” Fancher says, but the foundation's relations with the Mormon Church haven't always been smooth, naturally. The massacre is not something the church points to with pride. Church officials have expressed “regret,” but have not made the formal apology that the foundation would like. Foundation members believe that Brigham Young, the great Mormon leader, was complicit in the massacre. Mormon historians say otherwise, blaming local Mormon leaders.

The foundation wants the property where the massacre occurred, and where victims are buried, in the hands of the federal government and designated a historic landmark. The property is now owned by the church. Fancher said negotiations continue.

Since 1955, there's been a Mountain Meadows monument on the Boone County Courthouse lawn in Harrison. It bears the names of victims and a Bible verse:

“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord. Romans 12:19”

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