The plaque reads: The original settlement at Provo (Fort Utah) was
established March 12, 1849 by President John S. Higbee, with Issac
Higbee, and Dimmick Huntington, counselors and about 30 families or 150
persons, sent from Salt Lake City by President Brigham Young. Several
log houses were erected, surrounded by a 14 foot palisade 20 by 40 rods
in size, with gates in the east and west ends, and a middle deck for a
cannon, the fort was first located west of what is now Provo, but was moved to
Sowette Park in Provo during the month of April, 1850.
Looking about she
had an eerie feeling that something was not right. The silence
became quieter, as the sound of the stream grew louder.The dogs in
the camp became agitated, awakening those still sleeping. Two Ute
warriors by the names of Kone and Blue Shirt stepped from the
teepee. Kone saw that they were surrounded by 44 armed Mormon militia.
An argument ensued when a shot was fired hitting Kone in the neck,
the bullet blowing off the top of his head. Another man fell while
the besieged, armed only with one gun and some bows and arrows, dove
into the nearby ravine to take cover in the thick brush.
Seventeen men, women, and children ran screaming. Blood spattered
across the snow. People ran, jumping into the thick brush in shock
as bullets whizzed at them from every direction. The shattered air was filled with smoke from the guns as
two Natives lay dead.
For a moment there was silence when Capt. John Scott gave the order
to his men to throw rocks into the ravine. Voices of those
being hit cried out in pain, more gunfire echoed off the steep cliffs
above. When a nearby band led by Opecarry heard the guns, they
took position on the top of a hill directly above the scene.
Opecarry could see his brothers trapped in the ravine and began
signaling to them the best route to take to safety. Blue Shirt,
unarmed, made a break from the cover of the ravine on the east end
and began to climb the hill where Opecarry stood when he was
peppered with bullets hitting him sixteen times, killing him.
It is said that the so-called "battle" continued for a couple hours,
perhaps, but highly unlikely since those trapped in the ravine,
standing in freezing water, had only one gun. But, a brave girl
about the age of 16 emerged from cover and pleaded with Capt. Scott
not to harm her brother. Scott ordered her to bring her brother to
him. Trusting in Scott she brought from the thicket her brother who
stood dignified in front of Scott and said, "Go away, what are you
here for? Go away... you kill my father, my brother... for what? Go
away, let us alone. What are you here for?"
According to witnesses, Dimmick Huntington grabbed the boy by his
ear and, putting a gun to his face, shouted, "We are here to open
your ears, so you will hear. We said to you a long time ago, don't
kill our cattle. You kill them all the time now... you will hear
good. How many guns Indian got down there?" pointing to the ravine.
The boy answered, "One." Dimmick told the boy to go back and get it.
The young man answered, "You go get it if you want it." Again
Dimmick grabbed the boy by the ear and raised his gun to his head
and shouted, "You have no good ears to hear. Get me that gun or I
will open your ears and you will hear."
The young boy got the gun, and when he returned he threw it on the
ground breaking the stock.
Nine women, a few children, and the young boy, numbering 12 in all
were then marched down the canyon leaving behind their loved ones,
lying dead in the snow.
The date was February 28, 1849 when a company of 44 Mormon militia,
under the leadership of Captain John Scott, left Salt Lake City in
pursuit of a so called “renegade band of Indians” who, it was
alleged, had taken horses belonging to Brigham Young. According to
reliable accounts Brigham gave the order for Capt. Scott and his men
to find and punish the perpetrators. But before the troops reached
the valley where the Utes were camped, Capt. Scott had received word
from Brigham "three times" that the horses had been found and to
return to Salt Lake.
Capt. Scott ignored Brigham's order. It is recorded that Scott and
his men met up with a Ute Indian by the name of Little Chief on the
Provo River who then led Scott to an encampment of Indians who
allegedly had been doing some stealing. The trail took the company
of soldiers to the mouth of a canyon above Pleasant Grove. Scott and his men split into four groups and
surround the camp, and opened fire on the unsuspecting people
The terrorized captives who survived the attack were taken 30 miles
north to Salt Lake City. The young boy was Nuch [Black Hawk]. It is
said he put up a good fight, but shook with fear when taken captive.
This event became regarded as the “first battle with the Indians”
that took place beside a creek that runs through the canyon, and
that creek became known as “Battle Creek.”
But there is a lot of ambiguity that surrounds this event. It seems unlikely that Little Chief would lead Scott to his own people unless he was being threatened. It was also alleged Scott and his men found 13 cow hides near the camp,
which the attackers deemed proof these were the Indians who had
taken their cattle, the account says. Scott's credibility is put into question when he defied orders from Brigham Young to return to Salt Lake.
Historic records give little information why 12-year-old Nuch, along with the
women and their children were taken captive at Battle Creek and
transported to Salt Lake. Incredibly, the children were taken from
their mothers and placed in the care Mormon families, why would they have not been returned to their people instead?. No one
recorded the names of the women or how many children or their ages.
It is easy to conclude the survivors were not allowed to mourn the
death of their families or attend to their burial—assuming they were
buried, or simply left behind for the animals to feed upon as was so
often the case.
The Building of Fort Utah
Within a few days following the Battle Creek Massacre, the Higbee
brothers and Dimmick Huntington were made presidency of the
soon-to-be Provo Branch of the LDS Church and led a party of 30
saints to Provo River to erect Fort Utah. Apostle George A. Smith
gave the command to "remove the Indian people from their land," and
said Indian people have "no rights to their land."
When they were within a few miles north of the Provo River they were
stopped by An-kar-tewets, a warrior of the Northern Ute, who stood
before the men telling them to go back where they came from, that
they were not going to make any settlement on their land. Allegedly
they argued for sometime, until Dimmick pleaded with An-kar-tewets
that they wanted to live in peace with the Ute and made promises of
gifts. According to the victors’ accounts following a long
discussion, An-kar-tewets made Dimmick raise his hand to swear to
the sun that no harm would come to the Utes, that they would never
take away their lands or rights, and Dimmick and the others swore.
Members of the Ute Tribe dispute this account saying it would be
highly unlikely that a warrior such as An-kar-tewets would have made
any concession to accommodate Dimmick and his party. First of all,
he would not have the authority to speak on behalf of the Ute
community and make a decision that potentially put the entire tribe
and its most precious recourses at risk, they told me. They said it
would be more in character of An-kar-tewets to have firmly denied
Dimmick and his party any access; that they simply bullied their way
into Ute territory.
Dimmick and the rest of the party then immediately began building of
the fort, for they knew they were in danger. Little did Dimmick and
the others know that the land they built the fort on was a
traditional and sacred meeting place for Utes, Shoshone, and many
other tribes for hundreds of miles around during the spring and
summer months. The tribes would gather in sacred ceremonies to honor
the Creator. Or, if they did know it was sacred land, they didn't care, they
didn't honor their sworn oath made earlier either.
At first the occupants at the fort attempted to turn the place into
a trading post between the Natives and the whites. Trading buffalo
hides to the Indians could been seen as a sacrilege to the Indian.
After all, why should they have to now pay for something they had
hunted in freedom for centuries? And what kind of person would
barter something as sacred as the buffalo to the Natives, anyway? In
less than a year one the bloodiest battles in Utah history would unfold
at Fort Utah.
The Murder of Old Bishop
On a warm summer day three men were riding along the Provo River on
their horses when they came upon a "friendly Indian" the whites
called Old Bishop. The whites called him by this name because his
mannerisms reminded them of a white man by the name of Bishop
Whitney. The three men, Rufus Stoddard, Richard Ivie, and Gerome
Zabrisky began to heckle the man, and accused him of stealing the
shirt he was wearing from off a cloths line. Old Bishop denied having stolen the shirt from
anyone, saying he had made a fair trade for it.
Ivie pulled his gun on Old Bishop and told him to take it off. The
old Indian man stood his ground and refused. Ivie murdered the Indian in cold blood.
Concerned that what they had done would spark retribution from the
Indians, the men then gutted the old man. They then filled his body
cavity with rocks and threw him in the Provo River. Quoting from
History of Utah Stake, James Goff, one of the colonists, stated
later, "The men who killed the Indian ripped his bowls open and
filled them with stones preparatory to sinking the body." Then
making mockery of the murder he writes, "The Indians assert that,
annually, on the anniversary of his death the "Old Bishop" appears
on the bank of the river and slowly takes the rocks one by one out
of his bowels and throws them into the river, then disappears. Some
(white) fishermen have watched in hopes of having an interview with
the ‘Bishop's ghost.’"
Satisfied, the men returned to the fort and boasted of having taken
Old Bishop's life. Thinking they had committed the perfect murder they
relaxed and fell back into their routines. So much for the alleged
promises made by Dimmick Huntington and Higbee brothers to An-kar-tewets.
Although demands were made by the Lagunas (the Ute band camped near
Fort Utah) that the whites at the fort turn over the one guilty of
killing Old Bishop, their demands fell on deaf ears. The Lagunas
demanded compensation for the death of Old Bishop in cattle and
horses, and again their demands where ignored.
Meanwhile, measles had begun to spread epidemically among the
Natives, and the saints had succeeded in driving most of the Utes
from the valley into the nearby mountains. On a cold winter day
Chief Pareyarts, better known as Old Elk, also known as Big Elk,
came to the fort asking for medicine for his people who were sick
from the disease. A soldier took the chief by the nap of his neck
and threw him out of the fort. Pareyarts was also of the same
bloodline as Walkara
Now that Fort Utah had been established on land that was most
essential to the Utes, as it provided ample food for themselves and
their horses, about 120 settlers were living in and around the fort.
Of course, they brought with them horses and cattle, and in a short
time the Utes were competing with the Mormon saints for food for
themselves and their horses.
It wasn't’t long before the people at the fort found their cattle and
horses shot full of arrows. The Utes’ only logical answer to their
plight was to reduce the numbers of cattle and horses overgrazing
their land, and drive out the settlers. Large numbers of cattle
began to disappear. Tensions grew between the people at Fort Utah
and the Lagunas for several months. A dispatch was sent to Salt Lake
to Brigham Young requesting military support. Brigham made
conciliatory efforts to calm the people at the fort. He said, “It’s
our duty to feed these poor ignorant Indians.” Brigham gave the
Natives the choice—to either surrender to the Mormons and eat, or
continue to resist and be killed or starve.”
The saints recklessly fished the Provo River that ran near the Fort
and was a major food source for the Natives, with gill nets. It is
said they took over 6000 fish in just one day, none of which was
shared with the starving Indians.
Nuch "Black Hawk" later came to the fort oddly dressed in a
military shirt and asked the militia if there was anything he could
do to help them in exchange for shelter for himself and several of
his kin who accompanied him. He and the others were given scanty
shelter underneath the fort’s cannon platform in the bitter cold.
1850 Battle at
Just before spring in 1850 confrontations had occurred between the
settlers at Fort Utah and the Native Indians. A government officer
by the name of Captain Howard Stansbury then convinced Brigham that
all conciliatory efforts had failed and the only recourse was to
take action against the Natives. In contradiction to his "feed them
not fight them" policy, Brigham wholeheartedly agreed with Stansbury
and supplied his vigilante army with arms, ammunition, tents and
camp equipage for the soldiers.
Under the leadership of Colonel George D. Grant, 50 troops were then
sent to Fort Utah in the late winter of 1850. Captain Grant’s
Calvary left Salt Lake. They traveled all night through deep snow
and the bitter cold so that they could take the Indian people, who
were camped along the river near the fort, by surprise.
There were about 70 or more Ute warriors along with women and
children in the camp. While under the cover of darkness, and in the
twilight of that bitter cold morning, Grant and his men surrounded
the camp and opened fire on the sleeping Indians. Field cannons
boomed as they fired chain shot at the unsuspecting camp, ripping
open the teepees, sending Women and little children running in all
directions screaming in terror as the surrounding troops shot them
down one by one. It is said that the chain shot ripped off the limbs
of its victims leaving them to die an agonizing death.
The air filled with smoke from the guns as Ute warriors, led by
Chief Old Elk, and Opecarry, put up a good fight as the battle
lasted for two days.
During this time, General Wells was directed by Brigham Young to
give Nuch the name "Black Hawk." The general told Nuch that he
must lead his people and do all that he was told to do. Then they
would be set free and their horses would be returned to them.
Two days after the battle General H. Wells who had arrived from Salt
Lake, ordered young Black Hawk to lead a serial killer by the name
of Bill Hickman and his men up Rock Canyon to pursue the
survivors. In freezing temperatures and deep snow, Black Hawk,
having no choice in the matter, did as he was ordered and led the
men up Rock Canyon. Lookouts scaled the steep walls of the canyon as
Wells and his men slowly made their way up the rugged canyon, Black
Hawk reluctantly followed behind.
When they reached the camp of the survivors, women and children in
terror were scattering about. Black Hawk was ordered to look in to
the teepees. There Black Hawk saw his beloved relative Old Elk
frozen to death, and many others who had died of their wounds lay
frozen stiff in the cold.
The Mormon vigilantes greedily helped themselves taking from the
dead their belongings, while Bill Hickman, with knife in hand,
hacked Old Elk's head off from his frozen body. He said Jim Bridger
had offered him a hundred dollars for the head. Old Elk's wife
refused to be taken captive, broke free and ran for her life. She
scaled the steep cliffs, but while doing so either jumped, or
slipped and fell to her death. Hence the Mormon's disrespectfully
dubbed the canyon "Squaw Peak" which is located above the Provo LDS
Temple; a name that endures to this day. Hickman and his men
returned to Fort Utah, Hickman showing off his trophy, the head of
Of the seventy or so warriors, only about thirteen had escaped. Only
one life was lost among the Mormons. One of the warriors that
managed to survive was taken captive. This was An-kar-tewets, the
same one that Church leaders Dimmick and the Higbee brothers earlier
had sworn an oath to that no harm would come to the Natives, and
that their land and rights would not be taken away, and that they
would be given many gifts.
One more loathsome act remained to unfold which would haunt the
Mormons for many decades to follow, even to the present day. Hickman
hung the head of Old Elk from the eves of his cabin. A witness at
Fort Utah told reporters, "...it was hung pendant by its long hair
from the willows of the roof of one of the houses. I well remember
how horrible was the sight." - Robert Carter Fort Utah.
Dr. James Blake, a surgeon among the Stansbury company, was greatly
influenced by Hickman's trophy of Old Elk's head. Dr. Blake then
ordered troops Abner Blackburn and James Orr to go out and behead
each of the frozen corpses lying about in the snow, following the
two-day battle that resulted in the deaths of 70 Indian people. Dr.
Blake told the men he "wanted to have the heads shipped to
Washington to a medical institution."
The men hacked from the frozen corpses as many as 50 heads. They
piled them in open boxes, along with a dozen or so Mallard ducks
Blake had shot while his men performed their chore. The heads and
ducks were taken to the fort and placed in view of Nuch "Black
Hawk" who was barely in his teens, and his traumatized kin. Innocent
of any wrongdoing, the captives were thus tortured as they were
forced to view the grizzly remains placed before them for a period
of two long and excruciating weeks. Abner, keeping the agreement,
delivered the rotting heads and ducks to Blake in Salt Lake. Dr.
Blake settled up, and invited Abner to dinner. Abner Blackburn
declined, saying he had lost his appetite.