The Thing About Today – September 7

September 7, 2020
Day 251 of 366


September 7th is the 251st day of the year. It is Independence Day in Brazil, celebrating its separation from Portugal in 1822. It is also Labor Day in the United States and Canada, which honors and recognizes the labor movements and the works and contributions of laborers to the development and achievements of their respective countries.


In the United States, today is “celebrated” as National Beer Lover’s Day, National Neither Snow Nor Rain Day, National Grandma Moses Day, National Acorn Squash Day, National Salami Day, National Grateful Patient Day, and National New Hampshire Day.


Historical items of note:

  • In 1695, Henry Every perpetrated one of the most profitable pirate raids in history with the capture of the Grand Mughal ship Ganj-i-Sawai. In response, Emperor Aurangzeb threatened to end all English trading in India.
  • In 1776, according to American colonial reports, Ezra Lee made the world’s first submarine attack in the Turtle, attempting to attach a time bomb to the hull of HMS Eagle in New York Harbor. No British records of this attack exist.
  • In 1911, French poet Guillaume Apollinaire was arrested and put in jail on suspicion of stealing the Mona Lisa from the Louvre museum but was released a week later. The theft of the Mona Lisa was perpetrated by Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian house painter who acted alone and was only caught two years later when he tried to sell the painting in Florence.
  • In 1914, physicist and philosopher James Van Allen was born. He was instrumental in establishing the field of magnetospheric research in space, and the Van Allen radiation belts were named after him, following his discovery using Geiger–Müller tube instruments on the 1958 satellites Explorer 1, Explorer 3, and Pioneer 3 during the International Geophysical Year. He led the scientific community in putting scientific research instruments on space satellites.
  • In 1923, the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) was formed.
  • In 1924, composer and conductor Leonard Rosenman was born.
  • In 1927, the first fully electronic television system was achieved by Philo Farnsworth.
  • In 1936, the last thylacine, a carnivorous marsupial named Benjamin, died alone in its cage at the Hobart Zoo in Tasmania. This was the inspiration for National Threatened Species Day in Australia.
  • In 1950, actress Julie Kavner was born.
  • In 1951, trumpet player and composer Mark Isham was born.
  • In 1954, actor Michael Emerson was born.
  • In 1955, Croatian-American actress Mira Furlan was born.
  • In 1973, director, producer, and screenwriter Alex Kurtzman was born.
  • In 1979, the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) debuted.
  • In 1986, Desmond Tutu became the first black man to lead the Anglican Diocese of Cape Town.
  • In 1987, actress and singer Evan Rachel Wood was born.
  • In 1988, Abdul Ahad Mohmand, the first Afghan in space, returns to Earth after nine days on the Mir space station.
  • In 1993, actor Taylor Gray was born.
  • In 1997, the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor took its maiden flight.


In 1857, Mormon settlers began a series of attacks that slaughtered most members of a peaceful emigrant wagon train. It became known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

The Mountain Meadows Massacre was directed toward the Baker-Fancher emigrant wagon train at Mountain Meadows in southern Utah. It was a place of rest and grazing used by pack trains and drovers on the Old Spanish Trail, and later by Mormons, Forty-niners, mail riders, migrants, and teamsters on the Mormon Road on their way overland between Utah and California.

The attacks began on September 7, 1857, and culminated on September 11, 1857. They resulted in the mass slaughter of most in the emigrant party by members of the Utah Territorial Militia from the Iron County district, together with some Southern Paiute Native Americans.

The wagon train was comprised mostly of families from Arkansas. They were bound for California on a route that passed through the Utah Territory during a time of conflict later known as the Utah War. After arriving in Salt Lake City, the Baker-Fancher party made their way south, eventually stopping to rest at Mountain Meadows. While the emigrants were camped at the meadow, nearby militia leaders, including Isaac C. Haight and John D. Lee, made plans to attack them.

The militia, officially called the Nauvoo Legion, was composed of Utah’s Mormon settlers. They were motivated by war hysteria about a possible invasion of apocalyptic significance. In the months prior to the massacre, Mormon leaders prepared their followers for a seven-year siege predicted by Brigham Young. Mormons were directed to stockpile grain and were prevented from selling grain to emigrants for use as cattle feed.

During the Utah War, an armed confrontation in Utah Territory between the United States Army and Mormon Settlers, far-off Mormon colonies retreated. Parowan and Cedar City became isolated and vulnerable outposts, and Brigham Young sought to enlist the help of Indian tribes in fighting the “Americans”, encouraging them to steal cattle from emigrant trains and to join Mormons in fighting the approaching army.

In August 1857, Mormon apostle George A. Smith (of Parowan) set out on a tour of southern Utah, continuing to instruct Mormons to stockpile grain. He met with many of the eventual participants in the massacre, including William H. Dame, Isaac Haight, and John D. Lee, noted that the militia was organized and ready to fight and that some of them were anxious to take vengeance for the “cruelties” that had been inflicted upon them over the existence of their religion. On his return trip to Salt Lake City, Smith camped near the Baker-Fancher party. The wagon train received a suggestion to stop and rest their cattle at Mountain Meadows, and Smith’s party started rumors that the Fanchers had poisoned a well and a dead ox in order to kill Native Americans. These rumors preceded the wagon train to Cedar City.

In a further attempt to give the impression of tribal hostilities, the militiamen armed some Southern Paiutes and persuade the Native Americans to join with a larger party of militiamen disguised as Native Americans in an attack. During the militia’s first assault, the emigrants fought back, and a five-day siege ensued. Fear eventually spread among the militia’s leaders that some emigrants had caught sight of white men and had likely discovered the identity of their attackers. As a result, militia commander William H. Dame ordered his forces to kill the emigrants.

At this point in the siege, the emigrants were running low on water and provisions and allowed some members of the militia to enter their camp under a white flag of surrender. The militia members assured the emigrants they were protected and escorted them from their hasty fortification. After walking a distance from the camp, the militiamen, with the help of auxiliary forces hiding nearby, attacked the emigrants. The perpetrators killed 120 men, women, and children, but spared seventeen children, all younger than seven.

Following the massacre, the perpetrators hastily buried the victims, ultimately leaving the bodies vulnerable to wild animals and the climate. Local families took in the surviving children, and many of the victims’ possessions were auctioned off.

Investigations, after interruption by the American Civil War, resulted in nine indictments during 1874. Of the men indicted, only John D. Lee was tried in a court of law. After two trials in the Utah Territory, Lee was convicted by a jury, sentenced to death, and executed by Utah firing squad on March 23, 1877.

While growing up in Utah, I found the massacre to be spoken of in hushed tones. Various monuments to the event had been constructed over the years, and the site was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2011 after joint efforts by descendants of those killed and the LDS Church.

In 2007, the 150th anniversary of the massacre was remembered by a ceremony held in the meadows. Approximately 400 people, including many descendants of those slain at Mountain Meadows and Elder Henry B. Eyring of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles attended the ceremony.


The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.




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