In 1853, Captain John W. Gunnison was selected to lead an expedition to find a trans-continental railroad route. He followed the Old Spanish Trail through Salina Canyon, over the mountains to Pahvant Valley, and upon reaching Fillmore, visited his friend, Bishop Anson V. Call. Gunnison made friends in Utah while serving with Howard Stansbury's mapping expedition in 1851. Bishop Call warned him of Indians near the Sevier River because an old Indian brave in the Kanosh Tribe had been killed by members of a California-bound wagon train. Moshoquop, son of the dead brave, had vowed to avenge his father. Gunnison knew Kanosh and Moshoquop as friends, but they did not know of his return to Utah.
On the evening of October 28, 1853, Gunnison and his party made camp on the bank of the river. They took a few shots at migrating wildfowl. Two Indians heard the shots and crept near enough to see the military uniforms and army equipment, but not close enough to recognize the men. The Indians reported the news; and during the night, plans were made and the camp was surrounded. At daylight the cook made a fire, Gunnison went to the river to wash up, and men began working with the horses. As the sun appeared over the mountain the first shot was fired. Three men escaped on horses, although one fell and had to hide in the brush. One man swam the river and hid in the willows. Eight men were killed by guns and arrows.
The survivors made their way to Fillmore and reported the tragedy. Gunnison's body was taken to Fillmore for burial. William Potter, a Mormon guide, was buried at his home in Manti. Six men rest in a common grave at this site. They are John Bellows, W.J. Creuzfeld, botanist; R.H. Kern, artist; and Privates Lipcott, Calfield, and Merteens of the United States Army.