Establishing Zion
Eugene E. Campbell

Chapter 7.
Indian Missions and Farm

[p.113]The Walker War and other difficulties convinced Mormon leaders that they needed a more effective program to deal with local Indians. Hence during October 1853’s semi-annual General Conference a series of Indian missions was announced. The Green River Mission was functioning by mid-November, and the southern Utah missionaries were organized the following April. Although the Green River Mission had failed by July 1854, and the southern Utah mission enjoyed only limited success, church leaders decided to call new missionaries in April 1855 to return to the same area. The Indian missionaries also traveled north to the Shoshone, Bannock, and Flathead territories, southeast to Elk Mountain (Moab), southwest to Las Vegas, and west to White Pine and Carson Valley. However, most of these missions were unsuccessful, and those that survived were discontinued when the U.S. Army approached the region in the fall of 1857.

At the close of the October 1853 conference, Apostle Orson Hyde, who had been assigned to organize an Indian mission, read the names of thirty-nine young men selected to participate in the newest colonizing expedition. Church leaders must have viewed this particular call with some urgency because the missionaries were instructed to leave in less than two weeks. Perhaps they realized the danger of sending men into the high mountains around Fort Bridger with winter coming and wanted them to be established before the cold set in. Despite the urgency and the difficult prospects, the men accepted the call and, according to Hyde, left in high spirits. James Brown, [p.114] chosen to be one of the leaders, recorded the purpose of the mission:

[To] build an outpost from which to operate as peacemakers among the Indians, to teach civilization to them, to try to teach them to cultivate the soil, to instruct them in the arts and sciences if possible, and by that means prevent trouble for the frontier settlements and the immigrant companies. We were to identify our interest with theirs and even to marrying among them if we would be permitted to take the young women of the chiefs and leading men and have them dress like civilized people and educated. it was thought that by forming that kind of alliance we would have more power to do them good and to keep peace among the adjacent tribes and also with our own people.

Brown also indicated that they were expected to thwart the mountain men, who were believed to be inciting the Indians to attack the Mormons and the government.

Three important points should be noted in Brown’s report. First, no definite place was designated for the colony, only that it be somewhere near the Green River and the Indian tribes. Second, the main purpose of the mission was to establish good relations with the Indians, not necessarily to convert them to Mormonism. They were to work with the Indians, to civilize and educate them, to make farmers out of them, and also to gain their confidence. The third purpose was to upset the schemes of the mountain men. Since plural marriage had recently been publicly announced as a practice of the church, the missionaries were advised to take Indian wives, if possible.

The Indian missionaries could not assemble until 1 November, when they met at the Council House at Salt Lake City. The company leader was John Nebeker, who would act as president and captain; John Harvey was chosen counselor and lieutenant; James Brown was named second counselor and lieutenant. Brown explained that the dual designation as military and ecclesiastical officers was made so that they could act in a military capacity if required. But the more important calling was the church office. The officers were blessed and set apart by three apostles, and the members of the company were told that they would also be blessed if they prayed and did their duties.

The men arrived at Fort Bridger about two weeks later and found the post occupied by twelve or fifteen mountain men who “seemed to be very surly and suspicious of us.” Brown added that “many of our party could feel the terrible influence and made remarks about [p.115] it.” The missionaries were informed that two mountain men had fought a duel with butcher knives the night before and that both had been killed and thrown into a common grave. The missionaries traveled one and a half miles above Fort Bridger and camped at Black’s Fork that night. They awoke to find that it had snowed about six inches. According to Brown, they planned to move to Henry’s Fork, because the Ute Indians were coming to spend the winter there. However, when they learned that there was a band of between seventy and one hundred desperadoes near Henry’s Fork, they changed their plan and appointed a committee to search out a spot for a temporary location.

While the advance company was scouting a location, Orson Hyde was in the Salt Lake Valley recruiting additional missionaries. He reported to the Deseret News that “in less than two weeks’ time I had fifty-three young hardy men well fitted out with large supplies of everything necessary, twenty-six wagons from two to five yoke of oxen, many milk cows, mechanics of all sorts and kinds, necessary tools and implements in abundance [as well as] much clothing, leather, nails and so on.” This group was led by Isaac Bullock as captain, William Muir as first lieutenant, William Prince as second lieutenant, and John L. Dunnion as surgeon.

By the time the second company arrived in Fort Bridger on 25 November, the first company had left Black’s Fork and passed over the divide in a southeasterly direction, traveling along Smith’s Fork to keep away from the mountain men as much as possible. A site-selection committee followed a creek to a point where the water came down the foothills. There, between the forks of the stream, they chose a spot for winter quarters. They then returned and made their report, which the captain accepted. The camp moved to the new site on 27 November. The second group, with fifty-three men, came into the camp on the 26th. Thus a joint company of ninety-two men, all well-armed, moved to the location that came to be known as Fort Supply and began to build a post on 27 November.

Brown reported that they named a committee to superintend the erection of the blockhouse, which was ready for occupancy in two weeks. This was not an hour too soon for the weather was already cold and threatening. According to W. W. Sterrett’s 23 December report, leaders then sent eight men with four wagons back to Salt Lake City when they discovered the flour would not last until spring. The wagons became irretrievably lodged in snow banks less than a mile from the summit of Big Mountain and were abandoned there. [p.116] A rider was sent for help, and the seven men on foot were subsequently rescued. No attempt was made to furnish Fort Supply with food and equipment until spring.

Given the outcome, the settlers might reasonably have questioned the wisdom of the call so late in the year. The missionaries certainly could not have planted crops, nor could they have done any missionary work. They exerted every energy just to survive the cold and the danger from unfriendly Indians and mountain men. According to Brown, they had not been settled long when some of the mountain men paid them a visit. Although the mountain men applauded the Mormons’ energy and enterprise, they expressed some envy and caused the missionaries to feel unsafe, especially when the latter realized that there was such heavy snow between them and the Utah settlements. They frequently heard that the Utes were threatening to attack them from the southeast. As a result, the settlers continued their military organization and regular guard duty. This annoyed most of the men, who had to spend cold nights on guard for fear of Indian attacks.1

The missionaries were fortunate in having the services of mountain man and Mormon convert Elijah B. (Barney) Ward, his Shoshone wife Sally, and their children. Ward was a guide and Indian interpreter. His wife Sally had been married to a French trapper, Baptist Exervid. Exervid, however, had died and left a daughter, Adalaide, whom Ward cared for. Ward and his wife agreed to teach the missionaries the Shoshone language during the winter of 1853-54. In addition, six other Indians wandered into the camp and aided in the study of the Shoshone language and customs.

During the winter, only six of the missionaries made progress in Shoshonean. Of these, four were chosen by Orson Hyde to make first contact with the Indians. These men—Elijah Ward, Isaac Bullock, James S. Brown, and James Davis—left in mid-April to visit the Indian camps. Chief Washakie received the elders cordially. During the council meeting the tribal leaders listened to the Mormons’ message and to a letter from Apostle Hyde. In it he said, “Our young men are learning to speak your language. They want to be united with your people and a number of our men want to marry wives from your people and live with them and live in your country.” The [p.117] chief did not rebut the message but objected to the marrying of Indian women:

We have not got daughters enough for our own men, and we cannot afford to give our daughters to the White men, but we’re willing to give him an Indian girl for a White girl. I cannot see why a white man wants an Indian girl. They are dirty, ugly, stubborn and cross. And it is a strange idea for white men to want such wives. The white men may look around though and if any of you can find a girl that would go with him it would be all right, but an Indian must have the same privilege among the white men.

With this the council ended.

The missionaries continued their journey to the surrounding camps, visiting one band of Shoshone led by White Man’s Child. Here they found the Indians under the influence of mountain man L. B. Ryan, who claimed that the Mormons had robbed “his bottom dollar” and talked revenge. On 1 June they reached the middle ferry where they found Mormon officials who had been sent to the Green River Valley in the spring of 1854 to serve as county officers. These included Judge W. I. Appleby, prosecuting attorney Hosea Stout, and Sheriff William Hickman. Captain Holly, who ran the ferry, and his family were also there. The mission had achieved very little. No baptisms were performed, and little had been done to influence the Indians except for Washakie’s band which was already friendly.

Brown and the other missionaries returned to Fort Supply on 11 July to find that morale had declined and that many of the men had deserted the mission. The remaining missionaries began planting crops early in May even though the weather was still cold and farming difficult. Hosea Stout, who visited Fort Supply at this time, wrote in his journal, “It is the most forbidding and God-forsaken place I’ve ever seen for an attempt to be made for a settlement. Judging from the altitude, I have no hesitancy [in saying] that it will yet prove a total failure. But the brothers here have done a great deal of labor … Elder Hyde seems to have an invincible repugnance to Fort Supply.”

Because so many missionaries left, the organization collapsed, and by July all of the men were released, except possibly a few who volunteered to harvest the crops. John Pulsipher, whose brother Charles was one of these, wrote, “Many of the men were discouraged and dissatisfied and Elder Hyde was not with them and they thought it was a hard, lonesome place, so the next July they were all released to go home unless some wished to stay and save the crops.” Not many stayed.

[p.118] The missionaries in southern Utah were more successful. This group had been called at the October conference, and a party of twenty-three bad been chosen to labor there. Apostles Parley P. Pratt and Orson Hyde organized the men into a company at Salt Lake City and appointed Rufus C. Allen, age twenty-six, to be president, with David Lewis as first counselor and Samuel F. Atwood as second counselor. Having just returned from a mission in Valaparaiso, Chile, Allen felt prepared to direct a proselyting enterprise among the natives. Jacob Hamblin, a noted Mormon scout and Indian interpreter, was another member of the company. The party left Salt Lake City on 4 April 1854 and arrived at a settlement called Harmony, in southwestern Utah, twelve days later. At that time some twelve to fifteen families were located there under the leadership of John D. Lee. This group had been sent to southern Utah on a colonizing mission two years earlier by Brigham Young and had already done some work among the natives. The missionaries spent about a month with Lee, and then both groups moved north about three miles to construct a fort.

On 5 June 1854, Allen, Hamblin, and others started south to visit the various native groups. Their first day out, they met a small, friendly band of Indians and had an interview with Chief Toquer. The next evening they reached the Rio Virgin and came upon another camp of Indians. The women and children hid themselves in the brush. No doubt they feared being taken as slaves.

The following night, the missionaries camped on the Santa Clara River and found a large group of Indians. There were about 250 Indian men but very few children, since most had been taken captive. The Indians had heard about the missionaries and treated them cordially. The Mormons found that the Santa Clara natives were farming in a primitive way but did have patches of wheat, corn, squash, and melons near their village. Allen informed them that they had been sent there by the “big captain,” Brigham Young, and that they would teach them how to farm in a better way. They explained their gospel message, and eleven of the Indians were baptized. A short time later, the missionaries returned and succeeded in baptizing fifty more Indians. They spent the remainder of the summer of 1854 visiting the various native groups in the region.

By special appointment, Hamblin was sent alone among the Indians in November to keep them from disturbing travelers on the southern route to California, a task he accomplished successfully. The next month, Allen called Hamblin, Thales Haskell, Ira Hatch, Samuel Knight, Augustus P. Hardy, and others to leave Harmony and make [p.119] a permanent settlement on the Santa Clara River. They were instructed to take their families and to build homes. Apparently Harmony had insufficient water to accommodate a large group of settlers, and Santa Clara was a more favorable location for missionary work.

Arriving at Santa Clara in early December, the missionaries chose a site about five miles northwest of its confluence with the Rio Virgin. It was a narrow valley, necessitating the division of the land into small tracts, but the colonists became very productive farmers. They erected a log cabin on the upper end of the present site of Santa Clara, constructed a dam across the creek, built canals, and made preparations for irrigation. Chief Tut-se-gab-its and his tribe, numbering about 800, aided the Mormons. By spring, the dam, about 100 feet long and 14 feet high, was completed and about one hundred acres of land was prepared for planting. The Mormons and the Indians cultivated the land jointly and shared the produce equally. Hamblin reported that “we’ve raised melons and had the privilege of disposing of them ourselves. I don’t think the Indians ever took any without leave.” The settlers enjoyed good relations with the Indians, although some of the older natives complained about changing their customs. “We must be Piutes,” they said. “We want you to be kind to us. It may be that our children will be good, but we want to follow our old customs.”

In July 1856, Apostle George A. Smith visited the missionaries with instructions to build a fort in case the Indians should cease to be friendly. A few months later the fort, one of the best in Utah at the time, was completed. Amasa Lyman, returning from San Bernardino in May 1857, wrote that “the brethren in this place have built a stone fort 100 feet square inside of which are some crude cabins in which its occupants reside at the present. They seem to have some good land and cultivation with and for the natives with whom there seems to exist a good feeling at present.”

Allen was released as president in August 1857, and Hamblin was appointed to succeed him. Brigham Young, in a letter to Hamblin, urged him to continue the conciliatory policy towards the Indians. “Omit promises when you are not sure you can fill them and seek to unite the hearts of the brethren on that mission. Let all your direction be united together in the holy bonds of love and unity. Do not permit the brethren to part with their guns and ammunition, but save them against the hour of need.” Young composed this letter in August 1857 when he was aware of the approach of Johnston’s Army. Besides being effective with the missionaries and Indians around [p.120] Santa Clara, Hamblin was also helpful to immigrants and to Mormons returning from San Bernardino. Several of the families from San Bernardino settled in Santa Clara, helping to strengthen the settlement.

The success of the southern Indian mission at Santa Clara encouraged Mormon leaders, who were determined to expand the Indian missionary program the following year. At April conference in 1855, a number of missionaries were called to the different Indian missions. The initial report was: Shoshone Mission, 17; Elk Mountain, 34; White Mountain, 22; Carson Valley Mission, 9; Northern or Flathead Mission, 27; and Las Vegas Mission, 30. The same report mentioned only eight missionaries called to the English mission which gives some idea of the emphasis placed on work among the Indians that year. Apparently additional numbers were added, since the Elk Mountain Mission later reported that forty men were called.

Least successful of these missions was the White Pine Mountain Mission near the present Nevada-Utah boundary. E. G. Williams on 11 June 1855 wrote a lengthy account to Heber C. Kimball of the trials of missionaries going to White Mountain, such as locating potable water, “the same being found only in out-of-the-way places known to Indian guides who accompanied them.” Williams also described the Indians’ fear of the missionaries and the missionaries’ own attempts to instill confidence. Williams claimed to have been the first white man to ascend White Mountain. After making a limited effort to establish a mission among the Goshutes or Western Shoshone in the area, the missionaries returned home and reported that the project was impractical.

The Elk Mountain Mission also proved short-lived. President Alfred N. Billings was appointed to head the forty-man group that met in Manti on 21 May 1855. They were well supplied with wagons, oxen, cows, horses, pigs, dogs, chickens, food, and tools. Following the Old Spanish Trail and Gunnison’s route, the missionaries reached the Green River where they met some of the Indians. Billings told them “our business was to learn them the principles of the gospel and to raise grain.” The missionaries had difficulty getting their cattle across the Green River in the little boat Billings had brought. He wrote, “We worked nearly two days in trying to swim more cattle, and only got twenty-five over. We then took two at a time and towed them over with a boat. Many of them would not swim a stroke and some swam back.” One large fat ox broke its leg, which one missionary thought a good thing because they needed beef. Completing a twenty-day journey, the group reached the Colorado River. After [p.121] selecting a place for a fort, the missionaries held a meeting and then retired to the river where they baptized the converts.

The settlers experienced some opposition from the Indians, who could not understand why the white men were building a fort if they intended to be friends. A few days later, Ute chief Arrapine came into the camp carrying mail to the missionaries. He also preached to the Indians, speaking first in Ute and then in Navajo. Arrapine had been ordained a Mormon Elder and his message was favorable to the Mormons. Other Indians spoke in favor of the Mormons, and within a week fourteen men and one woman were baptized. On 19 August, a letter from Brigham Young to Billings instructed him that a few missionaries were to be left to defend the fort but the rest were to live with the Indians.

Despite their success in baptizing many of the natives, the missionaries were unable to convince them not to steal. By 20 September, Billings reported that the Indians had taken “all of the beets, part of the turnips, part of the potatoes, all of the squash, and all of the melons. The corn had been cut and hauled into the fort in effort to save it.” Three days later some Indians attacked the fort, killing three missionaries, wounding Billings, and setting fire to the missionaries’ winter supply of hay and corn. At this point the decision was made to abandon the mission. Mormon leaders made no subsequent attempt to revive this mission.

The pattern established at Elk Mountain was repeated in other Indian missions. The missionaries had to support themselves by farming and chose the most fertile Indian land. Knowing they were isolated and believing they were dealing with savages, they built forts to protect themselves and fences to protect their property. In so doing they became unwanted outsiders in valued lands and traditional gathering places. Initially, the Indians seemed friendly, and some would be baptized. But they were not willing to accept the Mormon message. Certain tribe members became dissatisfied. When they attempted to steal produce and other supplies, the missionaries retaliated, sometimes resulting in death.

This was the pattern of the Las Vegas Mission (see chap. 4) and the Lemhi settlement in northeastern Idaho. The choice for the location of the Lemhi Indian mission is puzzling. The manuscript history of Brigham Young for 8 April 1855 designates this particular mission as the Northern or Flathead Mission. John Bluth, who wrote the first significant history of the mission, maintained that the missionaries were instructed to settle among the Flathead, Bannock, or [p.122] Shoshone Indians, or anywhere the tribes would receive them. When the missionaries arrived at Fort Hall, in Bannock territory, they came under the influence of Niel McArthur, an ex-Hudson’s Bay Company man who had spent the previous winter on the Salmon River and recommended the valley as an excellent place for missionary work. Apparently this was also a place where three tribes converged at various times for salmon fishing and other purposes. Although not an ideal place for a settlement, Lemhi was selected as a site for a fort. Initially, these missionaries faced the same problem as those in the Elk Mountain, Las Vegas, and southern Utah missions—survival.

After making their way into the Salmon River region, the missionaries built a fort and began to cultivate farming land. Only after spending the winter in the region did they ask to bring their families from Salt Lake and to colonize the valley. There is no evidence that Brigham Young decided to make Lemhi a permanent colony until after his visit in May 1857. At that time, he proposed to send more settlers and encouraged the building of a new settlement two miles from the fort. Fields were divided into individual plots. Before this, the missionaries had cultivated a common field.

The colony continued until unexpected events led to its abandonment. The approach of the U.S. Army, and Mormon resistance to it, caused whites in the Lemhi region to be apprehensive, and this effected the Indians. The burning of the government supply train by Mormon raiders led to the fear that Mormons in the Lemhi region might engage in similar activity. One group of mountaineers reported that the Lemhi Mormons were saying that Brigham Young would save the republic and be made president of the United States. The Mormons’ relationship with the natives deteriorated until, on 25 February 1858, an estimated 280 Indians raided the fort, driving off the cattle and killing and wounding some of the defenders. Messengers were sent to Salt Lake City for help, and the missionaries were instructed to abandon the colony. One hundred and fifty men, who were sent to rescue the colonists, arrived the next month. The exodus began immediately, thus ending the Salmon River Mission.

Although nine missionaries were called to the Carson Valley Mission, only a minor part of the colonizing effort took place in Carson Valley. The work among the Indians there was mostly unsuccessful and was soon discontinued. There was also a group of missionaries appointed to the Cherokee Mission, but this was different from the other Indian missions. Four men labored with the Cherokees [p.123] and succeeded in establishing a branch of the church in present-day Oklahoma.

The apparent failure of the first Indian mission to the Green River Valley did not discourage church leaders. In fact, only a month or two after the Fort Supply missionaries had left, James Brown reported that he had received a letter from Orson Hyde, dated October 1854, asking him to go on a mission to the Shoshone during that winter. Brown reported to Salt Lake headquarters but learned that the Indians had gone so far into the buffalo country that it would be inadvisable for him to follow them. He returned to Ogden where he spent the winter trading with the Indians and gave lessons in the Shoshone dialect.

At the April 1855 General Conference, Brown was appointed president of the newly organized Green River Mission and his former missionary companion Isaac Bullock was designated captain. Brown left Salt Lake City on 10 May, arriving at Fort Supply seven days later. He found that seven Elders had arrived ahead of him and were busy planting crops. Apparently the missionaries had been instructed to gather at Fort Supply rather than organize in Salt Lake City, and they arrived at different times. John Pulsipher, who did not leave Salt Lake until 17 May, reported that when his party arrived there were already twenty missionaries at Fort Supply. Pulsipher and the others benefitted from the building efforts of the first Green River missionaries.

The first meeting of the group was held on 27 May; Pulsipher was appointed clerk and historian of the mission. He reported that seven missionaries, including Brown, were assigned to seek out the Indians while the rest were to raise their standard of living, if possible, and to teach any Indians that might call at the fort.2

Brown’s group met with Chief Washakie and the subchiefs early in the summer of 1855. They explained their mission and presented to the Indian leaders a letter from Brigham Young offering friendship, trade, and a promise to give instructions in farming methods. When they handed the Indians a copy of the Book of Mormon, some of the subchiefs declared “the book no good to the Indian,” indicating that they wanted something to eat and wear, not a book. [p.124] Washakie, however, picked up the book and reportedly exclaimed, “You are all fools. You are blind. You cannot see. You have no ears, for you do not hear. You are fools, for you do not understand. These men are our friends. The great Mormon Captain, Brigham Young, has talked with our father above the clouds, and he told the Mormon captain to send these good men here to tell us the truth not a lie.” Washakie continued speaking of the Indians’ need to change and adapt to a more stable existence. He also expressed his desire to learn the ways of farming and continue trade with the Mormons. This attitude was manifested many times during the following years.

At Fort Supply the Indians were instructed whenever they came to visit and trade. Pulsipher’s journal expresses a common sense attitude as to the amount of information given the natives. “On the 9th of August 30 Indians visited for a week, they danced and feasted. August 12, Sunday about 40 Indians attended church and were taught all the missionaries thought they could remember.” Toward the end of summer, the first fruits of the proselyting mission were produced: four baptisms—Mary, Corger, Sally Ward, and an Indian boy named Corsetry—all Shoshone. These included the first women of that tribe to accept the Mormon faith.3

In August 1857, because of war with surrounding tribes, the Shoshone had been driven together for protection. On 18 August, fifty to sixty of them came to Fort Supply. According to Isaac Bullock, they “were very friendly we made them a dinner while it was being preferred I preached to them the Book of Mormon writings of their Fathers.” Bullock and the other missionaries told the Indians that the approaching federal army was coming to punish the Mormons because of the Book of Mormon and the church’s doctrine of polygamy. According to Bullock, “this excited the Indians, for said [p.125] they we have more than one wife. If they are mad at you and are going to fight you because you have many wives what will we do?”

But the missionaries also experienced some trouble with the Indians. Bullock, who replaced Brown as head of the mission in December 1855, wrote to George A. Smith that “it is a busy time here now and the Indians are coming all around us. We have our grain to harvest, potatoes to dig and crops to secure and with all our care and diligence the natives are bound to have a share.” Referring to Brigham Young, Bullock quoted Tababooindowestay, a Shoshone chief, that the Indians believed “they had much to complain of Brigham. Said they, says the Buffalo, Elk, Deer, Antelope, and little prairie dogs, all of the Shoshonee meat was going to decrease and they must go to farming. And the Mormons were poor and coveted their victuals meaning flour and meat.… Brigham had given them nothing.” Continuing, Bullock explained, “They camped 12 miles from our Fort, and ordered us to bring a wagon load of potatoes and also one of flour, as if they were lords and were to be obeyed. They demanded a beef, some flour and other articles of George W. Boyd, who is in care of Fort Bridger and he had to fork over, after which they are not satisfied but went to Jack Robinson’s, a mountaineer, and shot one of his best work oxen.”

In another letter to Smith, dated 20 October 1855, Bullock described the problem that arose between the Indians and settlers. One person would promise something to the Indians without informing the other settlers. This was usually done to get rid of the Indians who could become a nuisance. Bullock wrote that a band of Indians had come to the camp three weeks earlier and

demanded a present of potatoes and wheat from Bro. Brown telling him that he had promised it to them. He told them he had made no such promise. They told him that he lied and were very bold and impatient. There had been a promise made to them by Bro. Pulsipher before they went into the valley that when the leaves fell the potatoes and wheat were ripe if they should come we would give them some wheat and potatoes that grew on their land. This promise was made in Bro. Brown’s absence and he knew nothing of it. Bro. Pulsipher having the charge of affairs made this promise to get rid of them until the crops were mature for they were grapling the potatoes before they were as big as hazel nuts.

This lack of communication usually led to the Indians’ stealing or destroying crops. Bullock noted, “Just about this time three braves, two young bucks and one little chief come to where Pres. Brown [p.126] was standing at the bars and wanted to go through he said they might if they would keep the path and not run over the grain. They pushed through and went galloping over the wheat saying it was good to run over Mormons’ grain.” Often the settlers allowed the Indians to have food from the fields. Yet when the settlers went to the fields to pick the crops, the Indians would take advantage of the situation by ravaging the fields and becoming angry if asked to stop. Bullock wrote, “I went to dig some potatoes for the Chief as I had promised him some he went along with me nearly his whole band followed and commenced grapling all round me. I spoke to the Chief to see what his people were doing he very carefully replied that he had no eyes and could not see them.”

Usually the settlers ended up taking precautions against attack from the Indians.

A strong guard was placed around the fort and kept up all night.… Our horses were sent out next morning with a guard to place where if any enemy was to come they could see the enemy before it would get to them and if they saw any dust or appearance of Indians that the guard should run the horses into the corral in the fort. About one or two O’clock a large dust rose in the distance pretty soon here comes the guard full charge with the horses the cry was the Indians are coming. Orders to arms … Every man was to his post expecting every moment to hear the war hoop cry from the guard house, which all most stopped our hearts from beating.

Such alarms were often false or the Indians had second thoughts about attacking the fort. On several occasions, the Indians were accompanied by the Indian agent to the fort to settle the differences between the settlers and the Indians. Summarizing the relationship between the Indians and Mormons, Bullock observed, “At times they manifest the most friendly feelings imaginable and at other times they are hostile. As you can see that we have to exercise the greatest patience imaginable to get along with them.”4

Brigham Young had proposed a program for Indian farming in the Green River Valley in a letter to Washakie on 1 May 1855. He admonished the Shoshone to accept the Mormons’ help in farming and livestock grazing, assuring the Indians that

[p.127] We will not disturb you when you make farms and settle down. But now no matter where we settle you feel it is an infringement upon your rights. But it is not so. The land is the Lord’s. And so are the cattle and so is the game. And it is for us to take that course that is best to obtain what he has provided for our support upon the earth. Now we raise grain and stock to last us year after year and work to do so. But you depend upon hunting wild game for your support.

Young explained that hunting was best for the Shoshone when they did not go too far into Sioux and Pawnee country. He continued that times were changing, that the Shoshone should locate on good land and raise grain and stock and live in houses and quit rambling about. Citing the examples of the Creek and Cherokee, Young observed that “now many of them are very rich and have good comfortable houses and plenty of property. If you do so, the Lord will be pleased with and bless you which I desire with all my heart.” Washakie reacted favorably and said finally, “We will build houses by their houses, and they will teach us to till the soil as they do. Then when the snow comes and the game is fat, we can leave our families by the Mormons and go and hunt and not be afraid.”

At the same time the missionaries were establishing themselves, Mormon leaders were negotiating for the purchase of Fort Bridger, which they acquired on 3 August 1855. Louis Robison had been appointed church representative in the negotiations and also headed the Indian mission there. In a letter to Daniel H. Wells, dated 5 August 1855, Robison reported that the mountain men had controlled Fort Bridger until spring 1855, when Bridger sold the outpost to the Mormons. The Mormons did not take possession of the fort until it had been legally purchased, but after 3 August the Fort Supply missionaries had an ally in the Green River Valley.

Fort Bridger was a traditional gathering place for the Indians and played an important role in promoting Mormon missionary work among Shoshone and Bannock. Food supplies were maintained at the trading post so that the physical needs of the natives could be met. This promoted friendship and confidence necessary to advance the missionary program. The mountaineers made one last effort to provoke the Indians to rebel against the Mormons in 1855. But the following year Louis Robison arrived in Salt Lake City to report that peaceful relationships had been established again. Isaac Bullock, writing from Fort Supply the following June, told Young that Washakie was glad for their presence and would accept additional settlements on their land. Young sent a reply stating, “We are glad that Washakie [p.128] and his band feel so well satisfied in regards to our settling upon his land. Let all the brethren pursue a uniform course toward them of friendship and peace. Continue to conciliate them, and force them by your kinship to love you. This will not only gain but maintain peace and goodwill toward each other.”

Young was quick to capitalize on the peaceful nature of the Shoshone and the leadership of Washakie. Young’s letter of 11 August 1856, written in his capacity as superintendent of Indian Affairs, advised William Hickman

to meet with the Shoshone Indians and to hold a council with Washakee and his principal men during which you will endeavor to inculcate friendly feelings and give such instructions which will have a tendency to induce the Indians to abandon their wandering and predatory mode of life and induce them to cultivate the earth and to raise stock for subsistence. You will also seek to impress upon their minds the benefits of civilized existence and of their locating themselves so that schools may be established among them. You will seek to conciliate them toward each other and with other tribes as well as toward the whites with whom it is believed that they have ever been at peace and friendly. In the distribution of presents you will collect as many of the Indians together at Fort Bridger as you can and call to your aid Mr. Louis Robison of that place and Isaac Bullock of Fort Supply.

Acting on this request, Hickman, Bullock, and Robison reported on 19 August 1856 to Young that they had had a conference with Washakie and his tribe.

Following the arrival of the Indian goods at Fort Bridger, Isaac Bullock of Fort Supply sent Joshua Terry in search of Washakie and his band and

found them high up on the Bear River on the eve of starting to this place. Terry informed that William A. Hickman was at Fort Bridger with presents for them. On the 16th, Washakee and his band arrived here. We smoked, had dinner, and gave them a beef after which we had a treaty or council with Washakee and some 15 of his braves. We explained the nature of Hickman’s coming and by whom sent. Good spirit seemed to prevail and after much conversation adjourned to the next day at which time Washakee was notified that he should have another beef and also his presents as sent by Governor Young per William A. Hickman and Isaac Bullock. Seemed to render good satisfaction to all of the Indians present.

The letter also described how the presents were distributed and commented upon the friendliness of Washakie and his people, on the [p.129] order that prevailed during the presentation of the gifts, and on a long speech by Washakie.5

Indian relations at Fort Bridger were quiet during the remaining months of 1856 and into early summer of 1857. In the latter part of June, Washakie and a small band of Shoshone visited the fort. Robison wrote, “They feel first rate toward us. A more friendly feeling I’ve never seen manifested among the Indians.” Washakie and his men left soon after when a war party of forty Arapaho visited the fort. They had been warring against the Utes under the leadership of Chief Friday. Robison described the Arapaho as “the finest looking Indians that I have ever seen. They had a good interpreter with them belonging to the nations, so we had a good chance to talk with them.” He said that the Indians were very hungry and that he killed a cow for them and gave them some flour and other things. The Indians were apparently anxious to have Robison meet them on the Platte River at the mouth of the Sweetwater to trade during the coming winter. By the summer of 1857, it seemed apparent that the Indian mission was successful in pacifying the Shoshone and that the missionaries might be able to extend their influence to the Arapaho.

In 1854, Brigham Young instituted a program of establishing Indian farms and appointing men to be agents (sometimes called Indian farmers). These men were expected both to teach the Indians how to farm and to be an agent with the Indians in trade and commerce. The idea had been suggested by Major George W. Armstrong, an Indian subagent, in the summer of 1854. Young elaborated his proposal more fully in an official communication, dated 23 November 1855, to the recently arrived Indian agent, Garland Hurt.6 In his letter to Hurt, Brigham Young said,

[p.130] I think there should be a small reservation in each of the following counties to-wit, Utah, Juab, San Pete, Millard and Iron. The reason is obvious why these counties should furnish a reservation for the natives. They are already there and would feel it a grievance to entirely leave the scenes of early childhood and cherished memories although willing to be somewhat circumscribed in the usual haunts and wanderings, comparatively small tracts of land suitable for cultivation will be sufficient for all practical purposes. They should also be connected with extensive hunting grounds which in this mountainous country there will be no difficulty attaining.

After suggesting specific locations, Young said that there “should be a farmer at each point whose business should be not to farm for the Indians at the expense of the government, as is too often the case, but to teach them to farm, raise grain, cattle, etc., and to keep and preserve property.”

This program was not new (see chap. 6). Young had designated three men to work with the Indians as farmers as early as 1852, but now a more concerted program was instituted. Unfortunately, for both Indians and Mormon settlers, the non-Mormon Indian agents suspected Young’s motivation and failed to cooperate fully with his recommendations. Hurt sent a secret communication to the U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, dated 2 May 1855, complaining that at the recent Mormon conference a large number of missionaries had been assigned to preach and work among the Indians. Hurt feared that these missionaries might create a distinction between themselves and other Americans and suggested that the act to regulate trade with the Indians be invoked to prevent the Mormons’ mission. Hurt’s superiors evidently felt that the communication was important enough to forward it to the Secretary of the Interior.

Meanwhile, Brigham Young, as ex-officio superintendent of Indian Affairs, and his subordinates proceeded on their own to settle Utah’s Indian problems along humanitarian lines. Young’s quarterly report, dated 30 June 1856, summarized the achievements: “Farming is being successfully conducted on three of the Indian reservations made by Agent Garland Hurt, namely on Corn Creek in Millard County; on Twelve Mile Creek in San Pete County; and near the mouth of Spanish Fork, Utah County.” He then expressed his ambitions for the Indians: “It is to be hoped that these laudable efforts will be crowned with the desired success and that the redmen will be successfully induced to maturely contribute to their own support, and … steadily advance themselves in the habits, means and appliances of civilized life.”

[p.131] In the area supervised by Subagent Armstrong, a report credited the Mormons for a successful Indian policy. On 30 June 1856, Armstrong wrote that since his last report he had visited various bands of the Piede Indians south of Fillmore City in Iron County and also those in Washington County. He reported that those on Church Creek, though few in number, operated a small farm aided by some of the citizens of Cedar City, made fences, and were preparing the ground and planting corn. They appeared pleased with the prospect of raising grain and vegetables for their own subsistence. However, they needed the necessary tools to pursue their work even on a small scale. A few implements had been loaned by the citizens of Cedar City, and Armstrong took a number of other implements to give them. On Wood Creek he found many of the Indians engaged in the same manner. Assisted by the citizens of Fort Harmony, he was convinced that Indians could become self-supporting.

A year later, Armstrong made his annual trip to the southern areas of the territory and reported that the Indians were doing better and that improvements had been made on the Indian farm. He had visited Indian locations in Fort Harmony, Santa Clara, and the Rio Virgin River, Washington County. He also reported on a band of Ute Indians under Chief Ammon on the Beaver River. With one yoke of cattle and an old plow from Beaver City, they had cleared about twenty acres of bottom land near the river and had plowed and sowed a number of acres in wheat. Armstrong said that the wheat was two inches high and had been irrigated once. Water ditches were functional. The agent presented Ammon with various tools, as well as blankets and clothing. Later he visited the farm and found that Ammon’s people had used the tools to clear twelve additional acres and to plant them with corn and potatoes.

Young’s successor as superintendent of Indian Affairs was Jacob Forney, who confirmed the wisdom of his predecessor when he stated that “the agricultural experiment is the only available means of ameliorating the condition of the Indians in this territory as game enough could not be found to subsist for one year.” Forney described the three farms that had been opened under Young’s direction and asserted that improvements exceeded $15,000. The San Pete Farm was the second farm within the boundaries of the Ute tribe and was well watered, timbered, and had a sufficiency of good grazing lands. For these reasons, it was a more desirable location for a reserve than Spanish Fork. Forney added that on “this farm there are 95 acres of [p.132] land under cultivation and will produce this year about 1200 bushels of wheat besides small quantities of corn and potatoes.” In addition, Kanosh, chief of the Pahvantes, had visited Forney, requesting, not paint and beads, but tools and a farmer to guide their farming activities at Corn Creek where eighty acres of wheat had been raised during the 1858 season.

While these attempts were being made to help the Indians in southern Utah, several bands in northwestern Utah and southern Idaho were almost ignored or neglected.7 One group, under Chief Pocatello, wintered near Kelton on the northwestern point of the Great Salt Lake, and four other bands lived along the Bear River. A seventh group occupied areas in Cache Valley near the juncture of the Logan and Little Bear rivers. These Indians did not represent a threat to Mormon colonization during the early years, since the Mormon program was directed more to the south. But as the Mormons began to fill in the valleys north of Ogden, the Northwestern Shoshone became more hostile. Late in 1854, one band under Chief Little Soldier established a winter camp near Ogden and began stealing cattle and cutting fences for fire wood, asserting that “the grass that cows eat and the wood from which the fences are built belongs to the Indians.” Young tried to keep these northwestern Shoshone on friendly terms, meeting with seven of their chiefs in September 1854 to distribute presents to them. And while Mormon settlers occasionally asked the Indians to join them for 24 July celebrations, they still found it difficult to “feed rather than fight them.”

Another development was important in conjunction with Mormon/Indian relations prior to 1857-58. Young founded the Brigham Young Express Company in 1856 to establish colonies twenty to fifty miles apart where colonists could raise grain and provide supplies for immigrants coming to Salt Lake Valley. Part of the program was also to work with the Indians near these settlements. As a result, the Indian agent in the Platte River area protested to the federal government that the Mormon colonies jeopardized his control of the Indians. This accusation added to the suspicions already circulating in Washington, D.C., that the Mormons constituted a threat to the nation, especially in their effort to proselyte the Indians and to convince them that Americans were their enemies, Mormons their friends.

[p.133] This was one of the factors leading to the Utah War which also proved disastrous for the Indians. In the south they became involved in the Mountain Meadow Massacre (where John D. Lee was an Indian farmer) and other depredations, encouraged, in a sense, by the Mormon need for help in resisting the approaching army. In the north, they took advantage of the army’s approach to “get even” with the Mormons who had encroached on their lands.8 Demands that the Mormons feed large groups of Indians became so onerous that the Saints began to demand government aid and supported the idea of government reservations. The tragic Bear River battle, subsequent Mormon attempts at missionary work and farming programs, and the reservation solution are discussed in chapter 17. [p.135]


1. Orson Hyde visited the group on 8-9 December and brought them some mail. He applauded their work, then set out on his return trip. As one missionary later reported, “everyone felt blessed by his visit.” Before leaving, Hyde wrote a letter to Chief Washakie explaining the purpose of their mission and once again offering to marry their women and to teach the Indians to farm.

2. Apparently the purpose of the second Indian mission was different from that of the first. In 1853, Orson Hyde’s instructions had emphasized peaceable relations with the Indians and attempts to civilize them. However, the 1855 missionaries seemed more intent on preaching Mormonism. Perhaps they had decided that the earlier goal could be accomplished more effectively by first converting the Indians.

3. Most of the missionaries realized that the greatest missionary tool would be converted, baptized Indians, who could preach to their own people. For example, Friday, an Arapaho who visited Fort Supply, was singled out for two reasons: he seemed interested in Mormon doctrine and he could both understand and speak English well. Isaac Bullock noted,

Yesterday we received a visit from Mento Supa or Black Bear in company with Friday and some 40 other braves of the Arapaho Tribe. They are on their return from a fruitless chase after the Euwinta Tribe. They said they were two days without food. We fed them bountifully after which we preached to them in English as Friday understood the English language well, he interpreted to them. We instructed them concerning the Book of Mormon, the nature of our mission, etc. We told them about the good feeling we entertained for all the Red Men, counciling them to be at peace with all tribes, etc. etc. They manifested a good friendly feeling towards us and we believe their visit will be productive of good.… We believe Friday would make a good missionary as he was 7 years in St. Louis.

4. On 24 July 1856, the missionaries held a celebration and invited several Indians to participate. One feature of the procession was a troop of twenty-four young Indians dressed in buckskin pants, blue shirts, and moccasins, with a banner proclaiming, “We shall yet become a white and delightsome people.”

5. This orderly conduct did not always prevail, as evidenced by a letter from Robison to Daniel Wells just four days later. Robison reported that Washakie and a group of his people came to the fort for a spree. Robison tried to intervene in a fight between Washakie and one of his tribesmen and was hit several times in the face by Washakie. Washakie forced Robison to supply him and his favorites with whiskey. Robison estimated that the Indians consumed about 20 gallons of liquor before Washakie pronounced that “they should drink no more.” The next morning the Indians quarrelled over a proposed attack on the Utes. Washakie opposed the action but became enraged at his own mother’s defiance of his orders and stabbed her in the side with a butcher knife. Some of the braves proposed to kill Washakie for the rash act, but it was decided to wait to see if his mother died. The Shoshone chief left the post with his family, and Robison reported that Washakie’s mother was still alive three days after the altercation.

6. Hurt had succeeded subagent B. E. Betell, who had replaced Agent Holeman in late 1853. Armstrong settled in Provo and took over the eastern division while Hurt was assigned to the western agency.

7. These were later identified as the Northwestern Shoshone by anthropologist J. H. Steward, who described the various bands and located the winter camps.

8. Jacob Forney was convinced that the Northwestern Shoshone had been “true to the government” and believed that the presence of the army implied government sanction for the attacks on Mormon colonies.