Frontier violence traumatized both colonists and Indians

D. Robert Carter

During a March 1849 skirmish near the mouth of Battle Creek Canyon (Pleasant Grove), a posse composed of about 30 Salt Lake Valley colonists killed four renegade Utes who had been stealing cattle belonging to Utah's settlers. This brutish clash actuated a seemingly endless cycle of revenge and retribution that whipped back and forth across Central Utah for the next 20 years, traumatizing Native Americans and colonists alike.

One classic example of the spiraling cycle of violence began with an outrage in the settlement of Manti in Sanpete Valley. This butchery sent a gust of brutal fury raging through Salt Creek Canyon to Nephi, from there to Cedar Valley, and all the way to Salt Lake City. The incident in Manti began rather inoffensively late in August 1853 during the height of the Walker War, when bad feelings between the colonists and the Utes ran rampant.

Four male Indians entered Sanpete County's initial settlement, surrendered their arms and quietly remained there overnight. During their stay, the Indians smoked the pipe of peace with their hosts, who made several promises to their dusky guests. Representatives of the Mormon colony told the four Indians they could live in Manti in peace and safety and work for the colony's settlers, if they returned, unarmed, with their families.

The Indian men left Manti the next morning, and after being gone for several days, they returned with their families. The small group numbered four men, one boy about 16 years old, five women and four children. The men gave up their guns and set up their camp near the gate of Manti's stone fort and inside of the colony's sentinels.

After the invited guests arrived, some of the colonists followed the trail of the Indians back to their previous camp. Near the campsite, the men found a cache containing some buckskins, a buffalo robe and some stolen lead. The squad returned to Manti with the plunder and reported their findings to Major Higgins, the commander of that military district. Andrew L. Siler, at the request of his friends, Levi W. Hancock, Daniel B. Funk and Sylvester Hullet, wrote a letter to Brigham Young, telling him what happened next.

Major Higgins reported to President Isaac Morley, who was in charge of the Manti colony, and told him what the scouting party had found. The major asked Morley what should be done with the seemingly inoffensive Indians.

Morley's decision was undoubtedly influenced by the fact that a group of Utes had raided nearby Allred Settlement (Spring City) on August 2, and also by the news that the warriors and their families, who were now seeking sanctuary in Manti, had cached stolen lead used for making musket balls. Siler wrote in his letter to Young that Morley stated "his mind was to kill them."

After evening roll call, members of Manti's militia led the four Indian men and the teenaged boy out of the Indian camp. One of the Utes jumped toward Brother Hamilton, a militiaman, either intending to plea for mercy or to take the man's gun away from him. Hamilton threw the Indian off.

Siler described the scene that followed to the leader of the LDS Church:

"[The Indian] then made for President Morley when he [Morley or Hamilton?] shot him through this was a signal for firing and the five was then shot down the bullets flying into the Corell where women were milking & in all directions after they were killed the word was given out that all that wished to see the pigg shaved with a rusty nale to turn out I then went to where they were buried I se them by moon light some of them were shot several times when either of the shots would have proved fatal they were all burried in one hole for a grave it could not be called."

A day later, the property, wives and children of the murdered Indians were auctioned off in Manti to the highest bidder. Bidding for an eight-or-nine-year-old Ute girl ran high. Morley started the auction with an offer of three bushels of wheat. Eventually, William V. Black Jr. became the girl's owner with a bid of 16 bushels of wheat.

Siler wrote that after Morley attended LDS General Conference in Salt Lake City that next October, he returned to Manti with the word that "it was a grevious sin in the sight of heaven to sell the indian children and took a vote to rescind the sale." Then Morley counseled those who had bought the women and children to give them away.

It should not be surprising that not a single word relating to the butchery of these Indian men in Manti or the auctioning to the highest bidder of their property, women and children reached the pages of the Deseret News. However, word of this slaughter likely fell upon the ears of some of the victims' friends and relatives.

Revenge and retribution for the dastardly extermination of the Indians in Manti and the deaths of several Utes in a recent skirmish may have helped motivate an equally horrendous massacre a little over a month later at Uintah Springs, near the head of Salt Creek Canyon. The Ute skirmish occurred on September 26, 1853, when a group of Utah County militiamen under the command of Major Stephen Markham scouted for the presence of hostile Indians in southern Utah County.

Markham and his men found a group of Utes camped at the mouth of Salt Creek near present-day Goshen. The two groups exchanged fire. C.B. Hancock was slightly wounded, and the militia claimed they killed four or five Indians. After this short fracas, Markham withdrew and returned to Palmyra.

Four days later, on September 30, four men, identified by the Deseret News as Thomas Clark, James Nelson, William Reed and William Luke, left Manti for Salt Lake City with two oxen-drawn wagons filled with wheat. Luke was on his way to Utah's capital to meet his three sons who had just arrived in the Great Basin from England.

Isaac Morley counseled these men to camp on the San Pitch River in an area between the current towns of Chester and Moroni and wait there for him and a company of horse-drawn wagons traveling north to attend LDS General Conference. The two groups could then travel through Salt Creek Canyon together for safety against hostile Indians. Instead, the men traveled farther north to Uintah Springs, near the head of Salt Creek Canyon, and they camped there for the night.

When Morley and the others traveling with the horse team company reached the suggested camping site on October 1, they found it empty. The caravan traveled on toward Salt Creek Canyon. When they approached Uintah Springs, the company's members spied the wheat-laden ox wagons in the distance. The vehicles had been stripped of their canvas covers, and the horse company saw no sign of life in the camp.

George Peacock and another man rode ahead to the quiet camp. They approached the bivouac, reined in their horses, turned their mounts, rode pell-mell back to Morley's company and reported the carnage that lay ahead.

Utes had attacked the camp that morning. William Reed's body lay stripped, scalped and disemboweled a short distance from the wagons. The bodies of Luke and Nelson sprawled near the vehicles. Their throats were cut, and they were disemboweled. Morley, Peacock and the others found no trace of Clark, giving rise to the hope that he had escaped to Nephi.

Members of the horse company emptied the grain out of one of the wagons, loaded the three bodies into it and prepared to resume their journey down through Salt Creek Canyon. Just as they were ready to continue, shrieks and whoops of defiance echoed from the hills. Looking up, the colonists saw numerous Utes moving through the junipers on the hillside. The Indians waved their blankets and shouted derisive comments. The colonists refused to give chase, likely not wishing to rush into an ambush.

When the forlorn cavalcade arrived in Nephi, they did not find Thomas Clark. His whereabouts remained a mystery. The men unloaded the three bodies for burial at Nephi and prepared to stay the night.

On the morning of Sunday, October 2, Nephi's Black Sabbath, another encounter with the Indians occurred. The Deseret News and the LDS mouthpiece in England, The Millennial Star, both printed an account of a skirmish near Nephi in which eight Indian men met their death. One woman and two boys became prisoners of the colonist at Nephi. As the group from Manti traveled north toward Salt Lake City, they told the people in the settlements along they way the story they wanted them to believe. Springville resident Luke Gallup wrote in his journal on October 3, "News from Nephi states 4 to 5 men killed by Indians in Salt Cr. Kanyon & soon after a Band of Indians near or going into Nephi were shot down, supposed to be the murderers."

Informants later told Peter Gottfredson, author of History of Indian Depredations in Utah, about the incident. Gottfredson wrote that the company from Manti encountered an Indian camp and fought a skirmish in which eight Indian warriors died. Martha Spence Heywood, a resident of Nephi and a polygamous wife of Territorial Marshal and leader of the Nephi colony, Joseph L. Heywood, told another story in her journal. She noted that the Indian brutality at Uintah Springs incensed Isaac Morley to the degree that he sought revenge on the Utes. Referring to the massacre at Uintah Springs and the savage retribution it provoked, Heywood wrote:

"This barbarous circumstance actuated our brethren, counselled by Father Morley of San Pete . . . and President Call of Filmore, to do quite as barbarous an act the following morning, being the Sabbath. Nine Indians coming into our Camp looking for protection and bread with us, because we promised it to them and without knowing they did the first evil act in that affair or any other, were shot down without one minute's notice. I felt satisfied in my own mind that if Mr. Heywood had been here they would not have been dealt with so unhumanly. It cast considerable gloom over my mind."

Morley's conference-bound company resumed its journey, and when it reached Utah County, the Manti leader reported the outrage at Uintah Springs to local militia leaders. A posse of about 20 men from Springville, Spanish Fork and Payson under the command of James T. Guyman rode to the springs at the head of Salt Creek Canyon. Guyman's men found the body of Thomas Clark under the loose wheat filling the wagon left at the campsite. Samuel T. Curtis of Salem, a member of the posse, told Gottfredson the Indians had scalped the dead man and crushed his head. They also cut open his body and took out his heart. Another member of the posse, George Peacock, was a relative of Clark. It is said that he took Clark's now badly decomposed body to Manti for burial in the cemetery.

Less than a year later, the massacre perpetrated by the Indians at Uintah Springs and the retribution exacted by the colonists at Nephi, triggered yet another case of carnage, this time in Utah County.

To be continued...

If you go ...

What: Utah Valley Historical Society

Speaker: William P. MacKinnon, "In the Valley of the Dry Bones"

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Provo City Library at Academy Square, 550 N. University Ave., Provo

Info: 489-8256 or 373-1572

• "In the Valley of the Dry Bones: Utah War Linkages and Interconnections" is the theme of the Utah Historical Society by William P. MacKinnon. Things, events, people seem to be strangely connected to each other in an amazing serendipity, a missing piece of the puzzle.

• MacKinnon views the Utah War of 1857-58 as the armed struggle for power and authority between the civil-religious leadership of Utah Territory and the federal government. This was the nation's most extensive and expensive military commitment during the period between the Mexican and Civil wars -- a confrontation that pitted Brigham Young's Nauvoo Legion against nearly a third of President Buchanan's U.S. Army. With vast social consequences on both regional and international scales, the Utah War involved thousands of colorful participants for whom the conflict was a catalyst for the rest of their lives.

• MacKinnon is a historian who has studied and written about Utah's territorial period and its Utah War chapter for 50 years. He is an Honorary Life Member of the Utah State Historical Society

• He is an alumnus of Yale, the Harvard Business School, the U.S. Air Force and General Motors Corporation.