I’ve had everything from hate mail to terroristic threats lately, but things are finally starting to simmer down a little. Someone naively suggested that I ought to report the threats to law enforcement. What good would that do, I responded, when that is where most of it is coming from? But I’ve also received some very nice thank-yous from some surprising quarters. Between all the reactions I’ve been receiving, I know that what I’ve been writing has been on target, or at least close. And I think this may actually be one of my most important pieces yet.
To their credit, I don’t necessarily think MCSD did that with Corey Kanosh. if anything, his story remains largely untold. Most people only know Corey’s name and mugshot. For that reason, I intend this to be the first of a multi-part series about Corey and what happened to him. Although I’m not even pretending to tell everything that could be told, in this first part I’m going to focus mostly on trying to tell more of the story of who Corey was.
Perhaps one of the reasons Corey’s story hasn’t been fully told may be because of his checkered past. But even that is a story worth telling. I am only aware of one person who has lived a completely unspotted life. And I haven’t been able to find anything about Corey’s past that could in any way be said to justify what happened to him on October 15, 2012.
You may have noticed I normally refer to almost everyone as Mr. and Ms., but in this case, I’m going to take a little different approach with Mr. Corey Kanosh and just refer to and talk about him as Corey. I want to be more personal. I hope people can come to understand that Corey was not just a name, a face and an object, but he was a person, with a family, a background, and an interesting story.
Corey was born in 1976. He was the second son of Milo Dee Kanosh and Marlene Pikyavit. Before talking about Corey and his immediate family, however, I want to spend a little time exploring his extended family and his Native American Heritage. Just like Corey, there is an interesting back story about his people that has never been well-told. In this little treatment, I don’t pretend to tell it well, but I’m also not going to simply ignore it.
Last week, in my high school pecking order piece, I talked about the importance of perspective. If you want to really get a taste of the difference “perspective” can make, it is worth studying history from different points of view. As Winston Churchill said “history is written by the victors.” With that in mind, I wanted to see what conventional “White” history says about Corey’s people. Based on research of those sources, this is what I learned:
Chief Kanosh was a leader of the Pahvant Utes. He was a half brother of the infamous Ute Chief Wakara who is believed to be buried on the West face of the Pahvant Mountains, under the Pig above Meadow, not far from the Kanosh Indian Reservation. When Mormon pioneers first came to Utah and explored the area, the Kanosh band had a major camp at Corn Creek. Chief Kanosh spoke Ute, Paiute, Spanish, and eventually English, and is remembered for having been “friendly toward early Mormon Pioneer settlers.” He invited the Mormons to come and settle in his area where they eventually founded the town of Kanosh. He represented the Pahvant Utes at the signing of a treaty with Brigham Young which signaled the end of the Walker War in 1854, and was among the Utes who took up farming. Chief Kanosh joined the LDS Church and was baptized in 1858. In 1864 he was ordained an elder, and he was one of the very earliest Native Americans to receive his endowments. Chief Kanosh met with Brigham Young on September 1, 1857 to discuss strategy in relation to the Utah War with the Federal government. One of his wives was Sally, a Southern Paiute who had been raised in Young’s household. This relationship was a key part of the reason why the Kanosh band worked so closely with the Mormons. Another of his wives was a Paiute named Mary, who had been raised by an LDS family in Payson. While Chief Kanosh’s other three wives lived in wikiups, he built a regular cabin for Mary. Chief Kanosh and his fellow Pahvants were the only large group of Utes who did not participate in the Black Hawk War. In 1884, Chief Kanosh died and was buried near Kanosh, the town that was named after him.
That is the standard “White” history version. What I have learned is that there is another side of the whole story about Mormon treatment of the Native Americans they encountered in Utah that appears to have been largely ignored. The story of what really happened between the Mormons and the Indians appears to be a lot like the story about what happened in the Mountain Meadow Massacre (which was also blamed on the Indians), but the rest of the story about how the Native Americans were treated is even less well known. If you are truly interested in studying the other side of this story, I highly recommend The Black Hawk War: Utah’s Forgotten Tragedy, as told by Phillip B. Gottfredson, at www.blackhawkproductions.com/. Gottredson’s treatment includes the history of Chief Black Hawk, the Black Hawk War, and is offered as an alternative view to the other side of the story about how Native Americans were treated by the early Mormon settlers in Utah. Because the contrast between these versions is so stark, I’m going to include a very brief summary of that account as well.
According to Gottfredson, in an interview with the interpreter M.S. Martenas, the Ute Chief Wakara (Kanosh’s half brother), said this:
“the Mormons when they first commenced the settlement of Salt Lake Valley, were friendly, and promised [us] many comforts, and lasting friendship—[and] they continued friendly for a short time, until they became strong in numbers, then their conduct and treatment towards the Indians changed—sometimes [the Indians] have been treated with much severity—settlements have been made on all their hunting grounds in the valleys, and the graves of their fathers have been torn up by the whites.”
Gottredson’s overall conclusion regarding the Mormons’ treatment of Native Americans is summed-up as follows:
“Native Americans in Utah were subjected to deceit, dishonesty, torture, mass butchery, rape, and death, death to others, to animals, plants, to the waters, and the land. Indigenous men, women, and children were left to wonder alone in a land they believed belonged to them for eternity. A people who in their final agony cried out ‘we are human too.'”
I realize this is only a very brief nutshell, and is definitely not the version of history Utah children learn in school, but we must also remember who wrote the version of history found in the school books. Once again, for anyone who sincerely desires to have a better understanding of this subject matter, I highly recommend consideration of Gottfredson’s material, which I found very fascinating.
I also wanted to know more about all this from the standpoint of Corey’s own family. This is what one of them had to say:
“The White history of Chief Kanosh and the Mormons is not what we were taught by our elders. Chief Kanosh didn’t invite the Mormons to the Pahvant Valley. Why would he do that? On the other hand, Brigham Young told his people, the Mormons, to settle there, not just at Corn Creek, but all around the state. Chief Kanosh knew the Mormons were coming and realized his people had no fighting chance to stop them. That has proven to be the case for all the tribes in the United States, but the Pahvant Utes were treated as poorly as any.
Chief Kanosh’s people were peaceful people, who had no guns, and no means to fight or resist the Mormons. They were simply outmanned and outgunned. Kanosh had no other choice but to give up and submit to the Mormon invasion. Attempting to be nice, and willing to negotiate was the only chance for his people’s survival. According to our elders, Chief Kanosh’s wife, Sally, was Ute instead of Paiute. She was traded to Brigham Young by her own people and eventually and secretly became one of his many wives, before being offered to Chief Kanosh.
In the end, the Mormons and the US Government claimed every single inch of the Pahvant Utes’ original homelands. The Pahvant Utes were told to move to the Ute Reservation in Northeastern Utah, and many did. Only a few stayed behind, near Kanosh, to struggle in their homelands, near the town named after their chief. Eventually they were forced to give up every bit of land they claimed, including our own cemetery, before the band was finally officially recognized, and a tiny sliver of land was given back.
So, contrary to the popular version, there has always been mistrust and resentment towards the Mormons ever since they invaded and claimed the Native Pahvant homelands. And the feeling seems to have always been mutual. [Perhaps the Mormons resented us because we were in their way. Perhaps they felt guilty because of how they have always treated us]. But the Mormons seem to have always hated the Natives, mostly just because they were poor, and different.
Before the Mormons came we weren’t poor at all, only in the eyes of the Mormons. We had everything we needed. We were 500+ tribal members strong at Corn Creek. We could hunt and fish in our Mountains and creeks whenever we needed. We were independent and self-sufficient. We used everything that Mother Earth and our Creator provided for us, all the while not polluting or exhausting our resources. Our people have existed here for thousands of years…. It’s a shame, how our God given rights have been taken from us by those very people who not only claim to believe in those same rights, but who also claim to be protectors, and who also claim to know what it feels like to be misunderstood, oppressed and persecuted. I want the Corn Creek Mormons to know that the land they live on is and will always be considered KANOSH PAIUTE/UTE LAND.
(I found some of these comments especially interesting in light of the article about the Big Fat Surprise, and the longevity of Native Americans before they adopted White diet habits).
According to Corey’s family, it is this history of long-term oppression and poor treatment for generations that sparked a simmering resentment that ultimately ignited into a full-fledged blaze in Corey. Like Wakara, Black Hawk, Crazy Horse and Geronimo, Corey was born to be a warrior. He had the same defiant, untamed spirit of warriors past. According to one of his brothers, a song called “A Wild Hearted Son” by the band The Cult, tells the story.
This description of Corey coincides with what teachers and educators in the school system have said about him. These are people who worked with Corey and his siblings and family for many years. They said Corey had a passion and spirit of defiance that made submission very difficult for him, and no one really knew how to deal with that spirit. A one-size-fits-all approach simply didn’t work.
There is the old debate about nature versus nurture, but undoubtedly, Corey came by part of this naturally. As the son of Marlene Pikyavit, Corey was also the grandson of McKay Pikyavit, the last Paiute Chief, who likewise lived in Kanosh. Chief McKay was also a Millard County Deputy Sheriff. Corey’s own father, Milo Kanosh (who predeceased Corey), was originally from the Richfield area and the Koosharem Ute/Paiute Band. Milo’s father, Deere Kanosh, and grandfather, Crockett Kanosh, were both chiefs of the Koosharem Band. Milo came from a long line of warriors who had proudly served in the United States Military. Milo himself was a Viet Nam era Marine, who ended up getting in a bad motorcycle accident while still in training, that resulted in the amputation of one of his feet, so he was no longer eligible for combat deployment and ended up serving stateside.
Corey had four siblings, Jerald, Kenny, Marlena, and Greg. According to friends and family members, Corey became a very gifted artist, with talent and temperament to match. As a celebrated Native American dancer, Corey was a talented and passionate performing artist. He was also a musician and painter, with special talents with an airbrush. Corey studied commercial art at Sevier Valley Tech in Richfield back in the 90s. It was while going to the Tech in Richfield that Corey had his first real run-in with the law, which resulted in his temporary confinement in the Sevier County Jail.
As improbable as it may seem, Corey managed to escape from jail, and after working his way across the Pahvant Mountains that his ancestors had been traversing for generations, he ended up in Kanosh, where he eventually broke into the store, seeking supplies. At some point he also acquired possession of a .22 rifle. Eventually, he was cornered by local law enforcement in a chicken coop, where an armed stand-off ensued before Corey finally agreed to surrender and turn himself in, at the encouragement of some of his family members, who were negotiating with him, and trying to mediate the stand-off.
Maybe Corey was living on borrowed time ever since that incident. In today’s law enforcement environment, there is little doubt he would have been shot and killed in any stand-off with law enforcement that involved possession of a weapon. Based on that experience, Corey ended up spending approximately the next 10 years in the Utah state prison system. Because of his felony convictions, he never again possessed a firearm.
Following his release, Corey returned to his art, music and dancing. He designed and hand-crafted his feather bustles and Native American dance costumes, including all the beadwork. He also sewed special Native American competition dance dresses for his nieces, including beautiful jingle dresses.
At times Corey struggled with the same challenges many other people face, including substance abuse, and he often found it difficult to find and associate with positive influences. Eventually Corey married Erica West, who had been an old high school flame, and was a good friend of his sister, Marlee, but their relationship did not last.
At some point Corey got into a family argument with some of his Pikyavit cousins, after they had all been drinking, which developed into a full-fledged altercation, and eventually turned into a long-term family feud. Under other circumstances the consequences may not have been quite so serious, but because of his prior record, Corey returned to jail for approximately a year based on his actions and involvement.
Following his release, Corey met Margaret Blackbear, who was also a Native American dancer, with whom he associated at pow-wows. They developed a relationship, and together, they had a son, Robert, who was born in the summer of 2012, just three short months before Corey died.
In addition to his art, music and dancing, Corey worked as a caretaker for the Kanosh Paiute Band, and was responsible for maintenance and upkeep of much of their public property.
According to family members Corey was also a very devoted caretaker for other family members, including several of his aunts, and his grandmother, Mildred Pikyavit.
Corey was considered to be a bright light and powerful energy in the lives of his close-knit family and friends, but according to his mother, Marlene Pikyavit, Corey carried a lot of burdens, and had his own demons to deal with. Firewater was one of the ways he attempted to cope with some of them. Although Corey’s mother says he was normally quite mellow, he did have challenges with substance abuse, which often caused him to want to just keep to himself to avoid any possible trouble, but sometimes that didn’t work.
This background may help to better understand who Corey was, and help create more context for what happened to him on October 15, 2012.
At that time, Corey’s sister Marlee and her boy friend Dana Harnes, who were living in Cedar City, were visiting family at the Kanosh reservation. Corey and Dana had been drinking. They wanted to take Marlee’s car over to Corn Creek Canyon, southeast of Kanosh. Because Marlee was 9 months pregnant, however, and due any time, she didn’t want to be left without a car. So they took Marlene’s car instead.
Because Marlene was concerned about their safety, as well as the safety of other people and motorists in the area, she called the Millard County Sheriff’s Department, to alert them to the situation and encourage them to watch out for Corey and Dana. As a mother, she thought she was doing the right thing — trying to look out for the safety and well-being of her children and everyone else who might be involved.
In the next installment, I’ll examine what happened next.