Published on February 24, 2013 by Carol
For over a hundred years there were two grave stones in the small cemetery west of Fairfield (Utah County) Utah which to anyone who saw them, were a source of reverent awe and vicarious adventure. Carved of light colored sandstone, they were about three feet high and three inches thick, with rounded tops – the writing much worn. At the top of one was a representation of two hands clasped together in eternal friendship. They once stood upright, but had long been broken and lay in several pieces on the ground.
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These stones marked two graves just within the fence surrounding the Carson family plot in the cemetery. To the side of one of these graves, but outside of the fence, was a third grave. This one was unmarked for many years, noticeable only because of the depression in the ground caused by the collapse of a wooden casket buried in the dirt beneath.
In recent years the old broken stones were removed and replaced with more durable granite markers. The new stones faithfully recorded the information found on the other memorials:
George Carson Washington Carson
Oct. 2, 1827 Apr. 18, 1830
Feb. 22, 1856 Feb. 22, 1856
In addition, a third stone was provided for Henry Moran who was buried in the previously unmarked grave outside the family plot. Curiously, all three stones record the same date of death, February 22, 1856, and each stone is marked with the ominous inscription:
KILLED BY INDIANS
It is this inscription – killed by Indians – that has set the stones apart and lent them their special place in the cemetery. Without the inscription, the graves would not engender in the viewer that awe we have come to imagine of the brave frontiersman protecting his pioneer family from the “noble savage”, or the sense of adventure we seem to miss in our own lives.
Without the inscriptions and their fascination, neither family members nor the casual visitors to the cemetery would hardly pause to read these names and dates, which are no more remarkable than those recorded on the other markers in the graveyard. Yet some of these less interesting markers are all that remain of men and women who perhaps had much more interesting and important lives.
To have been killed by Indians has given the two brothers, George and Washington, sons of George Carson and his wife Ann Hough, an honored place in family history. Perhaps this compensates in part for their lack of posterity, as each had only one child, Washington’s being born several months after his death. Both children were daughters and no direct descendants bear their surname.
When one sees the markers, certain questions invariably come to mind: How did the two brothers come to be killed by Indians on the same day? What were the events of that day and what led up to them? And who were the Indians that killed them, and why?
The story of the deaths has become a family tradition, and like all stories handed from generation to generation, has grown and been elaborated upon over the years. As it is generally told now it resembles more legend than fact.
Elvin Carson, a grandson of John Carson, George and Washington’s older brother, tells the traditional family story in this way:
Before the white men moved into the valley to make their homes, this locality was the home of the Tintic Tribe of Indians, and was ruled over by White Elk as their Chief. This tribe of Indians was very ferocious and hated the whites. But they were indeed a picturesque group of people. White Elk was a brave Indian with flashing black eyes, two long braids of black hair which hung down in front of his shoulders, a sharp tomahawk slung at his belt, and always had a little Indian boy along to carry his quiver full of arrows.
One day White Elk walked boldly into town and handed the person in charge of the community a bunch of arrows with a dead rattlesnake attached. This was the Indians’ way of declaring war. That night the people saw dozens of gleaming fires south of town.
White Elk was ready to strike and his braves were ready for the kill. A posse of men rode out, bent on arresting the few Indians causing the trouble. The Indians were sullen and wouldn’t talk. An old squaw stood nearby and fearing the life of her guilty son, lifted her spear and threw it at George Carson who was astride a horse nearby. He saw her and just in time raised his leg to ward it off, but her aim was true, and the spear struck him and lodged in his leg. Suddenly shots rang out and George Carson fell from his horse, mortally wounded.
The Indians at once headed pell-mell for the dense cave banks near Utah Lake. There they met and killed Washington Carson and Henry Moran who were caring for some cattle near the lake. The same day George died (the 22nd of February 1856) making three deaths by the Indians that day.
At this point White Elk make the mistake of his life. He and his band started across the frozen lake. When about a third of the way across the ice began to break. There was no turning back, for the posse had reached the lake shore. Even White Elk could not escape. They saw him go down waving his tomahawk in defiance as he headed for the Happy Hunting Grounds.
Thus ended the Tintic War so far as Fairfield was concerned. It was true other members of the tribe struck in other places, but to Fairfield goes the honor of bringing the wild old chief to an end and making the valley safe for future generations. Of course people were happy to be free from Indian worries, but there was a deep sadness over the little community, for nearly one hundred men had been killed.”
This is essentially what most family members have known of the story. Unfortunately no family member who was present that day in Cedar Valley and Utah Valley has left a written account. Even the Deseret News only records that: “some Indians killed two herdsmen on the west side of Utah Lake on the 21st, or early on the 22nd…” and then a few days later adds a few details.
Several members of the posse, however, who were there have left accounts of the uprising as part of their own journals and life histories. These have been gathered together in this booklet to provide as complete a story as possible.
In many ways the reality was far different from the family story, but just as interesting. Some of the eye-witness accounts were written much later and contain their own inconsistencies. In a few cases what has been recorded is not flattering to the family.
The remainder of the booklet attempts to bring these eye-witness accounts together and tell the “true story” of the deaths of George and Washington Carson during the Tintic War and the events of the following summer.