John Willden

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

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John Willden


Biographical Sketch

[John Willden's involvement in the Mountain Meadows Massacre is based on an ambiguous identification and has not been confirmed.]

Early Years in the North of England

John Willden/Wilden was born in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England to Charles Willden and Eleanor Turner Willden. In 1845, Willden family members were baptized in the Mormon Church and attended the Mormons' Derbyshire conference.

Immigration to America and onto Utah

His family immigrated to the United States in 1849 and passed several years in the Mormon settlements in western Iowa. In 1852, they joined the Thomas C.D. Howell Company, which departed in June for Utah Territory. As they started their journey, the family consisted of Charles, 45, Eleanor, 42, Ellott, 18, Charles, 15, John, 13, Feargus O'Connor, 11, Ann Jane, 7, and Mary Ellen, 1.

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 September.

To Cedar City and the Ironworks

The Early Ironworks in Cedar City

By late 1852, these working class emigrants from the West Midlands had joined other Englishmen as well as Scots, Welsh, Irish and others in the Iron Mission in southern Utah. Arriving in Cedar City in late October, it was too late for these new arrivals to plant crops so they passed a harsh winter on meager rations.

Eventually, however, they settled into the fledgling settlement. Charles Willden and his sons, Ellott, Charles, John and Feargus O'Connor, all farmed and herded. In addition, Charles worked on the Cedar City ironworks. Among other things, Charles had been a "steel refiner" in England. In exchange for their labors, they were given building and garden lots in the settlement. The Willden's cabin was on the lot next door to that of Thomas Bladen, the ironworks' chief engineer.

The Willdens were on hand in February 1854, when John C. Fremont's bedraggled exploring party stumbled out of the eastern mountains into their valley and were assisted by Mormon settlers in Parowan and Cedar City.

In the Iron Military District: Private John Willden, Company F, John Higbee's 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.

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At the outbreak of the Utah War in September 1857, 18-year-old John Willden was a private in the same platoon with his father, Charles, and brother Feargus O'Conner in Company F in Major John Higbee's 3rd Battalion. See A Basic Account for a full description of the massacre.

According to John D. Lee, "Alexander" Wilden arrived at Mountain Meadows with a company from Cedar City. (There is no "Alexander Willden" in the Willden family. However, Frank Beckwith speculated that "Alexander Wilden" was "John Alexander Wilden.") In the company with this "Willden," according to Lee, were Joel White, William Stewart, Benjamin Arthur and Charles Hopkins. Also Lee stated that he saw Willden firing on the emigrants from under a shade tree in mid-week. If John Willden was present at Mountain Meadows at some time during the week of September 7-11, it is not known what role he played in the final massacre.

Willden's brother Ellott was named in Judge John Cradlebaugh's 1859 arrest warrant and was included in T.B.H. Stenhouse's list of those present at the massacre in his Rocky Mountain Saints, published in 1873. Ellott Willden was also among eight other Iron County militiamen charged in the 1874 criminal indictment for complicity in the Mountain Meadows Massacre. But John Willen was not mentioned in any of these although, as noted above, John D. Lee refers to him in one of his statements. In addition, William Bishop, Lee defense attorney, listed "Alexander Willden of Cedar City" in his list of "assassins" appended to Lee's Mormonism Unveiled, published in 1877 following Lee's execution.

Founding Fort Willden

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By 1861, the Willden family had left Cedar City and its failed ironworks behind and moved north. They established Fort Willden on Cove Creek in an uninhabited area midway between Beaver and Fillmore. For a time, the Willden family lived at the log-pole fort. In 1862, following cultural patterns familiar to them in northern England, the Willden family brought the first sheep to that region of Utah after which sheep raising expanded rapidly in the area.

In 1865, however, the outbreak of the Black Hawk War forced the Willdens to abandon their isolated outpost and return to Beaver. Two years later, others returned to Fort Willden and built a larger fort nearly, Cove Fort, which still stands today, an artifact of Utah's pioneer era.

In 1862, Willden had married Margaret McEwen (1842-1922), the daughter of Scottish emigrants. Together they had eleven children, all born in or around Beaver County. Around 1885, Willden married Anna Emrline Guymon (1869-1950), and together they had five children who survived to adulthood.

Map of Montezuma County, Colorado.

Move to Colorado

By the mid-1880s, Willden, his two wives and their children had moved to Montezuma County in southwestern Colorado. This was the era of the federal polygamy "raid" on Mormon polygamists. It could be that their move was partly motivated by a desire to avoid federal marshals.

Final Years

John Willden and his family lived on in Mancos, Montezuma, Colorado where he died in 1920 at the age of 81, survived by his wives Margaret and Anna Emrline and their children.


Bradley, A History of Beaver County, 71; Carter, ed., Heart Throbs of the West, 4:135; Deseret Iron Company Account Book, 1854-1867 (accessed at; Lyman and Newell, A History of Millard County, 105-106; Merkley, Monuments to Courage, 36-37, 58; Noall, "Mormon Midwives," Utah Historical Quarterly, 10/1-4 (1942); Lee, Mormonism Unveiled, 230, 380 (names "Alexander Willden"); Lee Trial transcripts;; Olsen, "The History of Charles and Eleanor Turner Willden" (accessed at; Shirts and Shirts, A Train Furnace, 62 fn. 69, 175, 288, 293, 297-98, 329, 331, 474, 484, 487, 496; Walker, et al, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, Appendix C; Willden, Charles, "Biography of Charles Willden, 1806-1883" (accessed at

For full bibliographic information see Bibliography.

External Links

For further information of the family of Charles and Eleanor Turner Willden, see:

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