Utah Stories from the Beehive Archive

The Circleville Massacre

Circleville Massacre.jpg

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The Circleville Massacre


Tensions between white settlers and Native Americans resulted in the massacre of over a dozen Paiutes in Circleville, Utah.

In 1866, one of the worst tragedies in Utah history occurred in the town of Circleville on what is now the Piute-Garfield county border. Utah Territory was in a state of war, with white settlers from Sanpete and Sevier counties squaring off against a band of Utes, Paiutes, and Navajos under the leadership of Black Hawk (also known as Antonga). By the spring of 1866, war hysteria had reached fever pitch and the citizens of Circleville, who had already survived two Indian raids, were growing increasingly worried that a local band of historically friendly Paiutes were secretly helping Black Hawk. Marching out to the Paiute's encampment, militiamen were able to convince the Indians to come to Circleville, where their weapons were confiscated and they were imprisoned, the men in the town's meetinghouse, and the women and children in an unfinished cellar nearby.

Letters and other historical sources don’t always agree on what happened next. But the evidence seems to suggest that a few of the Paiute men were able to slip their bonds and attempt an escape. A vigilant guard, however, discovered them and raised the alarm. In the short battle that followed, most of the Paiute men were killed, and the rest were put with the women and children.

Frightened by the possibility of another escape attempt, the people of Circleville held a public meeting, according to one historian, where they decided to kill the rest of the Paiutes. One by one, the militia took the Indian men, women, and children from the dark cellar, led them outside, and slit their throats. Only a few of the children were spared. At least sixteen Paiutes were killed at Circleville. No one, however, was ever held accountable for the slaughter.


Brandon Johnson for Utah Humanities © 2007


Image: Left to right: Territorial Governor Charles Durkee may have known of the massacre but took no action; Kanosh, a Pahvant chief, said the event destroyed Indian confidence in white promises; Erastus Snow believed "a closer enquiry" was called for. Courtesy of Utah State Historical Society. 

See Albert Winkler, “The Circleville Massacre: A Brutal Incident in Utah’s Black Hawk War,” Utah Historical Quarterly 55 (Winter 1987): 4-21; John Alton Peterson, Utah’s Black Hawk War (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1998), 243-248; and Linda King Newell, A History of Piute County (Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society and Piute County Commission, 1999), 81-87. Also see John Alton Petersons’ entry on the Black Hawk War in the online Utah History Encyclopedia at www.media.utah.edu/UHE, as well as the September 1995 collection of the History Blazer, a joint project of the Utah State Historical Society and the Utah State Centennial Commission. The History Blazer can be found on the Utah History Suite CD available from the Utah State Historical Society.


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