Oral Histories

Blankenagel, Norma P.



Ervin, thinking his brother was dead, had run as fast as possible to Coyote and safety. The five men gathered the women and children into their cabin fort. Each man had a gun, but only Grandpa Maxwell had a few cartridges. Luckily, they were not attacked, for had they been, this tiny settlement would have been completely wiped out. Several Indians peered over a nearby ridge, but no shots were fired.

The next important Indian story is the Pinhook Draw Massacre. Another band of about forty renegade Piutes, in the early part of May 1881 were harassing the stockman around Big Bend, now Dolores, Colorado. They were rounding up and stealing horses in the area, when they came upon the horse ranch of John Thurman and Joshua Alderson. They had a band of about 1500 head of horses gathered in the vicinity of Ute Springs, on the Utah-Colorado boarder. Dick May and Barney Smith were visiting Thurman to buy saddle horses, when the Indian band appeared.

The bodies of May and Thurman were found at the cabin a few days later by a friendly Navajo called Little Captain. A volunteer posse from Durango, Mancos, Rico, and Dolores was organized a month later with Captain W. H. Dawson in the lead of fifty men. Dawson and his men headed toward the Blue and La Sal mountains.  Another posse of Blue Mountain men, under Spud Hudson, were also tracking the killers with about a dozen men.

It is interesting to note that the Bluff settlers had also lost horses. Upon bravely confronting the Indians at Elk Mountain, they demanded their property. They were allowed to cut their own horse out and depart in peace. The main reason for that was because they had fed the Indians and been sent by Brigham Young to make friends with the Indians and try and stop the fighting between the Utes and Navajos. So they trusted the Mormon pioneers, and gave them back their horses without fighting them. The Blue Mountain posse trailed the Indian band westward, then northward, toward Indian Creek, and up Hart Draw to Hatch Rock, and from there to the La Sal Mountains. The Indians had their squaws, children, and goats with them.

The posse proceeded to Mule Shoe near Kane Springs, and the head of Pack Creek on the northern slop of the La Sal Mountains. It would seem that the Indians lead them right straight into a trap, because the Dawson group camped at Mule Shoe, where there was water. The Dawson group captured some squaws and goats at Pack Creek. There was some fighting at Squaw Springs and a squaw was accidentally killed there. Thus the spring got its name.

The Indians then slipped along Shafer Creek into Mason Draw and down to Pinhook. They were able to kill six of Dawson’s men and the other five got away to shelter. It was dark when they were able to sneak back to the main body of men. The Indians had taken their best horses and vanished, but they left two of the white men dead. So at Pinhook Draw, ten men had been killed and three injured by the Indians, as well as Thurman and May. This was the Pinhook Draw massacre. I believe the Daughter of the Utah Pioneers put a plaque up to show where the massacre occurred on June l5,1881. They put this up in l940, in memory of those who were massacred by the Indians.

Again, these renegade Piutes, in the spring of 1884, had to prove their ownership of the deer on the La Sal Mountains. These Indians tried to kill all of the deer they could. About 300 Indians slaughtered deer for about a month, then they systematically drove the deer south to the reservation. They waved their blankets and drove many thousands of deer before them. They repeated this process in 1885 and in 1886, and there was nothing the white settlers could do to stop it. But the Indians killed deer unmercifully for the sale of their hides.


First Mail Route and Post Office in the Area – The first mail route was established through La Sal in the spring of 1879. It started in Salina, Utah and went to Green River (then called Blake), La Sal, and Paradox; then to Naturita, Placerville, Telluride, and Ouray, a distance of about 350 miles. A Mr. Howard rode the route for several months, followed by Tom Brewster who rode for two years. Sam Rolly was also one of the early riders. This mail route was one of the strangest and most dangerous in the United States. Since there were no changes of horses, there was no schedule. The horses had to be preserved and, according to the weather, the 700 miles round-trip, sometimes took six weeks, and sometimes many months. A pack horse was loaded with bedroll, food, water, and the mail. A camp would be made whenever the horses were tired. The mail carriers had to ford three rivers, cross the La Sal Mountains, and watch for hostile Indians and outlaws just to bring the mail to less than a hundred settlers. Because of the mining ventures, a lot of money went through this mail route. Never was there any loss. Sometimes they had to travel on snowshoes to get across the La Sals.

The first post office was an old pine log cabin up at Old La Sal, which was the headquarters of the Pittsburgh Cattle Company. This was located in the eastern part of Old La Sal.

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