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  • Skeletal remains found at construction site in Nephi

BURIAL SITE? • Ronald J. Rood, Forensics Antropologist with the Antiquities section of the Utah Division of State History carefully excavates skeletal remains found at a construction site.

By Myrna Trauntvein
Times-News Correspondent

The story of eight Native Americans killed during the Walker War in 1853 may have been uncovered, literally, with the finding of several skeletal human remains found as workers began cleaning up along a dirt bank at a home site.

The home, being constructed by Kevin and Val Creps, just east of 131 East 300 North, was being prepared for concrete to be laid. However, dirt had slid down into an unwanted area.

On Thursday, Aug. 3, along the Old Hallow, a burial ground was found.

"The workers started shoveling the dirt when they uncovered human bones," said Bruce Beal, Nephi Utah Police Department Detective. "They called the police department."

Police responded by putting up yellow site protection tape and by contacting the state historical agency.

Ronald J. Rood, Forensics Antropologist, Curriculum Director and Assistant State Archaeologist of the Antiquities Section of the Utah Division of State History, and Arie Leeflang, Archaeologist with the Utah Division of State History, responded to the scene.

When they began working the site, they quickly found that there was more than the one skeleton. In fact, by evening, there were five which necessitated a return of Rood to the site on Friday.

Another fact became apparent, the burial was not the usual neatly completed task with bodies laid in some sort of burial arrangement with heads facing one direction and feet another.

"The bodies were heaped together," said Rood. "There doesn't seem to be too much of a plan."

In the beginning, before it became evident that more than two bodies had been buried at the site, Rood said he was hopeful that the way the heads were facing might be helpful.

Native Americans did have burial protocol.

"There is a big layer of what appears to be juniper bark over the top of the remains," he said.

One of the bodies was upside down.

"We did find a piece of glass and a glass button on the first day," said Rood.

The piece of glass was with one of the skeletons and the glass button was found when the earth around the first two uncovered bodies was sieved.

The layer of wood appeared to be bark and was falling into layers after having been buried for many years.

"A botanist can tell us what kind of wood this is," said Rood.

He said the bones could be anywhere from 100 to 200 plus years old.

While carbon dating requires funding and the destruction of a bone, Rood was hopeful that the site would lend clues as to the time and identity of the skeletons.

"It would not be appropriate to use carbon dating since it is not as accurate the more recent the remains are," he said.

One of the first to be uncovered was a fairly young male skeleton.

"He was a younger person at death," said Rood. "He has his wisdom teeth and has very good teeth."

A shovel-shaped incisor lead Rood to conjecture that the teeth might be those of a Native American, however, he said he would not be certain until the bones had been more closely examined.

If the bones turned out to be those of Angelo Americans, he said, an attempt would be made to identify them and return them to someone who would have an interest in seeing them re-buried.

If they proved to be Native American, they would go to the Native American Remains Review Committee and the Utah Division of Indian Affairs.

Likely tribes would then be determined and the bones turned over to them.

Rood said much more historical data will be gathered from the site before it can be determined just what and who the remains may belong to. Forensic historians will also examine the remains.

The workers preparing the site for construction had, earlier, found many animal bones. Some were those of horses and others of pigs and cattle.

Rick Gadd's concrete crew, along with the Creps, knew they should contact police because they understood that anytime human remains were found, no matter how old they appeared to be, the police must be notified.

"I want to thank you for contacting police," said Rood. "We thank you for doing the right thing."

"Maybe they are the remains of eight Native Americans which were killed and buried in Nephi in the days of the Walker War," said Chad Bowles, Nephi City Police Chief.

He said he had spoken with Cleve Winkle, who has been looking in Nephi for the remains of William Luke Sr. near the boundaries of the Nephi City Cemetery. Winkle thought the bodies might be those of eight Native Americans, said Bowles.

At this point, said Rood, any identification of the remains is conjecture.

Revenge and retribution for extermination of several Native Americans which occurred in Manti at the hands of settlers after several Native Americans had sought refuge there and the deaths of several Utes in another skirmish may have helped motivate a massacre at Uintah Springs, near the head of Salt Creek Canyon which, ultimately, lead to the killings of eight Native Americans at Nephi.

On September 30, 1853, four men, Thomas Clark, James Nelson, William Reed and William Luke, left Manti for Salt Lake City with two oxen-drawn wagons filled with wheat.

"William Luke was on his way to Utah's capital to meet his three sons and daughter-in-law who had just arrived in the Great Basin from England," said Winkle.

Isaac Morley counseled these men to camp on the San Pitch River in an area between the current towns of Chester and Moroni and wait there for him and a company of horse-drawn wagons traveling north to attend LDS General Conference. The two groups could then travel through Salt Creek Canyon together. Instead, the men traveled farther north to Uintah Springs, near the head of Salt Creek Canyon, and they camped there for the night.

When Morley and the others traveling with the horse team company reached the suggested camping site on October 1, they found it empty.

"When they approached Uintah Springs, Utes had attacked the camp that morning. William Reed's body lay stripped, scalped and disemboweled a short distance from the wagons," said Winkle. The throats of Luke and Nelson were cut, and they were disemboweled.

Morley, Peacock and the others found no trace of Clark.

Grain was emptied out of one the horse-drawn wagons, the three bodies were loaded and the journey resumed through Salt Creek Canyon. As they were ready to continue, numerous Utes appeared on the hillside.

When the settlers arrived in Nephi, the men unloaded the three bodies for burial.

On the morning of Sunday, October 2, another encounter with the Indians occurred. The Deseret News printed an account of a skirmish near Nephi in which eight Indian men met their death.

One woman and two boys became prisoners in Nephi.

Springville resident Luke Gallup wrote in his journal on October 3, "News from Nephi states 4 to 5 men killed by Indians in Salt Cr. Kanyon & soon after a Band of Indians near or going into Nephi were shot down, supposed to be the murderers."

Peter Gottfredson, author of "History of Indian Depredations in Utah," wrote that the company from Manti encountered an Indian camp and fought a skirmish in which eight Indian warriors died.

Martha Spence Heywood, a resident of Nephi and a polygamous wife of Territorial Marshal and leader of the Nephi colony, Joseph L. Heywood, said in her journal that the massacre at Uintah Springs incensed Isaac Morley so that he sought revenge on the Utes.

Heywood wrote: "This barbarous circumstance actuated our brethren, counseled by Father Morley of San Pete…and President Call of Filmore, to do quite as barbarous an act the following morning, being the Sabbath. Nine Indians coming into our Camp looking for protection and bread with us, because we promised it to them and without knowing they did the first evil act in that affair or any other, were shot down without one minute's notice. I felt satisfied in my own mind that if Mr. Heywood had been here they would not have been dealt with so unhumanly. It cast considerable gloom over my mind."

"The body of Thomas Clark was later found under the loose wheat filling the wagon left at the campsite. A member of the posse, George Peacock, was a relative of Clark. He took Clark's body to Manti for burial," said Winkel.

One of the seven bodies found by Friday did have a bullet hole through the femur, said Bowles.

"That finding was consistent with the body being a Native American," said Bowles.

"I'm kind of thinking that it is probably the site of the burial of the eight Native Americans who were killed in 1853," said Bowles.

Pat Baxter, Nephi City Police Officer, said that the archaelogical dig was interesting for the history of Nephi. He said Rood would continue looking at the site to see if the last Native American could be uncovered.

It may be that some of the six or more feet of earth covering the bodies may have to be moved by mechanical means. Rood has been tunneling into the bank of earth.

Bert Wright, Nephi City Police Officer, has been assigned to make the final report.


Please turn to page 12 for a late update to this story.