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Related Topics: Battle Creek Massacre 1849, Bear River Massacre 1863, Grass Valey Massacre 1865, Circleville Massacre 1866

 

Indian Depredations in Utah  

Fort Utah

Battle Creek at Pleasant Grove Utah

Squaw Peak at Provo Utah

1849

 

Black Hawk Productions

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.

Fort Utah Black Hawk ProductionsFort Utah Black Hawk ProductionsFort Utah Black Hawk War

Above: Replica of Fort Utah west of Provo City, Utah. Located at 200 North 2050 West in Provo

This is not the original site of the fort. The actual location of Fort Utah was about a mile east, at apparently 1200 North and 500 West in Provo. This is not a exact replica of the fort. This artist's rendering below was done at the time the fort existed:

Fort Utah 1850 Black Hawk Productions

Fort Utah 1850

The above is an artists rendering of the old fort.

Cabins from Fort Utah Black Hawk Productionscabins from Fort Utah Black Hawk ProductionsCabins from Fort Utah Black Hawk Productions

Original buildings that were in Fort Utah. Now Located at Pioneer Park in Provo, Utah on 2nd north and 500 west.

The following three stories, Battle Creek, Old Bishop and Fort Utah all occurred within one year. They are all relevant to each other. The murders at Battle Creek set the stage for mistrust and resistance between Ute leaders and Mormon settlers, so when leaders decided to settle in Utah Valley and built Fort Utah tensions escalated. The murder of Old Bishop made matters worse precipitating a bloody battle at the fort, and the beheading of some 50 Ute Indians.

 

Battle Creek Massacre 1849

Black Hawk Witness to the Murder of His Family

The following story was first told to me, Phillip B Gottfredson, by members of the Ute community in 2005. Written accounts gave validity to the Ute's oral account. In the twilight moments of a cold winter morning, smoke from the lingering fires inside the teepees curled softly into the frosty air. All was silent as the people lay asleep, warm in the comfort of their shelters. Only the occasional breeze sent ice crystals from the trees into the air, drifting lightly upon the snow-covered ground below; the only sound was that of the nearby stream softly winding its way along.

Emerging from one of the teepees a woman carrying in her arms some sticks to start the morning fire, paused a moment.

 

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 sleeping there.

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.

Winter 1850

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
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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 Fort Utah

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 Old Elk.

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.

See How the Black Hawk War Began