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A War Of Extermination
Predators Caught In Crossfire Of Mormon Feud
Hal Schindler
Published: 03/20/1994 Category: Features Page: D1

Eighteen months after the Mormon pioneers first entered the Great Salt Lake Valley, they launched a war of extermination on predators to save their crops and livestock--only to wind up feuding among themselves. The situation arose during a mid-December meeting in 1848 of the General Council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Council's fifty members were responsible for establishing early law and organizing a municipal government until the settlement stabilized and formally took hold.

After grappling with a number of problems including a common herd ground for cattle and horses as protection from predators and raiding Indians, someone suggested a campaign to eliminate the more troublesome and destructive animals. John D. Lee was all for rubbing out the "wasters and destroyers," and spelled out the specifics in his journal. Here is Lee at his colorful best, the flavor of his remarks as well as his inventive and imaginative spelling are as he wrote them 146 years ago: "[Taken into consideration were]--the wolves, wildcats, catamounts [in most cases catamounts are mountain lions, but Mormon settlers apparently grouped bobcats and lynxes in this category], Pole cats, minks, Bear, Panthers [mountain lions], Eagles, Hawks, owls, crow or Ravens & magpies, which are verry numerous & not only troublesome but destructive. $1000s of dollars worth of grain and stock have already been destroyed by those Wasters, & to check their career it was thought best to have a Hunt."

Accordingly President Brigham Young nominated J.D. Lee and John Pack captains to carry on a war of extermination against the above named wasters and destroyers. A few days later the captains met at Lee's home to hash out rules for the shoot. It was Christmas Eve 1848 when they signed articles of agreement for the war of extermination against those "Ravens, Hawks, owls, Wolves, Foxes, &c. now alive in the valley of the Great Salt Lak & in the regions roundabout."

To make it interesting and to encourage competition, the captains felt there should be an incentive, a reward, at the close of the Hunt. It was serious business as far as they were concerned, the two were by nature strong-willed men. At this point, Lee's journal entries refer to it as the Hunt, with a capital H. Again, Lee carefully outlines the "Rules:"

"1stly. The two cos. are to partic[i]pate in a Social Dinner with their Ladies to be given at the House of Capt. John Pack's on a Day hereafter named & to be paid for by the Co. that produces the least No. of game.

2ndly. The game shall count as follows. The Right wing of each Raven Shall count one; a Hawk, owl or Magpie two. The wings of an Eagle 5. The skin of a Wolf, Fox, wild cat or Catamount ten. Pole cat or mink Five. A Bear or a Panther Fiffty.

3rdly. The Wings of the Birds & the Skins of the animals shall be produced by each Hunter at the Recorders office on the first Day of February, 1849, at 10 o'clock A.M. For counting & examination, at which time the day for recreation shall be appointed.

4thly. Isaac Morley & Reynolds Cahoon shall be the Judges or counters of the game and to designate the winners. And Thos. Bullock to be the clerk to Keep a Record of each man's skill & to publish a list of the Success of each in Individual.

5thly & lastly. The man who produces the most Proof of his success Shall recieve a Publick vote of thanks on the Day of the Feast. The article of agreement having [been] drawn, The foll[ow]ing Persons were chosen to participate in the Hunt."

Sharp-eyed shooters. And there followed two columns of ninety-three names each comprising the teams. How they were selected isn't discussed, but it probably was by draw, since Lee (as Brigham Young's adopted son), would not have allowed the church leader to be on Pack's team without an argument. Nevertheless, Pack drew Young, and some sharp-eyed shooters the likes of Porter Rockwell, Chauncey West, Lewis Robison and Dimick Huntington, while Lee's team included George Bean, Judson Stoddard, Jefferson Hunt and Thomas S. Williams.

Lee also came up with Hosea Stout, who had been--and would be--at various times a militia officer in Nauvoo, Illinois, and Utah; chief of police at Nauvoo, and ex-officio chief of the "old police" during the exodus from Nauvoo. In a nutshell, Stout was a smart, tough Mormon lawyer. He, too, kept a diary. And on that same Christmas Eve, confided to it: "Snowed to day. I learned today that John Pack and J.d. Lee had lead out to see who should kill the most crows & and other noxious vermin each to choose 100 men and the party who killed the least number, counting the first of Feb next was to pay for a dinner for both parties &c. I also learned that I was chosen on Lee's side but I declined to accept the office not feeling very war-like at this time."

As Christmas dawned, Lee remarked that the report of gunfire could be heard in every direction: "which is nothing uncomon about chrismas times, but insted of waisting their Powder as usual on such ocasions, hundreds of Ravens no doubt were killed on that day. The Boys being full of shoot as well [as] the Spirit of the Hunt went it steep."

By the end of January, the teams having made such rapid "havock," among the "Wolves & Foxes, especially" the Captains agreed to continue the killing another month, to which the General Council consented. Lee and Pack met on February 1 to notify their marksmen of the change in plans. The emphasis on "Wolves," incidentally, is probably misplaced. The settlers likely were being pestered by coyotes, which they were in the habit of calling "prairie wolves."

Pelts, feathers. When the month extension ended and March 1 rolled around, the Council House was almost buried in pelts and feathers. The counting began. Lee's journal again follows the action: "Some 5000 [points] were counted on Capt. John Pack's Side & some 2000 on Capt. J.D. Lee's side. Only about one third of Capt. J.D. Lee's men counted, not having Notice in time; but the greater part of Capt. John Pack's game was brought in on that day. The poles close[d] about Dark, leaving Capt. J. D. Lee above 3000 in the rear." And that did not sit well with John D. Lee. He was not comfortable being a loser. He took the matter to higher authority.

Two days after the Count, Lee brought the subject to the attention of the General Council, at the time occupied with sending militia to Fort Utah (Provo) to punish an Indian band for stealing settlers' cattle. The Council allowed laggard hunters additional time to bring their game to be tallied. Lee's luck was about to take a decided shift: "At 10 morning the skins of the Wolves, Foxes, mi[n]ks &c. & the wings of Raven, Magpies, Hawks, owls & Eagles were roling in to the clerk's office in every direction to be counted, each Hunter eager to gain the contest. At 4 P.M. poles closed, giving J.D. Lee a majority of two thousand five hundred & 43 skelps. The entir No. brought on both sides was estimated between Fourteen & Fifteen Thousand. Thos. Williams on Capt. J.D. Lee's Side, won the vote of thanks by a majority of about 300 skolps. He brought in about 2100 skelps. Capt. J. Pack was rather wo[r]sted & sadly disapointed when he found that one 100 men [team] beat two Tribes of Indians & the white Tribe of the valley."

Lee made the mistake of rubbing it in too deeply with Pack. The late Juanita Brooks, Lee's biographer, thought that Lee might have been hinting that Pack used Indians in the region to help him run up the score. But that was never proven or openly discussed. In any case no one got the dinner. Pack sulked and cried foul, complaining that March 1 was the official day of counting, while Lee insisted the Council's four-day extension nullified the deadline.

Since the ladies of the settlement were to have been guests at the social dinner, it is fair to assume they lost the most in the three-month Hunt. The journals are silent in regard to their reaction. But it was not yet over for Lee and Pack. Their personal differences growing out of the "war of extermination" dragged on. Because of the nagging problem with the Indian tribes of the region (who were fighting each other as well as the white settlers), the old Nauvoo Legion was resurrected to protect the town. Hosea Stout explained: "One circumstance took place today which I never saw before--John Pack & John D. Lee were each put into nomination for Majors by regular authority & both most contemptestuously hissed down. When any person is thus duly nominated I never before knew the people to reject it. But on this occasion it appears that they are both a perfect stink in every body's nose. The reasons of which is not needful to relate." It would have been easier to go Dutch on the dinners.

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