Secret teller

Wayne Anilio Capurro

Photo By David Robert

One of America’s most brutal and lesser-known attacks, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, took place on Sept. 11, 1857. Wayne Anilio Capurro, a Reno writer, real estate broker and descendent of one of the massacre’s participants, spent the past dozen years writing about it in White Flag: America’s First 9/11—a story of betrayal, loyalties, politics and religion. Released this spring, the book is available through his Web site,, and at Sundance Bookstore, Borders, and Barnes & Noble, where he’s giving a signing on May 11 at 7 p.m.

What was the Mountain Meadows Massacre?

It was a massacre of white immigrants from Arkansas on their way to California. Their numbers were about 140 in their wagon train. They were camped in southern Utah at a place called Mountain Meadows, and they were attacked. Initially, they believed they were being attacked by Indians. Depending on whose historical report you read, anywhere between 300-500 Indians and Mormons disguised as Indians with war paint and Indian dress. … The initial order to attack had not gone off as planned, and it gave the immigrants time to repulse the attack and circle their wagon. A siege set in for the next four days. During that period, there were a number of, like, [messenger] riders … asking for direction. The direction that came back was to kill everybody old enough to talk. On Sept. 11 in the early morning, a band of 55-125 Mormons—depending on the historical account—and between 40 and 100 Indians massacred the wagon train.

They did it by treachery. The Mormons approached the wagon train under a flag of truce—that’s why the book is called White Flag—and convinced the immigrants that the Cedar City Militia could give them safe escort back to Cedar City and safe passage back to Arkansas or to California, but they’d have to lay down their arms to get that. About a mile from their campsite, the order was “do your duty.” The militiamen who were lined up single file next to the white immigrants turned and fired point-blank at the men. … They killed two or three at the first firing. Hearing the first fire, the Indians and Mormons jumped out of the bushes and preceeded to kill the women and children.

How many were killed?

Most accounts say 120—approximately 40 men and 80 women and children.

You’re a descendant of Philip Klingensmith, who took part in the massacre.

He was my great great grandfather. He was a private in the militia, but he was also a Mormon bishop in Cedar City, which made him the highest ecclesiastical member at the time of the massacre. They ordered him to be there. He felt, and he stated so later on, that to refuse that order would cost him his life.

Why did you decide to bring what you called the “dark family secret” to light now?

I’ve never felt like I should keep it secret. It was a dark family secret as far as my grandmother was concerned. My uncle was the first to tell me about it, and I went to her for clarification. She was ashamed of it, but she gave me a book by Juanita Brooks about the massacre. I read that book, and I was amazed to read such a story. I immediately started asking friends and other people and Mormons if they’d ever heard of it. Almost none had. … I’d say the majority of the people have still never heard about the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and I think that’s a shame because I think it’s the crime of the century.

Why is it important to you that this story be known?

If our education of American history is worth anything, we should not overlook such an important historical event as this.