Part 2 of 4

The Story of Ute Leader Nuch "Black Hawk"

1849 - 1873

continued from page 1

The first confrontation occurred during the winter of 1849, when a 22-year-old Ute named Nuch would witness the brutal murder of his family in the foothills above today’s Pleasant Grove, and was taken captive by Mormon militants. Wrongly accused of stealing Brigham Young's horses, Capt. John Scott ignored Brigham's orders to return to Salt Lake that the horses had been found.  Nuch would later become known as Black Hawk. But the gruesome images of his family's slaughter would forever be indelibly seared upon his mind. This event has always been referred to as a "battle" when, in fact,

Black Hawk's family were only armed with one gun against an army of 44 armed militia. The Ute leader by the name of Kone was the first to be shot in the back blowing the top of his head off. One unarmed man running for his life was shot 16 times. (See Battle Creek here)

Changing the conditions in which the Indian people thrive was a key element in taking over Indian lands. It meant logging, constructing forts and towns, diverting streams, introducing thousands of domesticated cattle, plowing and fencing vital grass lands and planting domesticated crops, massive slaughter of buffalo herds, which devastated the Utes’ precious resources. These settlers were less dependant upon natural sources for their food because of farming techniques, while the Indian people were forced to travel greater distances, requiring greater effort, to find food, leaving the Ute with no choice other than to prey upon the settlers’ cattle, or die of starvation. Another example  recorded is that, in just one day alone, 6790 fish were taken from the Provo River with gill nets and sent to Salt Lake as tithing, ignoring the present and future needs of the Indigenous people.

The name "Black Hawk" is not a Ute name, it was a name Brigham Young called the Chief in jest. So Brigham’s supercilious term “Black Hawk” became the name by which he is now most commonly known. His Ute name was Nuch, and he was so named in honor of his people, the Nuchu. Nuch is a sacred name to the Nuchu.

Because whites found it difficult to pronounce Indian names, it was common practice to call them by contrived and insulting names such as Roman Nose, Stick-in-the-head, Squash-head, etc. These contrived names somehow survive, and are now assumed to be Indian in origin. They were insulting to the Native people then, and they are insulting now. Some examples of Ute names are: Peteetneet, Pocatello, Sagwitch, Sanpitch, Wanship, Tabiona, Tabby, To-Quo-Ne, Shegump, Skipoke, Tackwitch, Tow-Ich, Nar-A-Coots, Pe-Do, and To-Ne-Oo.

In 1850 Mormon apostle George A. Smith, a cousin to Church Founder Joseph Smith jr., declared that the Indian people "have no right to their land" and he instructed the all-Mormon legislature to "extinguish all titles" and get them out of the way and onto reservations. This set the stage for the infamous Black Hawk War that would follow.

As Chief of the southern Utes, Walkara, Black Hawk's uncle, had long established a trade route along the Spanish trail raiding horses which he would sell to Brigham Young at bargain prices. Young baptized Walkara and made him an elder of the church. Later Brigham began interfering with Walkara's trading business which started tensions between the two, but it was when one of Walkara's men was murdered by one of Brigham's followers that lit the fuse to the powder keg and set Walkara on the warpath. Soon Walkara would die an untimely death from pneumonia in 1854. However, some scholars say there is strong evidence that Walkara was poisoned, as his death was sudden. And, it is one of Utah's darkest truths that it was not uncommon for anti-Indian settlers to poison the Indians’ food and water sources.

1855 Yene-woods, a relative of Walkara, became chief after Walkara died, set out to avenge the deaths of his people, and continued on in his role as leader until 1865.

"Black Hawk" took over as war chief under his brother's command who was Ute Chief Tabby. He rallied some 3000 warriors and manage to drive back the Mormons. This, historians would say, was the beginning of "The Black Hawk War." They would place the blame on "Black Hawk," saying that it was he who declared war—a war that, in fact, began 15 years earlier at Fort Utah. And, Fort Utah was the direct result of LDS Church apostle George Smith's order to remove the Ute people from their homeland. The so-called Black Hawk War did not begin in 1865, but in 1849-50, and continued on into the year 1873.

Nuch was born into a royal bloodline of many honorable leaders going back hundreds of years. For example: Chief Walkara, Chief Yenewoods, Chief Sanpitch, Chief Sow e ett, Chief Tabby, Chief Old Elk, Chief Kone, Chief Colorow, Chief Old Uinta, and Chief Mountain are just some of Chief Nuch's blood relations. There never were any Black Hawk Indians in Utah, or elsewhere for that matter, and none of the Indians in Utah called themselves Black Hawk or Antonga!

Conditioned by his personal torment, he witnessed his people becoming increasingly ill from whitman's diseases, and the slow agonizing death from starvation was unbearable, he often went without food himself to help his people. Often he called upon Great Spirit for guidance. The hellish terror of his people's suffering was overwhelming as he saw their hearts fill with hopelessness and despair.

In 1850, a few months following the murder of his family, young Nuch would again be traumatized when made to witness the decapitation of his kin at Fort Utah, following a premeditated two-day vicious attack by Mormon militia that resulted in the deaths of 70 of his clan. The details of this event will follow. But, the kind of trauma that becomes generational needs to be understood. When generational traumas, such as war, genocide, oppression, poverty, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, death or loss of parents or siblings, are not grieved and healed by individuals, families and communities, the effects of unresolved trauma are carried into the next generation.

They say that Mormon leader Brigham Young said, "It is better to feed them than to fight them," is incorrect. What he said was, "It is cheaper to feed them than to fight them," and, putting it in proper context, he was spending millions in church funds equipping his own private militia to wage war against them. According to one scholar, historian Will Bagley, There was nothing benevolent at all in his statement. It was purely a matter of economics. 

Young's long-time admonition to the members of his church to "Treat them kindly, and treat them as Indians, and not as your equals," came in the wake of tens of thousands of settlers who systematically spread out across  the most fertile Ute land. Many “saints” were spending time in the Indian camps and inviting them into their homes, to which Brigham responded to his followers in 1854, "If the inhabitants of this territory, my brethren, had never condescended to reduce themselves to the practices of the Indians, (as few of them have,) to their low, degraded condition, and in some cases even lower, there never would have been any trouble between us and our red neighbors." (See Brigham's Discourses)

In 1857 members of the Mormon church, disguised as Indians, massacred a wagon train of 129 whites at Mountain Meadows, and unfairly laid the blame on the Paiute.

Brigham went to great lengths to convince the First Peoples to side with him in his efforts to keep the approaching U. S. Army out of Salt Lake. Perhaps he didn't exaggerate when he warned tribal leaders that the government had sent the army troops to destroy both the Mormons and the Indian people. News of Brigham's plan to recruit the Indians reached Washington, and U.S. troops were dispatched to Utah to thwart Brigham's scheme. The Mormons found some Indian allies who sided with him. But soon the Indian people would find themselves in a survival struggle of their own. The United States Army would try to convince tribal leaders to side with them, and drive the Mormons out. But, as we will see, Mormon leaders would join hands with the United States government, and finalize the removal of the Native Indians from their land to make way for “Christian” expansion.

Johnston's Army waylaid in the dead of winter...

Johnston and his army of 2500 U.S. troops were sent to Utah in 1857-1858 while Young's good fortune was that government funds and resources were diverted to the Civil War, leaving Johnston at a disadvantage once they arrived. Brigham seized the moment, and gave the order that Johnston's wagons and food be burned. A faithful follower by the name of Lot Smith carried out the order, causing 2500 men to suffer extreme hardship during the bitter cold of winter.

Under the orders of Brigham, Nauvoo militia stole 800 of the 1,400 head of cattle with the Army there. While Mormons severely punished famished Indians for stealing their cattle, the Mormons not only stole cattle from the United States Government, they destroyed the army’s 2720 pounds of ham, 92,700 of bacon, 167,900 of flour, 8910 of coffee, 1400 of sugar, 1333 of soap, 800 of sperm candles, 765 of tea, 7781 of hard bread, and 68,832 rations of desiccated vegetables.

In 1863, 593 Shoshone men women and children were brutally massacred at Bear River. As the Indians tried desperate measures to fight off the U.S. Army, including the use of tomahawks and archery, the soldiers seemed to lose all sense of control and discipline. After most of the men were killed, soldiers proceeded to rape the women and girls of the encampment, and many of the children were also shot and killed. In some cases, soldiers held the feet of infants by the heel and "beat their brains out on any hard substance they could find." Those women who refused to submit to the soldiers were shot and killed. One local resident, Alexander Stalker, noted that at this time many soldiers pulled out their pistols and shot several Shoshone people at point-blank range. The soldiers also deliberately burned almost everything they could get their hands on, especially the Indians’ dwelling structures, and killing anybody they found to be still inside. Hundreds of corpses were left to be eaten by animals and the bones remained uncovered for years to follow. - Rod Miller Massacre at Bear River

The Bear River Massacre has been ignored. "It was not in the interest of key players—the military and the Mormons—to remember, and the decimated Northwestern Bands of the Shoshone had no voice in the nation that came to surround them. The battle, as it was initially regarded, was celebrated in Salt Lake City, especially by the military. What few records there are indicate that between 250 and 350 Shoshones died, although some suggest nearly 500 perished. Paul Hutton, a historian of the Indian Wars at the University of New Mexico, said he had never heard of the Bear River Massacre when he got his first teaching job at Utah State University in 1977." - Salt Lake Tribune

The Utes have consistently been a diverse and adaptable people. They have always been innovative to have sustained their culture for over six centuries. Each one was gifted with intelligence, love of family and friends, and the ability to feel joy and pain. Each experienced awe in the face of surprising natural beauty, as were the Old World Christian brethren. Their land was not just real estate, their land was their soul. They will tell you, "My father's face is in the rock on the mountain; the rock to which I turn and all sons turn to see the face of all our fathers on the mountain. The voice of my father is on the wind and my voice also when it becomes strong for only my sons to hear and keep on hearing after I am gone."

Our mountains of Utah are sacred to the Ute. They are the birthplace of their ancestors, where they lived, played, laughed, danced, prayed to Creator, experienced all the things that gave their lives meaning and purpose. They may say, "My help is in the mountain where I take myself to heal the earthly wounds that people give to me. I find a rock with the sun on it and a stream where the water runs gentle, and the trees which, one by one, give me company. So must I stay for a long time until I have grown from the rock and the stream is running through me and I cannot tell myself from one tall tree. Then I know that nothing touches me nor makes me run away. My help is in the mountain that I take away with me. Earth, cure me. Earth, receive my woe. Rock, strengthen me. Rock, receive my weakness. Rain, wash my sadness away. Rain, receive my doubt. Sun, make sweet my song. Sun, receive the anger from my heart." These are the words that come from the hearts of our Indigenous people.

There never was anything genetically inferior about the Utah Indians. Shaped by their environment, they were a tough and rugged people. They established, over time, an economic trade network from the regions of northern Utah territory as far south as Mexico. Ute leaders had long-established trade relations with Euro-American fur traders, which proved profitable on all sides. They had tremendous knowledge and skills to master their environment, and sustained a population numbering in the tens of thousands. To feed a lot of people they needed a productive and fertile environment. The Ute were not farmers, but depended on natural resources for their food supply. They found sustenance from roots, fruit, seeds, and a variety of nutritious plants. Fish, deer and elk were their primary source for protein, as well as clothing, and many other uses. Theirs was a highly structured society, noble and skilled in their ways, and deeply respected by other tribes throughout the West.

There were no legal treaties made between the Utes and the Mormons. Only the federal government had the authority to make such treaties with the Indians. Only one federal treaty was made with the Ute in 1868 and, even though it was ratified, the United States government failed to uphold their promises. Yet, many towns throughout Utah, such at Mt. Pleasant, Heber, Springville, Ephraim and others, claim treaties were made which led to the conclusion of the Black Hawk War. In truth, these were peace agreements made between local settlers and the Utes, and often, Black Hawk was the one who initiated them. (Please see Treaties)

By the 1860s the United States government, under President Grant had, for the most part, placed care of the Indians in the hands of Christian groups. Henry Pratt's assimilation program began with the slogan: "Kill the Indian and save the man." Indian children were taken from their families by force, and placed in boarding schools. Their goal was to completely abolish their traditions, language and culture in a single generation. These children remained in these schools for periods as long as six years, never being allowed to have any contact with their parents or families. Many died from Smallpox and Measles, and were buried in schoolyards. To this day, Native people continue to search school records for their deceased ancestors, only to find that many of the graves of these poor children were never marked.

The environment of the Utah Indian people was now drastically altered from logging and from the introduction of domesticated cattle and horses  numbering in the thousands. Settlers farming domesticated crops and cattle on previously Indian land meant that Natives were less able to depend on the natural environment for their food supply. While the Indians were excellent and well-seasoned hunters and gatherers, it required a large expanse of land to sustain their communities. The settlers knew this, and so systematically killed and drove away the deer and elk, and slaughtered massive numbers of native buffalo. Colonists almost always settled on the most fertile land. They emptied the rivers, and streams, of fish by over-fishing them with gill nets. The Native people were forced to travel greater distances, expending more energy, to find food. Ultimately, they were faced with the agonizing realization that they were being forced by starvation into surrendering. It became necessary to prey on Mormon beef. They plundered thousands of head of cattle to feed their hungry families. They would have much preferred to eat deer, elk and buffalo, but it was a matter of survival. With this, and the pandemic spread of disease, it's a wonder the Ute survived at all.

Brigham and his followers were, by no means, strangers to persecution or to being demoralized. Having been exiled from their homes in Illinois by angry mobs, they sought refuge in Utah territory. John W. Gunnison wrote, "It's a curious matter of reflection, that those whose mission it is to convert these aborigines by the sword of the spirit, should thus be obliged to destroy them." The ambiguities and ironies in the mistreatment of the Native people are perplexing. It would seem natural that the Mormon people would show compassion toward the Native. But Brigham's relentless disregard for Ute land rights and utter intolerance of their culture is cloaked in his rhetoric to "Treat them kindly, and treat them as Indians, and not as your equals."  It then comes as no surprise that, unfairly, far more emphasis has been given by historians to Brigham's Indian policy efforts, than the Ute leaders’ demonstrated humanity and willingness to compromise. The Utes are seldom cited for their peace efforts. Meaningless and numerous so-called "treaties" were divisive and broken at will by Mormon leaders.

Fort Utah 1865:

When Apostle George Albert Smith gave the order to remove the Native Peoples from off their land in 1849-50, this set the stage for genocide. And the events that unfolded at Fort Utah would send a message to the Native peoples that the rules of engagement were rooted in pure  contempt, hatred and greed.

As Brigham continued using church funds waging war against the Indian people, he engaged such noted serial killers as "Wild Bill" Hickman, Porter Rockwell, and John D. Lee. Lee baptized Hickman into the church. Lee and Rockwell were sealed to Brigham Young in the temple. Lee was the leader of the massacre at Mountain Meadows. Hickman and Rockwell were Brigham's personal body guards.


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