Chief Sanpitch was the father of Antonga Black Hawk and a brother of Timpanogos leaders Wakara, Sowiette, Arapeen, Ammon, Tobia (Tabby), and Grospean. Each having suffered from the brutal massacre of fifty of their tribesmen and family members who were beheaded at Fort Utah.
Following seventeen years of severe hardship because of Mormon colonization, broken treaties, destruction of the environment, taking of their land, and the massacre of hundreds of Shoshone at Bear River. The Timpanogos had reached the point where the logical choice was to retaliate to defend their rights and provide protection for their people.
Timpanogos leaders had led several forays against the whites taking their cattle, doing whatever was possible to discourage the white expansion in to their domain.
Congress in 1864 authorized Treaty Negotiations for the Indians of Utah Territory, and on June 8, 1865 the Spanish Fork Treaty was negotiated with the Timpanogos Nation. However, the treaty would fail ratification as it bore the signature of Brigham Young, thus leaving intact the Uinta Valley Reservation, land belonging to the Timpanogos. Congress declared "rather than associate with Brigham Young on such an occasion, they would have the negotiations fail; they would rather the Indians, than the Mormons, would have the land." - Commission of Indian Affairs Annual Report 1865, O.H. Irish and Peter Gottfredson Indian Depredations in Utah
In 1866, Sanpitch and a few of his warriors were camped near Nephi. Brigham Young and Gen. Wells hearing of this laid plans to have Sanpitch and his men arrested. The strategy being that they could hold Sanpitch ransom to force the hand of his son Black Hawk. Believing that Black Hawk, upon learning of his capture, would try to free them; then the Mormon militia could capture Black Hawk. On the 14th of June the militia secretly surrounded the camp of Sanpitch and his men during the night. Just at dawn an old woman came out of one of the Tee Pees carrying wood to light a fire, she spotted some of the army men and yelled to alert the others. The militia quickly moved in, when one Indian tried to escape was shot down.
Accounts are not clear as to how many were captured and taken to jail at Manti. That among them were Sanpitch and Aukewakets. They were taken to a makeshift jail that was located above the city court house and the building was surrounded with guards. The prisoners were shackled and placed in the holding cell. During their time in jail they were allowed visitors by what were called "friendly Indians", the idea being that the visitors would be the message carriers to Black Hawk who was camped not to far from Manti. During the many visits a Indian woman and a little boy paid a visit and smuggled to the prisoners some knives, and a couple files to cut the shackles off. The prisoners made plans for their escape and began cutting the shackles off. The tedious work took some time to complete, using a file to cut through the steel.
On the 18th of June, just after dark, the woman sneaked past the guards, climbed the outside stairs to the holding cell and unlocked the cell releasing the prisoners. The prisoners made their escape, but not without being noticed by a person on the street below who yelled, "There go yer damn Indians" to the guards. Sanpitch was shot but only wounded while he continued to run into the mountains along with four others. Aukewakets running for his life dodging bullets made it to a pile of rocks. A man by the name of VanBruen being the quickest brought Aukewakets to his knees, and in defense picked up a rock threatening VanBruen with it, VanBruen clutched Aukewakets by the throat with one hand, and with the other managed to take from his pocket a pocket knife, opening the blade with his teeth, then with knife in hand cut the throat of Aukewakets, and held him down until he bled to death. At the same time W. A. Cox thought he saw something moved at the end of a pile of fence posts. He kicked at the posts when a Indian jumped out, Cox unloaded his gun shooting the man in the gut, then through the heart, the man kept coming at him so Cox hit him over the head a couple times with the butt of his gun so hard it broke the gun stock.
Meanwhile a posse was in hot pursuit of Sanpitch and four other escapees which by now had tracked their path of escape into the mountains to the east, then north. The four men made their way to near Moroni where they found knives and horses at an old sheep header's cabin. One of the four had been badly wounded and could go no further. Escaping on horse back Sanpitch was located in Birch Canyon, between Maroni and Fountain Green and was killed. Two of the four were tracked by Dolf Bennett, Amasa, and George Tucker, they were found and killed. One had hid himself (Sanpitch) by covering himself with leaves. Bennett who had stayed behind spotted the poor guy but waited for his comrades to return. He then pointed to where the man lay hidden. The men surrounded the spot where the Indian lay and shot him. But the man got up and charged at Bennett with a butcher knife, Bennett wrestled the knife away and cut his throat.
The following day a wounded Native that had escaped was spotted riding a stolen horse and was shot.
The people at Manti found it hard to sleep the following days after the killings, they were in fear of Black Hawk taking revenge by raiding Manti. It didn't happen. Black Hawk already in agony of all that had happened over the past 16 years since the Mormons first began to arrive, had only more to add to his long list of grievances.
The news of Sanpitch's murder quickly spread among Native leaders. They were outraged and began to organize themselves to avenge the death of Sanpitch.
(Also see Utah Black Hawk War Facts: Sanpitch)