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The uprising of Polk and Posey in 1915

Shooting leads posse from Cortez on manhunt to Bluff City
Joe Akin and Four Utes died in the last war between Utes and whites at Bluff, Utah in 1915. Back row: Jim Honaker, Sterl Thomas, Elmer Belcher. Front row: Five unknown Utes, Clem Honaker and Henry McConnel.

In February 1914 a sheepherder by the name of Juan Chacon had been herding sheep for some Colorado sheep men in the vicinity of East McElmo Canyon. He quit his job, drew all of his wages, and started home on horseback.

His home was in Blanco, New Mexico, so he started across the Ute Reservation toward the San Juan River. He stayed all night at a Ute camp somewhere north of Marianna Springs. That night he played cards with the Utes and they learned that he had quite a lot of money in his pocket. The following morning, he resumed his journey toward the San Juan.

Polk’s boy Tse-Ne-Gat, known as Everett Hatch on the Ute rolls, rode along with him for several miles. A short distance south of Cowboy Springs, the Ute boy shot the Mexican, supposedly robbed him, put a rope on his feet, dragged him over to the arroyo, rolled him off into the arroyo and returned to the Ute camp.

Walter Lopez, an Native policeman at the time saw part of this happening from a distance. When he arrived at the scene of the murder, he discovered the body in the arroyo. He went immediately to Navajo Springs where the Ute Agency was located at that time and reported it to the agency superintendent.

The next day, Native policemen from Navajo Springs went to the Ute camp where Polk’s boy was staying to arrest him but could not find him. His people would not tell them where he was. Superintendent Jenkins reported all of this to the Montezuma County Sheriff, Sam Todd, at Cortez.

Todd, along with his deputy, went to the Ute camp to arrest the boy. They failed to find him, and his people refused to let them search for him. Then the sheriff with his men made a second trip to the camp. They met with no success, as the boy’s people would not give him up.

About a year after this, the boy went with his father, Polk and some more Natives in Polk’s band to Bluff City, Utah. The sheriff at Bluff City tried to take Everett Hatch into custody but failed to do so.

A U.S. marshal from Salt Lake City was then called in to arrest Tse-Ne-Gat. Failing to do so, he came to Cortez and through the sheriff’s office, hired a posse of men from Dolores and Cortez to help him capture Tse-Ne-Gat.

The marshal also hired a man to cook for the posse, drive the wagon and haul the food and beds for the men. The posse consisted from 23-to 30 men along with the Deputy Sheriff Mr. Gingles. They were ordered to go to Blanding, Utah, where they stayed for two or three days.

They all slept in a big barn. One cold rainy night about 11 o’clock, orders were received to go to Bluff City. At dawn the next morning the posse rode into Bluff City.

The Natives were camped on the west side of Bluff City at Cottonwood Wash about a mile from where the posse halted. As soon as the men were all together, they were ordered to proceed to Cottonwood Wash. The Ute camp was on a little flat, north and west of the camp was a sand ridge.

When the posse was at the place where the road crossed Cottonwood Wash the sheriff from San Juan County, Utah sent about one-half of the men up the wash in from of the ridge. It was hoped to surprise the Utes and get them to surrender without any trouble. The men were in front and behind the camp as planned but the surprise failed because an old woman came out of a tent, saw them and began to scream. Her screams awoke the Ute men, who came out of their tents shooting.

The bank in front of the camp was too steep for the men to ride up on their horses.

They had to go up the wash a little way in order to get out of it. As they were coming up the wash single file, the Natives ran by shooting at them. One man could not get his horse up the bank, so he rolled off his horse and shot one of the Natives there.

Another Native was shooting at the men from behind a big rock. Just as he stuck his head up to shoot someone shot at him. The bullet glanced off and hit him in the face. No one knew how bad he was hurt. The rest of that morning there was no organization.

Members of the posse and Natives were just shooting everywhere. Some of the Native men and women wanted to give up and were taken to Bluff City, where they were locked up in a room over a store that had formerly been an old courthouse and left with guards.

One of those Natives who was handcuffed tried to escape from a second story window and was shot and killed by a guard.

The posse thought that four or five of the Natives were killed in the first morning’s fight, but the exact number was not known. A number of Natives, including Polk and his son, escaped up Cottonwood Wash. They climbed out on a high rim rock and shot at the posse from there.

Some of the posse, thinking they could get a better shot at the Natives or capture them came back across Cottonwood Wash to the east side of Bluff, where there was a few houses. Among those men were Joe Akin, Grover Brittain and my grandfather Frank Pyle. Those men stayed together and got off their horses. They stooped low to avoid being seen as they ran up on the ridge. Joe Akin was shot in the head and killed as they looked over the ridge. The shot that killed him was fired from a long distance away, reportedly by Polk.

Some of the posse were still on the west side of the Wash. Some were riding horses and some off their horses while looking for Natives. Posey and his band had camped about a mile southwest across the valley. They heard the shots and came up behind the posse. It is believed to have been Posey who shot Joe Cordova through the body. The bullet entered his body passing through both lungs and coming out through his left arm. With help, the wounded man rode to Bluff City, where he was taken into one of the homes and given first aid until a doctor arrived from Cortez. He was still alive at the time of this interview. Shortly after the shooting of Joe Cordova the Natives cut the telephone wires.

Posey’s men cut five of the posse members off from their horses and took the horses. The five men escaped and walked back to Blanding. After taking the horses, Posey and his band returned to the San Juan.

There was a little more shooting that morning, but no more casualties. Natives were seen but always at a distance. About 1 o’clock that afternoon the shooting ceased. By the time the posse went out the next morning, all of the Natives who had not surrendered or been captured had gone down the San Juan in Comb Wash. They were not followed down there.

The next day after the shooting Joe Akin’s body was taken by wagon back to McElmo accompanied by three guards. At McElmo, this wagon was then met by a lighter wagon and taken on to Dolores. On the trip to McElmo, the driver of the wagon and the guard saw a number of Natives galloping on horseback on the distant mesas, but they did not come close.

Most of the posse stayed in Bluff City after the fight until the U.S. marshal released them.

General Scott from the U.S. Army came to Bluff City and sent word to Polk and his son to come in and have Tse-Ne Gat give up. He assured them that his son would not be dealt with too harshly. They came in, and Everett Hatch, known as Tse-Ne-Gat, was taken to Denver, where he was tried in the U.S. court. He was in Denver a few months before his release. He returned to his people but died of tuberculosis shortly thereafter.

As told to me by my grandfather, Frank W. Pyle in 1952. He was one of the men from Dolores in the posse formed by the U.S. Marshal.

Permission to reprint article given to June Head by Frank Pyle. She may be contacted at 970-565-3880 or questions or comments.