William R. Slade

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William Rufus Slade, his personal and family background, and his involvement in the Mountain Meadows Massacre

William R. Slade


Biographical Sketch

Early Life

William Rufus Slade (1811-1872) was a transplanted New Englander who moved first to Landry Parish, Louisiana and subsequently to the Republic of Texas, Iowa-Nebraska territories and frontier Utah before passing the remainder of his life in southeastern Nevada. He was an American frontiersman and pioneer of southern Utah.

The family history records for William Rufus Slade refer to his father as John Slocum and his mother as Phoebe Slade. Slade’s brothers and sisters have the last name of Slocum. [Needs confirmation] They are listed as being from Massachusetts. Slade is listed as born in Pittstown, Rensselaer County in eastern New York near its intersection with both Massachusetts and Vermont. [Needs confirmation; Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah states that William Rufus Slade was born July 2, 1811, in Washington County, New York.]

In any event, in 1832 William R. Slade married Julianne Higgenbotham (1808- ?) of Georgia, in Landry Parish, Louisiana. They lived in Opelousas, the county seat and had several children there until circa 1839 when they moved west to the Republic of Texas, settling in Jefferson, Marion County in northeastern Texas.

Migration to Utah

After joining the Mormons they traveled to the temporary Mormon settlements in western Iowa. In 1856, they joined the Jacob Croft Company, which departed on the trek west in late June. In the Slade family were William Rufus, 45, Dorinda Melissa Moody Goheen Slade, 48, William, 22, Jefferson, 19, Clara Elizabeth, 14, Henry, 6, and James McGaw, 5.

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 early October.

To Washington County and the Cotton Mission

The Cotton Mill in Washington County.

In spring 1857, the Slades joined the steam of southerners bound for southern Utah. They encamped at Adair Springs near what would become Washington in Washington County. These southerners founded the Cotton Mission in what came to be known as Utah's Dixie. Slade is listed as head of household among the original settlers in Washington, Washington County, in 1857. Almost immediately, Slade was appointed as a Justice of the Peace.

Washington appeared to have many advantages over other nearby locales. It was located near several fine springs and the Washington fields seemed to provide a lush expanse of farmland. However, appearances proved to be deceiving and soon "Dixie" was considered one of the most difficult areas to colonize. The broad fields were actually floodplains so if their dams washed out, as they did with discouraging frequency, their crops were jeopardized. Meanwhile the springs, so inviting in an arid, hot country, created marshes, the perfect habitat for mosquitos. Many of them suffered from bouts of malaria (the "fever and ague" or "chills") for many years.

Although it eventually proved commercially unsuccessful, the Cotton Mission did succeed in producing cotton goods for local use and export at an important stage in Utah Territory's economic development.

A "William Slade" is listed as a county commissioner in Washington County from 1857 to 1859. It seems more likely that this was the father, William Rufus Slade, than his son William.

In the Iron Military District: Private William R. Slade, Company I, John D. Lee's 4th Battalion

Map southern utah 1.jpg

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.

By September, William R. Slade, 46, was a private in the third Washington platoon in Harrison Pearce’s Company I in John D. Lee’s 4th Battalion. See A Basic Account for a full description of the massacre.

Slade was among the Washington party who were probably recruited on Sunday the 6th and traveled toward Mountain Meadows on Monday the 7th and encamped there on Tuesday the 8th. His exact role in the massacre on Friday the 11th is unknown.

"William Slade" was listed in the 1859 federal arrest warrant. This could be either the father, William Rufus Slade, or the son, William Slade.

Map of Lincoln and Clark Counties, Nevada.

Later Life

William and Julianne Slade had upwards of eleven children, most of whom died before reaching adulthood. The Slades remained in southern Utah, then moved to Panaca, Lincoln County, in southeastern Nevada where in 1872, he died at the age of 61.


Aird, Bagley and Nichols, Playing With Shadows, 274-75 (ambiguous reference to "Slade"); Alder and Brooks, A History of Washington County, 29, 50, fn 11; Bagley, Blood of the Prophets, 128, 262, 287 (ambiguous reference to "William Slade": Is it father or son?); Bigler and Bagley, ed., Innocent Blood: Essential Narratives, 235; Bradshaw, ed., Under Dixie Sun, 183, 184, 235; Esshom, ed., Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah, 1163; Lee, Mormonism Unveiled, 228, 380; Lee Trial transcripts; New.familysearch.org; Walker, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, Appendix C, 262.

For full bibliographic information see Bibliography.

External Links

For further information on William R. Slade, see:

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