| Ask any faithful LDS with a bit of knowledge about the Gunnison Massacre, and it's likely you'll get a story of how Captain Gunnison was killed by Indians in a case of revenge and mistaken identity.
Here's the most complete account I could find online (my sincerest praise and compliments to the blogger):
The conventional account: During the early 1850's, numerous U.S. Government surveying expeditions were made into the Rocky Mountain West. In the Spring of 1853, Captain John W. Gunnison, U.S. Army Topographical Engineer, took command of a party on the Survey of Pacific Road (railroad) route through the central Rockies. His command was made up of Lieutenant E. G. Beckwith, second in command; at least eight civilian topographers, geologists, and for security, thirty soldiers of the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen (U.S. Army Dragoons), Captain R. M. Morris, Commanding.
I invite interested readers to read the rest of the article in-depth; I'll attempt a "Reader's Digest" version, but this one is so laden-with-gold it's difficult to know what to include and what to leave out. Here are some points I see as noteworty:
Days before, early in October, a wagon train of Missouri emigrants, en route to California, had passed through the Fillmore settlement and camped on Meadow Creek. A small band of Pahvant Ute Indians came into the camp, wanting to trade buckskins for tobacco. The Missourians attempted to disarm the Utes of their bows and arrows. In the fracas, war chief Moshoquop's father was killed by revolver fire. Moshoquop then took his band and moved to a site about twelve miles north east of Lake Sevier.
The singular tragic event of this ill-fated expedition then occurred. Captain John Gunnison had divided his command, sending the larger force to explore miles upriver, toward the Nephi settlement. Gunnison then proceeded down the river towards Lake Sevier, his small party consisting of four civilians and a corporal and six of the Mounted Riflemen.
At dawn the next morning, the 26th of October 1853, while eating breakfast, they were surprised in an attack by vengeful Pahvant Ute Chief Moshoquop and forty of his warriors. He was seething for vengeance against white men, any white men, an acceptable practice in his culture. Within minutes, Captain John W. Gunnison, his four civilians, and three soldiers died of gunshot and arrow wounds. Only Corporal Barton and three of his horse soldiers escaped to tell of the massacre. (footnoted)
In his official report of the Massacre, Governor Young said Gunnison had been warned of Indian dangers and that he had used bad judgment by dividing his party and by his choice of an indefensible campsite. He said that the officers had quarreled among themselves and for this reason Gunnison's body was deliberately left unburied. He believed the Indians should not be “unduly censured” for their conduct and took no action to punish the guilty parties. In this and subsequent reports, Governor Young suppressed the fact of the threat to Fillmore, of Huntington's mission to resolve the conflict, and of Huntington's bad advice to Gunnison.
It is also worth noting that the year before, after spending considerable time in Great Salt Lake City, Captain Gunnison had published a small bestselling book, "The Mormons or Latter-Day Saints, in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake: A History of Their Rise and Progress, Peculiar Doctrines, Present Condition." This volume disclosed the practice of polygamy to the world at large (previously, as noted elsewhere here, John Taylor had denied its existence while serving a mission to England). The timing of the publication and Orson Pratt's disclosure of the practice at the 1852 General Conference is most unlikely to have been coincidental.
With Gunnison's murder being laid at Mormons' feet (wrongly, according to most historians), Colonel Edward J. Steptoe was ordered to lead a group of soldiers to Utah and investigate the tragedy.
Army Colonel Edward Steptoe had orders to stop in Great Salt Lake City to investigate the murder of Captain John Gunnison and his surveying party in 1853. One of Steptoe's officers noted, "the principal object in our wintering here" is to avenge Gunnison. Relations with the Army started off well enough after Steptoe arrived in September, but by December feelings were as frosty as the weather. As John Gunnison had noted earlier, Mormons dreaded the contaminating influence of idle soldiers, especially the possible effects of "the gallantry of epaulettes upon their peculiar institution of polygamy."
And oh my garshgoodness, even the "Deseret News" is quoting Will Bagley in this account . . .
Several of Steptoe's young lieutenants used their epaulettes quite effectively, wooing Mormon girls and plural wives who were fed up with polygamy. Lt. Sylvester Mowry courted the wife of one of Brigham Young's sons and claimed the prophet's feisty fifteen-year-old daughter, Alice, told him: "Salt Lake needs only to be roofed in to be the biggest whorehouse in the world."
To keep the peace, local authorities tried to ban the sale of alcohol, but thirsty soldiers could always find a drink on "Whiskey Street." Matters came to a head on December 23 during a play at the social hall. Mormon lawyer Hosea Stout reported a "considerable melee" broke out when the police tried to arrest a soldier in the audience.
Apostle George A. Smith reported the "young growth" among the Mormons put up a stout fight: "Fists, sticks, clubs and stones were used freely." Officers and the police finally quelled the riot and Colonel Steptoe confined his men to barracks for the rest of the holiday. He threatened to move them far away from town, and the prospect of spending the winter in tents at Tooele helped keep the men under control.
Should Brigham Young Share the Blame for Utah War?
Again I invite serious students to look deeply and carefully at this entire article...
Lee Davidson, Deseret Morning News, Sept. 1, 2006
Historian Will Bagley, for example, said many Utah histories side too much with Mormons, and tell how "the United States sent an Army to persecute our long-suffering Mormon ancestors, and how we beat them in a fair fight ... (and) Brigham Young acted as a dedicated peacemaker throughout the entire affair."
"This history has one serious problem. It never happened," Bagley said.
Historian William MacKinnon also submitted a paper saying run-ins Young had with an earlier 1854-55 Army expedition led by Lt. Col. Edward Steptoe led Young to vow never to allow the military to camp within Salt Lake City again.
I would be hollering "Bravo!" for the Deseret News's objectivity in reporting this one, except the soldier's trysts with the young ladies are presented as factual rather than a suggestion they may have orignated at BY's behest... From the first blogsite I linked . . .
Mormons were outraged when several officers and enlisted men wintering in Salt Lake City cavorted with or seduced LDS females, some as young as 13 years old.
He said letters showed one soldier even claimed he had an affair with a daughter-in-law of Brigham Young while her husband was away on a mission. He said the affair ended when Young threatened to kill him.
To inform the public of the Mormon side of this confrontation, Brigham Young had many affidavits created, charging the soldiers and non-Mormon public officials with drunkenness, gambling, sexual abuses and other irregularities. These were sent to the War Department in Washington as evidence of renewed persecution of the Mormons.
And a bit about Colonel Steptoe, with whom President Franklin Pierce wished to replace Brigham Young as Territorial Governor: In this one, the Ute Indian Chief, Kanosh--now a "Mormon Elder"--had "turned over" eight Indians to stand trial for Gunnison's murder, and only three of them were warriors. After being convicted of "manslaughter" they were sentenced to three years in the Terretorial Prison, and when they later "escaped," they were never tracked down.
Colonel Steptoe, the Judge, and the prosecuting attorneys were incensed by what they believed was a miscarriage of justice. They wrote angry letters to the several Federal agencies they represented, charging the Mormons with defiance of law and failure to discharge their obligations as citizens. It was claimed they did this in obedience to orders covertly given by Brigham Young. A report of the trial, prefaced with acrimonious charges against the Mormons, was sent to the New York Times. Another copy was sent to the San Francisco Daily Herald, adding the fact that the prisoners had been allowed to escape.
To add an exclamation point to this story, Colonel Steptoe left Utah in early 1855 (missing the letter from Pierce notifying him that "a commission to make him governor was on its way"). (Source: Brigham D. Madsen)
What is missing from most of these accounts--including Madsen's, which I cited, but didn't link--is accompanying the Steptoe Expedition to California were approximately 100 Mormon women who were fleeing from polygamy.