In the midst of Utah’s Black Hawk War between the Latter-day Saints and local Indian tribes, a brutal massacre happened in the settlement of Circleville, resulting in the tragic deaths of men, women, and children of the Koosharem Band of Paiutes.
In 1864, Brigham Young called fifty families to move into Paiute territory in Circle Valley, southern Utah. Initially, the settlement of Circleville boomed, and by 1865, nearly 100 families lived in Circleville. One inhabitant, Oluf Larsen, described relations with neighboring Paiutes as friendly. “There was a small tribe of friendly Indians living in the valley which we furnished with bread stuff and treated kindly. They in turn brought us venison and beaver meat.” Despite the seemingly mutually beneficial relationship, Larsen added, “we dared not attach too much confidence to them and watched their every move with suspicion.”
The settlers’ suspicions of the local Paiutes grew after one of Chief Black Hawk’s lieutenants, Tamartiz, led a raid on Circleville on November 25th, 1865. Although the Paiutes had nothing to do with the attack, the settlers were afraid of being attacked again and began acting more aggressively toward all American Indians. Violence increased in the area, with nearby settlements being raided and settlers killing Indians even suspected to be guilty of any crime against the settlers.
Growing tensions between local Indians and settlers increased and reached a climax in April of 1866. On April 22, Paiutes formerly viewed as friendly were spotted, allegedly behaving suspiciously, near Fort Sanford, 15 miles away from Circleville. A skirmish broke out between soldiers at the fort and the Indians, leaving one of the Paiutes dead and a soldier wounded.
When the Circleville settlers heard that previously peaceful Paiutes were involved in the skirmish, they grew suspicious that the Paiutes near them were involved with Black Hawk and were planning to attack the settlement. To prevent any potential attacks, the militia of Circleville, led by Major James T.S. Allred, went to the local Koosharem Band of Paiutes and convinced them to gather their people together and come to Circleville for a meeting, promising peace between the groups. A group of roughly 20 Paiutes gathered, and the men were led to the meetinghouse and tied together while the women and children were placed in a nearby cellar.
The Circleville settlers then sent a message to Colonel W.H. Dame and hoped to receive instructions on what to do with the imprisoned Paiutes. Erastus Snow, religious leader over Southern Utah, was with Colonel Dame when he received the message, and Snow told Dame to ensure the prisoners were treated kindly.
Unfortunately, the message was not received in time. When several Paiute men attempted to escape, they, along with all the other male prisoners, were immediately shot. Fearing survivors would report the violence to Black Hawk and return with reinforcements, the Circleville guards proceeded to slit the throats of all the Paiute women and children who were old enough to remember the horrific event, sparing only a few children. A total of 15 to 18 Paiutes were killed.
Although the Circleville inhabitants claimed they acted in self-defense, today the event is remembered as a tragic massacre of innocent Paiutes. In honor of those murdered, on April 22, 2016, a monument with inscriptions written by the Paiute Tribe was dedicated in Circleville and includes the Paiute oral history of the event. The Tribe wrote: “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.”