Publish date:
Updated on

Lot Smith, Mormon soldier, is killed by Indians

Lot Smith, one of the leading soldiers in the Mormon’s military confrontation with the United States Army, is killed by Navaho Indians in Utah.

Smith was born into a Mormon family in Oswego, New York. At the age of 16, he joined a contingent of Latter-day Saints who fought for the United States in the Mexican War in California. He then moved to Utah, where he joined Brigham Young’s Territorial Militia and saw action in several campaigns against Native Americans who were hostile to the Mormon settlers. Though Smith won praise as a loyal defender of the Mormon settlement in Utah, the precise nature of Brigham Young’s theocratic community was unclear: Was Utah an independent nation or a territory of the United States?

During the 1850s, the ambiguous status of Utah led to an armed conflict between the United States Army and the Utah militia in which Smith played a central role. Determined to assert federal control over Utah, in 1857 President James Buchanan ordered U.S. soldiers to Utah to ensure Mormon loyalty and acquiescence to federal authority. That July, a force of soldiers that became known as the Utah Expedition left Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and headed for Utah.

Young feared that the soldiers were not a legitimate federal army but rather an armed mob of anti-Mormon fanatics. He directed his Mormon militia to impede the progress of the U.S. Army. Fortunately, the Mormon militia found that the ill-prepared forces under the leadership of Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston were easily stymied without having to resort to actual combat. Now serving as a major in the Utah militia, Smith was able to capture and burn two of Sidney’s provision trains of 52 freight wagons and drive off most of the oxen and beef. Brutal weather combined with the Mormon’s effective destruction of his supply lines forced Johnston to retreat to Fort Bridger, Wyoming.

Smith’s successful efforts, and those of other leaders of the Mormon militia, may have kept the conflict from turning into a full-scale war. By the following spring when Johnston’s army again headed toward Salt Lake City, the passion for war on both sides had cooled. Brigham Young, who claimed he had always been loyal to the United States, accepted a new gentile governor for Utah Territory. If the Mormons had indeed once dreamed of creating an independent theocratic community in Utah, they now abandoned the idea and largely accepted federal authority.

For his part, Smith went on to play an important role in expanding Mormon settlement in the West, leading a successful effort to colonize northern Arizona. He became a forceful, and some said autocratic, leader of the Mormon settlement at Tuba City, where he established his Circle S Ranch and may have taken as many as eight wives.

In the 1890s, the Arizona Mormons came into increasing conflict with Navaho Indians who grazed their sheep on land that the Mormons claimed as their own. Smith apparently angered the Navaho by shooting several of their sheep he found grazing on land he claimed. On this day in 1892, a small band of Navaho retaliated by ambushing Smith and shooting him to death. He was 62 years old.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!


French defeated in Spain

At Vitoria, Spain, a massive allied British, Portuguese, and Spanish force under British General Arthur Wellesley routs the French, effectively ending the Peninsular War. On February 16, 1808, under the pretext of sending reinforcements to the French army occupying Portugal, more

Pershing attacked by Mexican troops

The controversial U.S. military expedition against Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa brings the United States and Mexico closer to war when Mexican government troops attack U.S. Brigadier General John J. Pershing’s force at Carrizal, Mexico. The Americans suffered 22 casualties, more

Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity

John W. Hinckley, Jr., who on March 30, 1981, shot President Ronald Reagan and three others outside a Washington, D.C., hotel, was found not guilty of attempted murder by reason of insanity. In the trial, Hinckley’s defense attorneys argued that their client was ill with more

Civil rights workers disappear

In Neshoba County in central Mississippi, three civil rights field workers disappear after investigating the burning of an African American church by the Ku Klux Klan. Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, both white New Yorkers, had traveled to heavily segregated Mississippi in more

U.S. Constitution ratified

New Hampshire becomes the ninth and last necessary state to ratify the Constitution of the United States, thereby making the document the law of the land. By 1786, defects in the post-Revolutionary War Articles of Confederation were apparent, such as the lack of central authority more

Rolling Thunder raids continue

U.S. planes strike North Vietnamese petroleum-storage facilities in a series of devastating raids. These missions were part of Operation Rolling Thunder, which had been launched in March 1965 after President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered a sustained bombing campaign of North Vietnam. more

Communists storm U.S. base near Tay Ninh

Approximately 600 communist soldiers storm a U.S. base near Tay Ninh, 50 miles northwest of Saigon and 12 miles from the Cambodian border. The North Vietnamese had been shelling the base for two days, followed by six attacks on the city itself and the surrounding villages. About more

Pele leads Brazil over Italy

On June 21, 1970, Brazil, led by soccer legend Pele, wins its third World Cup championship with a 4-1 victory over Italy. The game, at Aztec Stadium in Mexico City, was attended by 112,000 spectators, most of whom could but marvel at the spectacular play Pele and the Brazilians more

The KKK kills three civil rights activists

Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney are killed by a Ku Klux Klan lynch mob near Meridian, Mississippi. The three young civil rights workers were working to register black voters in Mississippi, thus inspiring the ire of the local Klan. The deaths of Schwerner and more

French withdraw navy from NATO

The French government shocks its allies by announcing that it is withdrawing its navy from the North Atlantic fleet of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The French action was viewed in the West as evidence that France would be pursuing an independent policy regarding more

Grant extends the Petersburg line

On this day, Union General Ulysses S. Grant stretches his lines further around Petersburg, Virginia, accompanied by his commander-in-chief, Abraham Lincoln. After six weeks of heavy fighting between his Army of the Potomac and Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in a series more