Corpses Beheaded At Fort Utah

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Timpanogos Indian - Black Hawk Productions


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...

by Phillip B Gottfredson | Author "Black Hawk's Mission Of Peace"

Within a few days prior to the Battle Creek Massacre, a second party was sent to Utah Valley. 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." Its ironic as the Mormons had no legal right to take possession of Indian land.

When they were within a few miles north of the Provo River they were stopped by An-kar-tewets, a warrior of the Timpanogos, 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 Timpanogos 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 Timpanogos, that they would never take away their lands or rights, and Dimmick and the others swore.

Members of the Timpanogos Tribe told me they dispute this account saying it would be highly unlikely that a warrior such as An-kar-tewets would have made any compromise to accommodate Dimmick and his party. First of all, he would not have the authority to speak on behalf of the Timpanogos Nation and make a decision that potentially put the entire Nation and its most precious resources 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 Timpanogos territory. That and "we don't swear to the sun," they added.

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 the Shoshone Timpanogos, and many other tribes for hundreds of miles around during the spring and summer months. The tribes would gather socially and in sacred ceremonies to honor our Creator. Or, if they did know it was sacred land, they didn't care, they didn't honor their sworn oath made with An-kar-tewets earlier either, if in fact such oath was made.

It has also been stated that soon after Fort Utah was founded, Walker, according to Colonel Bridger and Mr. Vasquez, began stirring up the Indians against the "Mormon" settlers. "In this movement Walker was aided by his war Chief named Pareyarts , variously styled Elk, Big Elk, Old Elk, etc., like himself resented the whites, and apparently quite as fond of fighting. It was with Big Elk and his band that the Provo settlers, in their first regular battle with the savages, had immediately to deal" wrote Peter Gottfredson.

The loathsome acts to unfold at Fort Utah would haunt the Mormons even to the present day. Following the massacre of some 70 Indians at the fort, Hickman hung the head of Old Elk from the eves of his cabin. A witness at Fort Utah told reporters, " 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 author 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" for scientific examination, in other words sell them for a price.

What this account doesn't tell us is that there was a market for Indian body parts. Jim Bridger offered Hickman a hundred dollars for Old Elk's head. 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 Black Hawk who was barely in his twenties, and his traumatized kin who had been taken captive at Battle Creek. 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.

Mary Meyer is the Chief Executive of the Timpanogos Nation and related the following story of her great-great-grandfather Joseph Stacey Murdock who was the first Bishop of Heber city. Joseph raised two Timpanogos Indian children, one by the name of Pernetta who he had taken from Fort Utah following the battle there. Pernetta was the daughter of Chief Arropean, and was about 5 or 6 years of age when Joseph took her away with him to Heber and raised her to adulthood. At the same time a Timpanogos boy of the same age lay clinging to bloody remains of his mother. His name was Pick He was taken and put in a wagon with his sister. He was raised with Pernetta and was told that Pernetta was his sister. But Pick always said she was not the same sister as the one in the wagon.

While thousands more settlers came into the territory between the years 1847 and 1873, tensions between the Indians and non-Indians grew exponentially. Timpanogos elders told me, "there was a time when our people were happy and content living in the majestic mountains and fertile green valleys of Utah. Then the Mormons came, and our people were killed—the old, the young, the children, women—and many taken to reservations where many more would die."

When Mormon apostle George A. Smith, a cousin to Church Founder Joseph Smith jr., declared that the Indian people "have no right to their land" and instructed the all-Mormon legislature to "extinguish all titles" and get them out of the way and onto reservations. This set the stage for what Mormons later would call the "Walker War" that would follow.

On January 31, 1850, Lieutenant General Daniel H. Wells of the all Mormon Nauvoo Legion drafted orders for Captain George D. Grant to "exterminate the Timpanogos," known as "Special Order No. 2". Isaac Higbee was the bishop of Fort Utah and he met with the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the Fort when they agreed the only way to keep Fort Utah would be to exterminate the Timpanogos. Source: Utah State Archives, State Capitol, Salt Lake City, Utah Territorial Militia Correspondence, 1849-1863, ST-27, Microfilm reel 1, Document No. 5. Eugene E. Campbell. Establishing Zion  

“I say go [and] kill them…" said Brigham Young, "Tell Dimmick Huntington to go and kill them—also Barney Ward—let the women and children live if they behave themselves… We have no peace until the men [are] killed off—never treat the Indian as your equal.” Source: BYC, Microfilm reel 80, box 47, folder 6. Farmer, Jared (2008). On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674027671

Wakara's vengeance was also fueled by previous events that unfolded at Battle Creek when his family was murdered, and Fort Utah where his kin were brutally attacked and beheaded. He soon regretted helping the Mormons survive the first winter. .

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