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George Washington Bean

Early Mormon Explorer

By Harry C. Dees; BYU Studies, Vol. 12, No. 2, p. 147-159; 1972





Among the notable and great men who explored and colonized the Great Basin, the imposing figure of George W. Bean stands as a sometimes forgotten pioneer. Although he served with well known army explorers...Stansbury, Steptoe, Simpson, and Wheeler...no true historical study has been made of this large, restless, one-armed traveler. Most of the material written by him was done in his later years and at a time when there was little interest in Utah pioneers; nevertheless, he recorded an extremely valuable account of exploration in early Utah. The following material, taken primarily from original writings, shows George W. Bean as a pioneer and explorer. No attempt has been made to include his life as a businessman, judge, politician, or Church leader.

George Bean came to Utah in 1847 at the age of sixteen, driving a wagon carrying his eighteen-year-old sister and her baby. Doing a man’s work, he had brought his sister across the prairies and mountains in order that she might be with her husband, William Casper, who had enlisted in the Mormon Battalion.

At the Sweetwater, Bean traded his knife for a "large bunch of dried meat” from some Snake Indians. This food lasted until the Platte River, where he earned one bushel of sour corn meal, helping emigrants cross the river. This food served until the party met the first group of Mormon emigrants fifteen miles below Chimney Rock on the Platte River. George turned over his team and returned to Salt Lake Valley with his parents. In the valley, “we located near a spring at the side of the road between Mill Creek and Big Cottonwood about 7 miles south of Salt Lake City."

By September, companies of California emigrants were gathering at Provo, where Captain Jefferson Hunt would guide them on to California. The Mormon settlers obtained powder from one of the trains to practice with their six-pounder and to "wake the natives round about." George Bean and his father were coming in from the fields when Lieutenant William Dayton called to George to help fire the cannon. They fired the piece once and reloaded, neglecting to swab the barrel. On the next discharge, the cannon exploded killing Dayton and tearing off George W. Bean’s left arm.

George Bean was often chosen as a guide because of his close relationship with the Indians which had begun following the accident. He had the confidence of the Indians to the extent that one Indian attempted to kill him so that George could accompany a deceased favorite squaw to the hereafter and take care of her. Bean narrowly escaped death on this occasion, and the Indian later explained that he had wanted the very best man he could find to accompany the squaw...and this man, in his eyes, had been George W. Bean.

In 1850 the Utah Valley settlers moved to the present site of Provo, and George W. Bean served as "assistant superintendent of meteorological observations at Fort Utah under Captain Stansbury." A "good log school" was erected, and George helped teach school in the winter. He had learned a little Spanish from the Indians; so early in 1851 Parley P. Pratt called on him and requested that he go with him to California and South America on a mission, but the trustees of the school would not give him their release.

On the return trip the explorers went by way of San Pete Valley and crossed the Sevier higher up, went by way of Warm Creek [Fayette], Gunnison and present Manti. New Mexican traders were encountered in Manti. They said that they had a license from Governor Calhoun and wanted Indian prisoners for slaves. Brigham Young told them that they would not be allowed to traffic in such trade, but later information indicated that they had continued in the practice in spite of President Young’s order. A writ was issued and George W. Bean accompanied Marshal Joseph L. Heywood and arrested the traders. After forty-one days the traders were released...on the grounds that there was no law on the subject in Utah. In February of 1852, George W. Bean in the capacity of interpreter for Indian Agent Rose went to the Uintah Valley with him. They made their way via Spanish Fork Canyon to Chief Tabby’s camp west of Duchesne Fork. Tabby furnished guides who took them to the north fork of the Uintah River where Louis Roubidoux had formerly established a trading post which was a rendezvous for the mountaineers for twenty-five years. Finding neither white man nor Indian there, they returned on 8 March 1852, traveling via Soldier Summit.

In April of 1853, Brigham Young started south with a party intending to extend settlement beyond Parowan; but when President Young arrived at Provo, he was confronted by a mountaineer named Bowman who claimed that he had been hired to assassinate him. Bowman hinted that he had plenty of help not far away; so President Young canceled his trip to the south, going only as far as San Pete. William M. Wall and thirty men, including George Bean, were ordered out of Provo to tour the southern part of the territory to ascertain if any strange party of proceedings could be found. The group rode for nineteen days through southern Utah, but there was no trace of “enemies in our borders.” In July of 1853, according to Bean, and Indian was beaten almost to death with his own gun by a white man over a dispute as to how the Indian should treat his squaw. The Indians demanded compensation for the beating, but the white man refused. Later in July, ill feeling resulted in the Indians’ killing Alexander Keele at Payson.

The morning following Keele’s death, Colonel Peter Conover’s company of militia was called out from Provo to quell any further disturbances. The militia found the Indians stationed in the canyons, preparing to withdrew to Sanpete Valley. It was decided to send Colonel Conover with about forty of the best horsemen to Nephi to warn the people and to aid them if necessary. George Bean was sent from Payson to Provo with information and found that due to false rumors of a massacre at Pondtown [Salem] the authorities were getting ready to send more troops to Payson. A dispatch had been sent to Salt Lake asking for aid; so it was decided that George should take a fresh horse and ride to Brigham Young with the correct information. He arrived just in time to stop the first group of mounted troops from leaving Salt Lake City.

This difficulty, called the Walker War, after Chief Walker, led to many problems in southern Utah. George Bean spent much of his time traveling to the various chiefs with messages from Brigham Young. Towards winter Walker moved south carrying with him much stock from Mormon settlements.

The Mormons began to fortify their town with mud walls; but, when Walker appeared in Parowan in the spring, he seemed friendly; so Brigham Young sent Bean, Porter Rockwell, and John R. Murdock with a message of peace. As George put it, "O. P. Rockwell, Amos Neff and myself were called by President Young to take Walker in hand and keep him peaceable if possible." During this time, Bean had many stormy experiences while keeping Walker and other Indians from again disturbing the settlements. On one occasion, George had to hide under some grain and another time had to retreat to Slat Lake until the Indians “cooled off.” Walker was eventually appeased by the Mormons’ sending beef, flour, and Indian goods. Rockwell and Bean were told to keep the Indians peaceful, even if it cost the Church $10,000 a year! When Colonel E. J. Steptoe of the U. S. Army arrived in Salt Lake in 1854, determined to punish the Indians for the slaying of a Lieutenant Gunnison and seven others, Bean and Rockwell were employed to treat with the Pahvants for the surrender of the Gunnison murderers.

It required many trips, but finally eight Indians were surrendered in January of 1855. George Bean accompanied Major John L. Reynolds to Fillmore to receive and convey the prisoners to Salt Lake City. Bean at this time was a deputy U. S. Marshal.

During the trial, George had been chief interpreter and as U. S. Deputy Marshal delivered the prisoners to the penitentiary.

George Bean, as a member of the party, reported the exploration: "In the latter part of March, myself, O. P. Rockwell, George W. Boyd, and Peter W. Conover were employed by Colossians E. J. Steptoe to make an exploration west from Rush Valley for a wagon road to the South side of Salt Lake toward Carson Valley, to save 160 miles of round-about travel to get to California. John Nebeker was one of our party. We fitted up a pack outfit and struck west from Government Station at Rush Lake, went through Johnson’s Pass across Skull Valley, by way of Granite Mountain in the middle of the Salt Desert, striking the old Hasting Wagon trail at East edge of the Desert. We found a good spring of fresh water at Granite Mountain, and from there to Redding Springs we crossed an almost continuous sheet of salt water and mud for several miles in face of the most severe sand and windstorm I ever experienced. It was cold and piercing and blew off the packs from the mules’ backs several times, and splashed the salt water over us until the whole outfit was covered with a stiff crust of salt, and very cold."

As the missionaries prepared to leave, Lieutenant S. Moury was sent by Steptoe with excess stock and about fifty soldiers to take the southern route to California while he himself went by way of the Humboldt. Bean was hired to guide Moury to southern Utah, but the arrangement was not satisfactory to either side. Bean reported, "I found the party a hard lot to travel with...not saints by any means." Moury wrote to Washington that the Indians were all being stirred up by the Mormons and that "at Parowan, my two Mormon Guides left me at their own request. It gave me no regret to lose them…"

Bean reported that after reaching Las Vegas Springs he and "our Santa Clara brethren went down to the Colorado River and thence down said river as far as El Dorado Canyon, suffering terribly from the heat."

Bean made a trip to Southern California with cattle and then went back to Las Vegas. Later he went to Salt Lake to discuss the problems in the mission with Brigham Young. As it was decided to discontinue the mission at Las Vegas in late 1856, Bean returned to Provo.

In 1857, as the U. S. Army invaded Utah, Bean was sent to Carson Valley, with Peter Conover and O. B. Huntington, as a guide. "We were to take a direct westerly course across the deserts and make the trip as quickly as possible, reckoned as twelve days." Huntington got "mystified," and they spent 18 days on the trip, living on horse meat the last three days. They "suffered much for lack of water" but reached the sink of the Carson River and went on to Washoe Valley. The Mormons in the area were told to pack up and return to Utah; and Bean and others went over the mountains with surplus cattle to sell, in order to buy wagons, teams, and supplies. George sold the cattle before reaching California and took a "pencil order" on the bank at Placerville. Taking the mail stage on to Folsom, he than rode the train to Sacramento, "surprised to find everything so comfortable." After only a day in Sacramento, George returned by horseback to Centerville in the company of William R. Smith, who had some $24,000 on his person in payment for some of the cattle. Others remained in Sacrament and purchased wagons, guns, powder, and other supplies.

After two or three days the party moved west to White Mountains and located a resting place on Snake Creek. Bean and others pushed west toward the Pahranegat Valley outside the Great Basin.

In October of 1858, George was engaged by Major J. A. Reynolds to make a trip west to aid the government in opening a new route to Carson Valley. Wrote George: "I engaged at $5.00 per day and furnished and set out immediately with Captain J. H. Sinpson, Chief of Topographical Engineers, as guide and interpreter. I had quite a time with Captain Simpson, who was greatly prejudiced against everything Mormon, and it was several days before he offered to speak to me, except as to the route or distance to camping places." Simpson finally gave up, and he and George had some "spirited arguments on Polygamy and Priestly Authority." Simpson was a very strict religious person who did not travel on Sunday if it could be avoided. Simpson called Brigham Young some "hard names," and George threatened to leave, going as far as getting on his horse before Simpson would apologize.

This expedition was a result of General Albert S. Johnston's desire to open a route to California by way of Carson Valley. The group of about forty men included soldiers, five wagons, a geologist, and George W. Bean. They left 19 October 1858 with instructions to explore westward as far as the late season would allow.

Although Simpson's printed report used the wrong first name for Bean, he spoke of him with satisfaction. George says that Simpson offered him $100 per month for all winter to assist in writing up a history of Utah. As usual, George "sought advice from my wise friend President Young," and he "suggested that I keep a careful distance from their influence."

In 1873, George was called to tour the Fish Lake country and meet with the Indians. On his return trip Brigham Young called him to settle in the Sevier County area. Although the Richfield area was considered his home until his death, George W. Bean continued to roam. He traveled back east to his birthplace, where he visited relatives for months, toured southern Nevada with the idea of settling there, and prospected for gold in the central mountains of Utah.

The last years of his life were spent in ill health caused by exposure, poor food, and the cannon accident of 1849. George W. Bean died in Richfield 9 September 1897.

Gustive O. Larson, BYU Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3, p.364-68: Interpreters serving the convention were D. B. Huntington and George W. Bean. The Superintendent and associates met with the invited chiefs on 6 June for preliminary talks and reading of the treaty. Its preamble stated:

Following monetary silence Chief Kanosh spoke: [Bean interpreting]
Then San-Pitch rose to speak: [Bean interpreting]

  • Tabby: [Bean interpreting] The hearts of the Indians are full; they want to think, wait until tomorrow; let us go back to our lodges and talk and smoke over what has been said today. The Indians are not ready now to give up the land; they never thought of such a thihng.

  • Sow-e-ett: [Bean interpreting] I am the father of you all. I have always been a friend of the Americans. (Mr. Young: He has.) I have never thrown away my friendship for the Americans...(Superintendent Irish: That is what everybody says of you.) After awhile Brigham and the Mormons came here. I saw him and he was my son, my friend. When I met President Young we talked and understood each other, me and my children the Utahs, and Brigham and his children. When some of my children stole horses and acted bad, did I break my friendship? No, never...I do not want to see it, I am old; my heart is very weak now, bit it is good.

Journal of Discourses, Vol.22, p.304, John Taylor, August 28, 1881: I am reminded of a case of mobbing which occurred lately in Georgia, in which Elder George W. Bean, a young man from this place, [Provo] was attacked, the mob as usual having been gotten up by Christian ministers. And this same class of men will tell you what good people they are, and yet they will approve such acts; and on the back of that they will ask that your children may be sent to them to educate, to be taught what? How to mob; how to trample on the rights and liberties of men, how to trample upon everything that is great and noble and exalted in Israel. And they will pull down the pillars of this nation by their mobocracies and infamies; and, yet, you will tamper with them, will you? Leave them alone. Tell them to convert those Christians who are engaged in mobbing their fellow-men, and when they get that done to come and convert you afterwards.

B. H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, Vol.4, Ch.111, pp.362-363: Four years before Bishop David Evans, of Lehi, had been called upon to explore for that region, but he had failed to find the country described. President Young felt that he had not penetrated far enough into the interior desert waste to find the succession of watered areas, and was not satisfied with his efforts. Later, namely in Marcy 1858, he went out George W. Bean from Provo, and Colonel W. H. Dame and Nephi Johnson from Parowan, to make a more extended exploration. These parties were made up chiefly of men from the southern settlements. Bean's company numbered one hundred and four persons, and were equipped for making settlements, teams, wagons, agricultural implements, seeds of barious kinds, etc. They moved down the Sevier River some distance wouthward, thence went southwestward, crossing alternating low mountain ranges and desert valleys, with occasionally very limited fertile spots, but few places suitable for settlement. In the White River Valley, about one hundred and fifty miles from Cedar Springs, however, they left forty-five of their number to open a farm. The remainder of the company divided and explored northwest and southwest through various valleys, but such springs and small streams as they found were too far north for settlement under the present instructions. Turning southward they went over the "rim of the basin" to the headwaters of the Muddy River, and in Muddy River Valley met with the Dame and Johnson party numbering between sixty and seventy men. Westward from this valley they learned from Indians met with that there was a great desert...doubtless the Ralston, the Great Admargosa and Death Valley Deserts...which observation from the mountain range overlooking it confirmed. From the Muddy River Valley the whole body of explorers divided, Dame taking with him twenty-eight men from Bean's party for the prupose of locating them in some suitable valley southward if one were found; while the remaider of the party under Bean started eastward for Beaver City, at which place they arrived on the 31st of May. In all the Bean party had traveled about eight hundred miles; they had crossed seven ranges of mountains and as many valleys, the latter ranging from ten to thirty miles in width, and from fifteen to one hundred miles in length; but they found no such place for habitation for the people as President Young had hoe for; but confirmed the correctness of Bishop David Evans' previous report.

Ibid, Vol.5, Ch.129, p.147: The treaty negotiations were held on the 7th, 8th, and 9th of June. The principal chiefs present were Sowiette, not very old Kanosh, Tabby, Toquone, Sanpitch, "and eleven other chiefs of lesser note, with a large corwd of Indians, among whom were bands of the Utes, the Pahvantes, Timpanogas and Cumumbahs. Dimick B. Huntington and George W. Bean were the interpreters."

Ibid, Vol.5, Ch.129, pp.160-61: At a meeting in Salt Lake City, held in July, at which there were present General B. R. Cowen, Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Hon. John S. Delano, Chief Clerk of the Interior Department, J. N. Turney, Civil Commissioner of Indian Affairs, George L. Woods, Governor of Utah, Hon. J. B. McKean, Chief Justice, and others, it was determined that the renegade Indians must be immediately returned to the reservation, peaceably if possible, otherwise to call upon the military to force them back. To this end a meeting with the hostiles was held, at which, through the interpreter, Judge George Bean, of Provo, the Indians were urged to return to their agencies. "Every argument that I urged to induce them to return to their agencies," said the special agent, "was stoutly resisted, they, stating in addition to te reasons already assigned, that, as the Spanish Fork Treaty was never ratified, therefore, the lands of Utah occupied by them before the coming of the white man, were theirs, and that the white man was only occupying the same by their permission. They also urged that they had, the night previous, received a revelation from the Great Spirit, that they might remain away from their agencies two months longer, when the "Voice from the West" would appear to them, and give instructions about their future course.

Ibid, p.163: Special Agent Dodge left word for Kanosh to follow is party, accompanied by Mr. Lyman Wood of Springville as interpreter, "but as the agents took along notoriously bad Indians, instead of those appointed by Colonel Morrow, "Kanosh declined to leave the territory and returned home. George Bean who had been selected as interpreter for the Indians could not make the hourney on account of sickness and the party left without an interpreter. The Indian chiefs had their interview with President Grant; and whether it was the effect of that interview, or of the impression created upon the minds of the chiefs by the extent of the country and the overwhelming numbers of the white race, which revealed the uselessness of further conflict with the white men, may not be determined, but the Utah Indians never again renewed hostilities.

Andrew Jenson, Church Chronology, October 17, 1872 (Thursday): A delegation of Ute Indians (Wanderodes, Antero, Tabiona and Kanosh), accompanied by Dr. Dodge, Indian Agent, and George W. Bean, interpreter, left Salt Lake City for Washington, D.C. There the had an interview with President U. S. Grant.







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Web Author: Dianne Elizabeth, © 1999
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