Utah History Encyclopedia


By Brigham D. Madsen
Edward J. Steptoe was born in 1816. He was a native of Virginia, and later a United States Army officer, who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy on 1 July 1837. He served in the Indian conflicts in Florida from 1838 to 1842, including one assignment to help provide escort for the movement of the Cherokee west of the Mississippi River. From 1842 to 1846 Steptoe was stationed at the following posts: the U.S. Military Academy; Fort McHenry, Maryland; Savannah, Georgia; Fort Marion, Florida; and Fort Moultrie, South Carolina.

During the Mexican War, he was engaged in the Siege of Vera Cruz and, as a captain, fought in the battles of Cerro Gordo and San Antonio Garita. He was promoted to brevet major for gallant and meritorious conduct at Cerro Gordo, and to brevet lieutenant colonel as a result of his actions in the Battle of Chapultepec.

After the war, he served at Fort Adams, Rhode Island; against the Seminole Indians, 1849-50; and in garrison at Fort Adams again, 1851-53. For part of the next year, Steptoe was a member of a commission to evaluate whether there should be civil or military supervision of the national armories. He served the remainder of the year in garrison at Fort Wood, New York.

In the early summer of 1854, Steptoe was sent with a command of 175 soldiers and 150 civilian employees to Washington Territory to reconnoiter a military road to California and he was also sent to investigate the massacre of Captain John W. Gunnison and his party in Utah. Reaching Salt Lake City on 31 August, he chose to spend the winter with his troops in the Mormon capital while wintering his herd of 1,000 horses and mules in Rush Valley, south of Tooele, Utah.

During that autumn, he was busy settling his soldiers and civilians in the city, and had no knowledge that President Franklin Pierce was considering appointing him as Governor of Utah Territory to replace Brigham Young. A letter arrived on 21 December informing Steptoe that the official commission making him governor was on its way; however, it did not arrive until the following March. By that time, Steptoe had decided to turn down the appointment and to continue on to California with his troops. He had evidently come to the conclusion that it would be impossible to be an effective governor when the Mormon people wanted Young to be their executive.

Also contributing to his decision was his concern with the manner in which the trial of the Indian murderers of Gunnison was being conducted. Although he and his men had had good relations with the Mormon citizens during the winter, by spring he was writing to Washington, D.C., that a force of troops be sent to control the Indians in southern Utah because they were under the control of Mormon authorities. He soon left Utah for the West Coast.

By 1855 Steptoe was back East in garrison at Fort Monroe, Virginia. The fortunes of military life moved him the next year to Washington Territory, where he was soon engaged in the defense of Cascades, Fort Dalles, and Fort Walla Walla. He also participated in the Yakima and Spokane expeditions of 1856 and 1858, and he was involved in the battle of To-hots-nim-me, Washington, against hostile Indians on 17 May 1858. As a result, Steptoe was forced to take sick leave for the next three years, and resigned his commission on 1 November 1861. He died 1 April 1865 near Lynchburg, Virginia, at the age of forty-nine.