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 town, but was moved to Sowette Park in April, 1850.
Replica of Fort Utah
on the original site west of Provo City, Utah. Located at 200
North 2050 West in Provo
that were in Fort Utah. Now Located at Pioneer Park in Provo, Utah
Black Hawk Witnessed The Brutal Murder Of His Family At Battle Creek,
and The Beheading Of His Blood Relatives While Held Captive By Mormons At Fort
In the twilight moments before
the sun began to rise, smoke from the lingering fires inside the
tee pees 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 cottonwoods into the air,
drifting lightly upon the snow covered ground below. The near by brook
gurgling softly winding its way along. Emerging from one of the
teepees a woman carrying in her arms some sticks to start the morning
fire, pauses a moment, looking about she senses an eerie feeling that
something’s not right. Silence became quieter, as the sound of the
brook grew louder.
Suddenly, a man’s voice shatters the silence with the word “FIRE!” A
barrage of guns firing shattered the
with loud booms, causes the people from the tee pees scrambling
franticly to their feet as bullets rip open the sides of the teepees -
women screaming, children screaming, men crying out - blood spatters
across the snow. People running about in shock as bullets are zinging
at them from every where, bodies are falling about, the snow turning
crimson red, while only four warriors Kone, Blue Shirt, Roman Nose, and
one un-named, spotting their enemy surrounding
them they draw their bows and begin firing arrows back in an effort to
stand their ground. They are out numbered, guns continue to blaze from
every which way, and they fall in the snow screaming from the pain.
Unable to defend themselves and everything stops. The shattered air is
filled with smoke from the guns, four warriors lay dead – children
crying out, women screaming hysterical rush to their loved ones
sobbing, as the soldiers ransack the camp.
Nine women and a few children and one 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 Mormon militia under the leadership of Captain John
Scott left Salt Lake City in pursuit of a so called “renegade band of
Indians” who had been taking cattle and horses from settlers in nearby
Draper. 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
the Indians who allegedly were the ones who had been doing the
stealing. The trail took the company of soldiers up a canyon above
Pleasant Grove where they came upon an encampment of Indians in the
early morning hours. Scott and his men split into four groups and
surround the camp, and opened fire on the unsuspecting people sleeping
The terrorized captives who survived the attack were taken 40 miles
north to Salt Lake City. The young boy was Noonch [Black Hawk]. It is said he put up a good fight, but shook with fear when
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 mystery that surrounds this event. Upon the word of Little Chief the victims were judged
guilty without any investigation. It is said there was found three cow
hides nearby the camp, which the attackers deemed proof these were the
Indians who had taken their cattle, the account says. But where were
enough, apparently, for Captain Scott who gave the order to fire, and
thus they served up their own brand of cowardly justice, or should we
Historical records give little information why 12 year old Nooch and seven or
eight women and their children were taken captive at Battle Creek and
transported to Salt Lake; where they were held for nearly a year.
Nothing is said about how they were treated, while in captivity. No
names of the women, or how many children or their
ages. Nothing about what became of the corpses of the four dead men
left behind. It is easy to conclude the survivors were not allowed to
morn the death of their family, or attend to their burial. Or if they
were buried, or simply left behind for the animals to feed upon as was
so often the case. Perhaps because Noonch was a blood relative of
Chief Wah-kara who was in leadership of the Ute at the time,
gave political motivation for the Mormons to hold them,
the royal bloodline of the Ute, against their will. In fact all of the
above named victims were of the same family bloodline as was Wah-Kara.
Within a few
days following the Battle Creek Massacre, the Higbee brothers
and Dimick 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 a
fort. 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.
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,
allegedly An-kar-tewets made Dimmick raise his hand to swear to the
sun that no harm would come to the Ute, that they would never take
away their lands or rights, and Dimmick and the others swore.
Dimmick and the rest of the
party than immediately began the 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, who would gather in sacred
ceremonies to honor Creator. Or if they did know, they didn't
care, it is obvious since they didn't honor their sworn oath made
earlier. 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 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 is to the
Natives, anyway? In less than a year the bloodiest battle in Utah
history would unfold at Fort Utah.
The fort as a trading post
continued for a short time, as the Indians would trade furs and pelts for guns and
ammunition. Buffalo hides were brought in from as far away as Idaho
and Montana to be traded at the fort. Ute leader Chief Wah-kara was
most effective trading with the whites, and had run a successful
trading operation as far south as Mexico. So all was going
well according to Mormon accounts, as the saints and the Indians enjoyed an awkward but some what
for several months.
Then on a warm summer day three men were riding along the Provo River
on their horses when they came upon a friendly Indian who 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 known as Old Bishop, and accused him of stealing the
shirt he was wearing. 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 took aim directly at his head and pulled the
trigger killing 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 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 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 bowls 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 acted as though nothing had
happened. Thinking they had committed the perfect murder they relaxed
and fell back into their routines.
Although demands were made by
the Lagunas (the Ute band camped near the fort) that the whites at the fort turn over the one guilty
for 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
spread epidemically among the Natives, and the saints had succeeded in
driving most of the Ute from the valley into the nearby mountains. On
a cold winters day Chief Pareyarts, better known as Old Elk, also known as Big Elk, came to the fort
asking for medicine for he and his people who were sick from the
decease, and a soldier took the chief by the knap of his neck and
threw him out of the fort.
Pareyarts was also of the same bloodline as Wah-Kara.
Now that the Fort Utah had been established on land that was most
essential to the Ute as it provided ample food for themselves and
their horses, about 120 settlers were now living in and around the fort.
And of coarse they brought with them horses and cattle and in a short
time the Ute were competing with the Mormon saints for food for themselves
and their horses. Brigham Young
addressing the issue said, “Let them eat crickets.”
It wasn’t long before the people at the fort found their cattle and
horses shot full of arrows. The Ute’s only logical answer to their
plight was to reduce the numbers of cattle and horses over grazing
their land and drive out the settlers from the fort. Large numbers of
cattle began to disappear. As tensions grew between the people at Fort
Utah and the Lagunas for several months to follow, 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.” And as
Brigham gave to 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 with gill nets, which was a major food source
for the Natives. It is said they took over 6000 fish in just one day,
none of which was shared with the starving Indians.
"Black Hawk" was later brought 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 forts cannon platform in the
Just before spring in 1850
confrontations had continued 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 resolve was to take action against the
Natives. In contradiction to his "feed them not fight them" policy,
Brigham heartedly 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 Grants Calvary left Salt
Lake traveled all night through deep snow and the bitter cold so that
they could take the Indian people indiscriminately by surprise who
were camped along the river near the fort. 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 tipis 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 it's 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 Ope-Carry, put up a good fight as the battle lasted for two days.
time, General Wells was directed by Brigham Young to give Noonch
the name "Black Hawk." The general told Noonch 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 "Wild Bill" Hickman and his men to 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
following 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 tipis. 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 his
head. Then Old Elk's wife refusing 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.
Of the seventy or so warriors
only about thirteen had escaped. Only one life lost among the Mormons.
One of the warriors that manage to survive was taken captive, he being
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 raunchy and
loathsome act remained to unfold which would haunt the Mormons for
many decades to follow, even to the present day. 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 Or to go out and behead each of the
frozen corpses laying 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 then hacked from the frozen corpses as many as
50 heads. They piled them in open boxes, along with a dozen or so
Mallard duck's Blake had shot while his men performed their chore. The
heads were taken to the fort and placed in view of Noonch "Black Hawk"
who was barely in his 20's, and his traumatized kin. Innocent of any
wrong doing, 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. Blackburn declined saying he had lost his
It is difficult to fully
comprehend the impact this intentional sadistic and merciless act had
upon Black Hawk who was just in his teens or early twenties. It's just as
challenging to comprehend the mindset of Church leaders, their
militia, and 120 members at the fort who participated in and allowed this cold-blooded event to
take place and go unpunished. This was in response to starving Natives
taking cattle from the Mormons to feed hungry families, as their
natural food supply had been depleted by Mormon depredations into
territory in the first place. The saints
intentionally fished frequently and recklessly the streams and rivers,
day and night, hoping that by destroying the Native food supply would
drive them away.. Using gill nets, when it is recorded that 6975 fish had
been caught in just one day alone on the Provo River and were donated
to the Church in Salt Lake as tithing. "It is better to feed them..." yet there is
no account of that catch being shared with the starving Natives.
Later on the streams would
become polluted by mills. The woolen mill dumped the waist dyes into
the river. One day the river ran red with dye, the next day yellow,
and then green. Saw mills dumped tons of saw dust into the river
making it easier to dispose of the waist. The Provo River empties into
Utah Lake. There once were 17 native species of fish in Utah lake, now
there are just two, both are on the endangered list.
The military tactics of the
Mormon militia were simply to torture, demoralize and dehumanize the
Native Ute Indian and rob them of their land. As none of the
were punished, rather were given honors and held in esteem as hero's.
The "saints" didn't stop there, as they continued to follow their plan
to convert the Natives to their way of life and religion, telling the
Natives that if they would give up their way of life, that they would
become a "white and delightsome people," and that they would be fed.
If not then as Brigham said, "Let them eat crickets."
Black Hawk and his kin were
obviously severely traumatized at Fort Utah and Battle Creek, and it
is reasonable to conclude that he and the others suffered from "Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder." There are written accounts of similar
symptoms that go back to ancient times, and there is clear
documentation in the historical medical literature starting with the
Civil War, when a PTSD-like disorder was known as "Da Costa's
This explains Black Hawk's vulnerability, their
vulnerability, and why Black Hawk at first sided with Brigham Young as
he was conscripted to do following the murder of his family, and led forays
against his own people. Then later, after he came to his senses, he
led a sophisticated counter attack in defense. These are some of the
reasons why there was conflict between the Mormons and the Native
people then and now.
Many times I have been told
with intensity by people here in Utah, "That's all in the past, we
should just forget about it and move on." And Nauvoo, Carthage,
Illinois; Mountain Meadows Massacre, the Civil War and so forth are in
the past too, shall we apply the same mindset and forget those events
and move on? Then why is it ok to apply one standard for certain
people and not equally? And what about the descendants of those who's
ancestors were so brutally treated, is it fair to ask them to just
forget about the past and move on?
The Mormon's war evolved into
the bloodiest battle in Utah history, and doubtless the western United
States as thousands died. To tell of this story seems impossible to be
politically correct. The American Ute Indian has suffered unimaginable
physical and mental torment. Their land was taken away. They were
forced onto desolate reservations. Thousands more died from pandemic
disease. They were blamed for mass murders. They were beheaded, and
tortured. Their remains were put on
public display. These are glaring examples of the "saints"
mindset of arrogance, white supremacy, and moral ambiguities. As shocking
the Massacre at Mountain Meadows has been to thousands of people,
there is no other event comparable to the trail of tears left behind
in the aftermath of the Mormon domination over the Native American Ute
Indian in Utah. And last, but not least, they have been portrayed as a
"loathsome" people who's dark skin is God's punishment for the sins of
their forefathers. One Saint offered this explanation, "In those early
days it was at times imperative that harsh measures should be used. We
had to do these things, or be run over by them. It was a question of
supremacy between the white man and the Indian." This
statement was made by John Lowry, the man accused of having triggered
the war. It is the single most honest statement I have thus far read
in my five years of research of the war. I think the time is way past
due that we take a closer look at our Mormon heritage and begin asking
the question, who ran over who? (See
account of John Lowery) (Also
The American Ute Indian are a national treasure, as are all Native
American Indians. Their complex cultures are their traditions; their
languages are their traditions; their traditions are orally passed
from parent to child many of which take a life time to learn. Once
lost, they are gone forever. We should have an America where these
unique cultures thrive. "Surely God would not have created such a
being as man, with an ability to grasp the infinite, to exist only for
a day! No, no, man was made for immortality." - Abraham Lincoln
These events took place only three live-times ago. Over a 130 years
have passed yet there has not been a memorial, or any recognition
given to the Ute honoring them for their tremendous contribution
to Utah and America.
The plaque on the Fort Utah
monument today is as inglorious in it's depiction of the event that
unfolded there, as was the event itself. The plaque is a mixture of
platitudes, half truths and omissions. There is no mention of the 70
or so Natives who tragically lost their lives defending their rights
as human beings, struggling to overcome hideous death from starvation
and disease that occurred in direct relationship to white expansion.
And there no mention of the beheading of 50 corpses placed before
Black Hawk and his kin to "teach he and his people a lesson." The
memories of Fort Utah remain in the minds of the Ute to this day, of
the agony that their ancestors suffered at the hands of our Mormon
ancestors. Where is the monument, the memorial to honor the innocent
victims of this American Tragedy? Why is it that the lives of the
innocent have no importance to the people of Utah?
that cannot survive collision with the truth is not worth many regrets.
--Arthur C. Clarke
The fort was dismantled and
relocated at Sowette Park in 1850.
to historic records it is said that
An-kar-tewets "argued" and finally compromised, agreeing to allow
Dimmick and the Higbee brothers to settle in Provo Valley. According
to Ute historians it is highly unlikely that such a compromise would
have been made between the warrior An-kar-tewets and the three men.
The Ute explain that they would have been tolerant to a point, but
once they agreed to tell the three men to turn back it would have been
a final decision.
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