City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

March 8, 2017

March 8th

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

1:30 p.m. True pre-spring has set in, and temperatures rise to the sixties. On the remaining snow around the stream and road, I count about thirty stoneflies, one early butterfly or moth, a spider, and one red-orange ladybug. Curiously, several snags along the road have orange paint marks on their trees. From milepost 1.5, looking down canyon, I hear the screech and see a raptor circling over mile 1.0. It is probably the Red-tailed hawk seen yesterday. Returning down canyon at the Red Bridge and mile 0.9, an out-of-place silhouette on a tree high on the ridgeline catches my eye, and pulling out the monocular, I see the raptor pruning itself in the warming sun. Further down-canyon, the orange paint is explained. A crew from the City is cutting down any snags adjacent to and that lean towards the road. Last year in the March or April of 2016, there was a great windstorm that caused the watershed patrol to close and hurriedly evacuate everyone from the canyon as several trees came down across the road. I ran through the storm and was bemused by the evacuation order. The probability of a runner or walker being struck by a falling tree was astronomical, but out of politeness and respect to the officer, I left the canyon. Last year’s storm was probably the impetus for today’s felling of the snags.

First contact did not go well for the First Peoples. As previously noted, 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 his brother Little Wolf’s group from Utah valley greeted the new immigrants (Little, 100). Although bread was exchanged and attempts at communication were made (Little), a member of the Utah valley band jumped a colonist horse and sped off. Chief Wanship dispatched a posse, a chase ensued, and the result of which the two band members were killed about three or four miles south of present day Pioneer Park (Little, 100). A familiar pattern of Euro-American colonization followed. First Peoples taught the colonists how to dig for roots and tubers that sustained the colonists through their first winter (Nov. 30th), and the colonists provided or traded blankets to the First Peoples and at times First Peoples captured colonists and vice versa. Having no immunity to western diseases, the First Peoples in the valley succumbed to measles during the fall of 1847 (Bancroft; Gottfredson, 24; Conetah, 37). As previously noted (March 1st), in December 1848, the colonists, being agriculturalists, systematically killed all predator wildlife in the valley (Bancroft, 287 ftn. 287), and presumably, they also quickly consumed all the deer and buffalo. First Peoples then sought recompense in the form of payments in cattle, and as Utah’s Euro-American population continue to explode, Ute members in the face of hunger from dwindling wildlife, resorted to cattle theft (Duncan, 188; Conetah, 38; Covington, 56).

War ensued. Both a 1978 article, historian Howard A. Christy of Brigham Young University Press and a 2008 a book by Standford historian Jared Farmer extensively researched this slide into hostilities (Christy; Farmer). In March 1849 when Ute foodstuffs would have been at their lowest, a forty-five man posse was sent to Utah Lake to retrieve stolen cattle. On March 3, 1849, thirty-five Utah militia men were again sent to Utah Lake with orders to put a “final end to their (the Ute group’s) depredations in future” (Christy, 220). Four braves were killed and the remaining Ute women and children were returned to Salt Lake City. In early January 1850, again when the First Peoples would be at their lowest in available food, settlers in Utah Valley killed a Ute for alleged cattle stealing (Christy, 223). The band, seeking justice, threatened to attack settlements. In January, fifty or sixty head of cattle had been stolen around Utah Lake (Covington, 51-52; Christy, 222-223). On January 31, 1850, in Salt Lake, according to an account by a pioneer in attendance at a meeting to address the issue on file in Brigham Young University Archives, Brigham Young was quoted as stating,

“I say go [and] kill them. . . . Tell . . . to go and kill them . . . let the women and children live if they behave themselves. . . . We have no peace until the men [are] killed off—never treat the Indian as your equal.” (Christy, 224, ftn. 30).

On January 31st, Utah Militia General Daniel H. Wells, also in attendance at the meeting, issued “Special Order No. 2” to Capt. George D. Grant, dispatching a company of the militia to Utah Valley:

“You are hereby ordered . . . to cooperate with the inhabitants of said [Utah] Valley in quelling and staying the operations of all hostile Indians and otherwise act, as the circumstances may require, exterminating such, as do not separate themselves from their hostile clans, and sue for peace” (Christy, 224).

At another meeting on February 10th, 1850, Young explained that, “[W]e were cold [told] three years ago, if we don’t kill those Lake Utes, they will kill us . . .” (Christy, 225)

The effect of the January 31st meeting was that Brigham Young had caused to be issued an “extermination order” against the Tumpanawach band (Conetah, 38). “Extermination order” is a phrase that in the 1840s and 1850s had a various meanings. The Mormons themselves had been the subject of an “extermination order” by Missouri’s Governor in the 1840s, that led to the Mormon’s decision to seek a refuge in the unoccupied lands of the United States (Sillitoe, 44-45). In the United States Indian removal era of the 1820s to the 1840s, an “extermination order” also referred to the removal or driving out of peoples from a region (Merriam-Webster Dictionary), and it did not have the same overtones of genocide and ethnic cleansing that the phrase has come to mean after the Wanersee Conference of World War II and the Bosnian crisis of the 1990s. However, Young’s directive to kill places the order of 1850 in the latter category.

General Wells, later Mayor of Salt Lake City, led the militia troops, accompanied by surgeon James Blake and Lieutenant Gunnison of Captain Stansbury’s survey expedition (Farmer). The Stansbury expedition happened to be in Salt Lake City at the time. In ensuing running battles on February 4th (Covington, 51), and February 8th through the 13th, 1850 between the Provo River and sixty miles west to Table Mountain, Utah, General Wells reported killing between 43 and 48 male warriors (Christy, 225; Farmer). Farmer, who has compiled the best account of this conflict, estimates Ute deaths at approximately 100 (id). At Table Mountain, the remaining Utes, including women and children, were massacred on a frozen lake (Farmer, 71-78). First, some women and children were captured, and then using them as hostages, the militia induced the braves to surrender. The militia then executed the men in front of their wives and children, and as the mothers and children fled, they were shot down in the back (id). After the massacre, army surgeon Blake decapitated some of the warrior’s bodies, possibly for medical research purposes (Christy, 226; Farmer). Fifteen to twenty women and children were returned to Fort Utah for distribution into settler families (Christy, 225; Covington, 51 quoting Gunnison, 147). Later in 1850, the State of Deseret legislature made plans to petition the U.S. Congress to remove all members of the Ute Nation from Utah to California, Wyoming or Idaho (Christy).

In 1853, “Walker’s War”, that is Wakara’s War, broke out in which many Ute warriors were killed, and Ute opposition to colonization was decisively defeated militarily by the colonist’s Nauvoo Legion (Conetah, 38-39; Sillitoe, 45; Duncan, 188; Simmons, 91-94). Although this history is barbaric by modern human rights standards, this pattern is no different from what occurred throughout the West during the Manifest Destiny era (see Brown).

Due to urbanization, there is little archaeological record of the Ute’s habitation of Utah (Jennings 1978), the Salt Lake Valley or City Creek Canyon. By 2010, the tribal census of the Northern Ute Nation, which only includes Utes with fifty-percent or more of native blood, enumerated about 3,100 persons out of a total First Peoples’ population from all tribes of 11,870 (Office of the Secretary) and compared to 20,000 for all Utah First Peoples in 1847 (McPherson, 20).

The Northern Ute Tribe still holds its annual gathering of about 100 members, reminiscent of their historical Utah Valley summer harvest festival. In the early 1900s, they met in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald, July 21, 1903), but they now hold their annual harvest festival in Salt Lake City’s Liberty Park at a summer “Living Traditions” festival. While the City has never issued a reconciliation apology to the Northern Utes for the Table Mountain Massacre, the colorful dance costumes of the Utes are used to promote the City as a place of diversity (Salt Lake City 2016b, 24).

The level of the Ute hunter-gathering population in 1847 also supports the view of the Salt Lake valley as being abundant in grasses and wildlife. In conclusion, historical evidence indicates that prior to the Euro-American colonization of 1847, the Salt Lake Valley was an ecologically productive, lush environment by western United States standards. Hints of that pre-colonization condition can still be seen in the canyon today. In City Creek Canyon, the open fields between milepost 2.0 and mile 2.3, are the best representative habitat of what the valley looked like prior to 1847.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 8th, 1853, he notes melting snow has created rivulets of running water. On March 8th, 1854, he finds that the red leaves of mountain cranberry are in bloom. On March 8th, 1855, he finds skunk-cabbage in bloom. On March 8th, 1857, he sees his first hawk of the season. On March 8th, 1860, he sees a flock of grackles. Thoreau notes that mosses and lichens grow in all seasons including winter. Grasses and other plants also continue to grow during winter.

On March 8th, 1904, a new Republican administration takes office at City Hall and vetoes the salaries of several city employees, including Joseph Pugsley, City Creek patrolman (Salt Lake Tribune).

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November 13, 2016

November 13th

How Nature Goes to Sleep

2:00 p.m. Last Friday was the sixth or seventh in a series of clear fall, warm days. During an afternoon jog, there were many unusual insects on or crossing the road, and at mile 0.6, there was a small golden iridescent beetle. It was a Golden Tortoise beetle (Charidotella sexpunctata). At mile 0.4, a yellow lady bug with large black spots on its back, landed on my hand. It was a Squash lady beetle (Epilachna borealis). At mile 0.3, there was what appears to be a Common stonefly (Zapada cinctipes) with its long forked tails, but the colors its abdomen are wrong: the segments are divided by white stripes. A sole European paper wasp flies by.

It is a month since the first day of Fall (Sept. 22nd). In the Fall, nature is going to sleep for the winter. Before visiting the canyon on a daily basis, I used to be wrapped up in the work day and did not notice the subtleties in the change of seasons. I thought the progression from Fall to Winter to be abrupt; it is an overnight affair that comes with the first deep snow. Now, having been in the canyon everyday this season, I see a longer pattern that is driven by the rate of change in the length of the day and astronomy of the Earth’s orbit.

At the equinox, the rate of change of the length of day is at its highest; the length of days decrease by at most four minutes per day. That initial rate of change causes a shock to the atmosphere and results in early Fall storms, and trees in the canyon respond by dropping their leaves. Storms come followed by a period of warm weather, and the insects not killed by initial cold storms respond by migrating to some new location to search for the less available food or to seek a new location in which to hibernate over the winter. The length of these warm periods lengthen as the rate of change in the length of the day decreases, although the absolute length of the day continues to decline. The few remaining insects rebound, but then their numbers are reduced to a lower absolute level by the next storm. This Fall cycle where storms are followed by longer periods of warm weather, continue until some tipping point is reached as the absolute length of the day fails to hold back the first frost and-or the first snowfall. The length of the day continues to decline until the first day of winter near Christmas.

The result of this cycle are days like last Friday, where unusual insect refugees are found on or along the road. In the summer, they are hidden by dense foliage, and although they are more numerous in the summer, they do not have to travel far for food. Now, the survivors chance leaving the protection of the leaves and venture far for food, and they are more easily seen. Some fail and lay flaying on the road. Several unidentified spiders were seen on the road, and they take advantage of this late season bounty.

Nature goes to sleep like an insomniac. It does not go to sleep abruptly. In the Fall, nature tries with the first heavy storms to fall asleep at once, then partially reawakens, and tries again for slumber. It repeats this cycle until true winter overtakes it, and forces it to rest.

Humans, even those of the modern post-industrial world, are part of this astronomical cycle: we celebrate our holidays in response to the change in the length of days at cross-quarter days. Today, it is about a week past the cross-quarter day of the Fall – Halloween or All Saints Day, and the rate of change in the length of days has reduced to about one minute per day. Seasons are about ninety days long and cross-quarter days occur about forty-five days after the start of the season or forty-five days before the end of a season. The other lessor holidays occur that occur near cross-quarter days are Groundhog Day in the winter, May Day in the spring, and Labor Day in summer. Major holidays are near the solstices and equinoxes when the rate of change in the length of the day is at its greatest.

In his “Journal” on November 13, 1851, Thoreau observes that after a snowfall, crickets and mosquitoes can no longer be found.

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