Sometimes events are put into motion that have no rational explanation and never come to an end. Such are the events in the following story. In order to tell this story, I have had to enhance the known facts, but the basic story is true.
In order to understand the story, you, dear reader, must know the background of Thomas. We are all shaped by our experiences in this life. Certainly Thomas had good reason to be cynical of the world. The very fact that he helped so many and was trusted by so many is evidence of the true character of the man.
Thomas, born in 1829, was the oldest son of John Winn and Christina Finch Winn. The Winns were early converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. They moved to Missouri and were driven out with the saints early in 1839. Thomas' two younger brothers, three year-old James and seven year-old Walstein died from the effects of exposure during this forced expulsion.
The Winn family took shelter in Quincy, Illinois with some relatives. Eventually they settled in Nauvoo, Illinois, where they made a home along with many of the other Mormons. The people in Quincy have a history of helping persecuted groups. Quincy was also an important stop along the underground railway for escaped slaves.
For whatever reason, people in parts of Illinois wanted to stop the Mormon religion. Eventually the prophet, Joseph Smith, was killed by a mob in Carthage, Illinois in 1844 and by 1846 mobs forced most of the Mormons to leave Nauvoo.
The Winns were no exception. They had forced to
leave almost all their possessions in Missouri and again in Nauvoo. They didn't
go to Winter Quarters with the main body of the Mormons, but, like many others,
settled elsewhere, possibly in Iowa or back in Quincy.
Thomas, at the age of 17, left home to work and earn money to help his family. He found employment along the Erie Canal. Even though he had been raised as a Mormon, he didn't identify with the Saints at this time. After two years, he heard two Mormon missionaries and he became convinced of the truthfulness of their message.
He returned home to convince his parents to relocate to Utah with the rest of the saints. Thomas, his mother Christina, and youngest brother George left for Utah in the spring of 1850. His father John and brother William stayed behind.
After their mother died in 1854, Thomas and George continued on the farm at Lehi, Utah. Thomas married Elizabeth Hatch this same year.
George and two Weeks boys had been assigned to take some of the cattle from the town to pasture west of Utah Lake and guard them. In February, 1856, indians attacked and killed the three boys.
Thomas' father, John, and brother William came to Utah later in 1856. They also settled near Lehi. John died in 1863. William lived in Lehi until his death in 1884.
In the fall of 1856, Thomas volunteered himself and a wagon to join the party that left Salt Lake to help the Willie and Martin handcart companies and the Hodgett and Hunt wagon trains. The rescue company very nearly perished themselves in the early blizzards that swept across the Wyoming plains that year. Nevertheless, they did succeed in rescuing most of the people in the four companies.
The following is an excerpt from a history written by one of his sons, William L. Winn.
"In the early winter Thomas was called to go out to Green River and meet Captain Willey's Handcart Company snowed in and camped on the banks of Green River. The snow was deep and the weather extremely cold and those poor emigrants were so badly frozen many of them lost their fingers and toes. James Reid, father of Robert Reid, was among that number. I have heard my father and him tell of the terrible condition they were in. The odor from those poor frozen people was so rank that the teamsters who were hauling them had to pull down the wagon cover between them and the people, so they could stand to sit in the wagon and drive their team. This caused the teamsters to suffer greatly with the cold and many of them froze their feet and ears."
The following year, Thomas was called by Brigham Young to return to the plains on a different mission. President Buchanon had sent an army under the command of a General Johnson to go to the Utah territory and quell the supposed uprising of the Mormons. William tells us that Brigham's orders were to "hinder them in every way so as to keep them in the mountains until winter snows came and made it impossible to travel. They were ordered to burn the grass, drive off their cattle, set fire to their supply wagons and in many other ways hinder but not to kill anyone only in defending their own lives." It would have been easy for Thomas to seek revenge on the soldiers for the fate of his two brothers who died in the Missouri expulsion. But Thomas chose to obey President Young.
Summit had been settled the year before. During the summer of 1859 indian threats and raids forced the settlers to gather at Maughan's fort, now Wellsville, about 15 miles south of their new home. In the fall, the settlers returned to Smithfield and spent a cold, hard winter with little shelter.
The pioneers in the new settlement felt resentment that they had been forced to leave their town before they had time to build even one room log cabins. When Thomas arrived there with his two wives in the spring of 1860, the settlers had begun to build a fort and cabins. Thomas was chosen to be the captain of the cavalry of the militia in the small community.
He was also chosen to be the town's marshal and Samuel Cousins was his deputy. Also, as a captain in the militia, he was charged with protecting the town from indians and gangs of outlaws that might disrupt the settlement.
A renegade band of indians had been harassing the settlers, stealing and driving off cattle and horses and generally causing problems. The leader of the band was called Pugweme. He was easily recognized by a black tooth in his lower jaw.
Pugweme was captured and locked up in one of the cabins until he could be tried. Thomas and Samuel guarded the building where the indian was being held. Pugweme's followers raced into the fort and called for him to come out. I'm sure that as the indians came in, Thomas thought of his brother, killed by another band of indians near Utah Lake. As the indians left, Thomas and Samuel fired at them, hitting and killing Pugweme. Samuel was wounded by the indians but recovered. The band of indians killed one man in Summit Creek canyon and severely wounded another.
Central Park in Smithfield, site of the old fort. The
building on the left is the Smithfield museum and marks the approximate
southwest corner of the fort.
Two of the Mormon apostles, Orson Hyde and E. T. Benson were sent troughout the territory about this time to advise and help set up local communities. When they arrived in Summitd they addressed the residents and asked them to change the name of the settlement from Summit to Smithfield, in honor of the town's first bishop, John G. Smith. The apostles further told the residents that they felt a restless spirit in their fort that had suffered a great wrong. The community was told that they must do whatever they could to put that spirit to rest so they could have peace within their settlement.
Thomas' conscience was pricked. He replayed the events of Pugweme's capture and death in his mind many times. He tried to imagine a different way of handling the circumstances and made a vow that he would never take another life unless he had no other choice.
Pugweme's body was disinterred and moved to the cemetery, on a hill a quarter of a mile east of the fort. Thomas was apparently one of the men who helped move the indian's bones. A few years later, Thomas built a large home on what was then Cemetery street, a short distance from the cemetery. On the front porch of his new home, Thomas kept a human jawbone with a black tooth. This was a terrible reminder to him of a time when he disobeyed a prophet of the Lord and took another human's life.
Over the next 22 years that Thomas was the town's marshal he was always careful to find ways to keep peace in his town without shedding blood. Many times his bravery and resourcefulness were put to the test. Sometimes he had to threaten wrong-doers with his gun, but he never again spilled blood.
Over the years as his family grew with children and then grandchildren, the jawbone remained on his porch. Many of his descendants were terrified of the grisly trophy. Years later, one of those grandsons bought the old house from his grandmother. One of the first things he did was to bury the old jawbone with the black tooth where no one would have to see it again.
This story might have ended there, but sometimes restless spirits will not let events in our past be forgotten. Every street in Smithfield was excavated in the 1990s to lay sewer lines. In the course of doing that, a human bone, a jawbone with a black tooth was dug up. After investigation to verify that the bone was not modern, the crew that dug up the jawbone buried it again in a secret location. We do not know where it is buried, but hopefully Pugweme's restless spirit is now at rest.