Pinhook Draw Fight

Picture By: Aubrie Strasters

write-up by Aubrie Strasters

Placed by: The National Register of Historic Places, Division of State History; Department of Agriculture, Forest Service; Grand County and the Moab Lions Club  

GPS Coordinates: 38° 33′ 58.95″ N, 109° 18′ 15.91″ W   

Photo Taken By: Aubrie Strasters

Photo Taken By: Aubrie Strasters

Historical Marker Text (1):  

Photo of Marker Taken by: Aubrie Strasters


The Pinhook Battleground Site on Manti-La Sal National Forest encompasses an 80-acre area and features a 20-foot square plot, which is the location of the common grave of eight men who were killed in the Pinhook confrontation. The Pinhook Battle, one of the largest and bloodiest battles between Anglo Americans and American Indians to occur in southeastern Utah, took place in 1881. The fight resulted in the death of eight Colorado posse members, two Moab cattlemen, and an unknown number of American Indians. The dispute was fueled by competition over the land and resources of southeastern Utah and southwestern Colorado. The National Register nomination and early commemoration efforts of the site were undertaken by the Moab Lions Club.

Marker placed in 2010

Historical Marker Text (2):

Photo of Marker Taken By: Aubrie Strasters

Left Side:


Photo of Marker Taken By: Aubrie Strasters

This is scared ground. It is the last resting place of eight people killed during one of the bloodiest battles to occur between settlers and American Indians in the Four Corners area. At least five others lost their lives in the fight.

For Centuries, Utes, Paiutes, Navajos and their ancestors had depended on the land. They gathered plants for food and medicines, drank the water, and hunted the wildlife. The mountains were places of safety and spiritual power.

Settlers began arriving in the area during the 1870s. At first the two groups cooperated, but as more cowboys and miners arrived, competition for land and resources escalated. By 1881, little remained of Ute land in Colorado. Large cattle herds in Colorado and Utah threatened to destroy the water sources, land and wildlife essential to the Ute way of life.

Hostility grew out of competition. In May 1881, emotions reached a boiling point. The Utes and Paiutes were stealing and killing livestock in retaliation for losing their lands. Colorado settlers called for an Indian War that would force all Utes out of the state. At a cabin near Delores, Colorado, ranchers confronted Utes traveling with allegedly stolen livestock. Two posses tracked the group for over a month.

Photo of Marker Taken By: Aubrie Strasters

The fight began the morning of June 15, when 36 posse members caught up to the Indians three miles south of here near Warner Lake. The chaotic battle ended here in Pinhook Draw, where most of the Anglo causalities occurred.  By the following day 10 Anglos and three Indians were found dead. This included two Moab cowboys who were in the area herding cattle. If more Indians died, their bodies were retrieved by their comrades and buried elsewhere.  

In the end, Colorado Utes were forced onto reservations in southwestern Colorado and northeastern Utah. Utes in southeastern Utah were able to avoid being moved onto reservations and their descendants now live at White Mesa, South of Blanding.

Left side:

            The Ute and Paiute band included 90 men, women, children, and hundreds of heads of livestock. Did they intentionally lead the posses to this place, where they could have an advantage in battle? Look around you. Imagine the Ute warriors on the hillside before you. What do you think?

Photo of Marker Taken By: Aubrie Strasters

The monument directly in front of you lists the names of the men buried here. It was originally dedicated Nov. 11, 1940 by Grand County and members of the Moab Lions Club. In 1998, the Lions Club had the site listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Historical Marker Text (3):

Photo of Marker Taken By: Aubrie Strasters




JUNE 15 1881







Extended Research:

            The La Sal mountains, known by the Navajos as Dził ‘Ashdlaii which translates to “Five Peaks,” have been a source of natural resources since the first humans arrived in the desert landscape that Grand County is known for. Among the red rock landscape sits a mountain range that has provided the water, wild life, vegetation and minerals needed to sustain cultures dating back to the Paleo-Americans, which is believed to be the first culture to call these mountains home.[1] Mormon missionaries arrived in 1855 and failed to colonize indigenous land due to tribal claims on the land. After finding mineral wealth in the mountains and decades of the government reducing native claims on their lands, the area saw its first permanent settlements of Ethno-European peoples in the 1870s.[2] These settlers consisted of farmers, cattlemen, miners and Mormon homesteaders.[3]

Though at first the newcomers and the indigenous inhabitants seemed to be able to share the resources that the mountains offered, more settlers followed which put strains on the area’s resources. Cattlemen drove off wildlife. Ranchers and farmers diverted and polluted water for increased land use. Subsequent settlers further encroached on indigenous territory.[4] Their impact on the natural resources became a problem for Ute and Paiute peoples as those societies had relied on the land for generations to supply them with all of life’s necessities. The encroachment disrespected sacred and culturally significant sites for those indigenous nations.[5]

In response, the Native peoples tried several tactics designed to drive the settlers away. They destroyed fences and cabins. They killed, stole or mutilated livestock and horses. They made threats towards the settlers and in some incidences fired at them.[6] White settlers demanded retribution on the Native peoples. They called for war against the tribes seeing it as a duty to their god to use the land for “progress” in the spirit of Manifest Destiny.[7] Where the settlers saw progress, the indigenous people saw destruction of their way of life.  

The story to the lead up of the Pinhook Draw fight is disputed. There was an incident at the cabin of John Thurman near present day Dove Creek on May 1, 1881, and by the end of the skirmish two men and two horses were dead. The men were Dick May, who was at the cabin to buy horses, and John Thurman, whose body was discovered a half a mile from the cabin. Historians debate the reasons for this fight and who discovered the scene, which could have been a prospector, a cowboy, or a member of the Navajo Nation. According to the white settlers, the dispute started a few days prior when Utes who were involved at the dispute at the cabin were caught trying to steal Thurman’s cattle and were beaten by Thurman and sent away. They returned to the cabin that day in order to exact revenge on the person who had beat them.[8] The Utes’ account came from an interrogation which Indian Agents conducted in the aftermath of the Pinhook Draw fight. It stated that they had met May at the cabin where after answering the door, May threw one of the Utes to the ground and walked over to their horses and shot two of them. The Utes claimed they killed the two men out of anger after May’s actions.[9]

Photo Taken By: Aubrie Strasters

Whichever story is true, this incident is one of many believed by the white settlers to have been perpetrated by this band of Utes. In response, after several other ranchers reported having their livestock stolen and cabins raided, the settlers decided to form a posse to track down and exterminate the Ute band. The initial posse was formed in mid-May and consisted of 12 men, but once they found out how large the band of Utes was, they went back and reenforced their numbers to 25. At the same time another posse, from the mining town of Rico, formed with the goal to recover stolen property, but really their intent was to “fight Indians.”[10] The two posses combined for a force of about 65 men and left to attack the Ute band. By June 15, their numbers had dwindled to under 35 men due to disagreements between the members of the group but this was the first contact with the Ute’s herd. The Ute band had made camp near Warner Lake in the La Sal Mountains and spotted the approaching cowboys. The men from the 90 person Ute band began to prepare for battle and the women prepared to flee with the children.[11]

The posse chased the tribal members through the camp near Warner Lake and for a few miles afterward until they hit Mason Spring. The posse’s leader, Bill Dawson, sent six men ahead to scout out the Ute position. Jordan Bean was among the six and in a later interview he stated the instructions that Dawson gave them was to “overtake the Indians and make a stand on them, and that he would bring the rest as fast as possible.”[12] The Utes led the men into the start of Castle Valley where there are steep cliffs on both sides, giving the Ute fighters the high ground.

Photo Taken By: Aubrie Strasters

The Ute men began to open fire on the posse members below who sought shelter and returned fire. Though the remaining posse was only 150 yards from the fight the majority of them did not join their comrades. Jordan Bean was wounded, knocked unconscious and left on the battleground. When he came to, he made his way to a spring where he found part of the posse moving back onto the battleground the next morning. They took him back to camp to recover where he learned that 9 men were missing. The posse returned for a second day of fighting which ended with a total of ten posse members and two Utes left dead on the battlefield over the two days of fighting. Though the number of Utes who died in the battle and the skirmishes leading up to the event is disputed, it is estimated to have been around 20 indigenous deaths.

Photo Taken By: Aubrie Strasters

The Pinhook Draw Fight has been said to be one of the “largest and most tragic Indian-White confrontation ever in terms of numbers killed,” which may be true for the region.[13] However, over the course of western settlement a significant number of lives have been taken over the ideas of who has a right to use the land and the manner of use that qualifies as correct.[14] The multiple stories of the Pinhook Draw Massacre reflect differing conceptions of land, use, ownership, and access. By colonizing and engaging in violence, the Pinhook Draw Massacre reflects the historical and cultural distance between the La Sal mountains and Dził ‘Ashdlaii.

For Further Reference:

  1. Firmage, Richard A., and Utah State Historical Society. A History of Grand County. Utah Centennial County History Series. 1996.
  2. McPherson, Robert S. “Indians, Anglos, and Ungulates: Resource Competition on the San Juan.” In Northern Navajo Frontier 1860 1900, 51–62. University Press of Colorado, 2001.
  3. Rusty Salmon, Robert McPherson, “Cowboys, Indians, and Conflict: The Pinhook Draw Fight, 1881” Utah Historical Quarterly Vol. 69, 2001, No. 1, 4-28
  4. Tanner, Faun McConkie. The Far Country: A Regional History of Moab and La Sal, Utah. 1976.
  5. Utah Daughters of the Pioneers. “Grand Memories.” 1972.

[1] Rusty Salmon, Robert McPherson, “Cowboys, Indians, and Conflict: The Pinhook Draw Fight, 1881” Utah Historical Quarterly Vol. 69, 2001, No. 1, 4-28

[2] Firmage, Richard A., and Utah State Historical Society. A History of Grand County. Utah Centennial County History Series. 1996

[3] “History: Grand County, UT – Official Website,” History | Grand County, UT – Official Website, 2022,

[4] Salmon, McPherson, “Cowboys, Indians, and Conflict,” 4-28.

[5] McPherson, Robert S. “Indians, Anglos, and Ungulates: Resource Competition on the San Juan.” In Northern Navajo Frontier 1860 1900, 51–62. University Press of Colorado, 2001.

[6] Salmon, McPherson, “Cowboys, Indians, and Conflict,” 4-28.

[7] Dolores News, May 22, 1880.

[8] Salmon, McPherson, “Cowboys, Indians, and Conflict,” 4-28.

[9] Agent W. H. Berry to Commissioner of Indian Affairs, July 18, 1881, Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City

[10] Salmon, McPherson, “Cowboys, Indians, and Conflict,” 4-28.

[11] Dolores News, June 16, 1883.

[12] Jordan Bean, “Jordan Beans Story and the Castle Valley Indian Fight,” Colorado Magazine 20 (1943): 19;

[13] Kathy Jordan, “Deadly Confrontation in Utah Took Place Shortly before GJ Incorporated,” Historic 7th Street, n.d.,

[14] William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 2003).

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