CIRCLEVILLE, Piute County — A new memorial will mark a dark but rarely mentioned moment in Utah history when Mormon settlers slaughtered as many as 30 Paiute men, women and children in the small town of Circleville 150 years ago.
The massacre with guns, knives and clubs happened in April 1866 during the Black Hawk War because of unfounded fears by the settlers that the Paiute Koosharem band posed a threat, even though the two groups had been friendly.
Despite being the worst atrocity committed against Native Americans in Utah, it became a hidden chapter in state history. Paiute people know little of what happened to their ancestors. Circleville residents — none of whom are original descendants of the perpetrators — don't talk about it.
But that is changing.
The Paiute Tribal Council, Utah Division of State History, Circleville, LDS Church Historical Department, Utah Westerners and some independent historians felt compelled to recognize the victims.
On April 22 — the suspected date of the massacre — they will dedicate a monument to the slain Paiutes in Memorial Park in Circleville. It will provide a solemn place of contemplation and commemoration to honor the victims of one of Utah’s saddest episodes.
"I think it's going to be beautiful," said Dorena Martineau, Paiute Tribe cultural resources director. "Hopefully the remains, the spirits of our past ancestors can come to rest."
The Paiute Tribe wrote the inscriptions for the granite monument, which in part say, "None of us can ever hope to describe the emotions that these people might have felt. All we can do is honor their existence as human beings."
"The story here is about the victims, and it's about the process of forgetting the victims," said Jed Rogers, a Utah state historian. "How is that we have a tragic event that very, very few people in this state know anything about. That, to me, compounds the tragedy of Circleville."
More widely known is the Mountain Meadows Massacre when Mormons in southern Utah killed 120 men, women and children on a wagon train emigrating from Arkansas to California in September 1857.
Martineau said the tribe is grateful that the time has finally come to remember the Circleville Massacre. Historians, Boy Scouts and others had approached the Paiute Tribe about building a memorial going back a decade.
Brad Westwood, Utah history division director, said plans came together as the 150th anniversary of the incident approached. He said it was "brave and wonderful" for the various parties to gather for the same cause, including a reconciliation meeting between Paiute tribal leaders and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Donations to build the monument came from the LDS Church, the Utah Westerners and private sources, he said.
The massacre took place early in the seven-year Black Hawk War between settlers and native people in central Utah that ended in 1872.
In early 1865, Utes raided the town of Circleville, killing two men and two 13-year-old boys.
A year later, Parowan militia officers decided to "take in all straggling Indians in the vicinity" — including Paiutes, with whom Circleville residents had traded baked goods and other items on friendly terms, according to the state history division. They were questioned at Fort Sanford and released.
Militia members targeted Paiutes out of paranoia, distrust and the mistaken impression that they had allied with the Utes, Rogers said.
On April 21, a dispatch from Fort Sanford to Circleville stated that two formerly friendly Paiutes had shot and wounded a member of the Utah militia. What the report did not include was that one of the Paiutes had been injured, while the other had been shot and killed by a soldier’s long-range rifle, according to the state history division.
Settlers and local LDS leaders in Circleville decided to take the local Paiutes prisoner and sent a messenger to have them come into town and hear a letter read by the local LDS bishop.
The settlers told the Paiutes to give up their arms and when they were reluctant, the settlers forcefully disarmed them. Men were sent to bring in the Paiutes who had refused to come in the first time. One Paiute who attempted to escape was shot. The prisoners, including women and children, were held under guard in an unused cellar of a mill.
LDS Church apostle Erastus Snow received a report from Circleville and instructed that the prisoners should be treated kindly and let go unless “hostile or affording aid to the enemy.” But the missive arrived too late.
Undetected by the soldiers, the Paiute men had managed to untie the ropes that bound them. They waited until the evening when the guards changed and then attacked their captors. All of the Paiutes were shot and killed in the struggle.
Panicked by the bloody incident, the soldiers felt it necessary — as one resident put it — to "dispose of the squaws and papooses" to prevent them from telling of the massacre and inciting further violence. The women and children were brought from the cellar one at a time and killed, according to the history division.
No one was ever tried and punished for the killings, and the tragedy was largely swept from the state's history.
"This event should be known. It should recognized and should be placed in the larger context and significance of Utah history," Rogers said. "(It's) something that should be reflected in our textbooks, in our general histories and in our consciousness."