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Rock Canyon History

The first mention of Rock Canyon in local history is related to the difficult time the early settlers of Fort Utah had with the Ute Indians. The Utes were understandably disturbed by the pioneers taking over their valley. The disputes peaked in 1850 when a battle broke out along the Provo River between approximately 70 Indians, led by Big Elk, and a militia of Mormon men. For several days the battle continued until one evening the Indians, many of whom were wounded, took flight. In their escape they split into two groups; one headed south toward Spanish Fork, and the other smaller group went toward Rock Canyon. Big Elk headed the Rock Canyon group; however, he was severely wounded and died near the mouth of the canyon. As a portion of the militia approached Rock Canyon in pursuit of the Indians, it is rumored that Big Elk’s squaw attempted to climb the cliffs, but fell and was killed. Squaw Peak, near the mouth of the canyon, was named for the incident.


Frequent travel into Rock Canyon began after July of 1855 when "William M. Wall was given a grant to build a road. On completion of the road he was to be permitted to charge fifty cents for each load of wood hauled out of the canyon. There was also a provision in the order to the effect that the grantee should allow all persons desiring to do so, to work on the road; and that they should receive, as compensation therefore, the right to haul out eight loads of wood for every day’s work performed." No mention was made of any fee for geology excursions, rock collecting, or rock climbing, evidently they were not "popular" activities back then.


During the 1860's, Rock Canyon was settled by pioneer families. Rock Canyon Creek provided the early settlers in the Provo area with drinking water. Land was cleared in the canyon and was used for farming. The land proved to be too hostile for the European farming methods, and was quickly abandoned. The pioneers then turned to using the canyon for raising cattle and sheep. The livestock was taken up the canyon to graze during the summer. The canyon quickly became a popular grazing region for the surrounding communities. Eventually intense overgrazing stripped the land of its vegetation. This overgrazing eventually led to the disastrous flood of 1936.