Army Troops Caused the “Provo Riot” in 1870.
Late in July, 1870, two companies of the U.S. Army’s 13th Infantry stationed at Camp Douglas in Salt Lake City arrived in Provo and established Camp Rawlins, a tent encampment on the southern edge of Grandview Hill near where 900 North and 1550 West now intersect.
Provo officials responded by increasing the city’s police force to 62 men, many times the useful number.
Local leaders and many residents treated the soldiers poorly and avoided them whenever possible. Townspeople did not invite the newcomers to any of their parties and dance, although the soldiers tried to be sociable. The troopers resented this treatment.
Just after payday in September, 1870, the soldiers decided to have a party of their own. They found it difficult to secure a hall, but John M. Cunningham finally consented to rent them the large octagonal house he occupied on the southwest corner of 500 West 100 North.
Soldiers gathered at Cunningham’s house for dinner, drink, and dance on the night of September 22, 1870. The more these partygoers drank, the more resentful they became of the local leaders.
Around midnight, some of the revelers burst outdoors and went on a rampage through town. They fired random shots, smashed windows, broke doors, and sacked three houses belonging to local authorities. The rioters even made a half-hearted attempt to burn down the town’s meetinghouse.
After meeting token resistance, the soldiers returned to Cunningham’s home. They eventually dragged themselves back into camp in time for reveille.
The soldiers then received a surprise: residents insisted that they be arrested and made to pay for the damages. The War Department deducted reparations from their next paychecks, and many of the rioters were sentenced to military confinement.
Those involved in what became known as the “Provo Riot” soon received transfers. Then soldiers and Provo citizens peacefully coexisted until the troops returned to Salt Lake City in June, 1871.