Provo’s Early Colonists Were Caught Between Two Warring Indian Bands

Early on the morning of April 12, 1849, less than two weeks after Mormon colonists arrived in Utah Valley, a frenzied group of Shoshone warriors whipped their ponies down the west side of what is now Grandview Hill and raced toward the sleeping Ute camp a half mile west of Provo’s first fort, located where I-15 today crosses the Provo River.

Screaming shrill war whoops and shooting their guns in the air, Chief Wanship and his Shoshones ran off the Ute horse herd tethered just outside the village. Startled Ute men ran from their lodges with rifles or bows in hand and launched a hurried counterattack to drive off the plundering Shoshones.

Several Ute men, including Little Chief’s son, received wounds, but nobody on either side was killed. Reckless shooting, however killed two horses and wounded two others. In the end, the Shoshones rode off with about 28 Ute horses and a few animals belonging to the colonists.

This raid placed the settlers in a difficult situation. If they sided with one band, their actions would offend the other band. Mormon leaders did try, unsuccessfully to negotiate the return of the stolen horses.

Little Chief borrowed horses from another band of Utah Valley Utes and mounted an effort to recover the horses by force or guile. This attempt proved to be costly for the colonists and the Utes. Little Chief, who had been relatively peaceful and cooperative, and his son died on this expedition. Ope-Carry, who was more volatile and warlike, replaced the former chief. Partially as a result of this, war between the Utes and the settlers broke out the following February.

This plaque is part of this series of historic plaques and is located in Paul Ream Wilderness Park and along the Provo River Trail in Provo.