Military honors for fallen soldier come after 123 years

by Terri Winder

In a fitting ceremony, held the day before Veteran’s Day, military honors were extended to a soldier who died in the line of duty 123 years ago.

Joseph S. Wormington, a U.S. Army blacksmith and scout, was killed in action on July 15, 1884, at Paiute Pass in San Juan County, Utah.

Attached to F Troop, he was with a group of 80 soldiers dispatched from Ft. Lewis, Colorado to help cattle ranchers in the region regain over 100 stolen horses. The horses had been taken from Verdure by Ute and Paiute Indians running with Mancos Jim, and driven beyond Elk Mountain into White Canyon.

Under the command of Captain Perrine, the military cohort was joined by about the same number of cowboys.

Unfamiliar with the country the Indians led them into, by the time the pursuers caught up to their prey they had been without food and water for some time. Still, they were determined to retrieve the stolen stock.

Wormington and a cowboy named James “Rowdy” Higgins volunteered to go ahead of the group, to ascertain the safety of the pass. They were both fired upon and died from their wounds. Their comrades were unable to rescue them or even retrieve the bodies.

It would be several years before prospectors Cass Hite and George Duckett found the skeletons of the two men and buried them in a shallow grave on a flat plain about two and a half miles from Paiute Pass, in a spot known as Soldier’s Crossing.

In 1932, Blanding scout leaders Vet Bradford and Lynn Lyman took a troop of Eagle Scouts to the gravesite. They found a double-headed sandstone marker and erected a protective fence around the grave.

Recently, Bradford’s great-grandson, 14-year-old Logan Bradford, decided to make the historic site his Eagle Scout project. A bronze plaque was provided by the Veteran’s Administration. A five foot tall chain link fence was built to enclose the gravesite, the original sandstone marker and the new headstone. A welded sign tells the story of the conflict. Members of the 1457th Utah National Guard Engineers used their heavy equipment to move protective boulders into place.

This past November 10, on a perfect Saturday morning, a memorial service was held befitting a veteran of the Indian Wars. Three scout troops and their leaders were joined by seven National Guard members in full uniform. As the scouts and the National Guard members stood at attention, historian Bob McPherson told the story of the conflict, taken in part from a written account of one of the soldiers. Then there was a three round volley; military taps were played by two Eagle Scouts; and the younger scouts performed the flag folding ceremony.

The grave was dedicated, and though there were no relatives of the deceased present, the minds and hearts of the audience were very much with the two young men who lost their lives 123 years ago.

A Missouri native, Wormington left behind a wife and three children, two daughters and a son. He died in the line of duty and, thanks to Boy Scouts who honor their heritage, his sacrifice will never go unacknowledged or be forgotten.

San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday

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