A Mission to the Ute Indians

from the Journal of William Wilson Sterrett,

with an introduction by his great-grandson, H. Clay Gorton

My great grandfather, William Wilson Sterrett, was born on the 18th day of November 1825, in Ross Township, Bulter County, Ohio. His early years were spent in the tailoring business and steam boating on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. At the outbreak of the war with Mexico, he joined the Quarter Masters Department, marched to Mexico and remained there until the treaty of peace was signed. He returned to Ohio in 1848.

While in Mexico he heard a rumor of the discovery of gold in California. He reported in his journal that "in the spring of 1849 I was full of the gold fever," and so he made plans to go to California in search of gold. He left for the West in the summer of 1850, but got only as far as Iowa that season. He resumed his long journey the next spring and arrived in Salt Lake City on the 8th of August.

William was by nature a religious person, and although he had many concerns regarding a future state of existence he had not joined any church. During the winter of 1850, waiting out the weather in Salt Lake City, he read the book of Mormon and other literature and become convinced of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, he was not immediately baptized. He was one of many who had wintered over in Salt Lake City on their way to the gold fields of California. Numbers of such immigrants joined the Church soon after their arrival, but when spring came they left their new religion behind and pushed on to California. They were known as "winter Mormons." Not wanting to be known as a winter Mormon, William postponed his baptism until the month of May, after most of the transients had resumed their journeys to California. On July 14, 1851, he married Mary Jane Crandall, "who personally knew the prophet Joseph Smith and his Brother Hyrum." That fall he was ordained a teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood. The next year he was ordained a seventy and he and Mary Jane received their endowments in the "upper room of the council house." He records in his journal that he helped break ground for the Salt Lake Temple.

At the April conference in 1855, William, along with about forty others, was called on a mission to the Ute Indians. At this point I would like to pick up the narrative from his own journal, which is on deposit in the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University. (Original spelling is preserved.)

"By referring to my journal I find that I left May 9th in Co. with Elders Stephen B. Moore, Lot and Huntington and Christopher C. Perkins. With two yoke of cattle on our wagon, our journey through the settlements to the city of Manti was pleasant. The people of the settlements were kind and hospitable.

May 21st left the good people of Manti and resumed our journey to Six Mile Creek and camped. We numbered forty one men, 15 waggons. Bro. A.N. Billings, Capt. with Joseph Rawlins wagon-master, and Capt. of Guard. June 2nd arrived at Green River. Next day being Sunday we laid over and held meeting, a number of natives being present. They were invited to hear Bro. L.G. Metcalf, who spoke to them in their own language. They manifested a good spirit and listened attentively.

We commenced ferring our waggons, lost one wheel. Finished ferring and swimming stock on the eight. Broke camp and resumed our journey, and arrived at Grand River on the 10th and camped. Commenced swimming stock and ferring waggons the next morning and finished on the 15th. No accident occurred. On the 16th commenced operations for building, taking out water, stalking plans etc. etc. The 17th being Sunday we held a meeting after which we all refrained to the waters side and were re-baptized and confirmed. We then were ready to build, plant, and sow. We put in all kinds of seeds which grew finely. The valley was small but was of good soil, quick to bring forth. Our fort was built of rock and our corall of cottonwood logs forming a stockade. Some of the brethren visited the Navijose.

On the 22nd of July we baptized 15 Indians and confirmed them, being 14 males and 1 female. Ordained 4 of them Elders. On the 23rd a party of brethren started east for the Elk Mountains.

In the meantime Arrapene, the Utes Chief, visited us on his way to the Navajose country.

When he returned brot 4 Navajoses with him. The Utes and the Navajose made a treaty, and on August 10th both parties left for their respective homes. On the 7th of September we baptised 18 more of the Natives and confirmed them members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Sept 12th Bro. Billings and party got back from the Navajose Country, and on the 15th a Son of Chief Qucit.Sub.Socuits, came in and reported his father very sick, and wanted some the Mormons to come to his lodge (about 12 miles) and to administer to him. A party of the brethren went and found the Chief quite ill. Administered to him and returned the next day, and on the 17th the old chief came to camp feeling first rate. On the 18th 2 more natives were baptised. We had our first new potatoes on the 20th. The Indians took a good portion of our vegitables, and some of them were getting rather saucy and mean. They had taken some of our horses and cattle also, besides taking our vegitation. Out of the 41 brethren of the mission there were only left at our fort 16 men. The rest had gone to the Settlements to see their families. On Saturday the 22nd two of the brethren went on to the Mountain to hunt sheep. William Buchanon and Edward Edwards. This was the last time we ever saw them. We concluded they were killed by the Indians as were heard seven shots fired on the mountain. The 23rd we changed our heard around. This we done for fear that the Indians would steal them. However, about 8 or 10 of them came up to the fort and wanted to know why we changed our heard around. We tried to satisfy them by saying to get them on bunch grass, but they were mad and bent on mischief.

At about eleven o’clock this same son of the Chief Qucit.Sub.Socuits came to fort and called Bro. James Wiseman Hunt to get a rope and go and catch his (Bro. Hunt’s) horse, as he wanted to trade for him. They started out, the Indian on horseback and Bro. Hunt on foot, walking ahead of him. He asked where the stock was and he pointed the heard out, and as he done so the Indian shot him. The ball struck him on the left of the back bone and ranging down lodged in the left thigh. The Indian then came back to the fort or within a couple of hundred yards and called to an Indian that stood there talking, who immediately started with him over the river.

Bro. Hunt called for help. The two who were guarding stock heard him and ran to him. He requested them to administer to him, which they did. One of them, Bro. Cutler, then came running to the fort, but too late for us to overtake the murderer. The brethren all started for the wounded man. Three of us taking our rifles and revolvers. As soon as Hunt was shot the Indians run off five head of horses across the river. When we arrived where Bro. Hunt lay we got him in a blanket and started for fort, Bro. Williams on horseback driving the horses.

We looked towards the river and here come about twenty Indians on horses painted black as crows carrying rifles. They came up to within about two hundred yards and fired. As I said, there was but three of us armed. Cutler, Huntington and myself. We returned their fire.

We were then about three fourths of a mile from camp. We kept them back so that the brethren could go ahead with the wounded brother. One Indian dismounted and crept up to good shooting distance, had us all in range and fired. The ball passed close to the head of Cutler and myself and struck Bro. Billings in the front finger of his right hand as he was carring one corner of the blanket. They continued to fire on us until we reached the fort. However, we succeeded in getting our stock all in the corrall. The Natives then went to the NE of the fort where they continued to fire on the corrall and fort till dark. They succeeded in setting fire to our hay that was stacked against the corrall, but the Indian who fired it paid the penalty with his life.

We kept up our guard all night and doing everything that could be done for Bro. Hunt, but he died about one o’clock the next morning, September 24th.

James Wiseman Hunt was a good exemplar Latter Day Saint, a true believer in the principals of the Everlasting Gospel, and died a marter to the faith, and I hope to meet him in the Resurrection of the just. He was a son of Daniel Hunt and has a brother at this writing, 1895, a bishop at St. Charles, Idaho.

On the morning of the 24th all was confusion. Indians all around and inside our fort. Had also sent for the ballence of band. We concluded to leave all to them and get away, if we could. They having shut off our water, which came from a spring NE of fort and run through our fort. Consequently we would have been without water in a few hours. If all our brethren had been there we could have held out longer.

We saddled up a horse a piece and one or two pack animals, leaving 15 waggons and about eighty head of cattle and in fact everything we had but the horses we rode and our arms. We rode out of the fort gate expecting every moment to be fired on, but through the mercy of our Heavenly Father we got safely away.

Many incidents occurred that is not necessary to mention. Not many of our brethren felt like shedding any more of the blood of the Lamanites. We had a better feeling for them than they for us, and I can say that the brethren of that Mission almost to man regreted that we had to, in self defence, do as much as we did. The Indians folowed us to Grand River, where we crossed and traveled until dark, made camp but built no fires.

After crossing Green River, Bro. Billings selected three of us, C.A. Huntington, Richard W. James and myself to travel up the river and to strike the Spanish Fork trail to intercept any of our brethren that might be coming back. We took about three days provision and started, the Co. keeping on the trail we went out.

Nothing of note occurred with us for the first two days. Our provisions were fast growing less. We also found ourselves in a strange predicament. The trail we were in search of, I presume, had become obliterated, for we never found it. We got entirely out of provisions, and went four days without eating. We then ripped off our mocasins soles which were of rawhide and roasted them, but it was poor food. Also killed a small dog that folowed us and eat him. By this time we had become so weak that we could not hunt for game. Our horses were becoming jaded as well as ourselves. We were in a manner barefoot as well as terably discouraged. We knew that we must travel NW to get out to the Vallies, but the prospect was discouraging, for when we would climb to the highest peak, there were a dozen more ahead of us higher than the one we were on. We at last came to an Indian encampment on Green River. One of our party went on ahead to the camp and being a good interpreter told them who we were. Also that we were starving, and told of our troubles with the Indians on Grand, which came very near lossing us our scalps. Any person that knows anything of the Indian nature knows that if you have trouble with one all are angry. The Utes are a very revengefull tribe. And as the whole story was told that we had killed some of them and they had killed three of our brethren, thy naturaly became angry. The Chief of this band was called Black Pine. When we got to their camp they treated us kindly, and gave us first a little bread, after an hour or so they gave us a little more, and in the afternoon they set out a camp kettle full of deer meat boiled to rages, and told us to eat all we wanted. This we done and suffered no inconvenience. The Chief put our traps in his lodge, and told us to make our beds by the side of his lodge, which we done, and lay down to sleep not aprehending any danger. But a kind Providence was watching over us.

The Indians went into council and kept it up until about twelve o’clock, whether to kill us or not. Every Indian but the Chief was in favor of taking our scalps. Their argument was that we had killed some of their kindred, Brothers, Fathers, Cousins or some relative, and that we deserved to die. However, the Chief prevailed and we were alowed to live.

I will have to brake the thread of our narrative to tell how we found all this out. The next year Richard W. James, one of our party became interpreter on the Spanish Fork Farm for the Indian Agent Doctor Forney. During that summer Chief Black Pine came in and recognised Bro. James and told him what is above written.

The next morning we left our Indian friends, they giving us a small sack of dried meat, and told us to go up the River about twenty five miles and there we would strike a trail made in the spring by White Eyes band, but as usual with us when we got there the trail was not in sight. Again we were thrown on our own reserves. Suffice to say that we made our way slowly to the head water of Provo River, foot sore, almost naked and weary. Here we knew not where we were, and at this particular point the kanyon seemed to turn to the south. We knew that was not our direction. We were in quite a quandery which way to go. We here killed one our horses and dried a part for future use. That night I retired apart from the brethren, and besought the Lord in prayer that he would show me the way out. The answer came in a dream, to go down the stream. In the morning I told my dream and they were willing. We packed one horse, and rode one, and two of us on foot. And on the second day reached Provo City, where the people came very near killing us with kindness. Reached Salt Lake City on the 20th day of October, where we found our families and friends in a state of great excitement. President Brigham Young had white men and Indians scouring the South in all directions. We were in the mountains twenty four days. My weight when I got home was one hundred and fifteen lbs. My usual weight being one hundred and fifty five lbs. End of Mission."