Timpanogos Chief Old Elk

During the Black Hawk War, one more loathsome act remained to unfold which would haunt the Mormons for many decades to follow, even to the present day. Hickman hung the head of Old Elk from the eves of his cabin. A witness at Fort Utah told reporters, "...it was hung pendant by its long hair from the willows of the roof of one of the houses. I well remember how horrible was the sight." - Robert Carter Fort Utah.


"It was with reluctance that the Timpanogos Indians who met the Higbee colony in March, 1848, permitted the first white settlement on Provo River, and that, too, in spite of the invitation previously extended to the colonists by the chiefs, Sowiette and Walker, to settle among their tribes and teach them how to become civilized. It has also been stated that soon after Fort Utah was founded, according to Colonel Bridger and Mr. Vasquez Timpanogos Chief Wakara (Walker) began stirring up the Indians against the "Mormon" settlers. In this movement Wakara was aided by another chief named Elk, variously styled Big Elk, Old Elk, etc., like himself a hater of the whites, and apparently quite as fond of fighting.

It was with Big Elk and his band that the Provo settlers, in their first regular battle with the savages, had im-mediately to deal. It was believed by Governor Young that Colonel Bridger and other mountaineers were at the bottom of much of the ill-feeling manifested by the red men, and they were incited to attack the "Mormon" settlements. The Governor, (Brigham Young), however, seemed to have confidence in Mr. Vasquez, who had opened a small store in Salt Lake City, and whose interests to that extent were identified with those of the settlers. - Source: Peter Gottfredson Indian Depredations in Utah

Two days after the battle at Fort Utah, General H. Wells who had arrived from Salt Lake, ordered young Black Hawk to lead a serial killer by the name of Bill Hickman and his men up Rock Canyon to pursue the survivors. In freezing temperatures and deep snow, Black Hawk, having no choice in the matter, did as he was ordered and led the men up Rock Canyon. Lookouts scaled the steep walls of the canyon as Wells and his men slowly made their way up the rugged canyon, Black Hawk reluctantly followed behind.

When they reached the camp of the survivors, women and children in terror were scattering about. Black Hawk was ordered to look in to the teepees. There Black Hawk saw his beloved relative Old Elk frozen to death, and many others who had died of their wounds lay frozen stiff in the cold.

The Mormon vigilantes greedily helped themselves taking from the dead their belongings, while Bill Hickman, with knife in hand, hacked Old Elk's head off from his frozen body. He said Jim Bridger had offered him a hundred dollars for the head. Old Elk's wife refused to be taken captive, broke free and ran for her life. She scaled the steep cliffs, but while doing so either jumped, or slipped and fell to her death. Hence the Mormon's disrespectfully dubbed the canyon "Squaw Peak" which is located above the Provo LDS Temple; a name that endures to this day. Hickman and his men returned to Fort Utah, Hickman showing off his trophy, the head of Old Elk.

Of the seventy or so warriors, only about thirteen had escaped. Only one life was lost among the Mormons. One of the warriors that managed to survive was taken captive. This was An-kar-tewets, the same one that Church leaders Dimmick and the Higbee brothers earlier had sworn an oath to that no harm would come to the Natives, and that their land and rights would not be taken away, and that they would be given many gifts."

Dr. James Blake, a surgeon among the Stansbury company, was greatly influenced by Hickman's trophy of Old Elk's head. Dr. Blake then ordered troops Abner Blackburn and James Orr to go out and behead each of the frozen corpses lying about in the snow, following the two-day battle that resulted in the deaths of 70 Indian people. Dr. Blake told the men he "wanted to have the heads shipped to Washington to a medical institution."

The men hacked from the frozen corpses as many as 50 heads. They piled them in open boxes, along with a dozen or so Mallard ducks Blake had shot while his men performed their chore. The heads and ducks were taken to the fort and placed in view of Black Hawk who was barely in his twenties, and his traumatized kin. Innocent of any wrongdoing, the captives were thus tortured as they were forced to view the grizzly remains placed before them for a period of two long and excruciating weeks. Abner, keeping the agreement, delivered the rotting heads and ducks to Blake in Salt Lake. Dr. Blake settled up, and invited Abner to dinner. Abner Blackburn declined, saying he had lost his appetite.

See: Battle Creek & Fort Utah