In 1847 when the Mormon pioneers filed into the Salt Lake Valley, opening a new chapter of Utah's history, a young Indian man of 22 was just rising to power in the Pahvant group of the Ute Tribe.
Kanosh, one of a half dozen chiefs from the same family, was to become a friend to the Latter-day Saints even though the period in which he lived was one of great confusion for Utah's natives as they watched their lifestyle slip away.Among his powerful brothers were Walkara, Arapeen, Sowiette, Tabby, Sanpitch and Hunkiter. They were names that loomed large in the see-saw relations between the white settlers and the indigenous Indian population during the first few decades of Mormon settlement. At times, the brothers, especially Walkara, were responsible for the wars that broke out between Indians and settlers.
About Kanosh, records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contain this information: "Kanosh, born in Millard County in 1825; baptized in 1858; endowed May 11, 1874. His father, Kashe Bats, his mother, Wah Goots."
His name was a combination of "Kan," or willow and "outch, ourch or ous," words for an ordinary water jar. He wrote it "K-nos," when he was one of only 14 chiefs to sign an early peace pact with the pioneers.
Kanosh was frequently caught between his desire to learn more from the white men and his desire to cling to his own way of life. Sometimes he is among those named as the enemy in clashes between the two groups. In other cases, he interceded on behalf of the whites, sometimes spending whole nights arguing with his braves to keep them off the warpath. It was written that he was not averse to "clubbing them to the ground" as emphasis for his argument.
In 1853, his band was implicated in the massacre of John W. Gunnison and seven other individuals surveying a railroad route to the Pacific. The chief's testimony in the complex investigation that followed was contradictory from session to session, but he insisted he himself was not involved.
Though Brigham Young claimed Kanosh as a friend and courted his support, the LDS Church leader remained wary of the Indian's loyalty. During the Mormon/Indian clashes of the 1850s and 1860s, he wrote to church leaders in Utah's midlands: "Do not relax your efforts because Kanosh says he is friendly. This is no doubt a ruse to draw you out and take advantage."
Kanosh's lands were generally in what is now the Millard County area, where Mormon activity was heavy in the early days of the church. Fillmore had been chosen as the territorial capital. As white people, led by Anson Call, moved into the area, the Indians were settled on an informal reserve near the town.
When Brigham Young created a nearby townsite in 1869 and named it "Kanosh," (the town originally was called Corn Creek) the chief and one of his allies, Chief Shione, with their people, spent three days parading the streets in their best regalia, including feathered headpieces. Shione carried a flag of peace and the Indians danced and sang, keeping time with their hands, a townsman later wrote.
As a member of the church, Kanosh often spoke at local meetings. In a speech during an LDS conference at Fillmore on Jan. 16, 1856, he said, "All that Brigham (Young) and Heber (Kimball) said is straight talk, not like Steptoe and the Spaniards. (Steptoe had been involved in the Gunnison massacre investigation.) You are here to make laws. I hope you make good laws to punish the guilty and spare the innocent. I wish to do right and have my people do right. I do not want them to steal nor kill. I want to plant and raise wheat and learn to plow as the white people do. I want to learn to read and write and have my children learn so that we may understand each other."
Kanosh's group also had practical lessons for their new neighbors. They "taught us how to grind our little bit of grain we had saved from the grasshoppers," wrote Mary Jane Ross, an early Kanosh resident. "They would take a rock about three feet each way, hollow it out a little in the middle, find another rock that would fit in this very well and grind the grain by putting it between the two and rubbing them together."
Kanosh had little luck with wives. The first, Julia, became mentally deranged when she was expecting a child. While Kanosh was away, members of the tribe tried to "cure" her of evil spirits by dragging her behind a horse. She died. The second, Betsykin, seemed happy in her marriage until Kanosh brought home a third wife, Mary. When Mary was expecting a baby, a jealous Betsykin lured her away from the camp, ostensibly to flush out squirrels, and then cut her throat. She buried Mary's body under a pile of rocks.
Kanosh mounted a huge hunt for the missing Mary, even calling on the whites in nearby communities for help. When the body was found, Betsykin confessed and was subjected to tribal justice. She was tried and found guilty and then required to choose her own method of execution. Weeping, with only a jar full of water, she plodded in front of the jury and into a wickiup, where she was allowed to starve to death.
Kanosh's fourth choice was Sally, an Indian woman who had been reared in Brigham Young's household. Their "courting" and subsequent marriage has been the topic for a number of written accounts, some of them highly romanticized and probably in-ac-curate.
A Bannock Indian, Sally was captured by a rival tribe in 1847, the same year the first party of pioneers came to Salt Lake Valley. Her dress, trimmed with fox tails, gave her away as the daughter of a chief and her tormentors were being more than usually severe, cutting her with knives, then inserting burning brands into the wounds. A pioneer who heard her screams purchased the girl, thought to be about 7 years old, and brought her to Brigham Young.
Sally grew up in President Young's household, but not as an equal of the leader's own children. She was trained as a "helper" (Brigham did not like to use the term "servant") and was not taught to read and write. Nevertheless, she grew accustomed to the niceties of the Young home and white society.
When Kanosh visited the white leader and spotted Sally, he immediately made an offer for her - six horses. When Brigham refused, Kanosh raised the ante to nine horses. Young still would not consent, arguing that Sally should be free to choose for herself, since she had been reared in the white tradition. Kanosh was reduced to the white man's way - courting.
To convince Sally of his sincerity, he picked up the hot flat iron with which she was ironing and pressed it to his bare chest.
According to one improbable account by Susa Young Gates, one of President Young's daughters, Sally was subsequently kidnapped by Walkara and rescued by Kanosh. Gates published the embellished mix of truth and fiction under the title "The Courtship of Kanosh," in a church magazine.
However it came about, Sally eventually capitulated and married Kanosh. She was encouraged by President Young, who felt she could influence the Indians and help them learn white ways. She was very unhappy, however, living in a wickiup in the Indian style. The couple eventually was given a log cabin by Bishop Culbert King on his own property in town. Through the week, Kanosh in buckskins mingled with his people in their wickiups, leading with a strong hand. On weekends, he donned the black suit the bishop gave him and went to church with Sally. He preached the funeral sermon when one of the local bishops died.
The chief considered himself on a par with white leaders. The story is told that on one occasion when Brigham Young stopped by the Kanosh home and sent a messenger in to invite Kanosh out to his carriage, the Indian refused.
When he went to visit Brigham in Salt Lake City, he said, "Bigham sat still in his house and what is manners for Bigham is manners for Kanosh." The church leader, humbled, left his carriage and went into the home to pay his respects.
Sally preceded Kanosh in death. When the chief himself chose to "go to pikeway," on Dec. 4, 1881, a Deseret News article said he was praised by Indians and whites alike. Men were solicited to dig the grave, in exchange for receiving tithing credit. Many were willing to accept the work; no one would accept the pay. Clothed in temple attire, Kanosh's body lay in state. A young Indian named Azac stood by the corpse and "with native eloquence, extolled the virtues of the dead chief," the news account said.
Several representatives of the church's general authorities were in the area and preached funeral sermons. Then, a "motley procession of whites, Indians, squaws and papooses" trailed the four miles from the Indian village to the cemetery, where Mosoquop, the tribal war chief, and others of the tribe spoke. With the white man's formalities out of the way, Kanosh's people "from whom no amount of torture could have extracted a sign of emotion, gave vent to their sorrow in resistless tears."
The chief's body was laid to rest beside that of Sally in the town that continues to bear his name.