Here’s a fascinating story that includes an experience George Kirkham had in 1863. George’s wife, Mary Ann Astington is the sister of Eliza Astington who was married to James Blundell Smuin.
The 1913 History of Lehi, states, “In the spring of 1863, Lehi was witness to one of the most somber events of her whole history. A number of soldiers from Fort Douglas, enjoying a vacation at Fort Crittenden, as Camp Floyd had later been named, wounded two Indians and frightened the squaws of a neighboring camp. It was all done in a spirit of deviltry and without provocation, so the Indians swore revenge on ‘the men who wore the blue coats,’ and unfortunately confused these with the drivers of the mail coaches.”
Regardless of the reason, the spring of 1863 was not a good time to be a mail coach driver. On March 13th, John Garr and William Empy were camped in Scull Valley, Tooele county, at Garr’s herd ground when a party of eight Indians started shooting at their tent. Garr and Empy returned fire and were able to get to their horses and escape. The Indians took what they could carry, killed a “fine cow and calf that were in the corral”, and burned the rest. A posse of nine men soon were after them but they got away.
On Sunday March 25th, the mail stage was attacked by what was thought to be a “band of hostile Humbolt Indians” about ten miles west of Deep Creek (also in Tooele county). The driver and a passenger were killed, but Judge Mott, the delegate to Congress from Nevada who was also on the stage, was spared. Soon after the stage was attacked, two men were attacked and killed at Eight Mile Station. According to the Deseret News, “The two bodies were found on Monday, scalped and stripped.” Eight horses were also stolen and the stable and hay had been burned. Forty horses were also stolen from Deep Creek Ranch. Willow Station was attacked but the attackers were driven off, Boyd’s Station was also attacked and three horses were stolen and some hay was burned. The mail company immediately asked for assistance from the army.
On April 1, 1863, the Deseret News reported, “We are pleased to learn that the Overland Mail Company feels perfectly satisfied that the Indians, who threatened last week to interrupt the communication between this and Carson, are now unable to make any successful demonstration of hostility. Since our issue we have seen several gentlemen from the west, who report ‘no Indians to be seen,’ and the public business over that route goes on uninterruptedly.
A detachment of fifty men, 2d Cavalry, C.V., have gone by the Humbolt to Ruby, and to Deep Creek, if required. Another detachment of twenty-five men were sent over the mail route, and another third detachment of twenty-five men were sent by Scull Valley, in the hopes of coming up with the Indians somewhere.”
The soldiers involvement only seemed to make the problem worse. In their attempt to catch the guilty party, they attacked several innocent tribes in the area. This only caused the innocent tribes to seek retribution and go on the “war path”. Regardless of the mail company’s reassurance, the attacks continued. On the 19th of May, the stage carrying one or two passengers and four soldiers, left Deep Creek. W. R. Simpson was driving and Major Egan was riding “shotgun” beside him. When they were about 14 miles from the station, three shots were fired from some rocks by the roadside. Simpson was killed instantly and Egan grabbed the reins to prevent the horses from running away. Four more shots were fired and the soldiers returned fire. As soon as the dead man was placed inside the stage, “thinking discretion the better part of valor, Major Egan, who had become the driver’s successor, left the scene of action as quickly as possible.”
According to the 1913 Lehi History, “On Tuesday evening, June 9, a number of the red skins told Mrs. William Ball, who then lived at the Jordan Bridge, and whose family was extremely friendly with the Indians, that on the next day they were going to kill the mail driver and ‘blue coats.’ Mrs. Ball warned the driver, who was then on his way to Fort Crittenden, but he could do nothing by way of preparation.
The next day, June 10, George Kirkham, then a boy of twelve, was herding cattle west of the Jordan, about one mile north-west of the Cold Springs. Seeing the mail coach come flying in the distance, his curiosity was aroused, and he followed its course closely. In a short time he could discern a number of horsemen following the vehicle and then he could see that they were Indians and were firing at it. Ever faster they came, the driver making a great effort to reach the road to the ford across the river, which was about three miles below the bridge. He had cut through the country in order to gain this haven, but finally the savages turned him south, drove him into high brush, and the speed of his horses was checked. First his leaders fell and when a wheeler went down, too, he dismounted and stood behind the other, firing at his assailants as rapidly as possible. Finally both he and his last horse were shot down, and the sole passenger in the coach was murdered with him. The drivers name was Wood Reynolds, and because of his bravery the Indians cut his heart out and ate it, believing that some of his courage would in that way pass to them. They then scalped both their victims and mutilated the bodies terribly.
In the meantime, Kirkham had run for the bridge, and after delivering his horrible tidings there, had gone on to Lehi and started a posse out for the scene of blood. But it was too late. The Indians had departed and nothing remained but to take the bodies of the men to Salt Lake City.”
Thankfully, cooler heads soon prevailed and peace between the government and the native tribes was sought. A treaty was agreed upon and peace was restored.
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This article was posted by Lee Anderson on the Lehi Historical Society and Archives Facebook page on 3 Feb 2021.
Photo: “Stagecoach Pursued by Mounted Indians” by Richard Lorenz.