Eugene E. Campbell
The Mormons and the Indians—Ideals versus Realities
[p.93]When the Mormons moved into the Great Basin, they not only occupied Mexican land but invaded Indian territory. Because they believed in the Book of Mormon, which claimed to be a history of the ancestors of the American Indians, they had sympathy for the Indians.1 Previous experience with various tribes in the midwest had taught the Mormons to avoid contact whenever possible, but the Mormons were confident that one day they would convert the Indians and live peacefully with them.
Initial contacts with the Indians were friendly, but as Mormon colonies extended into neighboring valleys,2 the natives began to [p.94] resist the intrusion. Their resistance threatened the existence of the Mormons who were, in their words, “a thousand miles from nowhere.” On the frontier the Mormons acted much like other Americans in the east and in the south: they occupied Indian land, killed resisters, and called upon the federal government to remove the Indians to another part of the region.
In August 1846, while the Mormons were camped near the Missouri River, Brigham Young remarked at a high council meeting that “it was his impression that the committee should not enter into any specific agreement with the Indians, but to endeavor to create a friendly feeling and to have a meeting at a future time. We should not invite them into our camp but we can go and see them.” He suggested that the Indians be paid for the use of their land only if they asked for it.
The Mormons’ primary contact during the trek west was with the Omahas at Winter Quarters who stole between $3,000 and $5,000 worth of horses and cattle from the Saints, according to Brigham Young. Although angered by the attack, Young counseled against killing the Indians. At a conference in March 1847, just before leading the pioneers west, Young said that it was wrong to feel hostile toward the Indians, the descendants of Israel, who might periodically kill a cow, an ox, or a horse. It was their way of life to kill and eat. But if the Omahas persisted in robbing and stealing after being warned, then the Saints would be justified in whipping them.3
Such evidence suggests that the pioneers approached the Salt Lake Valley feeling benevolent toward the Indians as well as determined to avoid trouble. Unfortunately, the desperate circumstances the Mormons faced in colonizing the region made accommodation difficult and led to conflict during their first two to three years.
It is unclear how many Indians were in the Great Basin when the Mormons arrived. Some estimates place the number as high as 35,000, while others are considerably lower. Andrew Neff’s analysis, based on Brigham Young’s report as territorial Indian superintendent, projected a native population of approximately 12,000, not [p.95] counting the Navajo, Hopi, or other Indians in the Grand Canyon and Arizona regions.4
The largest Indian group was the Utes. They had divided into eastern and western bands sometime before 1848. The western Utes occupied the eastern two-thirds of what is now the state of Utah, situating themselves south of the Shoshone, north of the San Juan River, and east of the southern Piutes. They were divided into smaller bands known as the Uintahs (in northeastern Utah), the Timpanogus (around Utah Lake), the Pavantes (around Fillmore and the Silver Lake area), the San Pitch (in the same general north-south area but ranging further east), and the Weeminuche (in southeastern Utah and across the border into Colorado). The Navajo had moved from northwestern New Mexico and northeastern Arizona into the region of Utah south of the San Juan River and traded regularly across the river with some of the Utes. Further south into the Arizona region were the Hopis and the Havasupis.
Most of these Indians had had contact with white men before the Mormons came. Those in the south and central parts of Utah had been in almost constant contact with Spaniards from Mexico, beginning with Escalante and Dominguez in 1776 and perhaps even a few years earlier. Following the Spanish padres’ expedition, parties of traders came regularly into the Utah region and developed flourishing trade along the Old Spanish Trail, often taking Indian women and children captive and selling them into slavery in Los Angeles and Santa Fe. Beginning in the 1820s, mountain men and fur traders moved through the region and made alliances with Indians of the Rocky Mountains and Great Basin, frequently intermarrying with the women of the various tribes. Annually after 1825, fur rendezvouses were held in the Rocky Mountains, and hundreds of Indians, especially Utes and Shoshones, attended these gatherings and engaged in gambling, bartering, athletic contests, and in general revelry.5
[p.96] Ultimately forts were established in the region, and these became gathering places for Indians in the area.6 Government explorers, including Bonneville and Fremont, also made contact with the Indians in the region. The results of these contacts are difficult to measure. Some Indians, especially the Utes, became involved in horse stealing raids on California ranches and also became addicted to alcohol and other vices. The food supply diminished as the Oregon, California, and Old Spanish trails developed, the Indians becoming even more dependent upon the encroaching whites.
Most of these Indians were poor, seed-gathering peoples. As no single locale provided a dependable food supply, most groups, especially the Shoshone, Goshutes, and Piutes, moved from place to place. They never learned how to store surplus food, and the search was constant. Only small groups could survive in a given area, thus precluding the development of large tribal organizations. A small family unit was the basic Indian group. This kept cultural development at a minimum compared with other North American Indian groups. Such conditions also made large-scale resistance to the Mormons unlikely.
The Salt Lake Valley was a fortunate choice for the first Mormon settlement. No Indian group occupied the valley, although the Shoshone claimed it and the Utes were often in the valley to trade with the Shoshone. Soon after their arrival in July 1847, the Mormons met Indian parties filtering into the valley—some to trade and others to satisfy their curiosity. On 27 July, Howard Egan wrote that “after breakfast, two Indians of the Utah tribe came to camp somewhat slightly clad in skins and quite small in stature. Jay Redding exchanged a gun for a pony. They gave us to understand by signs that there was a large party about 40 miles from here.” That afternoon, five or six more Indians came into camp and stayed during the night.
A few days later, an event occurred that demonstrated some hostility between the Shoshone and the Utes. An altercation ensued over the alleged theft of a horse. Andrew Neff’s account maintains [p.97] that two of the three Indians accused of theft were killed. Almost immediately, the Mormons were apprehensive about associating with people who killed each other over such minor incidents. Furthermore, the Shoshone appeared displeased because the Mormons were trading with the Utes. They claimed the land was theirs and that the Utes were interfering with their rights. With sign language, they indicated they wanted to sell the land for gun powder and lead.
Heber C. Kimball, acting head of the pioneers while Brigham Young was still recovering from his illness, addressed the pioneers on 1 August, advising them not to trade or sell their guns and ammunition to the Indians. He announced a new and far-reaching policy regarding land ownership. Whereas Young had said in Winter Quarters that “if they want us to pay for occupancy of their land, we will pay them and they should not touch our property and we will not touch theirs,” Kimball now discouraged Mormons from paying the Indians for their land. “If the Shoshone should be thus considered, the Utes and other tribes would claim pay also,” he asserted, concluding that “the land belongs to our Father in Heaven and we calculate to plow it and plant it and no man shall have the power to sell his inheritance for he cannot remove it. It belongs to the Lord.”
Thus the Mormons occupied the land without compensating the owners. Of course, the Mormons intended to convert the Indians both to their religion and to a more civilized way of life—planting crops and raising cattle, horses, and other domestic animals—thereby hoping to share the limited land in the watered valleys of the Wasatch and the Great Basin without difficulty. At the same meeting, the settlers voted “not [to] trade with or take any notice of the Indians when they come in to camp,” emphasizing the separateness of Mormon policy over fairness.
It is not certain what the Indians’ attitude toward the Mormons was during the early days of July and August 1847; however, there probably was no unified feeling. Certainly the Indians were curious and hoping to benefit from the whites. But they had no way of knowing the extent of colonization that the Mormons were contemplating. Edward Tullidge, in his history of Provo, asserted that a large number of Utes were in Spanish Fork Canyon when the pioneers came into the Great Salt Lake Valley and that one of their leaders, Chief Walker,7 advocated attacking the group immediately and [p.98] wiping them out before they could get established. Walker was reportedly overruled by an older leader, Chief Sowette, who had to flog Walker to bring him into line with a more peaceful policy.
Brigham Young may not have known about Walker, but he had been informed about the Utes by Jim Bridger, who asserted that the Mormons could “drive out the whole of them in twenty-four hours.” Young said he “felt inclined not to crowd the Utes until we have a chance to get acquainted with them” and, for that reason, said it would be better to settle in Salt Lake Valley rather than around Utah Lake. By settling some distance away, the Saints would be less likely to be disturbed but would have a chance to form an acquaintance with the Utes and hopefully establish peaceful relations with them.
The Mormon leaders decided to build a stockade or fort to keep the Indians out. After Young and other Mormon leaders had left the valley to return to Winter Quarters, Young wrote a letter to those remaining in the valley: “When the Lamanites are about, you will keep your gates closed and not admit them within the walls. So far as you come in contact with them, treat them kindly but do not feed them or trade with them or hold familiar intercourse with them within the city. But if you wish to trade with them, go to their camp and deal with them honorably.”
In September 1848, Walker and several hundred Utes appeared in the Salt Lake Valley with several hundred head of horses for sale. Evidently, they did not feel the Mormons represented enough of a threat to preclude trading with them. And the Mormons, although apprehensive, were nonetheless eager to placate animosity on the part of the Utes.
An unfortunate incident occurred early in February 1849. Apparently fourteen horses and several head of cattle were stolen in Tooele Valley and taken to Utah Valley. A posse of thirty to forty men, informed about the location of the Indian thieves by a friendly Indian, surrounded the Indian party near present-day Pleasant Grove, and killed all four warriors. This first hostile contact between Mormons and Indians ran counter to Brigham Young’s policy that Indians should not be killed for stealing. The following day the posse returned along with the squaws and children of the slain.
More serious difficulties developed as the Mormons expanded into neighboring valleys. In places such as Ogden, Provo, Tooele, and Manti, Indians resisted colonization and confrontations took [p.99] place. The most serious occurred in Utah Valley. In early 1849, when Mormon leaders sent a group of about 150 to colonize Utah Valley, two Ute chiefs, Old Elk and Walker, urged an attack on the settlement. Brigham Young told the colonists to be careful, not to make them any presents, to be friendly, to teach them to raise grain, and to order them to quit stealing.
The summer of 1849 was relatively peaceful, as far as Mormon and Indian relations were concerned in the Utah Valley. However, on 15 October, the Mormon leader in the valley, Isaac Higbee, wrote that the Indians had been troublesome for several weeks. One man had been shot at, two animals had been killed, and some corn had been stolen. Young repeated his previous counsel to build a fort, attend to their own affairs, and leave the Indians alone. He emphasized the policy of separation when he commented, “If you would have dominion over them for their good, which is the duty of the Elders, you must not treat them as your equals. You cannot exalt them by this process. If they are your equals you cannot raise them up to you.”
A few months later, Young was persuaded to reverse his policy of benevolence and peacefulness. Early in January three Mormons accosted an Indian nicknamed “Old Bishop” (because he resembled Bishop Horace Kimball Whitney), accusing him of stealing a shirt that belonged to one of the three men. When he resisted, they attacked and shot him. They then opened his abdomen and filled it with rocks and placed the body in the Provo River. After this, the men boasted about what they had done. When the Indians found the body, they threatened to destroy the Mormon community. Without telling Brigham Young of the murder, Alexander Williams informed him of the Indian attacks.
Once again Young asserted that the Mormons should be tolerant. However, Isaac Higbee decided to travel to Salt Lake City to gain permission to lead a punishing expedition against the Indians. He met with Young, his counselors, the militia commander, Daniel H. Wells, and with Parley P. Pratt, who had just returned from southern Utah. Pratt supported Higbee, arguing that the only alternatives to a military expedition were abandoning the valley or leaving the settlers to be destroyed. Higbee added that every Mormon man and boy in the valley had voted to exterminate the Indians. Young considered the colony in Utah Valley a necessary link along the route to California and a key example of the Mormon resolve to occupy every fertile valley in the region. He was supported by Captain Howard [p.100] Stansbury of the U.S. Army and head of the topographic engineers surveying in Utah at the time.
On 2 February 1850, Young explained to the General Assembly of the State of Deseret that an extermination campaign would be carried out against the Utah Valley Indians and ordered that all Indian men were to be killed but that women and children would be saved if they behaved. Six days later, a voluntary force of militia from both Salt Lake and Utah Valley laid siege to about seventy Indians on the Provo River. After two days of fighting the Indians withdrew, leaving eight dead, including one woman whose legs had been severed by cannon shot. The wounded and sick retreated up Rock Canyon, but the main body reportedly fled to the Spanish Fork River. Daniel Wells then joined the militia with orders from Young “not to leave the valley until every Indian was out.”
A relentless pursuit ensued. One party entered Rock Canyon and found eight or ten Indians, including Big Elk, dead from wounds or illness. Another group pursued the main body of Indians to the south of Utah Lake where they killed five and took the rest prisoner. The following morning, 15 February, all seventeen prisoners escaped to the frozen lake. One by one they were overtaken and killed. Then, to conclude what was certainly one of the most brutal incidents in Mormon history, their heads were cut off by a U.S. Army surgeon, aided by two of the Mormon militia men, ostensibly for scientific or medical research. Later, a local force of twenty-three men was sent out when Indian campfires were spotted nearby. These men came upon twenty-four Indians who had found the bodies of their friends. Despite hostile attitudes, the two groups negotiated a peace settlement at Fort Utah.
Evidence suggests that Young was increasingly pessimistic of ever converting the Indians to Mormonism and that he was concerned about the future of Mormon colonization. On 7 May, he told colonists in Utah Valley that the “older Indians would never enter into the New and Everlasting Covenant but that they would die and be damned.” He admonished the people to mind their own business and that the Indians would do the same. “If they come and are not friendly, put them where they cannot harm us.”
Five days later, Young expressed an equally pessimistic view. Although the Indians did not represent a significant danger Young said that he did not “want to live among them and take them in his arms until the curse is removed from them. This present race of Indians will never be converted. It mattereth not whether they kill one [p.101] another off or [if] somebody else does it. And as for our sending missionaries among them to convert them, it is of no use.”8
Young’s primary reason for the change of policy is best noted as follows: “[The Indians] must either quit the ground or we must. We are to maintain that ground or vacate this. We were told three years ago if we don’t kill those Lake Utes they will kill us. Every man told us the same. They all bore testimony that the Lake Utes lived by plunder and robbing. And if we yield in this instance, we have to yield the land.” This was the crux of the matter. The Mormons were intent on building a new Zion in the region. They had hoped that the Indians would be converted and benefit from the Mormon occupation of their valleys. But since they were not willing to do this, the policy of benevolence and fairness would be changed. With no further talk of purchasing the land, Mormon leaders sent a worldwide appeal for colonization: “We want men, brethren come from the states and the nations. Come and help us build and grow until we can say enough, the valleys of Ephraim are full.” At a public meeting calling for young men to occupy the San Pitch Valley, Young explained that he wished “to take possession of all good valleys.” Later, he admitted that when the Saints first entered Utah “we were prepared to meet all the Indians in these mountains and kill every soul of them if we had been obliged to.”
In April 1849, before the extermination in Utah Valley, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, and interpreter Dimick B. Huntington met with Chief Walker and twelve of his tribe. According to Young’s manuscript history, Walker first asked for some tobacco, which was given to him. Then Huntington said, “Walker wants us to go down to his land and make a settlement. He wants to know how many moons before we will go [to his villages] and build at his place. He will do what we want him to do.”
After passing the pipe of peace around, Walker said, “I am friendly with the Snakes, they are at peace, I can go among them. A few of the Snakes and Timpani Utes will not hear. I never killed a white man. I was always friendly with the Mormons. I hear what they say and remember it. It is good to live like the Mormons and their children. I do not care about the land but I want the Mormons to go and settle it.” Young replied, “We want some of your men to [p.102] come and pilot some of our men through to your place in the fall. We will school your children here if they are willing to go to school and in six moons we will send a company to your place. We have understanding with the Goshute and the Wanship about this place. It is not good to fight with the Indians. Tell your Indians not to steal. We want to be friendly with you. We are poor now, but in a few years we shall be rich. We shall trade cattle with you.” Walker answered, “That’s good.” Young continued, “We will build a house for you and teach you and your tribe to build houses for yourselves. You can pay us your own pay.” Walker responded, “My land is good, no stones, high timber.”
The two leaders suggested how they might help each other. Then Walker said that the Timpanogus, or Timpini, Utes killed his father four years ago, that he had recently retreated from Utah Valley, and that he would be friendly to the Mormons and would welcome them to live near his villages. Young agreed to give the Indians some ammunition and hats, then asked, “Are you ready to go in peace? A good peace go with you. We want a good peace that our children can play together.” Walker replied, “Good.” The counsel finally concluded, and Young later remarked, “I gave the Indians half an oxen and the people commenced trading with them.”
Young carried out his promise (see chap. 4). However, Walker was a difficult man to control. Despite the fact that he was baptized a Mormon on 24 March 1850, Walker was on the warpath less than a year and a half after meeting with Young. That summer a band of Shoshones raided a Ute camp and stole several horses. Walker planned a retaliatory raid and asked for support from a Mormon militia. His request was denied, and Walker rode off with his warriors to do bloody battle with the Shoshone raiders. Upon his return, Walker and his band made a gruesome demonstration in front of the fort at Manti. They then decided to move north and attack the Provo settlement. However, rebuffed by another chief, Walker called off the attack and withdrew.
Later, in mid-September 1850, another Indian was killed by a Mormon for stealing. This time it was in the Shoshone country near Ogden. Retaliation was immediate and vicious. A Shoshone chief, Terikee, was caught stealing corn and was shot by a Mormon farmer, Urban Van Stewart. The Indians retaliated by burning Stewart’s house and grain. They then murdered a nearby millwright and threatened to massacre all of the settlers and burn the property unless Stewart was turned over to them for punishment by nine o’clock the next [p.103] morning. A large militia force immediately rode to the scene. The Indians were outmatched and fled, and the incident was terminated without further bloodshed.
Apparently, these activities reconfirmed to Brigham Young that there was no way the Saints could live in peace with the Indians. On 20 November 1850, he wrote a letter to the church’s representative in Washington, D.C., John M. Bernhisel, requesting that he attempt to have the Indians removed from the region by the federal government. Young explained,
It is our wish that the Indian title should be extinguished, and the Indians removed from our territory Utah and that for the best of reasons, because they are doing no good here to themselves or any body else. The buffalo had entirely vacated this portion of the country before our arrival; the elk, deer, antelope and bear, and all eatable game are very scarce, and there is little left here … Naked Indians and wolves … are annoying and destructive to property and peace, by night and by day, and while we are trying to shoot, trap and poison the wolves on one hand, the Indians come in and drive off, butcher our cattle, and steal our corn on the other, which leaves us little time between the wolves and the Indians to fence and cultivate our farms; and if the government will buy out and transplant the Indians, we will endeavor to subdue the wolves, which have destroyed our cattle, horses, sheep and poultry by the hundreds and thousands.
After noting some of the Indian atrocities, Young wrote:
Do we wish the Indians any evil? No we would do them good, for they are human beings, though most awfully degraded. We would have taught them to plow & sow, and reap and thresh, but they prefer idleness and theft. Is it desirable that the barren soil of the mountain valleys should be converted into fruitful fields? Let the Indians be removed. Is it desirable that the way should be opened for a rapid increase of population into our new State or Territory, also to California and Oregon? Let the Indians be removed, we can then devote more time to agriculture and raise more grain to feed the starving millions desirous of coming hither.
For the prosperity of civilization, for the safety of our small route, for the good of the Indians, let them be removed.
Young recommended that the Indians could be sent to the Wind River mountains
where fish and, at least part of the year, buffalo abound, to the Snake River where there are fish and game, to the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada between the northern and southern routes to California where no white men lives and where forests and streams are plentiful, or to the [p.104] western slopes of the Sierra Nevada above the dwellings of the whites where elk and other game are abundant.
When it became clear that the Indians would not relinquish their lands peacefully, Mormons resorted to the solution of James Monroe and Andrew Jackson—remove the Indians, by force if necessary. Young’s recommendation was never acted upon. Bernhisel, who knew that Utah had already been made a territory and that Young had been appointed governor and would probably be appointed superintendent of Indian Affairs, decided to talk to Young in person in the spring of 1851.
Although Young was appointed governor on 9 September 1850, he was not appointed Indian superintendent until the following February. Still he became aware of both appointments about the same time. He learned that he had been named governor in January 1851 and was informed the following month that Congress had extended the Intercourse Act over Utah and that he was being appointed ex-officio superintendent of Indian Affairs. The new territory, comprising approximately 186,000 square miles, included all of the present states of Utah and Nevada (except the southern tip near the Las Vegas area), the part of Colorado west of the crest of the Rocky Mountains, and the southwest corner of present-day Wyoming.
The Intercourse Act of 1834 provided Superintendent Young with an Indian agent and as many subagents as needed. United States president Millard Fillmore appointed Jacob H. Holeman as Indian agent and Henry R. Day and Steven B. Rose (a Mormon) as subagents. Before the arrival of the agent and subagents, Young divided the territory into three agencies or administrative units, each to be supervised by one of the newly appointed officers. These units included the Uintah Agency (supervised by Rose), which took in all of the Snakes and Shoshones within the territory and all of the other tribes east of the Great Basin. The Parowan Agency (supervised by Holeman), included all of the territories lying west of the eastern rim of the Great Basin and south of the southern boundary of the Pahvant Valley. Day’s responsibility included the Pahvant Valley and all of the territory west of the Shoshone nation and north of the southern boundary of the Pahvant. Young’s action seemed rational, but following their arrival the agents criticized the new superintendent, feeling that he should have waited for them before outlining boundaries.
[p.105] The following letter from Holeman to the commissioner of Indian Affairs, dated 1 September 1851, foreshadowed the future pattern of interaction:
I can take the opportunity of again stating to you as my fixed opinion that with Governor Young at the head of the Indian Department in this territory, it cannot be conducted in such a manner to meet with the views of or do justice to the government. He has been so much in the habit of exercising his will which is supreme here, that no one will dare oppose anything he may say or do. His orders are obeyed without regard to their consequences and whatever is in the interest of the Mormons is done whether it is according to the interest of the government or not.
Holeman noticed that trouble was brewing between the Mormons and the Indians because of the Mormon program of colonizing the more fertile areas of Utah. He wondered whether the Mormons should be allowed to move onto the rich hunting and fishing grounds occupied by the Indians:
I find much excitement among the Indians in consequence of the whites settling and taking possession of their country, driving off and killing their game and in some instances driving off the Indians themselves. The greatest complaint on this score is against the Mormons. They seem not to be satisfied with taking possession of the valley of the Great Salt Lake, but are making arrangements to settle the rich valleys and best lands in the territory. This creates much dissatisfaction among the Indians and excites them to acts of revenge. They attack immigrants, plunder and commit murder whenever they find a party weak enough to enable them to do so, thereby making the innocent suffer for the injuries done by others.
Holeman sent his report directly to the commission without channeling it through Brigham Young’s office, promoting additional antagonism.
Further difficulties developed when non-Mormon agent Henry R. Day joined territorial chief justice Lemuel H. Brandebury, territorial secretary Broughton D. Harris, and associate justice Perry E. Brocchus to withdraw from the Utah territory in protest. These men gave as their reasons the lawless and seditious conduct of the inhabitants of Utah, and Day said specifically that he could “no longer take the abuse that was being given to the United States and its officials by the Mormons.” Holeman remained and not only complained of the Mormons taking Indian lands but also accused Young of using his office and government funds to further Mormon colonization. He alleged that government money was being used to buy presents [p.106] for the Indians in areas the church wanted to settle. Young, he complained, made it clear to the Indians that the Mormons were their friends and that the federal government was their enemy. “It seems to me officially,” Holeman concluded, “that no Mormon should have anything to do with the Indian.”
In the first few months of his superintendency, Young thus found himself deserted by one agent and opposed by another, who would try to undermine every request Young made on behalf of the Indians in his territory. As a result, Mormon programs were under-financed and criticized, and the Indians themselves were neglected. The Utah territory received only .03 percent of total federal appropriations earmarked for Indians in the United States and its territories. During the same period no lands were reserved for Indians in Utah, although throughout the country over 19 million acres were put into reserve. Of course, Utah Indians were not as numerous, but they were entitled to more help from the government than they received.
Another problem was Indian slavery. As already indicated, a slave trade was conducted over the Old Spanish Trail that came through much of Utah since the early 1800s. Walker and his band raided weaker tribes, taking their children and sometimes their wives as prisoners and selling them to Mexicans. As early as November 1851, the Deseret News called attention to a party of twenty Mexicans in the San Pete Valley, trading for Indian children. In his book, Forty Years Among the Indians, Daniel Jones wrote that when this party of traders arrived in Utah Valley, Brigham Young was notified and came to Provo. According to Jones, who acted as interpreter,
Mr. Young had the law read and explained to them showing them that from this day on they were under obligation to observe the laws of the United States instead of Mexico. That the treaty of Guadaloupe-Hidalgo had changed the conditions and that from this day on they were under the control of the United States. He further showed that it was a cruel practice to enslave human beings and explained that the results of such business caused war and bloodshed among the Indian tribes. The Mexicans listened with respect and admitted that the traffic would have to cease. It was plainly shown to them that it was a cruel business which could not be tolerated any longer and as it had been an old established practice they were not so much to blame for following the traffic heretofore. Now it was expected that this business would be discontinued. All seemed satisfied and pledged their word they would return home without trading for children. Most of them kept their promise, but one small party under Pedro Leon violated their obligation and were arrested and [p.107] brought before the United States court, with Judge [Zerubabbel] Snow presiding.
The Mexicans were found guilty and fined. The fines were afterwards remitted, and the men were allowed to return to their homes.
Stopping the slave trade embittered some Indians. Some of them attempted to sell their children to the Mormons. Jones related one graphic incident. Arrapine, Walker’s brother, insisted that because the Mormons had stopped the Mexicans from buying these children, the Mormons were obligated to purchase them. Jones wrote, “Several of us were present when he took one of the children by the heels and dashed his brains out on the hard ground, after which he threw the body toward us telling us we had no hearts or we would have saved its life.”
Incidents such as this led the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah on 7 March 1852 to pass an act legalizing Indian slavery. The purpose was to induce Mormons to buy Indian children who otherwise would have been abandoned or killed.9 It provided that Indian children under the proper conditions could be legally bound over to suitable guardians for a term of indenture not exceeding twenty years. The master was required to send Indian children between the ages of seven and sixteen years to school for a period of three months each year and was answerable to the probate judge for the treatment of these apprentices. As a result of this act, many Mormon families took small Indian children into their homes to protect them from slavery or from being left destitute. John D. Lee, for example, wrote in his journal about a group of Indians who “brought me two more girls for which I gave them two horses. I named the girls Annette and Elnora.”
Negro slavery was also permitted in the territory, but the pioneers had passed no similar rules about the treatment of blacks, certainly [p.108] not the requirement that they be schooled. However, blacks were not permitted to be sold to others without their own consent.
The Mormons evidently hoped that Mexican traders would soon learn that they were no longer welcome in Utah. Soon, however, a trader from New Mexico boasted to Brigham Young of having 400 Mexicans on the headwaters of the Sevier River. This trader was selling arms to the natives and was presumably purchasing children to be sold into slavery. As a result, Young announced early in 1853 that he was sending thirty men south through all of the settlements surveying the country and directing the inhabitants to guard against sudden surprise. They were also authorized to arrest and keep in close custody any strolling Mexican party, those associating with them, and any other suspicious person or party. The presence of Mexican slave traders quickly subsided.
Young has been credited with the statement that it was cheaper to feed the Indians than to fight them. However, this was not his policy during the Saints’ first years in the Great Basin. No doubt Young had great compassion for the Indians, but his letters to the chiefs advised against idleness and dependency. He was convinced that “he who is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer.” Young’s policy was never to give an Indian anything without letting him work for it.
When Young sent Isaac Morley’s company to Sanpete County to settle near Walker’s group, he realized that the Indians would be unhappy if the Mormons took over their valleys and hoped to demonstrate that a Mormon presence could mean a dependable food supply, even during the winter. In the spirit of this commitment, Young visited the Sanpete, Pahvant, and Parowan valleys in late October and early November 1851 and appointed James Case, Anson Call, and John C. L. Smith to inaugurate a farming program among the natives. Young’s program was not officially sanctioned by the federal government, even though Washington apparently provided funds for its support.10 The beginning salaries of Case, Call, and Smith were $300, $365, and $500 per year.11
Young wanted to develop a similar program for the Shoshone. He was especially anxious to do this because Mormon immigrants were coming through Shoshone country in the Green River area by [p.109] Fort Bridger and were being menaced by Indians influenced by mountain men. These men had married Indian women, had become members of their tribes, and were surviving by controlling the ferries over the Green River. Young was convinced that such men, including James Bridger, were encouraging the Indians not only to resist Mormon immigration but to steal their cattle and attack the immigrants and settlers. In his annual report for 1851, Young wrote that he and others had met with the Shoshone chief and had smoked in token of lasting friendship. They had met also with the Utes and had asked both groups if they would like to have the Mormons settle by them and teach them how to farm.
By 29 September 1852 Young received Chief Washakie’s personal, though reserved, welcome to settle on the Green River lands. Acting on this, Young sent a letter with Dimick Huntington to some of the Mormon immigrants who were coming west in 1852, asking them to stop over on the Green River and to establish a permanent settlement. A small group under Huntington’s direction stopped on the Green River in the late summer of 1852. However, the Indian agent, Jacob Holeman, visited the region and reported to his superior that the chief in council at Fort Bridger had asserted that they intended to drive the whites from their lands immediately. Unless a compromise was possible, he feared bloodshed. When Young learned of this, he wrote, “If some of our people would go out with the Indians on their trips hunting and get acquainted with them and with their chiefs, then a good influence might be exerted among them which would not be in the power of anyone else to counteract. But we must wait for the present, therefore all of you come back and let things take their course a little longer.”
Things remained relatively quiet during the winter of 1852-53. But in 1853 two important developments caused farming to cease temporarily and involved the Mormons in military action against Walker in central Utah and against Bridger and mountain men in the Green River country. Young had continued to work with Walker and the other Ute chiefs and had baptized a number of them. In fact, in June 1851, Young’s scribes recorded that Indian chiefs Walker, Sowette, Arrapine, and Unhwitch were ordained Elders.
Nevertheless, Young was aware that the priesthood was not having much impact on the Indians and knew that Walker and others were upset that Mormons were moving into the valleys along the Wasatch Mountains and were stopping the slave trade. Hearing of these attitudes Young dictated to his scribes on 18 May 1853, “I shall live a long while before I can believe that an Indian is my friend [p.110] when it would be to his advantage to be my enemy.” Young was referring to Walker who in July 1853 led an outbreak known as the Walker War. A trivial altercation in Springville ended in the death of an Indian, and Walker led his band on the warpath, killing twelve white men during the nine-month feud. The number of Indians killed equaled the number of whites slain.
Walker’s action caused fear among the Mormon colonists and an estimated $2 million in losses. The territory accumulated a $70,000 deficit, personal losses accounting for the rest. None of the personal losses were compensated, but the U.S. congress appropriated $53,512 for territorial losses. By the end of October 1853, the “war” was over except for a few minor incidents in the southern part of the territory. Formal peace was signed the following May at Chicken Creek (south of present-day Nephi) between Young and Walker, who died less than a year later and was buried at Meadow Creek.
During the Walker War, another incident occurred in the territory which complicated matters for the Indians, the federal government and the Mormons. On 26 October 1853, U.S. Army captain John W. Gunnison and seven men under his employ were killed near the Sevier River while surveying a railroad route. Army colonel Edward Steptoe was sent to investigate the murders and reported that a member, or members, of an immigrant train en route to California had killed the father of a prominent chief and wounded two other Indians. The Indians retaliated by taking revenge on the first whites they encountered, the innocent Gunnison party. This atrocity was committed by the Piutes of Chief Kanosh’s tribe. Kanosh, one of the most friendly of Indians, had been baptized into the Mormon church and ordained an Elder.
Eventually, Kanosh was told to turn over the killers. He agreed but only turned over old and decrepit members of the tribe, hardly the attackers. An unusual trial was held in which a good deal of antagonism surfaced between the Mormons and Colonel Steptoe and his army officials. Three Indians were convicted and sentenced to prison. Steptoe, disgusted with the experience, later turned down the invitation to be governor of the territory, leading his troops instead to Oregon.
Meanwhile, as a result of the Walker War, Brigham Young revoked all licenses to trade with the Indians in the territory. He felt that this was the most prudent course to pursue until peace was restored. Otherwise he could not prevent the selling of guns, powder, and lead to the enemy. Although the Walker War did not extend into Green River Valley, the revocation of all trading licenses did. [p.111] Thus Jim Bridger and other mountain men were forbidden to trade with the Indians. However, when Mormon traders returned from the region in the early fall of 1853, they reported that Bridger was not only trading with the Indians but selling them powder, lead, and liquor, and was supposedly inciting them to kill the Mormons as well. Believing such reports, Young decided to arrest Bridger.
Sheriff James Ferguson received a court order to lead a 150-man posse to Fort Bridger to arrest the mountain man, to bring him back to Salt Lake City for trial, and to confiscate his weapons. The posse arrived at Fort Bridger in late August 1853. Despite several days of searching, they could not find Bridger. His Indian wife claimed she did not know where he was, but apparently he was hiding in nearby mountains. Posse members occupied Fort Bridger and confiscated the goods they deemed dangerous. William Hickman reported that no ammunition was found but that the whiskey and rum, of which Bridger had a good stock, was “destroyed by doses.”
The posse then went to the Green River where they killed two or three mountain men and captured several hundred head of livestock. Ferguson left James Cummings with twenty men in possession of Fort Bridger. The men remained there until mid-October when they also returned home. Shortly after the posse left the fort, Bridger returned with John M. Hockaday, a government surveyor, and began a survey of the country claimed by Bridger. On 6 November 1853, the survey was completed, and soon afterwards Bridger left the area permanently for his home in Missouri.
Thus the first few years of Mormon colonization proved disastrous for the Indians. Hoping to profit from the Mormons, the Indians soon found themselves overwhelmed by pioneers moving onto their hunting and camping territories. Reacting by stealing and by threatening the colonists, the Indians came to be regarded as threats to Mormon survival. Despite the Mormons’ initial good will, the two cultures were too dissimilar to accommodate each other, and in the early clashes, both groups lost. Finally, after seven difficult years, Mormon leaders decided to try new methods of accommodation: Indian missions and farms. [p.113]
Notes: 1.The Mormons were not the first to suggest that the American Indians were remnants of the tribes of Israel. However, their belief in the Book of Mormon convinced them that the Indians were descendants of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, had migrated to America in three different groups, and had spread through the land. The Book of Mormon detailed the story of the ancestors of the American Indians, who had once been a “white and delightsome” people and had developed a great civilization. Sin and wickedness had brought warfare, and eventually the white-skinned people had been exterminated. Those left, known as Lamanites, had been cursed with a dark skin and became savages. But they were also a people of promise, for the Book of Mormon contained a prophecy that the gospel of Jesus Christ should be declared among them and “be restored unto the knowledge of their fathers, and also to the knowledge of Jesus Christ. And then they shall rejoice; for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall become a white and delightsome people” (2 Ne. 30:6). Believing themselves also to be of Israelitish origin, the Mormons regarded the Indians as blood brothers and believed that it was their duty to bring this knowledge to them.
2. The Mormons had been warned by explorer and trader Jim Bridger to avoid the Utes around Utah Lake. Bridger described them as vicious savages who would “torment whites if possible but who would not resist large groups of whites.” So church leaders avoided making a settlement at the fertile valley to the south for almost two years.
3. Young also pointed to an unfortunate double standard. Some Saints, who knew better, would also sometimes steal. Mormons might forgive this, yet fellowship a man who would kill an Indian for stealing.
4. Most of the Indians of the Great Basin spoke the Shoshonean language, a branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family which includes languages spoken by the Hopi, Pima, Papago, Yakki, Comanche, and some of the other tribes in Mexico and the American southwest. In addition, the northern Shoshone, the western Shoshone (known as the Goshutes), the southern Piutes, and the Utes all spoke Shoshonean. Northern Shoshone were located in what is now northern Utah, southern Idaho, and Wyoming. The Goshutes and other western Shoshone were located in northwestern Utah (west of the Great Salt Lake) and in northeastern Nevada. The southern Piutes were in southwestern Utah, southern Nevada, and in northern Arizona.
5. The first four rendezvouses were held in the Utah area of Henry’s Fork on the Green River, in Cache Valley, and at the southern end of Bear Lake. Cache Valley was the favorite wintering place of the mountain men and was selected as the rendezvous site in 1826 and in 1831. Although the supplies did not arrive in 1831, the whites made contacts with the Indians. An 1834 rendezvous at Ham’s Fork on the Green River happened in what was known as Utah Territory. It was not uncommon for Indian women to be bartered on such occasions, and mountain men often vied with each other in adorning their Indian wives with colorful clothing and trinkets.
7. Walker was a successful Ute chief, having learned much from the mountain men. He had made trips into California to barter for horses, stealing a good number in the process, and had brought his people a considerable degree of economic prosperity. Walker was also engaged in the slave trade and periodically raided the camps of the southern Piutes to seize their women and children to sell into slavery.
8. He also believed “that old Bridger is [wishing] death on us and [that] if he knew that 400,000 Indians were coming against us, and any man were to let us know, he would cut his throat [to keep him silent].” Young felt that Bridger and other mountaineers were the real cause of the Saints’ problems with the Indians.
9. The Mormons had first confronted the problem of buying Indian children soon after their arrival in the Salt Lake Valley. Children were brought into the pioneers’ fort as early as the winter of 1847-48, and Indians said that they were war captives and would be killed if not purchased. The Mormons bought one of the children. Two more children were brought to the fort under the same threat, and the Mormons bought both of them. Charles Decker bought one of these two, Sally Kanosh, who was later given to Brigham Young and raised in his family. Speaking with church members in the Iron County Mission, Young advised them to buy children and teach them to live a good life. According to the Journal History for 12 May 1851, Young said, “The Lord could not have devised a better plan than to have put the saints where they were to help bring about the redemption of the Lamanites and also make them a white and delightsome people.”