This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
It carries the trademark of every calamity of war: Fear and paranoia combine to produce the unthinkable slaughter of innocents.
And it happened in the Circle Valley of southern Utah exactly 150 years ago.
The Circleville Massacre was not just the bloodiest moment of Utah's Black Hawk War of 1865-68. It was also the largest massacre of Indians in Utah's history.
Black Hawk was a Ute chief who led raids on Mormon settlers who had encroached on historic Indian territory. Amid rising tension, Circleville's settlers grew more distrustful of even peaceful Indians in the area. They were members of the Koosharem band of the Paiutes, not Utes, but some thought were in legion with the Utes.
On April 21, 1866, Circleville's settlers received word that two Paiutes had shot a member of the Utah militia, and the settlers' LDS Church leaders in Circleville decided they needed to disarm the Indians. The Paiutes men, women and children were told to come to town. Those who refused were brought in. Roughly 30 people were imprisoned in a cellar.
Apparently unsure what to do with them, the settlers' LDS Church leaders sent word to LDS Apostle Erastus Snow, but before Snow's response to let them go was received, the settlers had killed all but two who had escaped and four young children. Most had died by slit throats. It is believed they were buried in a mass grave in the cellar of an unbuilt mill, but the remains have never been found.
With that, the Koosharem band essentially ceased to exist. And in the fallout of the incident and the continuing war, the entire settlement of Circleville was abandoned. It was a tragedy so devastating that both the victors and the vanquished were gone.
But not forever. Today there is a small but continuing Koosharem band of the Paiutes, although not necessarily direct descendants of those who died in the massacre. And, once the Indian wars had ended, the valley again attracted Mormon settlers, the ancestors of today's Circleville residents.
Friday morning in a small park in Circleville, members of both groups gathered around a tall marble monument to hear from Paiutes, from Circleville residents and from historians from the state of Utah and the LDS Church. The image on the monument, at the request of the Paiutes, is an eagle in flight, symbolizing the journey of the dead to their final rest. The inscription reads, "In remembrance of the innocent who were lost in this place so long ago. None of us could ever hope to describe the feelings of emotion that these people might have felt. All we can do is honor their existence as human beings."
Today, in a world where panic and fear still can lead to injustice and murder, the Circleville Massacre is still not understood, but it must not be forgotten.