First Settler in Battle Creek

Note:  The following story was submitted to the Cache Valley Newsletter, Edition No. 26, December, 1970, by J. Harold Manning of Spring Valley, California.  John Manning is a grandson of John Winn.  This story has been painstakingly researched by both Manning and Newell Hart.  “Captain Senate” was a real person, but “Senate” is a fictitious name.  All other names are real, and the story is true.

 John Winn was among the earliest settlers in Franklin County.  The first store in Preston was owned and operated by Dennis Winn, a brother to John.  In 1867, John Winn built the second home in Preston area-- a cabin which was used during the herding season.  It was north and west of the A. W. Hart home on Bear River, and that section was called “Winn Bottoms.”  The area referred to has had various names over the years which describe the river bottom between Preston and Dayton.  

The Winn family had called South Carolina their home since the Revolutionary War.  The family migrated from Virginia to what is now Winnsboro, South Carolina.  Winnsboro was founded by General Richard Winn and Colonel John Winn, who had both distinguished themselves during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

               Another John Winn, one of their descendants, was born in 1824 in Tennessee, the second of nine children born at Rock Creek.  Tradition shows John Winn to be a fearless, aggressive, but mild-mannered man, full of laughter and wit with a character full of human magnetism.  He and his lovely young wife, Mary Jane Akes Winn, were living in Nauvoo, Illinois, at the time of the historic mob action.


                Against the counsel of Brigham Young and Amassa M. Lyman (church apostle) a man I’ll call “Captain Senate” left Nauvoo with a wagon train of trusting people headed for North Dakota. 


                “If you go you’ll get into trouble,” Brigham Young warned.

                Senate ignored the warning and set off, with John Winn, wife Mary Jane, and cousin Jim Wilson and wife as part of the group in the wagon train.  Perhaps they were nervous about the mob violence and determined to leave.  Repeated messages from Brigham Young during their journey to “please return to Nauvoo,” were also ignored by Senate.

                At first, Captain Senate (the title was one he chose for himself) was jovial.  However, as they journeyed into the wilderness he seemed to change.  He became more demanding.  After several days, John Winn was ordered by the captain to give up one of his two yoke of oxen which was to be used by some of the less fortunate members.  This order was taken in good faith by John and he obeyed it willingly.  


                According to those who knew the history of this trek attempted by Senate, it has been said he had a number of friends that he favored, and who were not ready to make the long hazardous journey to North Dakota.  Additionally, after the oxen had been taken, the captain issued orders that all rations would have to be cut in order to survive.  They traveled a few more days when the company was told all foodstuffs and any other supplies in short demand would have to be divided with the less fortunate.  The last order didn’t make sense to many of the party.  It was true that some needed help, but the overall condition of the group was good.  The supply wagons were loaded to the hilt.  Nevertheless, they obeyed the order in good faith.  They pushed onward in the unrelenting heat of summer.

                 The oxen, horses and other livestock were growing leg-weary, and the traveling was getting steadily tougher.  Again the captain called them together after a strenuous day in almost impassible country, and told them that a common commissary would now be set up and that all foodstuffs would be issued daily.  Before this time, he had cut their rations drastically, but now they were told that the rations would be cut to three gills of corn a day per person.  This amount is about the least that one can survive on.  At length, when both men and beasts were tired and sore-footed, when the covered wagons were sorely in need of repair, the company was ordered to stop at a camp set up in advance by the scouts.  They would rest here.

                They were probably now in the southern regions of South Dakota, tribal home of the Sioux and the Pottawattamie.  Guard mounts were posted to watch for Indians and wild animals.  They had to herd their livestock to keep them from straying or being stolen, and good pasture had to be found.  They had to rotate herds day and night.

​                 It was at this time, as man and beast recuperated, that John Winn, who was young, lean and wiry and quick to mend, saw a chance to get some wild game to supplement their meager rations.  So early one morning, while most of the camp slept, he slipped out of bed quietly and went on a hunting trip, reporting to the guard before he left.  Sometime later he returned, happily, with a grouse and a sack of wild honey.  As he approached the camp he was met by his wife.  She had a pallor that haunted him; she was half-starved and pregnant.  As they walked toward their wagon, something seemed to rebel in John’s mind.  This unrighteous treatment wasn’t necessary.  The captain, interested only in having his orders obeyed to the letter, must have some ulterior motive.  He had become a cruel taskmaster now that the point of no return had been reached.

                At supper that night, John and Mary Jane had his cousin Jim Wilson and his wife as guests.  John had turned the wild grouse over to the commissary to be divided among the leaders of the group, who were well fed according to their records, while the majority were pitifully malnourished.  The next morning all Hades broke loose, for Capt. Senate had heard that John Winn and his guests had dined on honey the night before.  He made it his business to investigate.  The captain ordered John Winn’s possessions searched, by what authority I don’t know.  When honey was found it is claimed he acted like a maniac.  Some kind of kangaroo court was held, with the captain being the sole judge.


               John Winn was sentenced to death before a firing squad!

                If any crime at all had been committed, it couldn’t have been more than a misdemeanor.  And if the captain had no authority delegated to him by the church, he had even less given him by civil law.  When a firing squad was chosen it consisted of the captain’s son only.  I am confident that no one else could have been found that would be willing to execute this insane order.


                John Winn was marched out to a secluded spot a short distance from the camp.   Young Senate was handed a rifle after John was placed on the spot designated by the captain.  John was asked if he wanted a blindfold.  He refused.  Then young Senate was ordered to proceed.  He brought the rifle up to his shoulder and took deliberate aim at John’s heart.  Then suddenly he lowered the gun and asked his father, “Shall I shoot him, Father?”  To this Capt. Senate is reported to have said, “Do as you please, my son.”

                John is said to have reached up and jerked his shirt open exposing his bare chest and bellowing, “Shoot, you cowardly rats.  I dare you to!”

                This action put the captain in a poor bargaining position.  So to save face he altered the sentence after rescinding his first order.  In its stead he imposed the most inhuman order that I have ever heard imposed upon anyone in church history, save the cold-blooded murder of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum.  He ordered that John Winn and his wife, Mary Jane, and John’s cousin, Jim Wilson and his wife, be left on the plains to die, afoot, with only the clothes they stood in.  Their teams, wagons and all their personal belongings were to be confiscated by the company.  There was one exception:  when someone in the company started to take Mary Jane’s unborn baby clothes it is said she fought like a tiger and was able to keep them.

                When the wagon train left the site and headed toward North Dakota, four lonely souls were left to perish in the wilderness.  This could have very well been the end, but fortunately it was not.  I am not aware of how many days they were in this horrible condition, without food, clothing and shelter, but I am certain that they prayed daily for deliverance.  It was following one of these supplications that they saw on a distant horizon, a great band of Indians migrating probably to North Dakota.  Their ponies were stirring up a little dust along the trail.  It was a warm day, as an early Indian summer had already set in.  A quick decision had to be made.  They had one alternative to starvation and that was to risk being scalped by these Indians; that is, if they could draw their attention.  John Winn left on a wobbling run, yelling at the top of what little voice he had, waving his hat, hoping to be seen or heard.  He was soon able to attract their attention and as they came to a stop, Jim Wilson caught up with him.  The women had been left behind, hidden, and told to remain quiet until it could be determined whether the Indians were friendly.

​                The Indians waited, rifles and bows ready for quick action, if necessary, as John and Jim made their approach.  Instructions had been given for the Indian women and children to move on while only the warriors waited in mute silence.  Two braves then slid down from their horses, rifles in hand, and came cautiously out to meet the two white men.  It must have been a strange sight, even for Indians, to see two unarmed white men, gaunt, hollow-eyed, and approaching on foot.  Perhaps it seemed to the old chief that the odds were all in his favor, unless, of course, this was a trick to draw their attention while something else more drastic was taking place.  One might speculate that John and Jim may have wondered, at this point, if they were using the right tactics, or if they had made the wrong decision.


                The two Indians met these daring but foolish whites a short distance from the main body of the tribe.  John and his cousin were searched.  Then in broken English, one of the Indians began asking curt but pertinent questions.  Who were they?  Where had they come from?  Who had sent them?  The two white men answered as best they could and then asked to see the chief.


                The old chief had already dismounted and was standing alone a short distance away.  He was waiting patiently, studying the two strange whites intently, as the small group moved toward him guided at gunpoint.  After a nod from the chief to advance their prisoners, with motions being used now as the only language spoken, the old chief stood with his arms folded across his chest and his legs spread apart, watching the group approach.  The group came within eight feet of the chief and were stopped.  He looked them over carefully, apparently trying to determine if their motives were fair or foul.  His countenance never changed.  Finally, the chief spoke in his native Sioux,, giving instructions to his young brave who would interpret to the two captives.  The whites were told he wanted a complete and honest statement from them, that their lives depended on their truthfulness.


                So John Winn acted as spokesman.  He told of their harrowing experience, of their half-starved wives, that one was going to have a baby, that they were only a short distance away, left with instructions to flee if he or Jim were shot.  The chief listened attentively, stopping his interpreter from time to time, asking for detailed explanations.  He let John tell the story from start to finish.  When the story was all told the old chief remained silent for a few moments.  Then he asked for the wives to be brought forward.  Under careful surveillance, Winn and Wilson under guard retreated to the hiding place of their wives, and brought them to the chief.  When he saw that all four were the victims of these terrible circumstances, he seemed convinced John was telling the truth.

                Still, all were brought to the camp that was being set up, then one by one, the chief interviewed each white person separately with the help of the interpreter.  Finally he seemed satisfied and his attitude changed to a feeling of trust.

                The chief ordered his tribesmen to gather, and unexpectedly the young braves broke away and returned shortly in their war bonnets, painted faces, and all their war regalia.  John and Jim sprang toward each other talking loudly, simultaneously, turning to the young Indian who spoke a smattering of English.  They asked anxiously what was happening.  They were told that the chief had given an order to overtake the wagon train, to swoop down upon it and kill everyone … not to leave anyone alive.

                This news sent the little group reeling from the impact of his words.  They were stunned beyond belief.  They were at a loss to know what to do.  Their intent had not been to seek revenge.  All they were seeking was a chance to live.  Were they guilty of selfishly bringing sudden death upon these people through telling the truth?  Most of these people took no part in Senate’s mad scheme.  Senate had starved his little group into absolute submission while he waxed fat.  There was no question in John Winn’s mind:  the people in his band would have helped him if they could.  All these things ran through his mind while the Indians were getting ready to attack.


                They went immediately to the chief and explained that most of these people were innocent and not at fault.  They pleaded mightily with him.  Their pleas fell on deaf ears.  Horses were being led in.  John repeatedly asked the interpreter if he was relaying their messages, and each time the answer was yes.  Time was running short and slaughter seemed inevitable.

                Abruptly, Mary Jane threw herself at the old chief’s feet, and she cried, “Don’t kill them!  Don’t kill them!”  She in her delicate condition, was on her knees, pleading for her friends.  When the chief looked down upon Mary Jane, a great bond seemed to weld between these two groups.  The chief turned slowly away and then brought himself up to rigid attention and then his clear voice seemed to penetrate heaven and earth as he gave the order to dismount.  The chief had reversed his decision and now a great silence fell on all the people.

                The strain was too much for Mary Jane and she crumpled to the ground.  Before John could reach her, a young Indian squaw ran quickly to her side.  Now she was kneeling beside her.  Soon several Indian women were around Mary Jane, and in a moment she was lying on a soft bed of buffalo robes inside a small wickiup.   The Indian women prepared jerkin, parched corn and delicious bouillon for the weary strangers.  The two couples, after eating the first meal they’d had for days, all fell asleep in the wickiup.

                The next morning when John threw back the flaps of the wickiup and gazed outside, he was astonished to find nothing but the ashes of a burned out fire.  The Indians had moved on, so quietly that the Winns and Wilsons had slept through the noise.  The two couples found three ponies tethered to a log, an American pack saddle and jerkin, parched corn, a few potatoes and some pottery.  Underneath the buffalo robes the Indians had left knives, a rifle, and an ample supply of caps, powder and shot.  John Winn made a vow at that time that he kept throughout his lifetime:  he would help his Indian brothers from that time on if ever he could.

                The group returned to Nauvoo, perhaps stronger and wiser.  It must have been a strange sight to the people of Nauvoo as this little group entered their city.  Two men walking in front, leading two small pinto ponies, the ladies riding, while a third pony carried the pack trailed behind the Jim Wilson horse.  In the arms of one of these ladies there was held very tenderly a baby, Mary Jane’s first child, a boy they named Minor.

                 In 1852, John Winn was among the H. B. M. Jolley Company that crossed the plains to Salt Lake City, and later came to Franklin, Idaho.  John lost Mary Ann at Winter Quarters and later remarried.

                What happened to Capt. Senate?  According to Harold Manning, he was dis-fellowshipped from the church, and his followers drifted back to the main body of the church.  The last that is reported of him is that he was seen in the company of two Indian squaws heading for California.  (CVN #27, p. 10)




The following excerpt was found in a BYU Master’s Thesis by Lorine S. Goodwin entitled “Concepts in American Local History:  Community in Winder, Idaho, 1981, Chapter V, pp. 87, 94-

 In advance of the railroad, John Winn, a Mormon polygamist, built a permanent log home at Battle Creek in 1877.  His brother, Joseph, and a Mr. E. Brockway built residences nearby later in the same year.[1]

 John Winn is credited with being the first permanent settler in Winder [Battle Creek area is in lower Winder].  A native of Bedford County, Tennessee, he joined the Mormon church and lived for a short time in Illinois.  He came west with the Mormon migration, then moved frequently, residing in Salt Lake, Cache, Iron, Beaver, and Sevier counties.  Early in 1877, after herding cattle along Bear River for ten years, he filed a homestead claim at the Oxford Land Office and built a modest home hear a small spring at the mouth of Battle Creek.  He was fifty-three years old and had three families and two wives—Elizabeth and Eliza A.-- and sixteen children, from three to twenty years of age, living at the same residence at Battle Creek.  John was illiterate, but some of his older sons could read.  Elizabeth, Eliza, and the younger children could both read and write.  Some of the children had attended school within the year.[2]

 The land they settled was poorly suited to agriculture.  Only small plots of alfalfa and grain could be planted between the swamps, but along the sun-exposed northern banks of the river valley, the settlement was protected from winds which swept over the tablelands above.  With help from a trickle of spring water, plantings of berries, melons, and vegetables supplemented a living derived from cattle.

 Before his death in 1899, John Winn moved back to Richfield, Utah, leaving some of his married children at Battle Creek. [3]

 [1] P. 87                                           [2] p. 94-95, citing Ricks, History of a Valley.                                                             [3] P. 95, citing Family Group Sheet of John Winn, LDS Family Archives.