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Fort Utah c1850

Fort Utah on the Timpanogas (Provo River) River, 1850

Fort Utah (also known as Fort Provo)[1] was the original settlement at Provo, Utah, United States and was established March 12, 1849. The original settlers were President John S. Higbee, and about 30 families or 150 persons that were sent from Salt Lake City to Provo by President Brigham Young. Several log houses were erected, surrounded by a 14-foot (4.3 m) palisade 20 by 40 rods in size (330 by 660 feet [100 by 200 m]), 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 Sowiette Park in April, 1850.[2][3]

Battle at Fort UtahEdit

In late 1849, tensions between Ute Indians and Mormons in Utah Valley escalated after a Mormon killed a Ute known as Old Bishop, whom he accused of stealing his shirt.[4] The Mormon and two associates then hid the victim’s body in the Provo River. Details of the murder were likely withheld, at least initially, from Brigham Young and other Church leaders. Settlers at Fort Utah did, however, report other difficulties with the Indians, including the firing of weapons at settlers and the theft of livestock and crops. Brigham Young counseled patience, telling them to “stockade your fort, to attend to your own affairs and let the indiens take care of theirs.”[5] Tensions mounted at Fort Utah after the Utes demanded that the settlers turn over the murderers[6] because the settlers refused to turn over those involved in the murder of Old Bishop to the Utes or to pay reparations for his death. In the winter of 1849–1850, a measles epidemic spread from the Mormon settlers to the Ute camps, killing many Indians and heightening tensions. At a council of ecclesiastical leaders in Salt Lake City on January 31, 1850, the leader of Fort Utah reported that the Utes’ actions and intentions were growing increasingly aggressive: “they say they mean to hunt our Cattle. & go & get the other Indians to kill us.”[7] In response, Brigham Young authorized a campaign against the Utes [8] telling them to kill all the men and take the women and children captive. On February 8, 1850, a militia from Salt Lake surrounded a group of around seventy people at Big Elk. After two days of fighting, the Utes surrendered. The army killed the men and sent the women and children up to Salt Lake as prisoners. A series of battles in February 1850 resulted in the deaths of dozens of Utes and one Mormon.[9] These events contributed to the Walker War.[10]


  1. "Chapter Twenty-Seven: Establishing a Refuge in Deseret". Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 2003. Retrieved 30 Mar 2016. "Fort Utah was also called Fort Provo in honor of Etienne Provot, an early French trapper." 
  2. "Fort Utah". Provo City Library. Retrieved 30 Mar 2016. 
  3. Weiser, Kathy (Aug 2011). "Utah Forts of the Old West - Page 2". Retrieved 30 Mar 2016. 
  4. Peace and Violence among 19th-Century Latter-day Saints
  5. Brigham Young letter to Isaac Higbee, Oct. 18, 1849, Brigham Young Office Files, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
  6. Peace and Violence among 19th-Century Latter-day Saints
  7. Historian’s Office General Church Minutes, Jan. 31, 1850, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
  8. An account of the dialogue of the January 31 meeting can be found in BYC, Microfilm reel 80, box 47, folder 6. Brigham Young is quoted as stating: "I say go [and] kill them. . . . Tell Dimick 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." Wells's Special Order No. 2 can be found in the Utah State Archives, State Capitol, Salt Lake City, Utah Territorial Militia Correspondence, 1849-1863, ST-27, Microfilm reel 1, Document No. 5
  9. D. Robert Carter, Founding Fort Utah: Provo’s Native Inhabitants, Early Explorers, and First Year of Settlement (Provo, UT: Provo City Corporation, 2003), 52, 114–15, 135, 142, 145, 153–57, 163, 227. Contemporaneous sources indicate that the number of Indians who died was between 24 and 40, though a much later reminiscence places the death count among the Utes at around 100. (See Epsy Jane Williams, Autobiography, [1], Church History Library, Salt Lake City; and Jared Farmer, On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape [Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 2008], 67–77.)
  10. Utah Historical Quarterly Volume XLVI 0pen Hand and Mailed Fist: Mormon-Indian Relations in Utah, 1847-52 by Howard A. Christy

Further readingEdit

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