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The Forgotten Massacre: Church Honors Paiutes Killed by Pioneers

Fear, fed by rumors and confusion, led the pioneers in Circleville, Utah, to kill at least 30 Paiute men, women, and children in an act that, in the long years since, has largely been forgotten. But the Church is working to change that.

On Friday, April 22, 2016,—the accepted anniversary of the massacre—members of the Paiute Tribal Council and the History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered together to dedicate a memorial that honors the lives of those who were killed 150 years ago.

Though many Latter-day Saints have heard of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, few know the story behind this second dark moment in Mormon history:

In 1865, while the rest of the United States was plunged into the final years of the Civil War, the Mormon pioneers in central Utah were just beginning the Black Hawk War with the native people—a war that would last seven years.

It was that same year that the Ute tribe killed two men and two 13-year-old boys during a raid of the local Mormon town of Circleville. Though Circleville settlers had traded with neighboring Paiutes of the Koosharem band in the past, rumors ran rampant that this tribe had formed an alliance with the Utes, breeding distrust and fear.

In April 1866, that paranoia reached a new level when an express message arrived at Circleville from Fort Sanford, claiming that two formerly friendly Paiutes had shot a member of the Utah militia. Jedediah Rogers, from the Utah Division of State History, added in a comment to The Spectrum, however, that “What the dispatch did not report is that one of the Paiutes had been injured and the other was killed by the soldiers' long range rifle."

In response, pioneers in Panguitch and Circleville forcefully disarmed and gathered Paiutes camped in the area.

“When the Paiutes were told to surrender their weapons and expressed reluctance, the settlers forcefully disarmed them,” Rogers said. “The men were bound under guard, and the women and children were likely held in a cellar.”

A dispatch from Erastus Snow of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles told these Latter-day Saints to treat the Native Americans with care and to release them unless they became hostile, but the message arrived too late.

Details about what happened next are vague and uncertain. It appears that some of the men held captive managed to loosen the ropes that bound them. That evening, at the change of guard, the Paiutes attacked their captors and attempted to escape. All were shot dead during the struggle.

Afraid that the surviving Paiute women and children would tell of the incident and create more violence between the pioneers and Native Americans, the soldiers decided to leave no survivors, killing them with guns, knives, and clubs.

"No one was ever tried and punished for the killings, and the tragedy was largely swept from the state's history," Denis Romboy writes with the Deseret News.

However, with this new monument funded by the Church, the Utah Westerners, and private donations, this event has brought many groups together to remember those lost.

A part of the tribute, inscribed on the memorial and written by the Paiute tribe, says, "None of us can ever hope to describe the emotions that these people might have felt. All we can do is honor their existence as human beings."

"Hopefully, the remains, the spirits of our past ancestors can come to rest," Dorena Martineau, Paiute Tribe cultural resources director, told the Deseret News.

Lead image from The Spectrum.
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