Fascinating life of Chief Posey

by Buckley Jensen

One of the principle reasons Mormon Pioneers were dispatched to the vast wilderness of Southeastern Utah in 1879 was to befriend the Indians.

Seemed simple enough. However, the Indians saw the pioneers as invaders. They had seen how the huge herds of cattle brought to San Juan earlier by rich Texas cattle barons had destroyed their lands by overgrazing.

They had experienced the decrease in wild game as a result of overgrazing. They had fought a low-key running battle with cowboys and criminals who preceded the Mormons for years. Is it any wonder that seeing hundreds of white people settling in the Bluff area was cause for concern for Indian leaders of the Ute, Piute and Navajo Tribes?

Despite the best efforts of the Mormons, there was usually friction just below the surface in Indian-White relationships in early San Juan County history.

One of the most respected Indian leaders (among his own people) in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s was a Piute man who married into the Ute Tribe. His name was Posey.

Posey was considered a troublemaker by many of the Whites, both Mormon and non-Mormon. Because he was an Indian leader and because he resented the overall intrusion of outsiders on sacred Ute land, Posey was indeed in the middle of most of the flare-ups that occurred in San Juan County during the 43 year period between 1880 and 1923.

Was his reputation as a troublemaker deserved, or was it born of the frustrations of the White population who had to deal with problems that arose between the two races?

Here is his story told by those who knew him best. You decide.

Posey was born in 1863 at Navajo Mountain, one of the most remote and isolated areas of one of the most remote and isolated countys in the Continental United States.

He was a Paiute. His father, Old Chee, had two wives. One of them (Pahnah) bore him a son named Mapau, called Sagwageri (green-hair), who later became known as simply Posey. This name was taken from a man named Porter Posey who worked as a blacksmith for the Hoskaninni Mining Company dredging gold on the Colorado River.

Porter was idolized by Sagwageri as a youth because Porter Posey let him and other young Indians borrow his blacksmithing tools to make jewelry and was kind to the Indian youngsters in other ways.

Posey grew up in the Navajo Mountain area as part of a large extended family. Life was good. Grass grew as high as a horse’s belly. Wild game was abundant and young Posey learned all the skills of his forebears, including becoming an expert with the bow and arrow.

As a young man, Posey married a beautiful young Ute maiden named Turah. Turah was the daughter of a prominent Ute named Poco Narraguinnep. Turah’s brother was known as Poke. Poke became one of the most respected patriarchal leaders among the Avikan Utes, who were of the Witapunuche band which lived in San Juan County.

Posey greatly enhanced his stature by marrying into the Ute tribe. But it was his courage, loyalty and tenacity, along with his ability to win and keep friends, that eventually made him a Chief among his people.

Posey and Turah were soul mates. They had three young sons, Jesse, Anson and a son who died in infancy. They lived happily for eight years.

One day, Posey accidently shot Turah. He ran as fast as he could to Bluff and brought Aunt Jody Woods, the mid-wife, back to his wickiup to minister to his beloved wife.

When Jody arrived, she could see that the injury was so serious there was nothing that could be done. Three days later, after enduring excruciating pain, Turah died in Posey’s arms. He was heart broken and mourned for her the remainder of his life.

Several years later, Posey married Turah’s sister, Mary Hatch, who’s Ute name was Kahdia. They produced two daughters, one of whom was Nancy Posey. The other died at birth. His second marriage again strengthened his ties to the Ute nation and particularly to Poke, his brother-in-law who was a powerful leader by this time.

Posey was involved in most of the skirmishes and battles that occurred between the Indians and White over the years. The Pinhook Battle of 1881 in the La Sal Mountains involved a gang of cowboys bent on killing an entire band of Avikan Utes. Thirteen cowboys were killed, along with many Indians.

In 1884, another battle called Soldier’s Crossing ended in the death of more Indians, a Colorado cowboy and a U. S. soldier.

Posey was a key figure in the Bluff war of 1915, which began as a result of Posey’s nephew Tse-ne-gat being arrested.

The Bluff Battle of 1923 has become known as the “Posy War” by Anglo historians and was also known as the “Last Indian Uprising In the United States.”

It all started back in 1868, when the Colorado Chiefs gave away the Avikan Ute land in Utah through a treaty. The Avikan Band were incensed about this sell-out and did everything in their power to remain on their ancestral lands in San Juan.

This was the cause of much of the friction between Anglos and Utes in subsequent years, because the Indians were afraid that if they capitulated, they would be forced to leave Southeastern Utah and live on a reservation in Colorado.

Just a month before the last battle in Blanding in l923, Mancos Jim, Poke and Posey, along with other Ute leaders, met with representatives of the United States Government to once again appeal for their right to retain their ancestral homeland.

Indian Agent E. A. McKean took their request to Washington. The Ute leaders felt optimistic that permission would be granted. Shortly after this meeting, Posey caught Joe Bishop’s, (another Ute) boy and Sanup’s boy whipping Corey Perkins of Blanding, who was unarmed. Posey ordered the boys to leave Perkins alone. The embarrassed boys rode on to Blanding and along the way they killed cattle belonging to the Mormons.

The boys were arrested and brought to trial by Sheriff William Oliver in the basement of the old school house in Blanding.

Albert R. Lyman was the defense attorney and Fred Keller was the prosecuting attorney. Posey came to the trial to try to help the Ute boys. His main motivation was that he wanted no serious trouble to occur which might jeopardize the impending decision from Washington.

The trial was held. Joe Bishop’s boy was found guilty. When everyone went home for lunch, Joe Bishop’s boy escaped by wrestling Sheriff Oliver’s pistol away from him, leaping onto Jess Posey’s race horse and heading north. In the process, he took a shot at Sheriff Oliver. He missed Oliver but the bullet hit the sheriff’s horse in the neck.

Posey ran on foot to warn his people of impending trouble. He ran into Joe Bishop’s boy and cursed him for starting the trouble. Weapons were drawn and Posey shot and killed Joe Bishop’s Boy.

Posey told his people to run and hide west of Comb Ridge, about 20 miles west of Blanding. He planned to stay behind and try to negotiate with the posse he knew would be coming.

As the posse approached, he was fired upon and a bullet hit him in the hip. He managed to get on his horse and ride to where his terrified people were waiting. Why had their Mormon friends suddenly “gone crazy” and for the first time ever started shooting at them?

According to Myers Cantsee, a Ute leader and nephew of Posey, Posey told his people not to kill or threaten the posse in any way.

There were three reasons for this order: First, many of the Utes in Blanding had already been rounded up and incarcerated. Posey was afraid that if any of the posse was harmed, the prisoners in Blanding would be killed.

Second, the Mormons had always been their friends and Posey felt their chances would be greatly enhanced if they did not fight back.

Third, Posey feared that if any of the posse were killed, the Utes would be forced to leave Utah and go to a reservation in Colorado, and all they had been working and fighting for for decades would be lost.

Posey told his people to lay down their arms and go with the posse back to Blanding. He felt strongly that the posse wanted him dead and decided to hole up and divert the posse’s attention from his people to himself.

A stockade was built in Blanding and the Ute people were incarcerated there for several weeks. Posey hid in a cave west of Comb Ridge trying to heal from his wound. His closest relatives brought him food at night.

One night, Myers Cantsee, Marshall Ward and Posey’s sons Jess and Anson, along with Jack Fly and Jim Mike, found Posey dead next to where he had been cooking biscuits on a campfire. His dog lay dead at his side. There were no marks on the dog that would have caused death.

Posey’s wound had been healing and appeared to have not been life threatening. Francis Posey stated that it appeared someone had sprinkled poison in the flour. Posey had made biscuits with the flour, fed some of them to his faithful dog and then ate them himself. He had been killed by an unseen, unknown enemy.

Posey’s body was buried by the group that found him. His body was dug up at least three times after his initial interment, despite the promise from U S Marshall Ward to the people of Blanding, that he had positively identified Posey’s body.

He had promised the Ute people he would not reveal the whereabouts of the grave if they would tell him where it was. He wanted to put all the rumors to rest and verify Posey had died. Nevertheless townspeople in Blanding tracked the Marshall’s trail back to the gravesite and opened the grave and took pictures of themselves with the body on two occasions.

Indian Agent McKean from Towaoc came with a coroner’s order to see if Posey was dead and to verify the same for the government. Posey’s grave was opened for a third time. The tribe felt violated by these intrusions into Posey’s burial place. His body disappeared shortly thereafter and for the last 75 years, the Utes have accused the Whites of stealing his body and the Whites have accused the Utes of the same thing.

In most of the accounts written about Chief Posey since his death, he is portrayed as the villain. He is often blamed for problems which he had nothing to do with, according to his family and friends. Despite his unsavory reputation among the Anglos, many white men had good things to say about him.

Albert R. Lyman stated, “In spite of his unorthodox notions and habits, I did not regard him as a bad man. He was not bad at heart. Deep in his soul were the intrinsic elements of manhood – courage, loyalty and love.”

His own people have written statements like the following: “Posey raised me. He was like a father to me. He taught me to be a good person.” – Arthur Dutchie.

“Posey was not a trouble causer like white people say he was. He was like a Moses and a Savior to his people.” – Chester Cantsee.

“The battles he waged his whole life were taken on because of his love for his people and his homeland. He was feared in San Juan because of his aggressive attempts to hold on to the land of his forebears for the benefit of untold generations to follow. He was an honorable warrior. He had much personal power and influence and he used it to defend his people and their lands.


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