Wodziwob’s Ghost Dance

During the nineteenth century there were a number of religious movements that developed among diverse Indian tribes. One of these, called the Ghost Dance by non-Indians, arose among the Paiute in Nevada.

In 1868, Paiute healer Fish Lake Joe, also known as Wodziwob, had a dream which empowered him to lead the souls of those who had died in previous months back to their mourning families. Wodziwob already had the power to lay next to a patient, send his soul out, and bring the patient’s soul back to the body, thus restoring life.

Wodziwob experienced a series of visions in which the destiny of the Indian people was revealed to him. In his first vision, which occurred during a fast in the mountains, he saw the earth swallowing up the Americans. In a second vision, he saw the Americans being killed by an earthquake. In a third vision, he was told that only the believers would be resurrected.

He also saw in his visions a new dance. It called for men, women, and children to join in alternating circles of males and females dancing to the left with fingers interlocked with the dancers on each side. The dance was to be performed for at least five nights in succession. During the dance, some of the dancers would receive visions giving them new songs and ultimately would restore Indian resources. The new dance quickly spread to the northern California tribes.

The new spiritual movement was called the Ghost Dance (not be to confused with the Ghost Dance of Wovoka which spread to the Great Plains and resulted in the massacre at Wounded Knee).

The following year, Wodziwob announced his expanded powers to bring back the souls of the dead. Since he already had a reputation for being able to bring back the souls of those who had recently died, his message was favorably received.

He exhorted the people to paint themselves and to dance the traditional round dance. In this dance men, women, and children joined in alternating circles of males and females dancing to the left with fingers interlocked with the dancers on each side. As the dancers stopped to rest, Wodziwob fell into a trance. When he returned he reported that he had journeyed to the land of the dead, he had seen the souls of the dead happy in their new land, and that he had extracted promises from them to return to their loved ones in perhaps three or four years.

The dance was to be performed for at least five nights in succession. The dancers decorated themselves with red, black, and white paint. During the dance, some of the dancers received visions which gave them new songs and which they felt would ultimately restore Indian resources. The new dance quickly spread to the northern California tribes.

Wodziwob’s Ghost Dance religion represented a radical departure from the religious traditions of the Great Basin. It represented a synthesis of the traditional Paiute belief in visions, and the traditional practice of circle dancing associated with antelope charming and other subsistence pursuits. It also seems to borrow from Sahaptian or Salishan Indians of the Plateau and Northwest Coast in the belief in prophets, prophecies, and return of the dead.

In 1870, Wodziwob (also known as Tavibo) was visited by Indians from Oregon and Idaho. The Shoshone and Bannock from Idaho’s Fort Hall Reservation and the Shoshone from Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation became active proselytizers for the new religion and sponsored a number of Ghost Dances. Among those attending these dances were people from the Ute, Gosiute, and Navajo tribes.

At this time, the Ghost Dance also began to move into California. The Modoc brought word of the Ghost Dance to the Shasta.

In 1871, Wodziwob’s Ghost Dance  spread from the Paiute in Nevada to a number of California tribes, including the Washo, Mono, Modoc, Klamath, Shasta, Karok, Achumawi, Northern Yana, Wintun, Hill Patwin, and Pomo. Mono chief Joijoi learned of the Ghost Dance from Moman, a Paiute Ghost Dance leader. Joijoi then sponsored the first Mono Ghost Dance at Saganiu and invited many other tribes to attend. Joijoi then spread the word of the dance throughout California.

The new religious movement revitalized the tribal traditions and molded itself to the local customs. While the shared core of the ceremony was a dance in which the participants held hands and side-stepped in a sunwise (clockwise) fashion, each of the tribes adopting the ceremony modified it to fit their own cultural traditions.  The Ghost Dance was instrumental in reshaping native shamanism and it helped native Californians withstand pressures to adopt Christianity.

In 1871, the Ghost Dance was introduced to the Siletz and Grand Rhonde Reservations in Oregon by the California Shasta.

In 1872, the Ghost Dance diffused from the Paiute in Nevada to the Pomo in California. The new religious movement was brought to the Pomo by Lame Bull, a Patwin prophet and a Southwestern Pomo called Wokox. Among the Pomo, the Ghost Dance became a revivalistic movement that promised its followers that the American invaders would be killed by a natural disaster. Following this, the traditional Indian ways would return again.

In 1872, the Paiute had now been dancing under the direction of Wodziwob for four years. At this time, he had another dream in which he realized that the souls of the dead which he had seen were only shadows. With horror, Wodziwob realized that his prophecy was no more than a cruel trick of the evil witch owl. He confessed his sad disillusion to the Paiutes, and they ceased dancing to attract back their loved ones. Wodziwob died shortly after this.

While the Ghost Dance inspired by Wodziwob’s vision failed to bring back the dead, it did result in a new determination to maintain Indian culture and to establish new ways compatible with the contemporary world. The tribes that incorporated the Ghost Dance worked out new ceremonies, amalgamations of old, borrowed, and newly invented rituals, and made these the center of community life.

American Indian Biography: Sarah Winnemucca

In 1879, Sarah Winnemucca, a Paiute from Nevada and the daughter of Chief Winnemucca, gave a series of lectures in San Francisco and Sacramento on the treatment of Indians by the Indian Service. Five years later her autobiography, Life Among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, was published. Winnemucca then traveled throughout the country giving lectures on the conditions in Indian country, often charging the government with mismanagement of Indian affairs. Sara Winnemucca became the most recognized Indian woman of the late nineteenth century.

Sarah Winnemucca

With regard to Paiute women, Sarah Winnemucca wrote:

“The women know as much as the men do, and their advice is often asked. We have a republic as well as you. The council-tent is our Congress, and anybody can speak who has anything to say, women and all.”

She also described women warriors who fought alongside their husbands.

Sarah Winnemucca was born about 1844 in western Nevada. Her father was Winnemucca, sometimes called Old Winnemucca by historians. Her Paiute name was Tocmectone (Shell Flower). When she was about 10, she went with her mother and siblings to live with her grandfather, Truckee, on a ranch near San Jose, California. In 1860, she attended St. Mary’s Convent School in San Jose for a short time. After a month in the school, she was discharged because the non-Indian parents objected to having Indians in the school.

In 1866 some of the Paiute bands in the Snake River region under the leadership of Paulina and Weawea rebelled against the United States. The U.S. military asked Sarah and her brother Naches to come to Fort McDermitt, Nevada to discuss the relationships between the Paiute and the government. She was also asked to help persuade her father to bring his people to the Pyramid Lake Reservation. With her knowledge of both English and Paiute, she was hired by the army as their official interpreter to the Shoshone and Paiute.

In 1870, she travelled to San Francisco where she met with General John Schofeld. She then went to Gold Hill, Nevada where she met with Senator John Jones. In both meetings she complained about the mistreatment of the Paiutes by the Indian agents. Both General Schofeld and Senator Jones, however, claimed that this problem was not under their jurisdiction.

After the Paiute were forced to move to the Malheur Reservation in Oregon, Sarah became friends with the Indian agent, Samuel Parrish. She felt that his agricultural program was beneficial to the Indians. She acted as his interpreter and also taught in the local school.

Four years later, the new Indian agent fired Sarah because she had complained that the teacher and other employees were cheating the Indians at cards. The new agent also told the tribes that the reservation did not belong to the Indians but to the government. Under the new regulations, the Indians had to work for $1 per day and with this money they were to buy their food and clothing from the government store. If the Indians did not like the new policies, they could leave.

During the 1878 Bannock War, Sarah was hired by General O.O. Howard as an interpreter. She also helped the army track the Bannock from southwestern Idaho into eastern Oregon. She persuaded her father and about 75 of his people to escape from the Bannock camp and to the safety of an army post. In spite of her aid to the army, the peaceful Paiute were relocated to the Yakama Reservation in Washington.

When she arrived in San Francisco to deliver her public lectures, the newspapers headlined her as “Princess Sarah.” The San Francisco Chronicle reported:

“Sarah has undergone hardships and dared dangers that few men would be willing to face, but she has not lost her womanly qualities, and succeeded during her visit in coaxing into her lap two little timid ‘pale-faced’ children, usually shy of strangers, who soon lost their fear of her dark skin, won by her warm and genial ways. She speaks with force and decision, and talks eloquently of her people. Her mission, undertaken at the request of Chief Winnemucca, is to have her tribe gathered together again at their old home in Nevada, where they can follow peaceful pursuits and improve themselves.”

One columnist wrote:

“The lecture was unlike anything ever before heard in the civilized world-eloquent, pathetic, tragical at times; at others her quaint anecdotes, sarcasms and wonderful mimicry surprised the audience again and again into bursts of laughter and rounds of applause.”

In her public lectures in San Francisco and Sacramento, Sarah argued that the peaceful Paiute had a right to return to the Malheur Reservation. When federal officials got word of her negative criticism of the Indian Service, they brought Sarah, her father, and other Paiutes to Washington, D.C. Here she talked with federal officials and again made the case for mismanagement. She argued for the rights of her people to return to the Malheur Reservation and manage their own affairs. While the Secretary of the Interior agreed that the Paiute have the right to return to the Malheur Reservation, the necessary funding for the return was not provided.

While in Washington, the Indian Office did its best to keep newspaper reporters away from Sarah. After one reporter managed to get an interview, she was called into the office of the Secretary of the Interior and told:

“I don’t think it will be right for you to lecture here after the government has sent for you, and your father and brother, and paid your way here. The government is going to do right by your people now. Don’t lecture now; go home and get your people back on the reservation; get them located properly; and then if you want to come back, … we will pay your way here, and back again.”

To counteract the negative publicity generated by Sarah Winnemucca, countercharges about her good character were soon circulated. The Indian agent from the Malheur Reservation claimed that Sarah Winnemucca was a notorious, untruthful, drunken prostitute. Her military friends, including General Howard, however, defended her.

In 1881 a Paiute delegation, which included Sarah Winnemucca, met with President Rutherford B. Hayes. President Hayes came into the room and pontificated about Indian assimilation. The entire meeting lasted for about five minutes.

In 1881, General Howard gave Sarah a job teaching Indian children at the army post in Vancouver, Washington.

From 1883 to 1884, she toured eastern cities giving about 300 lectures on Indian rights. Her lectures included “The Indian Agencies” and “The Indian Question as Viewed from an Indian Standpoint.” During this time she met a number of notables, including Mary Tyler Mann (the widow of Horace Mann), Elizabeth Palmer Peabody (Mary Tyler Mann’s sister), Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Senator Henry Dawes. Her book, Life Among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, would be edited by Mrs. Mann.

She returned to Nevada and in 1885 opened a school for the Paiute in Lovelock. The school had financial support from a group of non-Indian women in the east as well as the government. Among those who supported the school was Miss Elizabeth Palmer Peabody in Boston, who raised money in Sarah’s behalf by various public appeals. The school was often called the Peabody Indian School in honor of its benefactor. She operated the school for three years.

The Indian Rights Association inspected the school and reported that Sarah Winnemucca had no claim to Paiute leadership. The Association accused her of a variety of “immoralities and vices.”

Sarah Winnemucca died in 1891 at her sister’s home in Henry’s Lake, Idaho. The New York Times printed her death notice and a review of her life. Colonel Frank Parker wrote:

“She was the only Indian on this coast who ever took any prominent part in settling the Indian question, and as such her memory should be respected.”

General O.O. Howard wrote:

“She did our government great service, and if I could tell you but a tenth part of all she willingly did to help the white settles and her own people to live peaceably together I am sure you would think, as I do, that the name of Toc-me-to-ne [or Shell-flower] should have a place beside the name of Pocahontas in the history of our country.”  

Statue of Winnemucca

The Bannock War

( – promoted by navajo)

A casual reading of almost any book on American history-from popular accounts to textbooks to scholarly tomes-reveals that there have been a lot of conflicts or wars with American Indians since the creation of the United States. In 1907, the War Department officially enumerated 1,470 incidents of military action against American Indians between 1776 and 1907. This suggests that there was about one military action per month against Indians during the first 131 years of the nation’s existence. This count does not include a number incidents or wars involving state militias and volunteer groups, such as vigilantes. In some instances the military action was a single battle, in others there were a series of battles.

According to the War Department, only two of these actions have the formal status of “war” under U.S. Army terminology: the 1877 Nez Perce War and the 1878 Bannock Indian War.

Of the two “official” wars delineated by the War Department in 1907, the 1878 Bannock War is probably the least known. The Bannock are a Great Basin tribe which migrated from the desert areas of southeastern Oregon to the more propitious and well-watered region found at the confluence of the Portneuf and Blackfoot streams with the Snake River in present-day Idaho. When the Bannock moved into the Snake and Lemhi River valleys and the Bridger Basin, they came into close contact with the Shoshone, a group which is linguistically and culturally related. The Bannock language belongs to a branch of the Uto-Aztecan family known as Western Numic while Shoshone is Central Numic. Bannock culture tended to emphasize war more than Shoshone culture.

The Bannock call themselves Bana’kwut (“Water People”), and they often were called Buffalo Eaters and Honey Eaters by other tribes.

The Bannock War was about camas: Camassia quamash, a plant with a blue or purple flower which has a nutritious bulb about the size and shape of a tulip bulb. For many of the tribes in Idaho, Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon, and Western Montana, camas was a major food item. It was gathered in late spring or early fall. It was either eaten raw or steamed in a pit for immediate consumption. If the camas was to be preserved, the camas bulbs were pounded in a mortar to make a kind of dough. The dough was then shaped into loaves, wrapped in grass, and steamed again. After the second cooking, the loaves were made into smaller cakes and dried in the sun. Without stores of camas, people would be ill prepared for the cold months of the year.

In Idaho, one of the most important camas areas was known as Camas Prairie.

In 1867 the Bannock met in treaty council with the American government at Long Creek. The Americans wanted to confine the Bannock as well as the Shoshone to a reservation so that the land could be opened for American settlement. In the discussions about the reservation, Chief Taghee told the Americans:

“I want the right to camp and dig roots on Camas prairie, when coming to Boise to trade.”

At this time, popular opinion among non-Indians in Idaho called for the extermination of all Indians. An editorial in the Idaho Statesman advocated that the military continue to kill Indians. According to the editor:

“The idea that the Indians have any right to the soil is ridiculous…They have no more right to the soil of the Territories of the United States than wolves or coyotes.”

Another newspaper editorial suggested:

“This would be our plan of establishing friendship on an eternal basis with our Indians: Let all the hostile bands of Idaho Territory be called in (they will not be caught in any other manner) to attend a grand treaty; plenty of blankets and nice little trinkets distributed among them; plenty of grub on hand; have a jolly time with them; then just before the big feast put strychnine in their meat and poison to death the last mother’s son of them.”

The following year, the Bannock and the Shoshone met in treaty council with the Americans at Fort Bridger, Wyoming. Once again the Bannock insisted that Camas Prairie be included in their reservation and article 2 of the treaty expressed this desire. However, instead of saying “Camas” Prairie, the wording of the treaty indicated “Kansas” Prairie.

In 1870, the American government, instead of establishing a separate reservation for the Bannock, assigned them to the Fort Hall Reservation which they were to share with the Shoshone. In moving to Fort Hall, the Bannock were to give up all rights to areas outside of the reservation, including Camas Prairie. Under military escort, the Bannock were moved to the reservation. The soldiers expressed little sympathy or concern for the Indians they were herding and some Indians were killed for slowing the procession down.

Life on the Fort Hall Reservation during the 1870s was not good for the Bannock and Shoshone. While the American government had promised to provide the Indians with rations as they made the transition from a hunting and gathering way of life to a more settled agricultural lifestyle, the promised food supplies were meager. Hunger was a regular part of life. By 1877, the Shoshone and Bannock were starving. To alleviate the hunger, the Indians once again travelled to Camas Prairie were they harvested camas to prepare for the coming winter.

In 1877, the Americans were afraid that the Bannock and Shoshone might join with the non-treaty bands of Nez Perce in their war against the United States. After the camas harvest, the chiefs travelled to Boise to meet with the governor and express their peaceful intentions. Once again, the Bannock explained to the Americans the importance of camas.  Bannock leader Major Jim asked that Camas Prairie be included in the Fort Hall Reservation. He complained that the Americans were driving their hogs and cattle onto Camas Prairie and destroying the camas. The Americans were grateful to hear that the Shoshone and Bannock did not intend to join the Nez Perce, but they did nothing about the Camas Prairie situation.

The food shortages at the Fort Hall Reservation did not improve, and by 1878 the Indian agent felt that he had no choice but to encourage the Indians to hunt outside the reservation. Bannock chief Buffalo Horn visited the territorial governor and obtained permission to buy $2 worth of ammunition for deer hunting. With Indians hunting off the reservation, fears and rumors about Indian wars spread throughout the non-Indian settlements.

Once again the Bannock went to Camas Prairie to obtain the food they needed. They found that American settlers had turned their cattle loose in the area and so the Bannock insisted that the Americans remove the cattle. The Americans belligerently refused, insisting that the Indians had no rights to the land.

The Shoshone and Bannock then met in council to discuss what to do next. Bannock chief Buffalo Horn and about 200 Bannock and Paiute warriors decided to go to war against the Americans.  The Boise Shoshone under the leadership of Captain Jim and the Bannock under the leadership of Tendoy opted for peace and returned to their reservations.

Buffalo Horn and a war party of 60 warriors were attacked by American volunteer troops. While the Indians killed two volunteers and wounded several others, Buffalo Horn was badly wounded. After several days travel, he asked to be left behind to die.

After Buffalo Horn’s death the war party went to Oregon. At the Malheur Reservation, Paiute Chief Winnemucca refused to join the war against the Americans and was taken prisoner. Sarah Winnemucca, his daughter, snuck into the camp and helped the chief and about 75 others to escape.

In Oregon, Oytes and Egan assumed leadership of the rebel group. Egan was initially a reluctant leader, but he was persuaded to become the war chief. Oytes was a Dreamer Prophet and this created problems for the Americans. Part of the reason for the Nez Perce War a year earlier was to eradicate the Dreamers-followers of the Washat Religion of the prophet Smohalla.

At this time, the regular army entered the picture. The army was headed by General O.O. Howard-America’s Christian general. Howard had fought against the Nez Perce and was strongly opposed to Smohalla and his Dreamer movement. He saw himself as a Christian warrior fighting against the forces of evil. Howard and his army were soon in pursuit of the rebel Indians.

At Silver Creek in Oregon, the Americans caught up with the war party and carried out a daring daylight attack with the scouts and some of the troops charging through the camp. Egan led a countercharge, but was wounded first in the wrist and then was shot in the breast and the groin. He was carried off by his warriors and Oytes assumed command. Though badly wounded, Egan directed a retreat and the war party crossed over into the John Day Valley with the army in pursuit.

The war party headed for the Umatilla Reservation hoping to enlist them in the war. Near the reservation, they engaged the army in a day-long battle in which five warriors were killed. The Umatilla under the leadership of Chief Umapine watched the battle from a hilltop. The next day, the Umatilla held council with the Americans. The Umatilla agreed to capture or kill Egan and in exchange tribal members were to be pardoned for their role in the war.

Egan regrouped his warriors in Oregon’s Blue Mountains and waited for the Umatilla to join him. A large party of Umatilla under the leadership of Umapine, Five Crows, and Yettinewitz, came into the camp to talk with Egan. The Umatillas then opened fire, killing Egan and 13 of his warriors. The Umatilla retreated with Egan’s scalp before his followers could react.

Following the death of Egan, the Bannock and Paiute broke into a number of smaller groups which were pursued by the troops. At Birch Creek, the Umatilla under Umapine surprised part of the fleeing war party. They killed 17 warriors and captured 25 women and children.

One of the small raiding parties decided to make a run for Canada to join Sitting Bull and the Sioux. They followed the Bannock trail through Yellowstone National Park where they encountered a survey team. The Bannock managed to capture the survey crew’s animals and supplies.

The army, under the command of Col. Nelson Miles, was actually in Yellowstone National Park. They were not on active duty, but were there as tourists. They surprised a Bannock camp near Heart Mountain, killing 11 and capturing 31.

Southwest of Yellowstone Lake, the army met some of the escapees from the Heart Mountain battle. After a brief fight, the Indians surrendered. While the army reported only one Indian killed, the captives reported that 28 were killed. One observer of the battle wrote:

“The Bannock decided to surrender to the troops, and they moved in a peaceful manner to do so. Nevertheless, volleys of gun-fire were poured into them and several of them were killed.”

The writer concluded:

“It seemed to me that killing these Indians when it was plainly evident they were trying to surrender was a violation of the humanities. They did not respond to the fire.”

Oytes and his followers elluded capture for another month.

In looking back at the causes of the Bannock War, the territorial governor explained that Camas Prairie was the Indians’ garden and it provided them with an abundant supply of vegetable foods. The governor further explained that the government had failed to follow through with the treaty stipulation to assign the prairie as part of the reservation for the Bannock. He recommended that immediate action be taken to assign it to the Fort Hall Reservation or to compensate the Indians in some other way.

In an interview with the Omaha Herald, General George Crook explained that the root cause of the Bannock War was hunger. He said:

“It cannot be expected that they will stay on reservations where there is no possible way to get food, and see their wives and children starve and die around them. We have taken their lands, deprived them of every means of living.”

Crook later wrote:

“Our Indian policy has resolved itself into a question of warpath or starvation; and, merely being human, many of them will choose the former alternative where death shall be at least glorious.”

The Idaho Statesman disagreed with General Crook, and the editor wrote:

“It was not the want of food which started them upon the warpath, but their savage thirst for blood, which had not been restrained and prevented by proper discipline and Governmental supervision.”

Indians 101: Murder in Montana (19th Century)

( – promoted by navajo)


photo credit: Aaron Huey

The West in the nineteenth century was at times violent and this violence was sometimes expressed in murder. This was particularly true with regard to interactions between Indians and Americans. Often, Americans who murdered Indians escaped any legal consequences for their actions. On the other hand, Indian violence, or even the threat of violence, against Americans was met with retaliation against which ever Indians were nearby with no concern about their identity or guilt. In addition, many incidents were blown up into full scale massacres by the press, even when these incidents hadn’t happened. These can be seen in a series of events that took place in the mining town of Bannack City, Montana in 1863.  

It began when a miner bought an Indian woman (perhaps a Sheepeater or Bannock). It was not uncommon at this time that Indian women would be taken captive and then sold. On the other hand, it was also common for the husband in an arranged marriage to pay a bride price to the family of the bride. Not understanding the meaning of this, Americans would often feel that they had purchased a wife. It is not clear which kind of purchase happened here.

The Bannock woman left the American miner, claiming that she had been mistreated. An Indian elder came to her defense when the miner protested. A group of drunken Americans who witnessed the event then declared that they were not afraid of Indians. They followed the elder to his camp on the edge of town. They shot into his tipi, killing the old man, a boy, and a baby.

Later a group of American “road agents” came across Lemhi Shoshone Chief Snag bathing in a creek. One of the men drew his gun and shot the chief, killing him. The next day, Tendoy was elected chief by the Indians in accordance with the wish of the dying Chief Snag.

Tendoy then rode his war pony into the town of Bannack and stopped in front of the general store. He waited there for the townspeople to gather. He reminded them that as war chief for the Lemhi Shoshone he had protected them against assault from hostile Indian tribes. He told them that he has come to find out why they have killed his uncle, Chief Snag. Did this mean that they have declared war against their friends? If so, Tendoy told them, then he would accept the challenge. The townspeople responded by telling the new chief that the killings were the actions of a few bad men and that the good people in the town deplored the act. After a long conversation, Tenday returned to the band, called for his warriors to maintain the peace, and then led them on a long buffalo hunt.

While the Americans took no action against the drunken miners who had killed three Indians outside of town, they did “arrest” the men who had been involved with the killing of Chief Snag. At the trial before a local jury, the men simply explained that they had killed the chief in revenge for the killing of some of their friends by Indians during the 1849 California gold rush (14 years earlier). The jury completely exonerated them.

Following the trial, the Deseret News in Salt Lake City reported that, in retaliation, the Indians had killed 24 miners. The miners then organized a militia which attacked and killed 17 Indians. According to the paper, some 300 miners were now looking to take the scalp of Paiute Chief Winnemucca (who had nothing to do with any of the events).  However, an investigation found that the reported retaliations between the Indians and the miners did not actually take place. During this time period, it was fairly common for newspapers to print totally fictitious accounts of Indian attacks, “wars,” raids, and massacres.

Bannack and Bannock:

Bannack, now a ghost town operated as a Montana State Park, was named after the Bannock Indians who are related to the Northern Paiute. The Bannock were later moved to the Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho. Shown below are pictures of the ghost town and the Bannock Indians.

Bannack 3

Bannack Courthouse

Bannock Indians

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.

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.  

American Indian Candidates: John Oceguera

( – promoted by oke)

For thousands of years the Agai-Dicutta Numu (Trout Eaters People) band of the Northern Paiute had lived within the Great Basin area of what is now the state of Nevada. Traditionally, the Paiute was peaceful people who ruled over their own affairs. They had little need for chiefs. The people governed themselves through a combination of consensus and a cultural norm of service.

When the United States acquired Nevada from Mexico following a brief war, things began to change for the Indian nations within the region. The United States negotiated treaties and appointed chiefs. Then, in 1924, Indians acquired citizenship and the right to vote. Voting, however, is only part of their participation in politics: getting tribal candidates elected to state offices in also important. One of these candidates is John Oceguara, an enrolled member of the Walker River Paiute Tribe.  

Political Background:

In 2000, John Oceguera was elected to the Nevada State Legislature as Assemblyman for District 16 in Southeast Las Vegas. The voters in District 16 have returned John to office every two years since that time.

Oceguera served on four legislative committees in his freshman year: Commerce and Labor, Constitutional Amendments, Judiciary, and Transportation.

By 2003, Oceguera was named Assistant Majority Leader and Vice-Chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. He also served on both the Commerce and Labor Committee and the Transportation Committee. During the period between legislative sessions, he served on the Legislative Subcommittee to Study the Death Penalty and Related DNA Testing. Additionally, he was one of a select number of young legislators appointed to a Toll Fellowship, a bipartisan organization which trains new legislators nationwide.

In the 2005 session of the Nevada Legislature, he continued as Assistant Majority Leader, chaired the Transportation Committee, served as vice chair of the Committee on Commerce and Labor, and continued to serve on the Judiciary Committee.

Following that session, Oceguera chaired interim committees to review regulations and study legislative security. He was vice chair of the Legislative Commission, and continues to hold that position. Trusted with additional leadership duties, John served in 2005 and 2006 on the Committee to Consult With the Director and the Legislative Counsel Bureau Biennial Budget Review Committee.

At the beginning of the 2007 legislature, Oceguera became Assembly Majority Leader and took over the reins as chair of the Committee on Commerce and Labor. He continued working on the Judiciary Committee.

In Carson City, Oceguera has a reputation for being thoroughly informed on the issues, ready to ask the tough questions and willing to go the extra mile for the district he represents. Back in his district, he is known for keeping the lines of communication open to the residents and businesses there. He takes a grass roots approach to both campaigning and representation, often going door-to-door, meeting with the voters and hearing their concerns first-hand.

Professional Background:

John Oceguera is a firefighter who has worked his way through the ranks of the North Las Vegas Fire Department. He was appointed as Assistant Fire Chief in 2008.

With regard to higher education, John Oceguera has a  B.S. in Fire Administration from Cogswell College (1995) and a  Masters in Public Administration from UNLV (1998). He was one of the first to enter the new William S. Boyd School of Law at UNLV and, in 2003 received his Juris Doctorate in law.

Current status:

At the present time, John Oceguera is on track to become the next speaker of the house. He is being challenged by a republican and needs our support. He has been endorsed by INDN’s list.

John OcegueraRepresentative John Oceguera, an enrolled member of the Walker River Paiute Tribe, has spent his life serving the community as a firefighter and member of the IAFF. In 2008, he was named Assistant Fire Chief of the North Las Vegas Fire Department. In the state legislature John has been an effective leader and most political insiders believe he is on track to be the next Speaker of the House.

John is being challenged for reelection by a Republican for the Nevada State House of Representatives in District 16.


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 An ongoing series sponsored by the Native American Netroots team focusing on the current issues faced by American Indian Tribes and current solutions to those issues.


Earthquakes and Native American Spirituality

There have been a number of major earthquakes recently-Haiti, Chile, Turkey-and, as usual, there have been some religious explanations about why they happened. During the past century there have been a couple of earthquakes here in North America which involved Native American spirituality.  

The most intense series of earthquakes in North America happened in 1811 with an epicenter in Arkansas. It is estimated that this may have been an 8.0 magnitude earthquake. This earthquake is commonly called the New Madrid Earthquake.

Just prior to the earthquake, Cherokee chief Skaquaw (The Swan) had a vision while gazing at a comet. Lightning flashed from the four directions and formed a small light at his feet. He picked it up and found that it did not burn his hand because it was tame fire. A child then approached him from the east and another from the west. They perfumed the air and he fell asleep. While sleeping, the Great Spirit told him to warn the Cherokee that they must leave the St. Francis, Arkansas area before great disaster falls upon them. When Skaquaw awoke he told the people what he had learned and they left the area. In this way, they escaped from the New Madrid earthquakes.

There’s another story about the New Madrid Earthquake from Alabama. Shawnee leader Tecumseh had been visiting the Creek in an attempt to gain their support for a rebellion against the Americans. When he left the Creek village of Tuckhabatchee he told the Creek Chief Big Warrior that when he returned to Michigan he would stamp his foot and that the earth would shake the Creek village. In about the length of time it would have taken Tecumseh to return to his Michigan home, the ground at Tuckhabatchee shook from the New Madrid Earthquake.

In 1870, the Wanapum prophet Smohalla predicted that an earthquake would shake the ground to announce the displeasure of the Great Spirit in the way the people were living. Soon after a major earthquake struck the Chelan in north central Washington. Many in the area, including those who had not heard Smohalla’s words, believed that Mother Earth was angry with them. The Catholic priests used this event as an opportunity to increase their missionary efforts. However, Chief Nmosize, a follower of the traditional ways, burned down the mission house.

In 1873, the Sanpoil prophet Kolaskin predicted that a major disaster was going to happen. On November 12 a major earthquake struck. The earthquake enhanced his reputation as a prophet and increased the number of his followers, including the protestant Indians on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington.

In 1887, the noted Yavapai healer Echawamahu began to spend his days wandering away from his San Carlos Apache Reservation camp in Arizona. He muttered to himself and looked skyward. He returned in the evening, carrying flowers, and then was gone again in the morning. He went to another world, but the Great Spirit sent him back to tell the people about coming changes.

Echawamahu called a number of Yavapai and Apache to his camp and gave them specific instructions. He told them that people from four camps were to approach from the four cardinal directions, then be seated in rows. Four young women would be selected to come dressed in white, wearing eagle feathers in their hair. These chosen women would sprinkle dust on each of the seated participants, and then the entire crowd. One by one, they would sprinkle dust on Echawamahu. If the people believe and do as they are told, then the Great Spirit would restore their lands.

When a large earthquake struck the reservation many Yavapai and Apache were convinced that Echawamahu spoke the truth. More than 1,000 gathered at a spring known as Coyote Hole for nightly dancing.

In 1932, the Paiute prophet Wovoka, whose vision had started the Ghost Dance movement, died in Nevada of enlarged prostate cystitis at the age of 74. Prior to his death he predicted that there would be an earthquake after his death which would signal his entry into heaven. Three months after his death, a large earthquake rocked the Smith and Mason Valleys which had been his home.

In 1959, a group of Cree on the Rocky Boy Reservation in Montana requested a Spirit Lodge ceremony. The Cree were concerned about unemployment and about the general unrest among tribal members. During the ceremony the spirits told the ceremonial leader that the people were forgetting the traditional ways. As a result, the leader reported, there would be an earthquake to remind the people. Within a month, a devastating earthquake shook Montana and surrounding country. It caused landslides, created a new lake, and killed many people. The Cree who had been at the meeting of the Spirit Lodge were not surprised.