John M. Urie

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John Urie, his personal and family background, and his involvement in the Mountain Meadows Massacre

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John Urie


Biographical Sketch

John Urie was a Scottish Lowlander who immigrated to American and became a pioneer in southern Utah.

Early Years in Scotland

Urie was born to George and Agnes Main Urie in Airdrie, Lanackshire in the English-speaking Scottish Lowlands. In the 1840s, Urie converted to the Mormon Church.

Immigration to America and onto Utah

In 1853, Urie immigrated to America and he joined the Jacob Gates Company that was bound for Utah Territory. In June, they departed Keokuk, Iowa, to join the Mormon gathering in Utah.

The Mormon Trail

They passed the usual milestones on the trail: Fort Kearney, the South Fork of the Platte River, Chimney Rock, Fort Laramie, the Sweetwater River, Independence Rock, Devil's Gate, Green River, Fort Bridger, Bear River, and Weber River. After suffering the usual hardships of overland trail they arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake in late September.

To the Ironworks in Cedar City

The Early Ironworks in Cedar City

By the mid-1850s he was living in Cedar City in southern Utah. He assisted in the many tasks involved in mining iron ore and coal and smelting iron in the new-formed Iron Mission. In 1855, Urie was among the many who owned a lot in what was to become the permanent location for the Cedar City settlement. In 1856, he married Elizabeth Hutcheson (1839-?), in a Reformation-era marriage.

The Deseret Iron Company

In moving to Cedar City, John Urie was settling in an area dominated by the Deseret Iron Company, known more familiarly as the Ironworks. See Summary of Deseret Iron Company for a brief summary of its early development.

The Ironworks in 1857

In April 1857, the delivery of a new steam engine from Great Salt Lake City seemed to breathe new life for the Ironworks. Working from April to June they installed the steam engine and completed the new engine house. In the first week of July, they were ready to begin smelting. They “put on the blast” and had a modicum of success. But they continued to be plagued with problems ranging from poor quality raw materials to smelting equipment that lacked technical sophistication. When in late July the steam engine seized with sand from the dirty creek water, they speedily dug a reservoir to store a supply of clean water for the boiler. They continued making smelting runs through August. All the while crews at the ironworks manned all the necessary functions there, while other crews, mainly miners and teamsters, gathered the raw materials – iron ore, coal, limestone, and wood – necessary to sustain smelting.

The smelting continued until September 13. In other words, around September 3, when a dispute arose between some settlers and several men in the passing Arkansas company, the blast furnace was running nonstop. And when Cedar City militiamen, many of them ironworkers, mustered to Mountain Meadows where they were involved in the massacre on September 11, other ironworkers in Cedar City continued the smelting runs night and day. For additional details, see Smelting at the Ironworks in 1857.

From late April to September, those working up the canyon in mining or hauling wood, coal, limestone, rock, sand or “adobies” to the ironworks were Isaac C. Haight, James Williamson, George Hunter, Joseph H. Smith, Ira Allen, Ellott Wilden, Swen Jacobs, Alex Loveridge, Joel White, Ezra Curtis, Samuel McMurdie, Samuel Pollock, John Jacobs, John M. Higbee, John M. Macfarlane, Samuel Jewkes, Nephi Johnson, Thomas Cartwright, William Bateman, Elias Morris, Benjamin Arthur, Joseph H. Smith, Robert Wiley, and Philip Klingensmith. Those working at the ironworks on the furnace, engine, coke ovens or blacksmith shop included Elias Morris, John Humphries, Ira Allen, John Urie, Benjamin Arthur, James Williamson, Joseph H. Smith, Samuel Jewkes, Joseph Clews, Richard Harrison, William C. Stewart, William Bateman, John M Macfarlane, John M. Higbee, John Jacobs, George Hunter, Samuel Pollock, William S. Riggs, Alex Loveridge, Ellott Wilden, Ezra Curtis, Eliezar Edwards, Swen Jacobs, Joel White, and Thomas Cartwright. (The two lists overlap because some worked both in the canyon and at the Ironworks.) Other prominent figures at the ironworks who were not later involved at Mountain Meadows were Samuel Leigh, George Horton, James H. Haslem, Laban Morrell, John Chatterley, Thomas Gower, Thomas Crowther and others.

Urie's Role as a Blacksmith

In 1857, John Urie's main occupation at the ironworks was as a blacksmith in the blacksmith shop, fashioning various iron implements for the ironworks or community use. Judging from the entries in the ironworks account book, during times of intense activity at the ironworks Urie appears to have been occupied there as its full-time blacksmith.

The majority of the southern Utah militiamen at Mountain Meadows were from Cedar City. Of these, nearly all of them had worked at the Ironworks or supplied raw materials to it. Indeed, in the weeks before the Mountain Meadows Massacre, they had worked intensely together, hauling materials, building a new water reservoir, and making the latest run of the blast furnace. One perennial mystery of the massacre has been why the militiamen mustered to Mountain Meadows in “broken” militia units; that is, from different platoons and companies, none of which had a full compliment of its members. Perhaps the reason lies with the Ironworks. Those in the Ironworks knew each other and had worked alongside one another. Not only did John Urie know those who mustered from Cedar City to Mountain Meadows, he had worked with them at the Ironworks as recently as the week before. Perhaps the answer is that the men of the Ironworks were on hand and available and Isaac Haight, who himself had worked closely with them, assigned them to muster to Mountain Meadows.

In the Iron Military District, John Urie, Adjutant to Major John Higbee, 3rd Battalion, Cedar City

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In 1857, the Iron Military District consisted of four battalions led by regimental commander Col. William H. Dame. The platoons and companies in the first battalion drew on men in and around Parowan. (It had no involvement at Mountain Meadows.) Major Isaac Haight commanded the 2nd Battalion whose personnel in its many platoons and two companies came from Cedar City and outer-lying communities to the north such as Fort Johnson. Major John Higbee headed the 3rd Battalion whose many platoons and two companies were drawn from Cedar City and outer-lying communities to the southwest such as Fort Hamilton. Major John D. Lee of Fort Harmony headed the 4th Battalion whose platoons and companies drew on its militia personnel from Fort Harmony, the Southerners at the newly-founded settlement in Washington, the Indian interpreters at Fort Clara, and the new settlers at Pinto.

In September 1857, Urie, 22, was adjutant to Major John Higbee in the 3rd Battalion in Cedar City. Since he was adjutant to Major Higbee, he may have departed Cedar City with the Higbee contingent on Monday evening, September 7. See A Basic Account for a full description of the massacre.

According to Nephi Johnson and John D. Lee, Urie was at Mountain Meadows and attended the military council on Thursday evening, September 10.

On Friday, September 11, many members of the militia contingent from Cedar City acted as guards alongside the emigrant men as they marched northward from their fortified position inside the wagon circle. As the massacre commenced, the duty of the guards was to wheel and fire on the emigrant men, quickly dispatching them. Yet during the actual massacre, reactions varied among the guards. Some shrank from their duty, others fired over the heads of their victims, while others still undertook their bloody duty with zeal. Within minutes, members of the Cedar City unit had killed all but three of the emigrant men. However, whether John Urie was in this guard unit and if so, how he acted during the massacre will probably never be known with any certainty.

Following the massacre, Urie helped transport emigrant property to Cedar City.

Since he was adjutant to Major Higbee, who played a very prominent role in the siege and massacre of the Fancher-Baker party, it seems surprising that Urie was not listed in Judge John Cradlebaugh's 1859 arrest warrant.

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Urie Remains in Cedar City

In 1858, he married Sarah Ann McMillan (1826-1891), a native of Waterford, Waterfordshire, in southern (Catholic) Ireland. (However, both her parents were from County Down in Ulster Ireland, indicating they were likely Scots-Irish Protestants, probably Presbyterians.)

In 1873, Urie married Priscilla Klingensmith (1855-1942), a daughter of Philip Klingensmith. Writer Anna Backus has argued that Priscilla was a Fancher child from the slaughtered emigrant party, adopted by the Klingensmith family after the 1857 massacre. However, the DNA evidence has been inconclusive.

Historian of Cedar City

Urie was a long-time resident of Cedar City whose history chronicles the successes and failures there. Around 1886, he also provided his life story to the history project of American historian Hubert Howe Bancroft.

Final Years

Urie remained in the Cedar City area for more than six decades and died in nearby Hamilton Fort, survived by his third wife and many children.

John and his second wife, Sarah Ann McMillan Urie, and family.

A damaged photo of John Urie with his third wife, Priscilla Klingensmith Urie, and family. Priscilla was the daughter of Philip Klingensmith.


Bagley, Blood of the Prophets, 171, 262; Bigler and Bagley, Innocent Blood: Essential Narratives, 70 fn. 14; Dalton, ed., History of Iron County Mission, 118, 162, 165, 167, 472; Ellsworth, "A Guide to the Manuscripts in the Bancroft Library," Utah Historical Quarterly, 22/3 (July 1954), 224, 228; Garner, "Book Review: "Mountain Meadows Witness: The Life and Times of Bishop Philip Klingensmith," Utah Historical Quarterly, 64/3 (Summer 1996), 288; Lee, Mormonism Unveiled, 232, 380; Lee Trial transcripts;; Seegmiller, A History of Iron County, 70; Shirts and Shirts, A Trial Furnace, 147-48, 164, 396, 485, 492; Turley and Walker, Mountain Meadows Massacre: Jenson and Morris Collections, 236; Walker, et al, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, 213, Appendix C, 263.

For full bibliographic information see Bibliography.

External Links

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