loading background

Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

Slaughter of Captain Gunnison: Newspaper Clippings

The Times and Transcript[i] has received, through Mr. KINCAID, who brought the Salt Lake Mail, a proof-sheet of the Deseret News of Nov. 12 which continues the shocking intelligence of the slaughter of Capt. Gunnison of the Corps of Topographical Engineers, with seven of his party, including Mr. R. H. KERN, Topographer; Mr. CREUZFELDT, Botanist; Mr. Wm. POTTER, Guide; Messrs. LIPTROTT, CAULFIELD, and MEHRTEENS, privates of Company A mounted riflemen, and John BELLOWS, employe. (Sic)

SLAUGHTER OF CAPT. GUNNISON AND SEVEN OF HIS PARTY.—On the 21st October, ult, at 6 o’clock, P. M. an express arrived from Fillmore City, forwarded from President CALL bearing dispatches from Washington city, from the Pacific Railroad party, now in this Territory, and a letter from Brevet Captain R. M. MORRIS to Gov. YOUNG, briefly detailing the unexpected and lamentable Indian massacre of Capt. John W. Gunnison, and seven of his party , near the swamps of the Sevier River,  and as near as we can learn, about twenty miles from the Sevier Lake. This event happened about 9 o’clock A. M., of the 26th of October, as the party was sitting down to breakfast. Only four escaped, leaving instruments, notes, animals, and all the baggage, in possession of the Indians. 

Deseret News

LIST OF THE KILLED.—Captain J. W. Gunnison, Corps Topographical Engineers, U. S. Army; Topographer Mr. H. Kern; Botanist Mr. Creuzfeldt; Guide Mr. Wm. Potter; Company A, Mounted Riflemen, Privates Liptrott, Caulfield, and Mehrteens; Employe, (sic) John Bellows.

Immediately upon the receipt of the above intelligence, Gov. YOUNG began active preparations for the recovery of the lost property, and the proper disposal of the dead bodies, in the sanguine hope of being able to obtain the body of Capt. GUNNISON, with the design to forward it to his family.

By 9: o’clock on the morning of the 1st November, D. N. HUNTINGTON, interpreter, with a sufficient party, a quantity of Indian presents, a letter of instructions, and a letter to Brevet MORRIS, was on his way to the main camp of the party, reported to be near Fillmore City, with instructions from Gov. YOUNG to proceed with all possible speed and diligence, using the necessary relays and report himself ready to aid in carrying out the wishes of Captain MORRIS.

Mr. HUNTINGTON was instructed to hire Ke-no-ske, and other friendly Parvans to go with him to the Parvans on the Sevier, and to try all possible methods to recover the lost property, and particularly the instruments and notes. This was deemed a far better policy to accomplish the object in view, than to furnish additional troops to pursue an enemy they would probably never find.

Since the departure of Mr. HUNTINGTON, Brevet Captain MORRIS and all the party have arrived in the city. We learn they met Mr. HUNTINGTON of Naples, ninety-three miles south of the city on the 2nd November, and that he proceeded on from there without being accommodated by any of the Government party. We have also learned from Captain MORRIS, that he received the camp ground where the massacre occurred, early on the following morning, and returned to the main camp, leaving all the dead bodies on the top of the ground. The wolves had begun to devour the bodies before Captain MORRIS reached the main of the disaster.Lieutenant BECKWITH, of the Topographical Engineers gives the following report of this melancholy disaster:

The greatest diligence of the night guards was maintained by Captain GUNNISON when he encamped each of the party in turn performing that duty. At the break of day the whole camp was aroused, and at once engaged the morning duties of camp, preparatory to an early start; for the party was that day to reach its most dangerous point of exploration for this season—and between daybreak and sunrise the most of the men were engaged in eating their breakfast, when, from the fatal willow shelters, a numerous discharge of rifles and flight of arrows exposed that devoted camp in all directions, and the hideous war-hoop of a large band of savages rang out on that hideous silent plain. At this fire one man also fell mortally wounded and Captain Gunnison stepped from his tent, raised his hand and called to his murderers that he was their friend; but this call was of no avail; the deadly assault continued. Upon the first discharge there was a general call to arms and a few return shots were fired; the Indians report one of their band killed and another wounded but the surprise seemed to have been complete, and the approach so close—twenty or thirty yards, under perfect shelters—that it was impossible long to maintain the little open spot on which they had encamped. The most of the horses had stampeded at the fire discharge and only three or four men succeeded in reaching them and mounting; the others seeking safety on foot and fell in or near their fatal camp.

      The corporal of the escort succeeded in escaping on his horse, and hotly pursued, rode him at the top of his speed to the point where the party had separated. Here his horse failed, but the Indians had given over the chase and he ran on foot the remainder of the distance—14 miles—to the other camp of the party; and at 11 ½ o’clock came exhausted into camp barely able, by a few broken sentences, to communicate the frightful intelligence. Thirty minutes subsequently, Capt. MORRIS and Lieut. BAKER, accompanied by Mr. POTTER, brother of the slain led towards the fatal spot the escort of the mounted riflemen—all the men who could be armed and mounted accompanied by the surgeon, Dr. SCHIEL—a band scarcely larger than that already slain with the hope of rendering aid to the survivors, should any remain; of punishing the savage band and of rendering the last sad duties of humanity to those who were known to have fallen. Another of the party had arrived on his horse just as they were leaving, and returned with Capt. MORRIS’ command; the two others were met by him on the road—one near camp his horse having fallen, throwing him under some bushes, where he lay concealed until he could no longer hear the savage crew at the camp—the Indians being at times within a few feet of him until noon when they moved off, and he heard no more of them.

The Los Angeles Star of the 17th contains the following in relation to the massacre of Capt. Gunnison by the Parvan Utah Indians:

      Messrs. NOLAND, BANNING, CRANE, STEWART, arrived at the Monte (San Bernardino) last Tuesday and from them we gather the following particulars in regard to the fate of Lieut. Gunnison, who was prosecuting one of the Government surveys for the line of the Pacific Railroad. The route he was surveying is that favored by Col. BESTON.

      Lieut. Gunnison, with a train of eighteen wagons, came up the Arkansas river, (sic) and passing Bent’s Fort crossed the Rocky and Wahsatch Mountain, into the Beaver Valley of the Salt Lake region. Arrived here Lieut. G. with eleven men including R. H. KERN, the chief draftsman, and Mr. CHRYSNELDT, the ornithologist of the expedition, left the camp for the purpose of exploring the country about Sevier Lake. On the 26th  of October they were attached by a branch of the Utah’s, called the Parvans—a band of murdering thieves, well known by all emigrants and all the party killed. Some days afterwards the Indians sent a messenger, bearing the minutes of the surveyors, together with the instruments, who gave intelligence of the destruction of the party and stated that the attack was made in revenge for the recent defeat of the tribe at Cedar Springs, by the HILDRETH’S party, in which eleven Indians were killed and several wounded.

      Messrs. NOLAND, BANNING, CRANE, STEWART, left the camp with one wagon to bring in the intelligence, in this wagon they came on as far as Bitter Springs, 45 miles beyond the Mohave and 175 miles from this city. At Bitter Springs their animals gave out and they were obliged to abandon them. They then started on foot and arrived at the Monte on Tuesday, much wore down with the fatigue of their journey.

      Mr. J. W. ROSS, of Iowa arrived in town yesterday. He came through over the Gunnison route and reached the main camp of the expedition two days after the occurrence. He gives us additional particulars, which in some respects conflict with the above. When he arrived at the camp, a party which had been sent out with one of the surveyors as a guide had just come in, and reported that they were unable to bury their dead from fear of the Indians. Capt. MORRIS who succeeded in the command after the death of Gunnison and whose party numbered about sixty men then send a dispatch to Fillmore city, six miles distant, for assistance.

      A party of seven Mormons took a guide and went to the scene of the massacre, about 24 miles from the main camp; and, without molestation, recovered all the animals, save one that had been killed together with the arms, instruments and minutes of the survey of the party. All that remained of the murdered men were the disjointed bones picked clean by the wolves. The only parts that could possibly be identified were, a thigh bone believed to be that of poor GUNNISON and the skull of POTTER, GUNNISON’S Mormon guide. These remains were all carefully collected and buried and the party returned and forwarded the property of the expedition to camp. The conduct of Capt. MORRIS is severely commented upon, for allowing the bodies of his comrades to be eaten up by wolves: as, it is said, [his] force was sufficient to have whipped all the Indians in the valley.

      Mr. Ross remained eighteen days in that region, and had frequent interviews with the chief of the Parvans, Jesus. The whole tribe, he thinks, does not number forty men. The chief often expressed great regret at the death of Gunnison; the attack was made without his knowledge by his people, who had been as enraged at the indignities practiced upon them by parties of emigrants. We hope to give more full particulars next week.


[i] Newspaper clipping obtained from Susan Lintelmann, manuscripts curator at the U. S. Military Academy, West Point, NY.


Like Us on Facebook
site by GRCMC