Captain John Gunnison
John W. Gunnison was born on November 11, 1812, in Goshen, a small pioneer
town in the Sunapee Mountains of New Hampshire. True to his pioneer roots, he grew up to be a lover of vast,
unexplored places filled with opportunity and excitement, and the rugged west
was relentless in its attraction.
A lover of education, Gunnison easily absorbed all that the schools of his
native town had to teach him, before entering West Point Military Academy.
He graduated with the highest of honors, and was made a second lieutenant
in the United States Army at the age of 24.
Gunnison immediately headed west to face his first task; the removal of the
Seminoles and Cherokees and placing them into Indian Territory.
In the years to come, he accompanied expeditions to the northwest, where
he spent most of his time making extensive explorations and surveys.
In 1849, Captain Gunnison was ordered to participate in an expedition
that was to survey a route to the Mormon settlements in the Salt Lake Valley.
While they were in Salt Lake City, the weather became so severe that the
company had no choice but to spend the winter there. Gunnison found the Mormons
fascinating, and used his time in Salt Lake to study them.
He published a book the following year, about the practices and doctrines
of these people.
In 1853, Gunnison, now a captain of the Topographical Engineers, was placed
in command of a party that was authorized to find a transcontinental railroad
route from the Mississippi to the Pacific. On Sept. 6th of that same
year, after having crossed the mountains, Gunnison and his party camped along
the Gunnison River near present day Gunnison.
The party continued west into Utah, following roughly what is today CO
50. On October 25th,
while looking for a place to hole up for the winter, the Gunnison party was
attacked by Native Americans. Gunnison and all but four of his men were killed.
The shoulder-straps worn by the brave young captian on that sad day are
today kept in a vault of the First National Bank of Gunnison.
It was the general belief that the massacre of Gunnisonís party was
instigated by the Mormons, either because of some of the opinions he expressed
in his book on Mormon history, or because they were afraid that a railroad would
bring undesirable and hostile elements to their institutions.
No one really knows for sure, and the massacre could very easily have
been just another battle on the trail of civilization.