Following the events of the Gunnison Massacre in October 1853, most white settlers concluded that Moshoquop was a blood-thirsty “savage.” This article by Josiah F. Gibbs, however, describes his personal experiences with the Pahvant chief, which offer a completely different view. In order to save the lives of his “whitemen” guests from other hostile Indians camped nearby, Moshoquop risked his own life and that of his entire tribe, unbeknownst to his sleeping guests. Read on to discover the depths of Moshoquop’s compassion, loyalty, brotherhood, and gracious dignity.
“Moshoquop, the Avenger, as Loyal Friend,” by Josiah F. Gibbs
Utah Historical Quarterly, Volume 2, January, 1929, Number 1
The July, 1928, number of the Utah Historical Quarterly carried a story of the Indian version of the Gunnison Massacre, 1853, near the present town of Deseret, Utah. The narrative left Moshoquop in the traditional light of a merciless, avenging savage, in whom persisted only the instincts and passions of primitive men—the heritage of almost limitless time and ancestry.
It will now be a labor of love and duty to unmask the relentless war-chief of the Pahvants, of whom Chief Kanosh was the intelligent, just and merciful leader, and re-introduce Moshoquop as a loyal friend and protector from beneath whose reserved and dignified exterior occasionally emerged examples of moral courage, loyalty and gratitude—unconscious manifestations of Christian virtues not too conspicuous in many professed followers of the peerless Son of Man.
A few glimpses of early life in Utah, and of my first intimate contact as a boy with the younger members of the Ute tribe, will form a fitting back-ground to the story of Moshoquop’s heroism, though in no specific way connecting with Moshoquop.
During the months of November and December, 1857, the year of our arrival in Utah, quite a large number of boys, whose homes were in North Salt Lake, were in the habit of daily bathing in the Warm Springs, to which I was an unfortunate addict. Frequently, the bath continued during several hours, when from the delicious temperature of the water we sprang to the edge of the pool, and urged by the generally ice-cold northwest winds donned our cotton shirts and pants, and shoes if sufficiently fortunate to have them, then raced to our respective homes, warmed by scrub cedar, or sagebrush from “over Jordan”—more often the latter. It was a miracle, the only I ever encountered, that pneumonia so rarely resulted from those sudden exits from nearly boiling water to zero atmosphere. However, along about Christmas, an acute attack of inflammatory rheumatism forced me to bed, and held me there until the early spring.
Then came the “Move”—see Utah histories, 1857-1858 (out of the way of Johnston’s Army). Father’s trek to the south ended at Summit creek, now Santaquin. Every house and nearly every habitable barn in central Utah was overflowing with refugees from northern Utah, who would remain, or move on, depending on the settlement of the slight misunderstanding with Uncle Sam, whose “army” of 2,500 men was in winter quarters at Fort Bridger. There was not a vacant room in Summit, and father made camp among the willows and cottonwoods near the creek, a few rods south of the village, where he built a rude shelter of interlaced willows and clay—“our” only “happy home” during five months.
A mile or so south of our not altogether uncomfortable “wickiup” a large encampment of Utes occupied both sides of the creek. (It was a question of “pulling through”—not of sanitation.)
Contrary to the general interpretation of Utah history, the winter of 1857-1858 was gloriously mild, dry and pleasant. Spring, with its alternations of warming sun, light clouds and warm rains, came early. One morning father moved me out for my first sun-bath. Fully clad, propped up with pillows and covered with quilts, free from pain, but still weak in my lower limbs, I looked out on my rediscovered world of majestic mountains, greening valley, with Utah lake, a few miles distant to the north, glinting in the early morning sunlight.
Presently there came to my super-sensitive ear drums the faint pit-pat of human feet. With easy, swinging strides a slender Indian boy was approaching from the south. He paused at the foot of my cot and keenly looked at the rheumatic invalid. A year or so my senior (I was nearing my 13th year), his frank, happy, boyish face had not hardened into the grave, immobile features of the older men of his tribe, nor had his soul yet been seared by legendary tales of tribal wars, of pillaged and burned villages, of murdered squaws and papooses.
“Heap sick?” he abruptly asked. “No,” I replied, “legs sick,” and waved my arms as evidence that I was all right above my hips, then explained as best I could the nature of my affliction. He nodded understandingly. Doubtless, he had daily passed to and fro over the Indian path to the village, and had seen members of my family, and had learned of the presence of the sick “Mormon” papoose. Doubtless, he realized my craving for companionship and decided to gratify it.
After setting a target at a distance of about 25 feet, he returned to the side of my cot and gave me my first lesson in the use of bow and arrow shooting. During an hour or two the Indian boy chased arrows for his pupil, manifesting as keen delight when, by accident, I made a close or center shot, as if made by himself.
At about the same hour next morning my Indian friend was at my cot-side. Again he chased arrows for me, and shared my boyish pleasure at evidences of rapid improvement.
A few days of penetrating sun-rays, exercise of my arms and body, and mild perspiration—thanks to the ingenious method of the Indian boy, figuratively, “put me on my feet.” With his aid I was soon able to walk, and then began our hunting tramps for rabbits and other small game. One morning my companion surprised me with a gift of a beautiful bow, made from mountain sheep horn, backed by sinew, and a dozen or so cane arrows, tipped with greasewood spikes. It was a priceless token of friendship that in memory has never dimmed. Frequently I was at the Indian camp, and mingled freely with the youngsters and their parents. During those often all-day visits I heard no “back-talk” from children to their parents, nor of quarreling. Socially, their intercourse was frank, open-hearted and generous—entirely free from affectation, egotism and hypocrisy.
Such was my first experience among the redmen, and today, while awaiting the final sunset, that first intimate contact with the Ute Indians is one of the most cherished memories of my life.
Early in June, “Johnston’s army” had passed through the silent city of Salt Lake, and on to Camp Floyd. Danger of conflict had passed, and father returned to Salt Lake. Five years afterward our family moved to Fillmore, where frequent contacts with the redmen continued for more than a score of years.
The chief objective of a visit to the mountains made by father and me, July 3, 1871, far back in the Pahvant Range, was to explore North fork of Chalk creek for saw-timber, with the view of building a sawmill, provided accessible timber justified. The minor incentive was that of quietly passing Independence Day within the forest and shadows of Nature’s “templed hills.”
We ascended the South fork to Cherry creek, where the road ended. Following the ancient trail to the head of Cherry creek, we emerged from the canyon onto the open, grass-covered summit of the Pahvant range an hour or so before sunset.
To the north a half-mile or so distant, a band of Indian ponies was quietly grazing on the smooth divide, which proved the presence of the owners, and evidently right in the way of our crossing over into the North fork.
Five years had passed since Black Hawk and about 200 of his renegade warriors had raided Scipio, killed two of the residents, and driven away 400-500 head of cattle and horses. But five years were not enough to dim one’s memory of the tragedy, nor of the strenuous pursuit by Captain James C. Owen’s cavalry, in which I had participated. I suggested a retreat to the friendly depths of Cherry creek canyon. Father protested that the Pahvants were our friends; that doubtless the Indians whoever they might be, had discovered our presence, therefore it were better that we “face the music.” (There was a marked difference between father and me—he was confiding, while I have ever bristled with interrogation points.)
On arriving at the summit of the divide, we were greeted with shouts of welcome from a small band of Pahvants who, accompanied by their squaws and papooses, were on a hunting expedition. They were camped near a large spring, a hundred fifty yards or so down the hillside. Beyond, and about the same distance to the northeast, was another and larger encampment. Two incongruous details attracted my attention—if they were Pahvants, why did they camp apart, and where were the women and children of the second band?
We rode down to the nearest camp and received hearty welcomes from Moshoquop and his companions. Narrient, brother of Moshoquop, and Nimrod, so-named by whitemen, and a prized friend of the writer, were the other hunters whose names are now remembered. It was from Nimrod that, subsequently, the interpretation of the mystifying incidents of that evening and early morning at Moshoquop’s camp was obtained.
With genuine hospitality Moshoquop requested a couple of young hunters to relieve our tired horses of their equipment and picket them nearby. Father suggested hobbling, but for reasons then unknown, Moshoquop insisted on picketing, then turned to his wife; “Ruth, Gibb and boy hungry, cook deer meat.” Ruth had been reared in a pioneer family, but instinct, and love for the war-chief, had impelled a reversion to the life of her ancestors.
It was hardly dusk when father suggested spreading our blankets, and asked our host where it would be most convenient. Moshoquop assisted in carrying our blankets, saddles and rifles to the south side of a huge log, assisted in spreading the blankets—head to north against the log, then remarked, “Tie sareech (dog) here,” indicating an upright limb at the head of the bed. “Mebbeso steal deer meat,” was the reason given by the warchief. (“Victor,” a large New Foundland cross, because of his size and exceptional friendliness, was a general favorite among the redmen, and had been well fed by the Indian children. “Tie sareech here,” was a mere detail of Moshoquop’s unrevealed program.) He then advised against removing our clothing, “Morning heap cold,” he said, and returned to his wickiup, a hundred feet or so distant.
Father was well along in life, not accustomed to horseback riding, was soon soundly sleeping. While not apprehending danger, there was a sub-conscious realization that in Moshoquop’s detailed arrangement of our bed, the nearness of Victor—our “night guard,” the convenience of our fire-arms and nearby horses, suggested preparations for a fight or flight, perhaps both. But why?
Another enigma: Moshoquop had not imparted the slightest information regarding the identity of the occupants of the other camp, none of whom had visited the Pahvants during the evening. Finally I slept, but frequently disturbed by Victor’s cold nose on my cheek.
It was well along towards morning, when it is “darkest just before day,” that I was awakened by Moshoquop’s stentorian voice. Standing by the small campfire, the fitful flames of which added a singular weirdness to the scene and hour, Moshoquop, his body erect as the pines of his native forest, was facing the camp of the stranger Indians, but seemingly addressing his remarks to the night-enveloped wilderness.
Father arose to a sitting posture, rubbed his eyes to convince himself that he was not dreaming, then asked, “What is that sleepless savage talking about?” I replied that apparently he had just begun an address to the departing night, or of welcome to the approaching day—that I was equally mystified as himself. Even for an Indian, the war-chief was exceptionally reticent. But out into the darkness of that memorable night his words rolled and vibrated in typically Indian eloquence. (Could the people generally listen to a phonographic record of Moshoquop’s impassioned oration, with its vivid coloring and life-like verbal pictures, and understand, they would absolve the North American Indians of their wholesale indictment of “savages”—they would blush for shame at the treatment accorded them in the past, and which, except in rare instances, and with hardly less cruelty, yet persists.)
Moshoquop described the condition of his people prior to the advent of the pioneers. He told of the suffering and death of his tribesmen during the long and severe winters when the snow lay deep on the ground, and driven by the fierce winds how it drifted into their wickiups, putting out their small fires, covering their scant bedding, and often burying the aged, sick and infirm; how their supplies of food, stored for winter use, were often exhausted weeks in advance of the melting snow.
The war-chief then spoke of the coming of the white settlers “with hearts like squaws;” of their pity for the ignorance and poverty of the redmen; how, from their also scanty supplies, they divided their food and clothing with them; that when their papooses were sick the white mothers gave them milk, nursed them back to life, and taught the dark-skinned mothers how to take better care of their children. Moshoquop’s closing words yet ring in my ears, they were:
“And before we will permit harm to our white brothers, the Pahvants will die.”
A year after the events just narrated, Nimrod told me that the strange Indians were trespassers from Wayne county—a fragment of Black Hawk’s band of thieves and murderers; that after father and I had retired, they proposed that Moshoquop permit our assassination, and the appropriation of our horses, guns and other equipment.
The Black Hawk renegades outnumbered Moshoquop’s warriors at least two to one, therefore the careful preparations for our escape in the event of trouble. And in his silence thereafter concerning his intervention for our safety, we find in Moshoquop a delicacy of feeling in shielding us from any sense of obligation to him that is rare among civilized men.
And such was the dual nature of the merciless leader of the Gunnison Massacre.