MT. PLEASANT—Sanpete County’s namesake, indigenous leader Chief Sanpitch, will be celebrated with a statue of his likeness as part of a four-year plan to pay tribute to the Native Americans who lived on the land before Mormon settlers came to the area.
The tribute is being funded by the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area (MPNHA), and the statue itself is being crafted by renowned local artist and Snow College professor, Brad Taggart.
“It’s going to be a great project,” said MPNHA director, Monte Bona. “A significant role of the MPNHA, since signed into law by George W. Bush, is emphasizing the role that Native Americans have played in our heritage; and we want to continue that effort.”
The statue will be one of three different statues to eventually be erected in Mt. Pleasant, the host-city of the MPNHA. Each of the statues will be in the likeness of a historic Native American Chieftain. Chief Walkara and Chief Blackhack, both of whom were related to Sanpitch, will receive statue tributes as well as part of the plan.
Bona said he first heard about the statue concept when Wendy Hacking, Lisa Potter and Abe Kimball, members of the North Sanpete Arts Council (NSAC) executive board, approached him with the idea for the statue. The arts council believes this to be an important effort for multiple reasons.
“In a county whose Mormon history is celebrated, it is important to remember its original people,” Potter told the Messenger. “This powerful monument will remind us Chief Sanpitch was a great man who promoted peace during a time of extreme violence.”
As a sponsor of the NSAC, Bona said the MPNHA was in a position to help the council with the project, and has committed at least $30,000 in funding towards its creation—although that is just the beginning. Bona said more funding for the statues will likely be raised by the MPNHA and other entities.
As a celebrated Utah artist and Sanpete County resident, Taggart became the obvious choice for the commission of the statue. He was approached by the NSAC early in the project planning to handle the important job of sculpting the statue.
“They approached me and asked me to do a proposal for the Chief Sanpitch sculpture,” Taggart told the Messenger. “I created a small preliminary design model, followed by a more detailed one-quarter life-size model. The proposal was accepted by the council, funding was secured and I was given the commission to produce a life-size bronze sculpture to be permanently placed in Mt. Pleasant.”
The process of making the statue a reality will involve the community as well, said Taggart. On April 17, the project participants will host Clay Day, where elementary school students will be invited to come add some clay to the statue’s base layer from noon to 2 p.m. near the Mt. Pleasant City Park in the field south of the Coffee Depot, 845 S. U.S. 89.
“Working with small communities and getting to know the history and people of an area is as fulfilling as creating the sculpture itself,” Taggart said. “I especially enjoy working on projects that are close to home, so when the opportunity to produce a sculpture for Mt. Pleasant honoring Chief Sanpitch was offered, I jumped at the chance. Also, as a college professor, I believe it is important to engage in personal professional work outside of the classroom because it lends more validity to the information, and guidance I provide to my students.”
This project is something Taggart is heavily invested in on both a professional and personal level.
“I’ve had a deep love for the Native American people for as long as I can remember,” he said. “Many of my friends throughout my life have been members of native tribes. As a young man I had the privilege of having members of the Zuni and Navajo tribes live with me in my home for many years.
I have always been fascinated by the history and traditions of native peoples. Creating a sculpture of Chief Sanpitch will provide the opportunity to pay tribute to the original occupants of this beautiful valley, and to shed light on their story.”
In an effort to get better connected to the spirit of the project, Taggart was given the opportunity to visit a private area on the northwest end of the Sanpete Valley, where he sat on the rock where Chief Sanpitch took his last breath.
“While there, I had the impression that I need to portray him as a teacher or story teller,” Taggart said “Chief Sanpitch played a leading role in an effort to preserve his people’s way of life on their ancestral land during a difficult and conflict filled time. I believe that his memory can teach us much about our shared humanity, and the intense desire we all have to live happy and free lives.”
Bona says the MPNHA is also excited to have the story of Chief Sanptich more readily available to the public. The story of Sanpitch’s last days is chronicled in an episode of the MPNHA’s television show, Discovery Road.
That episode, “The Lost Tomahawk,” has been used as reference material for the statue creation as well; and it can be found at www.mormonpioneerheritage.org. Bona says the creation of the Sanpitch statue, and the others still to come, is a natural progression of the storytelling they began with Discovery Road.
“From the onset, we’ve had a commitment to tell the story of Native Americans,” Bona said. “That’s a crucial story to be told. For a long time we have felt Sanpitch has been overlooked.”