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Woman set to rewrite local history
September 27, 2007
Diann Fancher holds a copy of an Arkansas history textbook
Diann Fancher holds a copy of an Arkansas history textbook, which contains the story of the Mountain Meadows massacre. Fancher, a former history teacher, played an important role in getting the account of the 1857 incident, in which 121 settlers from Arkansas were killed by Mormons, included in textbooks used by public schools in the state. (Staff Photo/David Holsted)
By David Holsted, Times Staff
Diann Fancher recalled the reaction of the judges at the University of Central Arkansas.
"They had no idea of the story," she said.
It was at a history contest at UCA that some of Fancher's students had entered an exhibit about the Mountain Meadows Massacre, an event in which 121 men, women and children, immigrants from Arkansas on their way to California, were murdered by Mormons in Utah.
The ignorance of the judges about such a noteworthy event in Arkansas history was not lost on Fancher.
"That's a sign it's a story that is lost to us, not only in Arkansas, but in the country, that needs to be told to students," she said.
Now, thanks to the efforts of Fancher, students in Arkansas will now learn about the events that occurred on Sept. 11, 1857, in a southwestern Utah meadow. Fancher, a former history teacher and now the curriculum/GT director at Green Forest, has written an account of the Mountain Meadows massacre that will appear in social studies textbooks used in Arkansas schools.
Fancher was part of a series of teacher round table discussions on what needed to be included in Arkansas school books. She is scheduled to give a presentation about Mountain Meadows on Nov. 2 at the Arkansas Curriculum Conference in Little Rock.
Fancher's interest in the Mountain Meadows massacre comes not only from a historian's view, but from a personal one. Her husband, Harley Fancher, is a descendant of Alexander Fancher, one of the leaders of the ill-fated wagon train that ended in tragedy.
At a family reunion, she met Dr. Burr Fancher, a scholar, teacher, WW II Veteran, and co-founder of the Mountain Meadows Monument Foundation. Burr Fancher told the story of sitting at his grandmother's feet and hearing the story of Mountain Meadows for the first time.
Burr Fancher's goal was to find out the facts of the massacre and to make the public aware of them.
"He ignited my passion for the story and the desire to create teaching instructions for this generation and the generations of tomorrow," Fancher said. "He stated that his dream was that one day the story would return to the Arkansas History book and be historically correct. I set that as a goal and today it is in the Arkansas History book."
For more than 50 years, according to Fancher, no mention has been made of Mountain Meadows in Arkansas textbooks. Even before that, she went on to say, there was only a sentence or two.
It was Fancher's belief that it was vital for the people of Arkansas to know their history.
"Kids want to have a connection," she said, "so they'll have a piece of 'who I am.'"
It was also important that the country as a whole know about what Fancher described as the bloodiest massacre in U.S. history up to the Oklahoma City bombing. Mountain Meadows occurred at a time of westward movement in the country, a time of Manifest Destiny. The country was making decisions about how to develop the West.
Fancher will have an opportunity to get the true story of Mountain Meadows out beyond the borders of Arkansas. She was recently contacted by Utah officials for her help in making changes to textbooks in that state. Up until now, she said, Mormon accounts had placed much of the blame for the massacre on the Piute Indians. Research has revealed that the Piutes had little or no responsibility. It was important that Piute students in Utah know that their ancestors had nothing to do with the massacre, Fancher said.
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, one of the largest textbook publishers in the world, has also contacted Fancher, asking that she rewrite some of their history books and to prepare lesson plans about Mountain Meadows.
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