History Moment 11 of 20

by | Jun 24, 2024 | History Moments | 0 comments

Dry Fork Gunflight

In the 1880s the Dyer Mine was successfully mining thousands of pounds of copper ore from its mine in the Uinta Mountains. The success of the Dyer Mine led to nearly every man in the territory itching to find copper and to get rich.

In nearby Dry Fork, a sheepherder found a green stain on a rock which he believed was another rich deposit of copper. Following the news, E.B. Coleman (born May 31, 1858), Then living in Salt Lake City, and Robert Swift were determined to file on the prospect. They secured a pack outfit in Vernal and began combing the hills. The expedition didn’t go unnoticed by three Vernal prospectors who decided to follow the men and then stake a claim in the immediate vicinity. Day after day the three men followed and camped next to each other. Finally Coleman was propositioned to pay them to leave. The three men agreed that for $500 they would leave for ten days. Coleman returned to Vernal to secure the money and left Swift at camp.

Back in Vernal, Coleman was only able to secure $100 of the agreed upon $500. That evening Coleman met Matt Warner and a gambler named William Wall in the Overholt Saloon. Coleman told them of his dilemma and then decided that he would hire Warner and Wall to frighten off the three Vernal prospectors rather than paying the men to leave.

Warner, Wall and Coleman arrived at the Dry Fork camp right before sunrise on May 11, 1896. Until one of the men, suspecting trouble, started shooting and killed Warner’s horse underneath him. Matt fell to the ground curing as be began pouring a volley of lead into the tent. Wall dismounted his horse and started shooting as well. The two men inside the tent were both fatally wounded. Warner took cover behind an aspen tree only thirteen inches in diameter. Warner was a stocky man and had to stand sideways to keep from being hit but also made it awkward for him to shoot.

The lone standing Vernal prospector was a good marksman and held his own against the two hired outlaws. Shooting primarily at Warner, he began firing at a spot about the size of a dollar on Warner’s tree, with the idea of boring a hole through it with bullets. It wasn’t long before Warner could see a bulge where the bullets had struck. It wouldn’t be long before the next bullet would make it all the way through the tree and hit Warner. Just at that moment, one of Wall’s bullets struck the man across the bridge of the nose, filling his eyes with blood and knocking him senseless. The fight was over.

When Matt Warner saw the mortally wounded men he exclaimed “If I’d known it was you fellows, I wouldn’t have shot!” The two men were still alive but in poor condition and the third man was temporarily unconscious. Warner immediately took charge of the situation and started providing aid to the injured men. He then sent Wall back to Vernal to bring a doctor and a wagon for the injured men. When Wall got to Vernal he visited three different doctors but all either couldn’t or wouldn’t go back with him. Wall ended up paying ten dollars for the use of team and a wagon to go up and get the wounded men himself.

Warner and Wall loaded the victims into the wagon and drove carefully back to Vernal. Two of the men died and the third survived but lost his leg.

Warner was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. In the fall of 1896, Warner was convicted of manslaughter and sent to the Utah State Prison in Sugar House.

History Moment 10 or 20