Fort Provo was named after Etienne Provost.

Etienne Provost was remembered as a large man, weighing in excess of 200 pounds, with unusual strength, described by many who knew him as portly but lively and always astride a mule – never a horse. He was a joint discoverer of South Pass, the first to see the Great Salt Lake, and the first white-man to pass through some of the valleys of early-day Utah. According to the historian LeRoy Hafen, “he was so early and so persistently engaged in the fur trade of the far West that in later years he was called The Man of the Mountains.” Always respected, he was never spoken of unfavorably by those who knew him.


Provost was apparently in Taos, New Mexico as early as 1822 and leading trapper brigades into the mountains of Utah shortly thereafter. By 1824 he was on the Green River, and that same year, he and his men pushed over the Wasatch into Utah Valley. There occurred an event that became forever etched into the annals of fur trapping legend. The story was best told by fellow trapper Warren Ferris and is as follows:


“There is one evil genius among the Utes who fell in with a party of trappers led by the well-known mountaineer, Mr. E. Provost on a stream that now bears his name, (the Provo River). He invited the whites to smoke the calumet of peace with him, but insisted that it was contrary to his medicine to have any metal near while smoking. Provost, knowing the superstitious whims of the Indians, did not hesitate to set aside his arms and allow his men to follow his example; they then formed a circle by setting in a ring and commenced the ceremony; during which, at a preconceived signal, the Indians fell upon them and commenced the work of slaughter, with knives which had been concealed under their robes and blankets. Provost, with three or four others, were able to make their escape while the remainder of the fifteen man party were all massacred.”


Ever since that unfortunate event that Utah Valley river has been known as Provo’s River. LDS settlement in the area began in March of 1849 and even though the Mormons liked to rename their geography, the river has kept its original name. A fort was built that fall and the community that grew up around it was named Provo. The legendary mountain-man Provost, now very old, was still alive and living in St. Louis. It is doubtful that the Mormons were aware that they were honoring a still living personality; it is equally doubtful that Provost would have felt particularly honored. At any rate – he never knew; he died a year later, oblivious to the fact that a town out West had been given his name.


This notice appeared in the Missouri Republican of July 4th 1850: “Died, yesterday afternoon, about 4 o’clock, Mr. Etienne Provost, an old resident of this city. The friends and acquaintances of the family are invited to attend his funeral this afternoon at 4 o’clock from his late residence on the corner of Lombard and Second streets to the Cathedral burial ground.” No mention was made of the remarkable career, the discoveries, or the adventure once experienced by this great man. How soon they forget.


Most of the information for this story comes from a collection of Trappers of the Far West, Sixteen Biographical Sketches, Edited by LeRoy Hafen, University of Nebraska Press, 1965.