City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

March 8, 2017

March 7th

Filed under: Common stonefly, gnats, Red-tailed hawk, Seasons, Western bluebird — canopus56 @ 1:21 am

It is enough. This is the Right [Natural] Place – First Peoples – Part V

2:00 p.m. Hawks! Near picnic site 6, a couple is standing looking intently towards the east-south ridge wall. This is always a good sign to stop, chat, and see what others see. Half-way up the south wall, a Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) in its immature phase with red leading-edge wing bars floats suspended in mid-air. A light wind blows up canyon, and the hawk flies perfectly balancing the forces of lift and drag by only making small changes in its black wing tip feathers. The couple says it is part of a pair; a larger mate fly up canyon before I arrived. The hawk floats for about a minute, lands on nearby trees or an outcrop, rests, and then resume stationary soaring. I suspect the hawk is here hunting for one of the flock of about ten chickadees seen here since February 17th. Continuing up canyon, the Moon that is just one day past first-quarter hangs low on the horizon above Little Black Mountain. Since it is during the day, the black seas on the Moon’s surface are flooded with blue light. The blue color is repeated at mile 1.1. I find a flock of seven Western bluebirds (Sialia mexicana) resting in a tree next to the road. I am quiet and watch them for several minutes, but then make the mistake of coughing loudly. The flock is startled and disperses.

The wind storm and snow of March 5th and 6th denoted the coming change in seasons. The storm was a marker that spring now has the upper hand and tilts the balance towards warmth. Astronomical spring will begin on 14 days – March 20th – and I find myself unconsciously counting the days. Yesterday’s snow has melted except around the stream banks and, the canyon begins to quickly reset itself back to the last warm days. Four or five stoneflies struggle on the road, and two gnats flit in the air. The green mosses, where they were covered with yesterday’s snow, plump up again and turn dark green. But yellow-orange lichens on the dry side of trees remain their dull color. The buds on trees have not yet started to respond to the new warmth, with one exception. Today and after Sunday’s windstorm, there are a broken twigs with three swollen buds on the ends. Touching the buds breaks them off, revealing a miniature curled green leaf within. This seems out of step from the rest of the trees in the canyon, whose buds still hibernate. After some searching, I pair with an immature Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides).

The Euro-American colonists also found First Peoples in the valley on their arrival, and their population further evidence that the valley was a lush environment prior to the 1847 arrival of the Euro-American colonists. The presence of the First Peoples in the valley stretches back 12,000 years to the Pleistocene (Feb. 15th). The Ute tribe evolved from the the proto-Uto-Aztecan culture in southern Nevada and California (Simmons, 14). After the Anasazi and Fremont cultures left the area in response to prolonged severe drought around 1,200 C.E., the Ute Nation expanded into the northern Nevada, Utah and Colorado regions between 1,000-1,200 C.E. (id).

Before the arrival of the 1847 Euro-American colonists, the dominant First People’s community in the valley were migratory hunter gathers, the Tumpanawach, or fish-eaters, band of the Ute Nation, also called the Timpanogots band (Conetah, 25; Simmons, 18). Their territory stretched from the south-end of the Great Salt Lake, east to the Unita River and south to Nephi (Simmons, 18). There were two Tumpanawach groups present in the valley in July 1847: one led by Chief Wanship in Salt Lake Valley and a second led by Gosip who resided around Utah Lake (Simmons, 32). The overall leader of the Tumpanawach band was Wakara, after which Wakara Way in present day Research Park of Salt Lake City is named (Conetah, 39; Simmons, 89-92 (“Wacarra” or “Walkara”)). The Mormons mispronouced Wakara or Walkara as “Walker”. They called themselves the Nu’u-ci or “Nuche”, and the terms “Ute” and “Utah” are corrupted versions of earlier Arizonian Jemez Native American terms that the Spanish shortened to “Yuta” (Simmons, 15). A romanticized version of the first encounter and Wanship can be found on a 1990s multi-tych plaque at the entrance to the Ensign Peak trail park west of the City Creek Canyon (Feb. 15th). One of the plaque’s panes shows a mid-1970s nuclear family hiking up Ensign Peak against the back drop of urbanized Salt Lake City. A second pane illustrates Wanship’s camp at the base of Ensign Peak. Pioneer May Ellen Kimball records that the group was camped near Warm Springs about at present day 1600 North Beck Street (Gottfredson, 15). The illustrations on the plaque feature Ute style brush wickiups, a tee-pee style conical brush lean-to used for temporary summer camps. The true appearance of Wanship’s camp is unknown and the images on the plaque are probably drawn from a photograph taken by John K. Hillers during Wesley Powell’s 1872-1873 expedition. The photograph is attributed as either a Paiute encampment in St. George or a Unitah encampment of Utes, depending on the author (Jennings, 297 (Piautes); Duncan, 166 (Utes)).

The valley was also occasionally visited by the Goshute tribe of Utah’s western mountain ranges and Nevada rangelands. The Goshutes, masters of northern Utah edible desert plants, built deer run traps in Millcreek Canyon (Chamberlin 1911, 335), and their name for the canyon means Precipice Rock, or Tîn-go-ûp in their native tongue. In upper Millcreek canyon, they drove herds of antelope and deer over a natural precipice (id). The Goshutes were able to survive in the west Utah deserts that would kill an unsupported modern in as little as two days. Much of the subsequent encounter between the First Peoples and the Euro-American colonists of 1847 can be understood in terms of population dynamics, Manifest Destiny inspired racist paternalism, European disease, the religious beliefs of the Latter Day Saints embodied in their Book of Mormon, and Mormon Indian affairs policies (McPherson, 19-21). Much of the subsequent encounter between the First Peoples and the Euro-American colonists of 1847 can be understood in terms of population dynamics, Manifest Destiny inspired racist paternalism, European disease, the religious beliefs of the Latter Day Saints embodied in their Book of Mormon, and Mormon Indian affairs policies (McPherson, 19-21).

The size of the two Ute groups in the Salt Lake and Utah valleys during 1847 is unclear, but is estimated at 75 persons. On the evening of Young’s first day in the valley, July 24th, 1847, a group of 12 to 15 members of Ute Chief Wanship’s band from Salt Lake valley and Utah valley greeted the new immigrants (Little, 100). If 12 to 15 men between the ages of 17 and 40 represent about 20 percent of the population, as occurs today, this implies a local First Peoples population of around 60 to 75 persons. The advance party of Mormon colonists that arrived of July 24th, 1847 contained about 150 persons. One estimate of the total First Peoples population in Utah in 1847 is 20,000 persons (McPherson, 20), but it includes all the major tribes of Utah: the Gosutes, the Utes, the (southern) White Mesa Utes, the Paiutes, the Western Shoshone, and the Navajos. Another speculative estimate was that in the 1840s, 10,000 Utes were spread across Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas (Covington, 2). By the end of 1847, the Salt Lake Euro-American colonist population rose to 1,500, by the 1850 census there were 4,658 colonists in Salt Lake City and 11,330 in Utah as a whole, and by 1860, 8,191 in Salt Lake City and 40,125 throughout Utah (Perlich, 8; Draper, 15). But the early Mormon Euro-American colonists of 5,000 were only about 1 percent of the 400,000 Euro-American immigrants who used the Oregon Trail between 1846 and 1850. Most colonists, like Heinrich Lienhard (March 3rd), were passing through Utah on their way to Oregon, Washington and California.

As the relative abundance between Euro-American and First Peoples populations reversed in favor of the pioneers between 1847 and the 1850’s, conflict was inevitable. In particular, the Euro-American colonists arrived with substantial livestock populations that quickly depleted native grasses. Wildlife populations, on which the hunter-gatherer First Peoples depended, dwindled in competition with cattle grazing. Fish were used up from the streams and the Utah Lake fish-laden river was fenced off (Covington, 51, 60, 62-63).

The second major cultural factor that affected the first encounter between the Utah Euro-American colonists and First Peoples was Manifest Destiny inspired racism, and that racism is best illustrated by the Euro-Americans’ view of First Peoples “depredations”. James Amasa Little’s 1946 biography of Lorenzo Dow Young is illustrative of pioneer attitudes towards First Peoples as immoral “thieves”,

“The following circumstance, illustrating the thieving propensities of these aboriginal Americans shows that the Saints did not much improve their Indian associations in changing their location from the vicinity of the thieving Pawnees and Omahas to the midst of the cricket eaters of the desert” (Little 99-100).

What the Euro-American colonists viewed as “thieving” may have been perceived by the First Peoples as payment of “rent” due. In denying claims of the pioneers, based on Christian biblical doctrines, that the valley and the canyon were owned by all persons, including the Euro-American colonists, the First Peoples view was that they owned the land as their territory. They claimed “a share of the grain [planted by the colonists] for their [the colonists] use of the land” (Christy, 219, citing “Journal History of the Church,” August 15, 1846, Archives Division, Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City).

Similarly, Gottfredson’s 1919 “History of Indian Depredations in Utah” by its title reveals colonists’ views of First Peoples. “Depredations” is normally a term reserved for animal depredation of livestock. The use of the term “depredation” indicates a view of First Peoples as sub-humans prone to immoral thieving. Gottfredson stated that,

“It was the inherent nature of the Indian to steal, and this brings to my mind an incident told of an Indian who brought a worn out axe to a black smith to be fixed, the blacksmith said, I can’t fix it, it hasn’t any steel in it. ‘Oh yes, said the Indian, it is all steel, me steal it last night.’ Indians could not be depended upon as to their lasting friendship, mostly on account of their thieving propensity, so it was necessary for the settlers to build forts for protection” (Gottfredson, 6).

Local Native Americans were referred to by the colonists with the denigrating names of “diggers” and “cricket-eaters” (Gottfredson, Little). The use of these terms persisted even though the 1847 colonists’ crops failed and the pioneers survived the 1847-1849 winters by learning from the First Peoples to dig and eat local roots (Nov. 30th).

The third major factor that affected 1847 colonist interactions with First Peoples was disease. After initial trading of blankets with and exchanging prisoners with the Utes, in the winter of 1847, the European disease of measles struck Wanship’s group, and the colonists buried thirty-six Utes in a mass grave (Conetah, 37; Covington, 60; see Gunnison, 146). This was typical of the disease transmission during the Euro-American colonization of North America (Diamond).

The fourth major cultural factor that affected the first encounter between the Utah Euro-American colonists and First Peoples was Mormon religious views. Written or translated by Joseph Smith during the religious revival period of the 1820s in up-state New York and during a period of eastern Indian removal, the Book of Mormon recites the story of a supreme North American white tribe, the Nephites, that split from a tribe of immoral non-whites, the Lamanites (Book of Mormon). The supreme being later becomes displeased with the Nephites for their failure to follow religious tenants, and around the time of crucifixion of Jesus, the being destroys both the Nephite and the Lamanite cultures. Mormon culture identifies Native Americans as Lamanite remnants to which the Mormons have a historical and religious duty (Covington, 52-53). For example, when Utah was admitted as a territory in 1850 as part of the Missouri Compromise, Utah was admitted as a slave territory; however, the territorial legislature allowed only the taking Black Americans and not First Peoples, as slaves.

The fifth major factor was Mormon Indian affairs policies. On August 1st, 1847, the colonists told the First Peoples that the Native Americans did not own the Salt Lake Valley (Christy, 219). Brigham Young directed the colonists to remain confined to the Great Salt Lake Valley, given that the “Utes may feel a little tenacious about their choice of lands on the Utah [Lake], we had better keep further north . . . which is more neutral ground . . .” (Sillitoe, 32, quoted). After having established themselves, Young concluded that the pioneers would then “select a site for our location at our leisure” (id). The Salt Lake Valley was the northwestern corner of the Ute territory. The valley was bounded by and overlapped the Western Shoshone Nation to the north and Gosutes lands to the west (McPherson, 2). But eventually, Ute taking of cattle, Ute threats to attack settlers due to lack of wild game foodstuffs and anger over expropriation of their traditional lands led Young to view the Ute Bands as an existential threat to the new colony, “They must either quit the ground or we must — we are to maintain that ground or vacate this . . . if we yield in this instance — we have to yield this land” (Young, Feb. 10, 1850, quoted Christy, 226).

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 7th, 1853, he lists the early natural signs of spring. On March 7th, 1854, he hears the first bluebird of the season and sees flying gnats. On March 7th, 1859, he hears a woodpecker and then a shrike.

On March 7th, 1915, the Salt Lake Telegram extolled the beauty of the drive along the new 11th Avenue and City Creek Roads. The road is to be completed shortly using prison labor. The Telegram notes that “thousands” of Salt Lake residents go to the canyon on summer weekends to escape the city’s heat (Salt Lake Telegram). On March 7, 1895 on the west side of town, Rio Grande while boring an artesian well to 1,073 feet, brought from pieces of a preserved tree with stream rounded rocks similar to those found at City Creek from depths of 438, 667, and 730 feet (Salt Lake Tribune).


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