Utah’s Black Hawk War

During 1865 to 1867, American and Mormon settlers in Utah were engaged in a war with a small group of Ute, Paiute, and Navajo warriors under the leadership of Ute chief Black Hawk. As a result of the conflict, the American and Mormon settlers abandoned much of southern and central Utah. At least nine communities were abandoned. The main object of most of the Indian raids was to take cattle for food. The Black Hawk War caused an estimated $1.5 million in losses.

While the Black Hawk War involved only a small group of warriors, Black Hawk’s raiders were so effective that it was a common perception among the Mormon settlers that all of the Indians in the territory were at war.

Setting the Stage:

 The Black Hawk war grew out of a complex set of circumstances which included the loss of Indian farms in Utah and the failure of the United States government to fulfill its treaty obligations. The Utes and the Paiutes had been displaced from their ancestral lands and they had been deprived of their economic base. As a result, they were left with only three options: they could starve, they could beg, or they could fight.

In 1863, Autenquer (Black Hawk), a San Pitch Ute war leader, began to form alliances with other Ute bands, as well as with Paiute and Navajo bands to raid Mormon communities. The Indians blamed the Mormons for stealing their country and fencing it in. One of the causes of the raids is hunger and the Indians raid the communities to get cattle to eat.

Two years later, the Treaty of Spanish Fork with the Paiute called for them to give up all lands claimed in Utah and to move to the Uintah Reservation. None of the signers of the treaty represented the Meadow Valley and Virgin River Paiute bands who were contesting Mormon encroachment on their territory.

Like the Paiute, the Ute also signed the Treaty of Spanish Fork in which they gave up all of their land in Utah except for the Uintah Valley. In exchange, the Ute were to receive $900,000 to be paid to them over 60 years and they were to be allowed to fish in all accustomed places and to gather roots and berries. All of the Ute chiefs, except for San Pitch, signed the treaty. San Pitch said: “If the talk is for us to trade the land in order to get the presents, I do not want any blankets or any clothing, if threat is the way they are to be got. I would rather do without them than to give up my title to the land I occupy. We want to live here as formerly.”

Kanosh opposed the treaty saying: “In past times, the Washington chiefs that came here from the United States would think and talk two ways and deceive us.”

Mormon leader Brigham Young, speaking for the United States, told the Ute: “If you do not sell your land to the Government, they will take it, whether you are willing to sell it or not.” Young also told them: “The land does not belong to you, nor to me, nor to the Government. It belongs to the Lord.”

Brigham Young assured them that they would receive houses, farms, cows, oxen, clothing, and other things. Because of his words, the chiefs signed the treaty.

The U.S. Senate refused to ratify the treaty because .of their disagreements with the Mormons. These disagreements with the Mormons had nothing to do with the Indians. The United States Senate wanted to punish the Mormons for their religious beliefs and refusing the treaty would increase the tensions between the Indians and the Mormon settlers.

The War:

 In 1865, the conflicts between the Utes under the leadership of San Pitch subchief Black Hawk and the Mormon settlers intensified. The Indians, driven by hunger, stole some cattle and in the process some Mormons were killed. Mormon leader John Taylor stated: “Some want to kill the Indians promiscuously, because some of them have killed some of our people. This is not right. Let the guilty be punished and innocent go free.”

Black Hawk visited the Elk Mountain Ute to gain allies in his war against the Mormons. Black Hawk’s warriors were soon joined by Ute warriors from other bands as well as by Paiute and Navajo warriors. At most the Black Hawk’s forces numbered only 60 to 100 warriors during the conflict. About half of the warriors were Navajos or Paiutes.

In 1865, a Ute war party under the leadership of Black Hawk ambushed the Sanpete militia near Red Lake. While the warriors produced a heavy rate of fire, they overshot the militia and the bullets struck the lake behind them.

A Mormon militia force of 84 pursued a Ute war party up Salina Canyon. At a narrow point in the canyon, the militia unit was ambushed by Ute warriors who were hidden behind rocks, trees, and bushes. The militia managed to escape with only two men killed and two wounded.

A Mormon militia group fired blindly into a large cedar grove near Burrville, killing more than a dozen Indians, including women and children. The incident was not officially investigated.

Several Indian woman and children were held captive by a Mormon militia unit. One of the women struck one of the guards and in retaliation he shot the woman and the rest of the prisoners. The incident was not officially investigated.

In 1866, Ute chief San Pitch and several of his men were arrested near Nephi because of rumors that he had been involved in violence against the American settlers. San Pitch was told to bring in Black Hawk and his band or be shot. Since San Pitch did not have the power to influence Black Hawk and his warriors, he and his fellow prisoners broke jail rather than await execution. The escapees were hunted down and killed.

In another incident, 16 unarmed Paiutes, including women and children, were killed near Circleville. The Paiutes had been captured by the Mormons and were killed one at a time. Most had their throats slit. Three or four small children were spared and were adopted by Mormon families. While there were pleas for an investigation, federal and territorial officials took no action. This reluctance or inability of territorial and federal officials to follow proper legal procedures with the Indians helped to create a climate that allowed for continued misconduct.

At Panguitch Lake, the Paiute bands would not let the Mormons fish in the lake, but they would sell fish to them. In response, the Mormons declared the Paiutes to be involved with Black Hawk’s warriors and attacked a Paiute camp. They then declared a Paiute Mormon convert to be the chief and restored the peace. Following this, the lake became a fishing resort for non-Indians.

In 1866, Mormon leader Brigham Young wrote: “The Lamanites are hostile, let us exercise faith about them and learn what the will of the Lord is. Let us send our Interpreters to them and make presents and tell [them] they must stop fighting. It is better to give them $5000 than have to fight and kill them for they are of the House of Israel.”

In 1867, the body of Simeon, a Paiute, was found near Paragonah with a bullet wound in the back of his head. William H. Dame, president of the Prowan Stake of the Latter Day Saints church and colonel in the militia was instructed by Mormon leaders Brigham Young and George A. Smith that the murder of a peaceful Indian must be dealt with by civil authorities. Subsequently an investigation into the murder was undertaken. When some people questioned whether or not Simeon had actually been murdered, his body was exhumed and the bullet removed from his skull. As a result of the investigation, murder charges are brought against Thomas Jose. Jose was convicted of second degree murder and was sentenced to ten years in the territorial penitentiary. He served one year and was then pardoned by the territorial governor.

After the War:

 In 1867, Black Hawk surrendered at the Uintah Reservation. He came without his men but gave information on those still at large. It was estimated that he had 58-64 warriors under him.

During the Black Hawk War, about 46 Mormon settlers were killed, including 11 women and children. Both sides killed noncombatants.

The primary purpose of most of the Indian raids was to obtain cattle. Black Hawk’s warriors captured about 5,000 cattle. This focus on cattle shows that the warriors were often desperate for food.

In 1869, the San Pitch Ute, once led by Autenquer (Black Hawk), followed the civil leader Tabby-to-kwana to the Uintah Valley Reservation. The Ute had been assured that they would be able to continue to hunt and gather on all public lands.

 Following the war, Black Hawk toured many of the settlements in central and southern Utah, speaking to Mormon congregations and asking for their understanding and forgiveness. In speaking to these communities, Black Hawk emphasized that his people had been destitute and starving. Some of the Mormon settlers greeted him with understanding, while others, remembering the deaths of family and friends, rejected his offer of reconciliation.

Mormons and Indians

When Europeans began arriving in the Americas they brought with them the firm belief that all knowledge, including the history of the world, was contained in a special holy book which had been compiled from the oral traditions of southwest Asia. They were a bit surprised, therefore, when they encountered the aboriginal people of the Americas, who eventually became known as American Indians, who were not mentioned in that holy book. Some of these Europeans felt—and a few continue to feel—that this meant that American Indians were not to be considered human and, like other wild animals, were to be exterminated so that European “civilization” could prosper. Others worked around this failing of the book by making up creation stories which tied the Indians into the mythical histories of southwest Asia.

From the American Indian viewpoint, the European-book religion seemed strange, irrelevant, and unreal. The Europeans quickly found that conversion worked better if economic and military force were used.

Everything changed in 1823 when an angel led Joseph Smith to a hillside near Manchester, New York, and showed him golden plates engraved with strange characters. After months of concentrated work using a special instrument, he was able to translate the plates and published hundreds of pages of history, prophecy, and poetry that provided the foundation for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons). This new religion, and its book, were different in that it included the supposed history of Indian peoples. The Book of Mormon teaches that Indians had descended from Israelite peoples who had migrated to the American continent prior to the Babylonian captivity. Thus, the Mormons viewed Indians as Children of Israel who could be incorporated into God’s Latter-day Kingdom.

According to the Book of Mormon, American Indians were descendants from Laman and were therefore called Lamanites. Laman was the rebellious son of Lehi who had left the Old World and sailed to the Americas in the seventh century BCE. In the Americas, the Lamanite had grown distant from the teachings of God, become fierce and warlike, and had acquired a darker skin color. Robert McPherson, in a chapter in A History of Utah’s American Indians, writes:  “From a purely ideological point of view, the Mormons believed that the Indians were a remnant of a people who fell out of grace with God, were given a dark skin as a sign of their spiritual standing, and who now lived in an unfortunate condition awaiting restoration to an enlightened state.”

Since American Indians, according to the Book of Mormon, were descended from the Israelites–God’s chosen people–there was to be a special emphasis on the conversion of Indians. Floyd O’Neil and Stanford Layton, writing in the Utah Historical Quarterly, say:  “To the Mormons, then, redemption of the Indians (Lamanites) was a prophecy to be fulfilled and a scripture to be vindicated.”

This special emphasis on converting Indians was put to the test when the Mormons were forced to flee from the United States and establish themselves in Utah where they would be surrounded by Indians.

The first Mormon settlers arrived in Utah in 1847 and they were soon followed by a stream of Latter-day Saints seeking the promised land. Following the European settlement pattern, they sought to support themselves through agriculture. The Gosiute tribe living in the area showed them some of the wild edible plants, such as the sego lily root, as a way of surviving until the Mormon’s crops could be harvested.

The Mormons, like other Europeans, disregarded Indian title to the land. From the Mormon perspective the land belonged to the Lord, which meant that only the priesthood could apportion it. The apportionment of the land was to be based on the principles of stewardship. Gary Tom and Ronald Holt, in their article in A History of Utah’s American Indians, write:  “Justification for taking the land was given by the Mormon church and its members, including the idea that the Indians were not making efficient use of the land and therefore the Mormons had the right to take it over because they could support more people by their methods of agriculture than the Indians could.”

The Mormon expansion was fairly rapid, driven by the need to acquire land for converts. The new Mormon settlements took the best farmlands and the best water sources. Indians were often employed to help prepare the fields and for various household chores.

Mormon men who were called or appointed as missionaries learned the Indian languages, worked with the tribes, and then attempted to lead them into the fold of Christ’s church. In order to be saved, the Indians first had to be “civilized,” which meant that they had to assimilate into a Euro-American way of life. Indian people often resisted the attempts to change their lifestyles.

In summarizing Mormon interactions with Indians, Thomas Alexander, in his book Utah, the Right Place: The Official Centennial History, writes:  “The attitude of the Latter-day Saints toward the Indians represented a convergence of theology, Euro-American imperialism, and racism.”

In an article in the Utah Historical Quarterly Catherine Fowler and Don Fowler write:  “Mormon ideology regarding the origin and identity of the Indians generally was responsible for some favorable attitudes and policies toward them, but it may also have been a contributing factor in maintaining a degree of social distance between groups.”

Today, Mormons continue their missionary efforts among American Indians. The missionary experience is probably more important to the young Mormons than it is to the Indians.

Mormon Missionaries and the Hopi Indians

( – promoted by navajo)

For thousands of years the Hopi Indians have lived in permanent farming villages, called Pueblos by the Spanish. In 1847, the Mormons entered what is now Utah and began to proselytize the Utes, Paiutes, and Shoshones who have traditionally lived in this area. Within a decade, the Mormon missionaries began to move south into present-day Arizona and to seek converts among the Hopi. Overall the Mormon missionary work attracted only a few converts, but it was more successful than other Christian faiths. This diary looks at the nineteenth century Mormon missionary activities among the Hopi.  

Jacob Hamblin reported in 1858 that the Mormon mission to the Paiute in southern Utah had not been successful and suggested that missionary efforts be redirected to the Hopi and the Navajo. Consequently, Jacob Hamblin and eleven other men set out from Utah to make contact with the Hopi villages south of the Colorado River (in Arizona). The group was charged by Mormon leader Brigham Young to make contact with the Hopi and to preach the gospel to them. The party reached the village of Oraibi and the Hopi treated them with friendship.  

Two years later, Jacob Hamblin attempted to return to the Hopi, but was stopped by a group of unfriendly Navajo. Over the next few years, raids by the Navajo and by the Paiute against Mormon settlements (sometimes called the “Mormon-Indian wars”) would result in at least 70 deaths and would enrich the Navajo with 1,200 horses and cattle.

In 1862, Mormon missionary Jacob Hamblin arrived at the Hopi village of Oraibi and helped establish a Hopi settlement at Moencopi. In addition to bringing Mormonism to the Hopi, he also brought some new crops including turban squash, safflower, and sorghum.

In 1863, the Mormon missionaries to the Hopi village of Oraibi were greeted as men of destiny. According to Hopi oral tradition, there would be a time when bearded prophets, usually said to be three in number, would lead the Hopi back across the Colorado River when they had come as the result of an ancient treaty with the Paiutes. The Hopi had predicted that the Mormons would come and live among them. The Mormons also heard about the sacred stone which is kept in an Oraibi kiva. This stone, according to Hopi tradition, carried inscriptions which described the advent of prophets from the west. The stone and indeed the entire ritual and tradition of the Hopis, seemed to suggest parallels to Mormon doctrines and ceremonies.

At the same time, a Hopi delegation was taken to Salt Lake City where they met with experts on the Welsh language.  There was a belief at this time that the Hopi had some sort of mysterious connection with the Welsh. According to a story concocted in England in 1580, Prince Madoc of Wales had led an expedition to Florida in 1170, thereby establishing England’s claim to North America under the Discovery Doctrine. During the 19th and 20th centuries, many people believed that Indian tribes, such as the Mandan, Hopi, and Kootenai, were the Welch-speaking descendents of Prince Madoc. The story was a hoax and the Welsh language experts soon determined that Hopi, a Uto-Aztecan language, was unrelated to any European language.

In 1870, John Wesley Powell, the first American to explore the Colorado River, was taken to the Hopi village of Oraibi by Mormon missionary Jacob Hamblin. He stayed in the village for several weeks. Powell had great respect for Hopi religious traditions, and after a while he gained the trust of many Hopis. Upon his return to Washington, D.C., Powell fought successfully against plans by the Indian Office which would have harmed the Hopi. He considered himself to be a friend of the Hopi.

Tuuvi, a Hopi leader from the village of Oraibi converted to Mormonism in 1870 and settled near the village of Moencopi. In 1875, the Mormons established their own village near the Hopi pueblo of Moencopi. They named their new village Tuba City in honor of Tuuvi (whom they called Chief Tuba).

At this time the United States government was actively discouraging and suppressing all forms of Native American religion. The government was also active in discouraging and suppressing Mormonism. Not only had Mormon missionaries converted a few Hopis, but they had also expanded their activities into Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico and performed more than 100 baptisms. This action alarmed the Presbyterians who had control over several southwestern tribes, including the Zuni. The Presbyterians felt that the Mormons were a greater threat than paganism.

In 1876, the Indian Agent for the Hopi recommended to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs that a reservation be established for the Hopi to help block intrusions of Mormon settlers on their land. The Indian Office enthusiastically supported the plan, due in large part to the anti-Mormon attitude of both the Indian Office administration and the Army.

Six years later the Hopi Reservation was formally created by executive order of President Chester A. Arthur. The reservation was totally surrounded by the Navajo reservation and excluded the major Hopi village of Moenkopi (the area where the Mormons had been most active). The Hopi were not consulted in the creation of their reservation and its boundaries ignored a larger area that was settled and claimed by the Hopi.

While there may have been anti-Mormon sentiment that helped spur the establishment of the Hopi Reservation, a year later the Indian Agent asked for a detachment of Army Troops to help in gathering up Hopi children to be sent to the Mormon Intermountain School in Utah. The peace¬ful Hopis met the troops with a bombardment of rocks.

Utah’s Black Hawk War

( – promoted by navajo)

During 1865 to 1867, American and Mormon settlers in Utah were engaged in a war with a small group of Ute, Paiute, and Navajo warriors under the leadership of Ute chief Black Hawk. As a result of the conflict, the American and Mormon settlers abandoned much of southern and central Utah. At least nine communities were abandoned. The main object of most of the Indian raids was to take cattle for food. The Black Hawk War caused an estimated $1.5 million in losses.

While the Black Hawk War involved only a small group of warriors, Black Hawk’s raiders were so effective that it was a common perception among the Mormon settlers that all of the Indians in the territory were at war.

Setting the Stage:

The Black Hawk war grew out of a complex set of circumstances which included the loss of Indian farms in Utah and the failure of the United States government to fulfill its treaty obligations. The Utes and the Paiutes had been displaced from their ancestral lands and they had been deprived of their economic base. As a result, they were left with only three options: they could starve, they could beg, or they could fight.

In 1863, Autenquer (Black Hawk), a San Pitch Ute war leader, began to form alliances with other Ute bands, as well as with Paiute and Navajo bands to raid Mormon communities. The Indians blamed the Mormons for stealing their country and fencing it in. One of the causes of the raids is hunger and the Indians raid the communities to get cattle to eat.

Two years later, the Treaty of Spanish Fork with the Paiute called for them to give up all lands claimed in Utah and to move to the Uintah Reservation. None of the signers of the treaty represented the Meadow Valley and Virgin River Paiute bands who were contesting Mormon encroachment on their territory.

Like the Paiute, the Ute also signed the Treaty of Spanish Fork in which they gave up all of their land in Utah except for the Uintah Valley. In exchange, the Ute were to receive $900,000 to be paid to them over 60 years and they were to be allowed to fish in all accustomed places and to gather roots and berries. All of the Ute chiefs, except for San Pitch, signed the treaty. San Pitch said:

“If the talk is for us to trade the land in order to get the presents, I do not want any blankets or any clothing, if threat is the way they are to be got. I would rather do without them than to give up my title to the land I occupy. We want to live here as formerly.”

Kanosh opposed the treaty saying:

“In past times, the Washington chiefs that came here from the United States would think and talk two ways and deceive us.”

Mormon leader Brigham Young, speaking for the United States, told the Ute:

“If you do not sell your land to the Government, they will take it, whether you are willing to sell it or not.”

Young also told them:

“The land does not belong to you, nor to me, nor to the Government. It belongs to the Lord.”

Brigham Young assured them that they would receive houses, farms, cows, oxen, clothing, and other things. Because of his words, the chiefs signed the treaty.

The U.S. Senate refused to ratify the treaty because of their disagreements with the Mormons. These disagreements with the Mormons had nothing to do with the Indians. The United States Senate wanted to punish the Mormons for their religious beliefs and refusing the treaty would increase the tensions between the Indians and the Mormon settlers.

The War:

In 1865, the conflicts between the Utes under the leadership of San Pitch subchief Black Hawk and the Mormon settlers intensified. The Indians, driven by hunger, stole some cattle and in the process some Mormons were killed. Mormon leader John Taylor stated:

“Some want to kill the Indians promiscuously, because some of them have killed some of our people. This is not right. Let the guilty be punished and innocent go free.”

Black Hawk’s warriors were soon joined by Ute warriors from other bands as well as by Paiute and Navajo warriors. At most the Black Hawk’s forces numbered only 60 to 100 warriors during the conflict. About half of the warriors were Navajos or Paiutes.

In 1866, Ute chief San Pitch and several of his men were arrested near Nephi because of rumors that he had been involved in violence against the American settlers. San Pitch was told to bring in Black Hawk and his band or be shot. Since San Pitch did not have the power to influence Black Hawk and his warriors,  he and his fellow prisoners broke jail rather than await execution. The escapees were hunted down and  killed.

In another incident, 16 unarmed Paiutes, including women and children, were killed near Circleville. The Paiute had been captured by the Mormons and were killed one at a time. Most had their throats slit. Three or four small children were spared and were adopted by Mormon families.  While there were pleas for an investigation, federal and territorial officials took no action. This reluctance or inability of territorial and federal officials to follow proper legal procedures with the Indians helped to create a climate that allowed for continued misconduct.

At Panguitch Lake, the Paiute bands would not let the Mormons fish in the lake, but they would sell fish to them. In response, the Mormons declared the Paiutes to be involved with Black Hawk’s warriors and attacked a Paiute camp. They then declared a Paiute Mormon convert to be the chief and restored the peace. Following this, the lake became a fishing resort for non-Indians.

In 1866, Mormon leader Brigham Young wrote:

“The Lamanites are hostile, let us exercise faith about them and learn what the will of the Lord is. Let us send our Interpreters to them and make presents and tell [them] they must stop fighting. It is better to give them $5000 than have to fight and kill them for they are of the House of Israel”

In 1867, the body of Simeon, a Paiute, was found near Paragonah with a bullet wound in the back of his head. William H. Dame, president of the Prowan Stake of the Latter Day Saints church and colonel in the militia was instructed by Mormon leaders Brigham Young and George A. Smith that the murder of a peaceful Indian must be dealt with by civil authorities. Subsequently an investigation into the murder was undertaken. When some people questioned whether or not Simeon had actually been murdered, his body was exhumed and the bullet removed from his skull. As a result of the investigation, murder charges are brought against Thomas Jose. Jose was convicted of second degree murder and was sentenced to ten years in the territorial penitentiary. He served one year and was then pardoned by the territorial governor.

After the War:

In 1867, Black Hawk surrendered at the Uinitah Reservation. He came without his men but gave information on those still at large. It was estimated that he had 58-64 warriors under him.  

During the Black Hawk War, about 46 Mormon settlers were killed, including 11 women and children. Both sides killed noncombatants.

The primary purpose of most of the Indian raids was to obtain cattle. Black Hawk’s warriors captured about 5,000 cattle. This focus on cattle shows that the warriors were often desperate for food.

In 1869, the San Pitch Ute, once led by Autenquer (Black Hawk), followed the civil leader Tabby-to-kwana to the Uintah Valley Reservation. The Ute had been assured that they would be able to continue to hunt and gather on all public lands.

Following the war, Black Hawk toured many of the settlements in central and southern Utah, speaking to Mormon congregations and asking for their understanding and forgiveness. In speaking to these communities, Black Hawk emphasized that his people had been destitute and starving. Some of the Mormon settlers greeted him with understanding, while others, remembering the deaths of family and friends, rejected his offer of reconciliation.

Utah’s Walker War

( – promoted by navajo)

The Walker War was a conflict between the Mormon settlers in Utah and Utah’s aboriginal peoples, the Ute. The leader of the Utes was Wakara, called Walker by the Mormons, and the conflict became known as the Walker War.  

Some Background:

In 1850, Ute leader Wakara invited Brigham Young to attend the annual Indian trade gathering in Utah Valley. Young and a delegation of Mormons met with the chiefs in council. When a Shoshone group raided a Ute camp, Wakara asked Brigham Young for Mormon militia support in the retaliation raid. The support was refused.

While angry with the Mormons for refusing aid, Wakara led his Ute warriors against the Shoshone. Upon his return after effecting bloody retaliation on the Shoshone raiders, Wakara and his band demonstrated in front of the settlement fort at Manti, showing off their war trophies. Walker then decided to move north and attack the Mormon settlement at Provo. However, Ute chief Sowiette persuaded him to call off the attack.

The War:

In 1853, the Mormons killed a Ute man and wounded two others near Springville. The fight originated over a trade of flour for fish. The slain man was one of Wakara’s relatives. Wakara demanded that the killers be turned over to him. When Indians had killed Mormons, the Mormons had always demanded that the chiefs turn the killers over to Mormon authorities for punishment. The Mormons, however, refused to turn the killers over to the Utes for punishment.

Tensions between Mormons and Utes culminated in the Walker War. Wakara, the chief of the Tumpanuwac band of Utes, led a series of effective raids against Mormon communities to obtain food and livestock.

In response to the raids, the Utah Territorial Militia was mobilized. Behind this organization stood the full power of the Mormon church. Many of the highest ranking militia and civil leaders were also ranking church officials.

At Clover Creek a Mormon group driving cattle was attacked by a Ute party, but their militia escort drove them off. The militia reported killing as many as five Ute warriors.

Acting in direct violation of general orders a Mormon militia unit attacked a Ute camp near Goshen, killing four or five people. The Ute survivors escaped death by hiding in the marshes until the attacking militia left.

When a group of Ute came to the fort at Nephi seeking protection, the townspeople killed them “like dogs.” One eyewitness wrote:

“Nine Indians coming into our camp looking for protection and bread with us … were shot down without one minute’s notice”

Another eyewitness writes:

“They were shot down like so many dogs, picked up with pitchforks [put] on a sleigh and hauled away”

In 1854, the Walker War ended when Ute chiefs Ammon and Migo indicated that they were ready for peace.  The Ute warriors recognized that they were hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned. When Wakara returned from the Navajo country he also agreed to peace. He asked for food, guns, and ammunition.

The peace negotiations were carried out at Chicken Creek. Initially, Wakara refused to leave his tent, but Brigham Young entered the lodge. Young laid his hands upon Wakara’s sick daughter and gave her a blessing. After a long and patient negotiation, Walkara was able to accept defeat without humiliation.  

Mormons and Indians in Early Utah

( – promoted by navajo)

In 1847, the Mormons entered what is now Utah and began to build their Kingdom of God on Earth. There are some who feel that that this was to be a kingdom that did not include the American Indian residents of Utah. Unlike American settlers in other parts of the west, the Mormons have included Indians in their religion and their entry into Utah challenged their religious attitude toward Indians. The Book of Mormon promised that the Indians would be redeemed through the influence of the gospel, but the reality of the frontier situation in Utah demanded the immediate displacement of the Indians.

According to the Book of Mormon, Indians are descendents of Israelites who came to the Americas about 600 BCE. These Israelites were the descendants from Laman, the rebellious son of Lehi. Shortly after the Israelites arrived in the Americas, they divided into two great civilizations, one which followed the true gospel and the other which followed darkness and apostasy. The Book of Mormon describes how Jesus came to the Americas following his resurrection and preached to the American Indians.  

To the Mormons, redemption of the Indians (whom they called Lamanites) was a prophecy to be fulfilled and a scripture to be vindicated. Thus Mormon ideology regarding the origin and identity of the Indians was responsible for some favorable attitudes and policies toward them.

Shortly after the arrival of the Mormon settlers in the Salt Lake Valley, small groups of Shoshone and Ute came to trade horses for guns. The area was a buffer zone which was contested between the Ute and the Shoshone. The Shoshone told the Mormons that the Ute were interfering with their rights. Concerned about the possibility of conflict, the Mormons ceased trading guns and ammunition to the Indians. The Mormons also abandoned their earlier policy of buying or renting land from Indians and declared ownership based on divine donation and beneficial use. According to Heber Kimball:

“The land belongs to our Father in Heaven, and we calculate to plow and plant it; and no man shall have the power to sell his inheritance for he cannot remove it; it belongs to the Lord.”

The Mormons, unlike the trappers who had preceded them, intended to stay in Utah. Therefore they needed to develop a stable relationship with Native Americans. Brigham Young announced a policy of friendliness toward Indians that was designed to minimize tensions between settlers and natives. Brigham Young’s policy was to deal with the Indians fairly. Unlike other American settlers, the Mormons were not to kill Indians randomly, nor were Indians to be killed for stealing. This policy, however, was soon challenged.

In 1849, the Mormon settlers were having many horses and cattle stolen by Indians. In response, Brigham Young sent out a militia company to end the depredations. The militia surrounded the small Ute band of Little Chief and engaged in a four-hour battle in which all four warriors were killed. This engagement, carried out with determination and dispatch, shows a change in Brigham Young’s policy that Indians would not, or should not, be killed for stealing.

The following year some Shoshone warriors from Terrikee’s band rode through the grain fields and melon patches of Mormon settlers near Ogden. Fearing trouble, Terrikee sent his people away. However, he was killed by a Mormon farmer who thought that the chief was trying to steal corn. In retaliation, the Shoshones killed a Mormon settler. This incident heightened tension between Mormon settlers and the outlying Northwestern Shoshone to the north of Great Salt Lake.

In 1850, following an argument over a stolen shirt, Mormon settlers in Utah Valley killed a Ute known as Old Bishop, stuffed his stomach with rocks, and threw his body into the Provo River. When the Utes found the body, the Mormons feared retribution and asked for help from the Mormon Militia.

In response to the call for help, the Mormon militia engaged a Ute band of Big Elk which had been weakened by an epidemic. The Utes retreated with the sick and wounded, taking refuge in a nearby canyon. About 40 Utes were killed and the militia commander, who was under orders to take no prisoners, killed those who surrendered. The women and children were herded into an open stockade. Even though it was winter, they were fed slop in troughs like beasts. The captive children were distributed among the Mormons, to be brought up in the habits of a Christian life. Most escaped at their first opportunity.

By 1850 the Mormon policy with regard to Indians had changed. Reports of depredations were now followed by militia action. The best land was to be taken by Mormon settlers without payment. The Indians were to be strictly excluded from Mormon settlements. Stealing by Indians was often to bring swift punishment, including death.

Congress voted to organize the Territory of Utah in 1850. When Brigham Young announced this to the General Assembly, he also talked about the Indians:

“But habits of civilization seem not to be in accordance with their physical formation; many that have tried it, pine away, and unless returned to their former habits of living, die in a very short time. Could they be induced to live peacefully and keep herds of cattle, the conditions would very materially be ameliorated, and gradually induce a return to the habits of civilization.”

Brigham Young asked Mormon lobbyists in Washington to persuade the government to extinguish Indian title to lands in the Great Basin of Utah and Nevada and to legalize Mormon settlement and land claims.

As an organized American territory, policies regarding Indians in Utah now came under the federal government. This, however, did not end the conflicts and over the next 20 years there were a number of Indian conflicts and wars.  

19th Century Mormon Missionaries & the Shoshone

( – promoted by navajo)

In 1830, a new religion was born in the United States with the publication of The Book of Mormon. The new religion, founded by Joseph Smith, is unusual among non-Indian religions in that it incorporates some understanding of Indians into its teachings. The Book of Mormon, upon which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is based, offers a history of Indians and sees them as the descendents of the tribe of Joseph, one of Israel’s twelve tribes. Following the Resurrection, Jesus Christ appeared among the Indians in the guise of Viacocha, Kukulcan, or Quetzalcoatl. In founding the new religious movement, Smith announced that he had a revelation to carry the message of the Book of Mormon to the Indians.

In 1846, the Mormons entered what is now Utah and began to build their Kingdom of God on Earth. Upon entering the Salt Lake Valley, the Mormons abandoned their earlier policy of buying or renting land from Indians and declared ownership based on divine donation and beneficial use. The area where the Mormons settled was a contested buffer zone between the Ute and the Shoshone. The Mormons intended to stay in Utah and thus they needed to develop a stable relationship with the Native Americans who inhabited the area. Brigham Young enunciated a policy of friendliness toward Indians that was designed to minimize tensions between settlers and natives.

In 1853, the Mormons established Fort Supply as an outpost in Shoshone country. During the winter, a number of Shoshone sought refuge with the Mormons. Seizing this as a learning opportunity, the Mormons tried to learn as much as they could from the natives regarding their marriage customs, burial rites, and the tribal roles of the medicine men. They also studied the Shoshone language.

At the same time, Brigham Young established the Southern Indian Mission and stressed that missionaries had to learn Indian languages in order to convert them.

Two years later, Brigham Young appointed 27 men to conduct missionary work among the buffalo-hunting Indians of the Bannock, Shoshone, and Flathead nations whose territories lay north of Utah.

Subsequently, a Mormon missionary party settled on the banks of the Salmon River in Idaho to work with the Bannock. The mission was located near a site where the Bannock, Shoshone, Nez Perce, and Flathead met each summer for gambling and horse-trading. The Mormons were greeted in a friendly fashion by Sho-woo-koo, also known as Le Grand Coquin, who assured them that they could use the land for farming.

The Mormons quickly began holding classes to learn the Shoshone language and they soon baptized 55 Indians.

Not all Indians welcomed the Mormons. In 1858, Fort Lehmi, a Mormon mission in Idaho, was attacked by a war party of about 200 Bannock and Shoshone warriors. Two of the Mormons were killed and five were wounded. The Indians captured 250 cattle and 29 horses. As a result of the attack, the mission was abandoned.

In 1873 Mormon missionaries under the leadership of George Washington Hill traveled to southern Idaho where they baptized about 100 Shoshone and Bannock. Speaking to the Indians in their own language, Hill told them about the Book of Mormon and depicted its story by placing pictures on a scroll. The baptized Indians were then settled on farmland near Brigham City, Utah. The Indians named the new community Washakie, after a Shoshone Chief.

In 1875, Shoshone chief Pocatello traveled to Salt Lake City where he demanded to be baptized by the Mormons. In addition to Pocatello, five other Shoshone men and four Shoshone women are baptized. Pocatello predicted that many more would follow seeking spiritual salvation.

In 1875, a Mormon missionary gathered a number of Shoshone on a spot between Malad and the Bear River in Idaho. They put in 140 acres of corn, wheat, and potatoes. The missionary then began a series of evangelical meetings which resulted in 574 baptisms.

While Mormon missionaries were having some success at converting the Shoshone and Bannock, the government did not look upon this favorably. The Indian agent at the Fort Hall Reservation accused the Mormon missionaries of teaching that the Indians were chosen of the Lord to establish God’s kingdom on earth. Furthermore, the agent accused the missionaries of fostering hatred of the American government. While the Indian agent prohibited the Indians from listening to the Mormons, the Indians snuck off the reservation to hear what the Mormons had to say. The government then sent in troops to break up the missionary enterprise and to bring the Indians back to the reservation.

When the military commander ordered the Indians to return to the reservation, they were on their second day of harvest. As a result, most of the crops which they had planted were lost.  Following this incident, the Deseret News reported:

“These shameful Indian scares are actual robberies-they rob the Indians of their hard earned crops and of the right to dwell in peace”

Undeterred by the military breakup of his Indian farm, the Mormon missionary established another farm for the Shoshone between the Bear and Malad Rivers. With the help of other Mormon missionaries, a dam was constructed and work on an irrigation system was started. Eighty acres were planted which the Indians harvested with their own reaper.

In 1877, in response to the establishment of a Mormon farm for the Shoshone, non-Indians again demanded that the Indians be forcibly returned to the Fort Hall Reservation. Rumors circulated that the Indians were well-armed and that their horses were in good condition. The district attorney reported that the Indians had become members of the Mormon church, that they were under Mormon control, and thus they were “disloyal.” He recommended that the Indians be returned to the reservation and that the missionary should be charged with “illegally tampering with the Indians.” While the district attorney argued that military force be used to move the Indians, the Indian agent noted that the Indians in question had never resided at Fort Hall but had always made the Bear River area their home.

In 1880, a Mormon missionary went to the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming to work among the Shoshone. When he asked his old friend Chief Washakie for protection against the Gentile Indian agents, he was told that Washakie was not interested in talking with him nor was he interested in learning more about Mormonism. Washakie explained that Mormonism was an invented story, but also confessed that the Mormons had always been his friends. After a discussion with Washakie, the Mormons received permission to tell the Shoshone about the Book of Mormon.

The Mormon missionary, Amos Wright, explained to the Shoshone the contents of the Book of Mormon, their relationship to the Lamanites, and the promises that God made to them. Wright spoke to them in broken Shoshone, but in spite of this his talk made such an impact upon those assembled that 87 requested baptism. Washakie and 17 of his family members converted. Wright baptized 422 Shoshone during a four-week time period.

Lawrence Coates (1972: 7) writes: “Wright’s success rested partly upon the Shoshonis’ long tradition of accepting dreams and visions as being divine manifestations. To them, the visions described by Wright could easily fit into their religious beliefs.”

In 1882, John Taylor, the president of the Mormon Church, received divine instructions for the church to renew its determination to educate and convert Native Americans. Assignments were made to various apostles to supervise the work among the Indian nations.

In 1883, the Indian agent for the Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho estimated that 300 Bannock and Shoshone were now members of the Mormon Church. He asked the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for help in stopping the Mormons from instructing the Indians in polygamy and other “vile doctrines.”

In 1885, Mormon president John Taylor urged more church responsibility in teaching the Indians. He said:

“We know there are difficulties in reaching the Indian but this must not be an excuse in our neglecting to teach them.”

Conclusion:

The Mormon missionaries were successful among the Shoshone for a number of reasons. While most missionaries sought to convert them on behalf of the United States government, the Mormon religion, like the Native American religions, was suppressed by the government. Thus Indians felt a sense of kinship with the Mormons.

The Mormons, like the Indians, were also persecuted because of their practice of polygyny. This contributed to a sense of similarity with the Mormons.

Third, the Indians viewed Mormon doctrine as similar to theirs with its origins in a vision. And the Mormons told the Indians the story of the Book of Mormon in their own language rather than requiring the Indians to learn English. Unlike other forms of Christianity, Indians are included in the religious stories.

And finally, unlike many of the other missionaries which Indians encountered, the Mormons seemed to be genuinely interested in helping them, not only spiritually, but also with regard to their economic well-being.