On 29 September
1879 the Meeker Massacre occurred in Colorado, with the White River Utes killing their agent, Nathan Meeker, among others. Renegade Utes
then rode to Ashley Valley to convince the Uintah Utes to join them
in killing all the white people in the area. Instead, the Uintah chiefs
advised the settlers to "fort-up." A fort was built on the Bench due
to its open expanse. Many settlers of Ashley Valley took their cabins
apart, moving them to the fort site. The incident was settled, but the
people remained in the fort that winter. The winter was severe, killing
most of the animals. The humans also suffered. Much of their grain had
been gathered from the ground, since grasshoppers had knocked it from
the plant stocks; it became moldy. Diphtheria took its toll. It was
March before they could get out of the valley for supplies.
moved their cabins back to their homesteads, others remained in the
fort. A town grew out of the fort and became known as Ashley Center.
A store was opened and the residents applied for a post office. The
name Ashley Center was requested, but it was too similar to the town
of Ashley; therefore, the name Vernal was assigned to the community
by the U.S. Postal Department.