Westward expansion for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints largely occurred in the year 1850 under the leadership of Brigham Young, a governor of Utah Territory and prophet of the Church. He sent pioneer families to various parts of Utah Territory to settle the regions by building ditches, forts, and homes. In present-day Payson, settlers named one settlement “Peteetneet” after a local Ute chief. Relations between the settlers and Chief Peteetneet fluctuated throughout the years.
The pioneer settlers took possession of Ute land and game resources, inciting the natives to take settlers’ horses and cattle for their own use. In response to this presumably unwarranted theft, Brigham Young ordered a militia to drive out all local Utes. A violent fight ensued and after it ended, U.S. Army surgeon Dr. James Blake decapitated three Utes for scientific research. Upset by such disrespectful treatment of his people, Chief Peteetneet confronted Latter-day Saint leaders at Fort Utah. Brigham Young instructed Big Chief to write to Chief Peteetneet and several others about coexistence and cooperation. The letter states, “I know the difference between good Indians and bad Indians... we can live with good Indians, and will do them good… Indians must do as God tells them, through Mormon chief, and be good and learn to work, raise grain, and learn all Mormons know.” Over the years, Chief Peteetneet wavered between welcoming these religious settlers and wishing they would leave. In 1854, he expressed a desire to return to his lands even if that meant living near the settlers and accepting Brigham Young’s invitation to learn to build houses, raise grain, and live in peace.
When the Latter-day Saints faced war with the U.S. Army in 1857, they considered the Utes their allies. Chief Peteetneet, however, stated that if the Latter-day Saints intended to fight the United States, the Utes would not help them in order to avoid battles on Ute land. Additionally, Chief Peteetneet said he was a friend to both Americans and Latter-day Saints and was simply doing what Brigham Young told him to do by raising grain and avoiding conflict.
Another dispute between the Latter-day Saints and Chief Peteetneet arose with the arrival of Indian agent Garland Hurt. Hurt openly hated the pioneer settlers and gave Chief Peteetneet gifts that surpassed the trading relations the Utes had with the settlers. Brigham Young suspected that Hurt was exerting “an influence for evil” over Chief Peteetneet to make relations difficult for the Latter-day Saints. However, although Chief Peteetneet did not always get along with Brigham Young’s settlers, he continued to treat them with respect.
As Hurt’s relationship with the Latter-day Saints continued to deteriorate, he fled the territory alongside some Utes. Chief Peteetneet agreed to stay behind to scatter any government cattle and horses and catch up with Hurt’s group soon after. Amidst the confusion of scattering government resources, Chief Peteetneet encountered several Utes who had stolen some of the settlers’ cattle and ordered that they honorably return them. Chief Peteetneet protected and preserved Brigham Young’s settlers on several other occasions.
The settlers eventually built a house for Chief Peteetneet and his wife (fondly nicknamed Old Lady Peteetneet), which is now known as the Payson Indian Farm. Chief Peteetneet achieved his wish of peacefully living on Ute land.