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The Black Hawk War; Utah's Forgotten History
The Timpanogos Nation
Black Hawk Memorial Spring Lake, Utah
Mary Meyer Chief Executive of the Timpanogos Nation
Mary is a descendent of Timpanogos Chief Arapeen, Black Hawk's Uncle
by Phillip B Gottfredson
In 2015 I was contacted by a tribe in Utah that no one has ever talked about... the Timpanogos, who have lived in the Great Basin of Utah centuries before the Mormons arrived in 1847, and long before the Colorado Utes were forced by the United States government to leave Colorado and live in Utah in 1881 as "prisoners of war." My great-grandfather Peter Gottfredson wrote about the Timpanogos in his book "Indian Depredations in Utah" published in 1919. I took a personal interest in the Timpanogos which, according to them, no other historian has. I am forever grateful to Mary Meyer and the Timpanogos Nation for sharing their well documented history with me and granting permission to share with you their story.
It has long been the belief that the Colorado Utes were the principle tribe in Utah's Black Hawk War, which is not true. Whereas, Chief Executive Mary Meyer of the Snake-Shoshone Timpanogos Nation, who is a direct descendant of Chief Arapeen, she generously provided me with definitive proof that the Timpanogos are the living descendants of the 'Royal Bloodline' of Chiefs Sanpitch, Wakara, Arapeen, Tabby, Ammon, Sowiette, Grospeen and Antongua 'Black Hawk', and other acclaimed leaders in the Utah Black Hawk War such as Kanosh and Tintic. Their lineage documented by birth and marriage records, death certificates, Indian Agency records, treaties, and that the Timpanogos have filed some thirteen thousand pages of historical records with the United States Government going back to 1765. This is information you won't find in mainstream historical accounts. I am genuinely humbled by Mary's help, one of the greatest honors in my life to work with Mary Meyer and the Timpanogos Nation.
The Timpanogos Nation expressed their gratitude to Phillip and honored him with a blanket and other sacred gifts.
The Timpanogos were first discovered by Spanish explorer Juan Revera in 1765, and later Dominguez and Escalante in 1776. They describe in their journals having met "the bearded ones" or Eutahs who spoke Shoshone. Eu translated means reeds, and Tah means arrow in the Shoshone language. The Eutahs, the journal explains, spoke the language of the Snake-Shoshone and called themselves "Timpanogostzis" an Aztecan Shoshonian word meaning People of the Rock Water Carriers (referring to rock salt), whose leader was Turunianchi. They lived by a lake they called Timpanogos. Dominguez and Escalante called the area El Valle de Nuestra Señora de la Merced de los Timpanogos (translation: The valley of our lady of mercy of the Timpanogos). The lake is known today as Utah Lake. The place is Utah Valley situated in the heart of the state of Utah. The Lagunas, fish eaters, Eutahs, and the bearded ones, the Timpangotzis they are called by all these names. Dominguez and Escalante describe the Timpanogos as a strong, kind and hospitable people.
"Turunianchi the Great" was the leader of the Timpanogostzis, and Cuitza-pun-inchi, Pan-chu-cun-quibiran, and Picu-chi were his brothers. Turunianchi had a son named Moonch. Moonch was the father of Chiefs Sanpitch, Yah-Keera (Walker), Arapeen (father of Jake Arapeen), Tabby, Ammon, Sowiette, and Grospeen who were known as the "Royal Bloodline." Six of the seven brothers were the uncles of Antonga (Black Hawk) who was the son of Sanpitch.
There can be no doubt the Timpanogos Nation were the Native American people that LDS Church leader Brigham Young and his followers first encountered in 1847 and not the Colorado Utes. The Colorado Utes were not in Utah until thirty four years later in 1881.
The Ute and Timpanogos live on the same Uinta Valley Reservation in Utah but they are distinctly different Tribes in origin, language, and customs. The Ute are not Shoshone, and are not related to the Timpanogos who are Snake, a centuries-old band of the Shoshone. The Timpanogos were never in Colorado, they ruled the entire Wasatch at the time when Mormon colonists arrived in Utah. (Fact Check: The "Timpanogos Ute" Oxymoron)
Since time and memorial Honesty, Love, Courage, Truth, Wisdom, Humility, and Respect are the core beliefs of all Native American Tribes I have had the honor to know from Washington and the Makaw to Guatemala and the Mayan. For Utah's Timpanogos peoples there is no exception. They are a deeply spiritual people bound by the sacred traditional teachings of their ancestors.
For the Timpanogos peoples, the war was never about the color of a man's skin, religion, riches or possessions. When the world was created Creator touched it with his hand, and so it is sacred and spiritual. The land is their home, their mother, nourishing all her children. The Land is sacred and belongs to all who inhabit it. The Timpanogos see the world as their family. They fought to protect the sacred and their honor. And as stewards of the land, they believed the land belonged to them for eternity. They follow a strict code of ethics passed down by their ancestors, and as you shall see cannot be ignored or regarded as trivial.
Now that we have a better understanding of who the Timpanogos are, let's look at the Black Hawk War from their perspective.
Spear Point gifted to Phillip was napped by Stewart Murdock elder member of the Timpanogos Nation
The following account of the Black Hawk War is a synopsis based upon both Mormon historical accounts and the Timpanogos Nation's recollections of the war. It is an attempt to portray a more balanced view of the conflict between Mormon colonists and the Timpanogos peoples of Utah.
Just 70 years following the Dominguez and Escalante expedition, trouble began for the Royal Bloods of the Timpanogos. On July 24, 1847, Brigham Young and a party of 143 Mormons emerged from the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon onto a hill overlooking the northern end of Timpanogos Lake (now Salt Lake valley), thus concluding a thousand-mile journey taking a hundred and eleven days by horseback and covered wagons. Seeing the valley, Brigham said, “It's enough. This is the right place. Drive on.”
When the Mormons arrived in Utah, they entered a land occupied by Tribes of a greater region surrounding Utah, such as the Montana Blackfoot, Wyoming Cree, Arizona Apache, Colorado Arapaho, Colorado Kiowa, Nevada Washoe, Arizona Navajo, and the Colorado Utes. The Shoshone was the largest tribe, occupying a vast area from Oregon to Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming. Most significant to our story are the Shoshone of Utah, the Goshute, the Paiute, and the Snake-Shoshoni Timpanogostzis.
In the following years, Mormons would continue to pour in on the land of the Timpanogos at the rate of three thousand a month. It created confusion and upset the sacred balance of nature the natural order by cutting down trees, diverting streams, killing animals, and creating chaos among all living things thus setting the stage for a major conflict with the Timpanogos Nation, whose only want was to be left alone. They believed their sacred duty was to protect the sacred. The Mormons would later label this conflict The Black Hawk War.
Mormon's war with the Timpanogos Nation was not a single incident. Researching the Black Hawk War for some twenty years, I was first to publish there being over a hundred and fifty bloody confrontations between the Timpanogos Nation and the Mormons during the years of 1849 - 1872. And forty-one of those occurred before the year 1865, the date my great-grandfather Peter said the War began, which is one of the many arguments Native people have against Utah's one-sided history. The war may have begun for the Mormons in 1865 according to their historians, but the Timpanogos have not forgotten the previous sixteen years when their ancestors were brutally massacred at Battle Creek, Fort Utah and Bear River. Or when their beloved Leader Wakara, or "Chief Walker" as the Mormons call him, was murdered in 1855.
In my studies of the Black Hawk War, I wanted to believe that the people committing the atrocities on Utah's Native peoples were wretched people, loathsome people. People who lived out on the fringes of society. People who had gone astray of any moral conscience or human decency. But they were people who, after committing senseless murders would go home after and tend to their farms and sing hymns in church the next day. They were the bishops, councilors, businessmen, and exemplary folks in their communities.
LDS Church Historians say the years leading up to the war were "complex circumstances." Whereas a knowing member of the Timpanogos Tribe put it succinctly when I asked if causes of the war were complex, "What choice were we given? To walk knee deep in the blood of our people, or give up our sacred land and culture and accept white man's ways... it was a matter of what's right... our honor... survival... why is that so complicated to understand?"
It's easy to become confused when there are many different Chiefs in these accounts. First, we need to understand the word 'Chief" is a Whiteman's term. In the Native way there were no 'Chiefs' but there were many leaders, and depending on the situation a person was chosen by the community to lead them accordingly. So, there were several leaders of the various Bands of the Timpanogos, but I will use the term 'Chief' since it is established that way. The Timpanogos Nation, during and following the Black Hawk War, had three Principal Chiefs who were Wakara, Arapeen, and Tabby during the years 1847 and 1898, and other leaders such as Black Hawk were subordinate to the Principal Chief, Black Hawk was a War Chief. I will use the terms 'Principal Chief' when referring to the Nation's leader, and 'War Chief" for those who lead warriors in battle.
Continuing our story, the Timpanogos Principal Chief Wakara warned Brigham Young upon arrival, that he and his people were not welcome to settle on the land of his ancestors. Brigham assured Wakara they were only passing through to California, that they needed to spend the winter to rest and continue their journey in the spring. The following is a brief synopsis of the events as they unfolded.
Wakara having compassion for the Mormon's, helped Brigham and his followers survive the first winter of '47 with food and provisions. Wakara's brothers Tabby, Sanpitch, Sowette, Arapeen, Grospeen, Ammon, Kanosh, and others made every effort to avoid bloodshed.
When spring came in 1848, Brigham Young had no intention of leaving as he had promised Wakara, and commenced building cabins, barns and fencing off the land. Wakara's patience was wearing thin and again warned Young to leave, and to not build any fort (Fort Utah) on their land near Timpanogos Lake. But by now, hundreds more Mormons had arrived.
As tensions continued to escalate, on February 28, of 1849 Brigham Young falsely accuses a small group of 'Indians' of stealing his horses which led to the senseless killing of a peaceful group of Timpanogos at Pleasant Grove armed with only a rifle and never fired one shot. This is known as the Battle Creek Massacre. A year later February 9, 1850 a second massacre occurs at Fort Utah when seventy Timpanogos were killed, and the severed heads of fifty Tribal leaders and members are hung by their long hair from eves of buildings and stacked in boxes. That alone was enough to start a war. Wakara was outraged, heartbroken, his people were in fear of these strange intruders, and just wanted to be left alone, while his elder brother Sowette argued against violence that would bring harm to the people. And though Sowette had no power over Wakara, he was the elder, and it is the Native way to respect the elders for their wisdom and council.
Just prior to the massacre at Fort Utah, Mormon apostle George A. Smith, a cousin to Church founder Joseph Smith declared that the indigenous peoples of Utah territory "have no right to their land." And while the LDS Church had no legal basis what-so-ever to remove indigenous peoples from their aboriginal land, and in fact violated the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848. Smith orders the all-Mormon legislature to "extinguish all titles" and get them out of the way and onto reservations because they were judged as being "heathens" and "savages" and so the stage was set for the extermination of the Timpanogos Nation that would follow. George A. Smith was 33 years of age when he initiates the genocide of the Timpanogos Nation.
It followed that on January 31, 1850, Lieutenant General Daniel H. Wells of the all Mormon Nauvoo Legion sent orders to Captain George D. Grant to "exterminate the Timpanogos," known as "Special Order No. 2". Isaac Higbee was the bishop of Fort Utah and he met with the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the Fort when they agreed that the only way to keep Fort Utah would be to exterminate the Timpanogos. Source: Utah State Archives, State Capitol, Salt Lake City, Utah Territorial Militia Correspondence, 1849-1863, ST-27, Microfilm reel 1, Document No. 5. Eugene E. Campbell. Establishing Zion
“I say go [and] kill them…" said Brigham Young, "Tell Dimmick Huntington to go and kill them—also Barney Ward—let the women and children live if they behave themselves… We have no peace until the men [are] killed off—never treat the Indian as your equal.” Source: BYC, Microfilm reel 80, box 47, folder 6. Farmer, Jared (2008). On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674027671
The Christian mind-set of superiority began long before Columbus arrived in the Americas, Christian Monarchs during the 12th century had decreed that anyone who did not believe in the God of the Bible, or that Jesus Christ was the true Messiah, was deemed "heathens," "infidels" and "savages". Christians then believed that they were entitled to commit all manner of depredations upon them. Indeed America was founded upon Christian principals; by those who drew their power from Old Testament-inspired Manifest Destiny, saying: "This is the land promised by the Eternal Father to the Faithful, since we are commanded by God in the Holy Scriptures to take it from them, being idolaters, by reason of their idolatry and sin, to put them all to the knife, leaving no living thing save maidens and children, their cities robbed and sacked, their walls and houses leveled to the earth." - Steven T. Newcomb Indigenous Law Institute and author of "Pagans in the Promised Land."
According to LDS church doctrine (Book of Mormon 2 Nephi 5:21-23) the nature of their dark skin was a curse, the cause was the Lord, the reason was because the Lamanites (Native Americans) "had hardened their hearts against him, (God)" and the punishment was to make them "loathsome" unto God's people who had white skins.
In the year 1852, the all Mormon legislature sanctions slavery of not only Blacks, but Indians, stating that a white man need only be in possession of an Indian for that Indian to be enslaved, and this included children.
It's rare that we get to hear the Native people’s version of the story. I want to thank Historian Will Bagley for giving me the following document:
Timpanogos Principal Chief Wakara told interpreter M. S. Martenas In 1853 "He (Wakara) said that he had always been opposed to the whites set[t]ling on the Indian lands, particularly that portion which he claims; and on which his band resides and on which they have resided since his childhood, and his parents before him—that the Mormons when they first commenced the settlement of Salt Lake Valley, was friendly, and promised them many comforts, and lasting friendship—that they continued friendly for a short time, until they became strong in numbers, then their conduct and treatment towards the Indians changed—they were not only treated unkindly, but many were much abused and this course has been pursued up to the present—sometimes they have been treated with much severity—they have been driven by this population from place to place—settlements have been made on all their hunting grounds in the valleys, and the graves of their fathers have been torn up by the whites." - STATEMENT, M. S. MARTENAS, INTERPRETER Great Salt Lake City, July 6 1853 Brigham Young Papers, MS 1234, Box 58, Folder 14 LDS Archives - Will Bagley Transcription
On July 18th, 1853 Wakara and his brother Arapeen, at the height of their frustration had seen enough and so led a group of their warriors in an attack on Fort Payson. Fear and anger turned into hate, when a guard at the fort was shot and killed by the name of Alexander Keele. This was one of several attacks that occurred simultaneously throughout the territory. For Wakara and Arapeen had orchestrated all-out war on the Mormon colonists and were determined to drive them off their land.
Putting this into perspective, the Mormon population at this time was approximately fifty thousand, whereas the Native population may have been about the same.
The Walker War, as it is called, continued for the next two years when Wakara was poisoned to death by the very people he had helped. He was then laid to rest at Meadow, Utah in 1855.
Following Chief Wakara's murder in 1855, Wakara's leadership was passed to his brother Arapeen. Arapeen was now the Principal Chief of the Timpanogos Nation and faced many ongoing encounters with the Mormons and getting on in years by this time, his son Yene-wood, known to the Mormons as "Jake," would continue to lead his fellow warriors as War Chief into battle against the Mormons.
The Mountain Meadows Massacre in 1857 cannot be ignored and having no impact on the Native American population in Utah. Mormons masquerading as Indians savagely slaughter hundred and fifty whites and blamed the bloody affair on the Native peoples.
In view of what was happening to Utah's Native population, many Timpanogos took evasive action and scattered in every direction. Some went to Idaho and Wyoming. Those who remained in Utah, most were terrified. Under pressure from Mormon leaders, many Timpanogos joined the church and were baptized. And as Mormons used up all food resources and seized every water hole. Desperate, the Timpanogos had little or no choice but ask the Mormons for food. After all, Brigham Young had from the beginning promised them "lasting friendship" if they would become members of the church. The only promise Brigham kept was that he would exterminate them and take away their land. Eventually circumstances were so bad for the Timpanogos many were afraid to say they belonged to the Tribe. Today, some members of the Timpanogos express fear toward the Mormons should they tell their story. And many Utes have expressed the same fear to me on numerous occasions. This is what experts call "generational trauma."
Then came the massacre at Bear River that occurred January 29, 1863. Five hundred thirty-one Shoshone were slain by the U.S. Army under the command of Colonel Patrick Edward Connor—among them, old men, ninety women, and children. After the slaughter ended, soldiers went through the Indian village raping women and using axes to bash in the heads of women and children who were already dying of wounds. Chief Bear Hunter and sub-Chief Lehi both were killed. The troops burned seventy five Indian lodges, took possession of a thousand bushels of wheat and flour, and one hundred and fifty Shoshone horses. While the troops cared for their wounded and took their dead back to Camp Douglas in Salt Lake City for burial, hundreds of Indians' bodies were left on the field for the wolves and crows for nearly two years. Brigham Young obliged the federal government’s request by supplying Connor with cavalry troops from the Utah Militia.
In 1865, the Timpanogos Principal Chief Arapeen died from the smallpox epidemic that had spread among the Tribe. The Nation's leadership was then passed to his brother Tabby (Tabiona) who remained in leadership as Principal Chief until his death circa 1898. Meanwhile, the Mormons botched an attempt for peace with the Timpanogos at Manti in 1865, when an argument ensued between a drunken John Lowry and Jake Arapeen. Lowry yanked Jake from his horse beating him severally. Jake dishonored before his warriors resigned his leadership as War Chief to Antongua Black Hawk.
Timpanogos War Chief Black Hawk didn't start the war, he only wanted to restore peace. He didn't want to see his people die, yet people typically lay all the blame on him and Utah's indigenous peoples.
Black Hawk at the young age of twenty had been severally traumatized being present at both massacres of his kin at Battle Creek and Fort Utah as a prisoner of war. Add the murder of his uncle Wakara, and a series of bloody confrontations leading up to the Bear River Massacre where some four hundred of Black Hawk's Shoshoni blood relations are brutally slaughtered, Howard R. Driggs commented, "He could never understand why the white men had shot down his people. It put bitterness in his heart; and though he lived for some time with the white people, his mind was ever set on avenging the wrong."
Now War Chief, Black Hawk asks for solidarity and support from surrounding Tribes such as the Colorado Utes, Navajo, Apache, and Comanche to name some, all then agreed it was in their best interest to assist in pushing back on the Mormons under the leadership of Black Hawk. This is the only time members of the Colorado Utes were involved in the Black Hawk War as volunteer warriors subordinate to the War Chief Black Hawk.
Under the leadership of the Nation's Principal Chief Tabby in 1865, Black Hawk at the age of thirty-five for fourteen months led a masterful attack against the Mormons and nearly drove them out of Utah. Within a year, Black Hawk was mortally wounded in battle while attempting to rescue a fallen warrior Shi-Nav-Egin (son of the sun), whites called him Whitehorse, as he always rode a white horse. Mormons said that Whitehorse had a "superstitious power over his warriors" suggesting he was perhaps possessed. In truth, Shi-Nav-Egin had survived a near-death experience, and having lived, his people believed he had a great mission yet to accomplish. And being a deeply spiritual person, Shi-Nav-Egin was highly respected within the Tribe. Eventually, and as a consequence of his heroic deed, Black Hawk would die from his wound. Complications from the wound to his stomach didn't heal properly and caused him much suffering, he passed over Sept. 26, 1870.
Clearly Brigham Young started the war, and it was Black Hawk and his uncle Tabby who ended the war through peaceful means as you shall see. Account after account shows that Black Hawk and his entire family of renowned leaders were against bloodshed from the beginning. Black Hawk convinced his Uncle it would be better to end the war peacefully. One only needs to look at the Black-Hawk-War-Timeline to see that 1865 was the year the war was at its highest point following sixteen years of Mormon's ruthless cruelty resulting in thousands of Indian deaths and loss of land that continued seven years after 1865.
Notorious Mormon leader Brigham Young spent a staggering 1.5 million dollars in Church funds (equivalent to $30 million today) to "get rid of the Indians" and bills Congress for reimbursement. No wonder Brigham also said, "It's cheaper to feed them than to fight them." A mere drop in the bucket though, when compared to the untold collateral losses suffered by the Native peoples of Utah. And who is there to reimburse them?
Professor Dr. Daniel McCool University of Utah summed it up succinctly: "We took from them almost all their land—the reservations are just a tiny remnant of traditional tribal homelands. We tried to take from them their hunting rights, their fishing rights, the timber on their land. We tried to take from them their water rights. We tried to take from them their culture, their religion, their identity, and perhaps most importantly, we tried to take from them their freedom. And what is so amazing about this whole story is that we failed. We failed after hundreds of years of trying to take everything from American Indians. We failed to do that. They're still here and there's survival; that great saga of survival is one of the great stories of all mankind."
"In those early days, it was at times imperative that harsh measures should be used. We had to do these things, or be run over by them," wrote John Lowry a Black Hawk War veteran. "It was a question of supremacy between the white man and the Indian."
Supreme domination was the standard to which the banner of Christianity was tied that brought total destruction to a vibrant and, thriving Native civilization. And is today celebrated without conscience or regret as... 'The Days of '47 celebration.'
How many lives were lost in the war? Peter Gottfredson's account alone records over nine hundred Native Americans were killed, and some two hundred Mormons. This does not include the untold thousands of Native peoples who died from starvation and disease.
Brigham Young was quoted by the Denver Rocky Mountain Newspaper as saying, "You can get rid of more Indians with a sack of flour, than a keg of powder." Just how many of some seventy thousand Indians did he get rid of?
“Illa shared the story of her family getting a sack of Flour from the Mormons, when Old James Reed saw the flour he dumped some of it on the table and brushed his glove covered hand across it exposing the broken glass fragments hidden inside. She always warned against taking food from Mormons because of this.” - Mary Meyer
The consequence of the war resulted in an astonishing 90% decrease in Utah's Native population that was noted by Brigham Young and recorded in Indian agency reports, and government census records. Deaths from violence, starvation, and disease over a twenty three year period were in the thousands. "I do not suppose there is one in ten, perhaps not one in a hundred, now alive of those who were here when we came. Did we kill them? No, we fed them." ~ Brigham Young.
Black Hawk deserves praise and credit for his two-year "mission of peace." And for being true to his ancestor's teachings. In the Indian way, being a true warrior wasn't about killing the enemy, or being physically superior. A fighter will kill or be killed. As a leader, Black Hawk's first responsibility was spiritual. A warrior will always try to preserve life. That's why Black Hawk always offered up prayers before going into battle, with ceremony and dance. And as a survivor, he made offerings to the enemy's family and was cleansed in holy ceremony. As a warrior, he preferred 'taking coup' to taking a life. Black Hawk put family and tribe above all else. It was not about him, he followed his people's codes and traditions, and helped his people who were starving, often going without himself. It was his nature to be humble, kind, gentle, honest, fair and patient in all affairs. Antongua was a teacher, as were his ancestors before him, he forged the way for others to follow.
Antongua Black Hawk spent his last days on earth campaigning for peace. Deathly ill from a gunshot wound received a year earlier at Gravely Ford that never healed, he rode by horseback a hundred and eighty miles from Cedar City to Payson visiting every Mormon village along the way. Black Hawk apologized for the pain and suffering he had caused and pleaded for an end to the bloodshed. You don't see Mormon's apologizing for anything. So, it took a greater man to do such a thing. And that's what gets left out of Utah's history. So, if you must judge the Timpanogos, do so by their own standards.
Many fallacious stories are told and retold, such as selling children into slavery, or children being buried alive with Timpanogos Chief Wakara when there is no credible evidence to support such an atrocious claim when living descendants of Wakara vigorously dispute these concocted stories. Saying it is a fabrication of the truth and grossly contradicts the traditional core values of the Timpanogos Nation. Its white man who writes these stories, never asking the Native People their opinion. Which brings me to make this point...
What began as a hobby in 1989 researching the Black Hawk War, I struggled to make sense of the Mormons' convoluted view of history, and many books I read over and over again numerous times. The LDS Church has a monopoly on Utah's history. I would dare say damn-near all of it has been written by Mormon authors. Owing to their own ignorance, or failure to study Native culture in depth, virtually every account about Utah's indigenous peoples are biased and based on assumptions, replete with half-truths, ambiguities, platitudes, and omissions. Two Utah historians, John Alton Peterson, author of Utah's Black Hawk War, made a modest attempt consulting with the late Richard Mountain and his Ute family, account found on page 47 of his book. And Will Bagley who at times consulted with Native people when writing articles for the Salt Lake Tribune, and other publications.
"Repeat a lie often enough, and it becomes the truth." This is how propagandist creates the illusion of truth. These histories get passed from generation to generation repeating the same mistakes and/or lies that earlier authors and historians have written, whether intentional or unintentional, still, they never ask the Native people for their side of the story. The time has come when Native Americans need to tell their stories and demand they are told accurately.
Forgotten are the thousands of Native American men, women, and innocent children who bled to death on the battlefields of Bear River, Mt. Pleasant, Provo, Manti, or on the shores of Utah Lake. Or those who starved to death for want of food, run off their hunting grounds. Or those who died from measles and smallpox, or poisoned to death their sources of water contaminated with cyanide and strychnine. Or those brutally murdered. 'Old Bishop', a beloved old Indian, was eviscerated, his stomach cavity filled with rocks and thrown in the river, accused of stealing a shirt off a clothesline.
After the war, we see ongoing cultural genocide as relentless attempts made to assimilate Native Americans into the white man's culture and take away their reservations. The Dawes Allotment Act, the Reorganization Act, the Termination Act, the Self Determination Act, and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Then the boarding house schools, or the LDS Church Indian placement program are few of many examples of cultural genocide as native children are taken away, torn from the arms their families and relatives, their languages and traditions stripped away, to be assimilated, but not integrated, into the white man's world. Inspired by the racist slogan of Manifest Destiny "Save the man, kill the Indian." If those children were among the fortunate, who survived after years and years of unimaginable brutality in all its many forms, living in complete isolation from their moms and dads, cousins, uncles, and grandparents, they returned home where they were now strangers among their own people. One elderly Navajo woman showed me the scars in her mouth, she said happened when they washed her tender mouth out with lye soap for speaking her Native language.
We have much to learn from the Native Americans who have occupied Utah's landscape since time and memorial if only we would listen. Some Native American concepts and values differ greatly from mainstream culture. The landscapes of Utah are as sacred today as when the Great Spirit created them. Burial sites, massacre sites, battlefields such as Battle Creek, Bear River, or Circleville where the cries of the wounded and dying can still be heard following the horrors that took place there. And for native peoples of Utah the Timpanogos, Paiute, and Goshute, respect for the dead is as important as respect for the elderly and reverence for life.
While Mormons have been blinded by their own acculturation, they harshly judge the Native peoples as heathens, savages and/or pagans. Whereas, a more accurate description would be they were and are a stoic people who emphasize the value in living virtuously and in harmony with nature. I'll say it again, if you must judge them, do so by their own standards.
As previously stated, since time and memorial Honesty, Love, Courage, Truth, Wisdom, Humility, and Respect have consistently been the core beliefs of all Native American Tribes I have had the honor to speak with. For Utah's Timpanogos there is no exception, they were deeply connected to the land of their ancestors. They were deeply connected and stood in awe of the beauty that surrounded them, the majestic Wasatch mountains, Utah Lake, Timpanogos Mountain, and Provo River. They were deeply connected to the plants in all their endless forms for food or medicinal uses. They were deeply connected to maintaining a harmonious relationship among themselves and their environment, the elk, deer, buffalo, and all living things. Even the rocks were sacred to them. They understood and respected these things as sacred gifts from their Creator. For the Timpanogos peoples, the war was never about riches or possessions, the land is their home, their mother, nourishing all her children, it is sacred, and being sacred belonged to everyone. They fought to protect the sacred, and their honor as a peaceful people.
Native peoples teach us, "Before our white brothers arrived to make us civilized men, we didn't have any kind of prison. Because of this, we had no delinquents. We had no locks nor keys and therefore among us there were no thieves. When someone was so poor that he couldn't afford a horse, a tent or a blanket, he would, in that case, receive it all as a gift. We were too uncivilized to give great importance to private property. We didn't know any kind of money and consequently, the value of a human being was not determined by his wealth. We had no written laws laid down, no lawyers, no politicians, therefore we were not able to cheat and swindle one another. We were really in bad shape before the white men arrived and I don't know how to explain how we were able to manage without these fundamental things that (so they tell us) are so necessary for a civilized society." - Lame Deer
Perhaps the writers of Utah's sanitized history their intentions were never meant for Native Americans of Utah to read, who know better their own history. Perhaps writers are too much in the habit of entertaining readers with flowery rhetoric and folklore, by sugar-coating Indian slavery, or understate the savage and barbarian behavior of Bill Hickman or Dr. James Blake cutting off the heads of Indian corpses at Fort Utah, then selling them to make a few extra bucks. Or making heroes of those who cut the throats of 26 innocent Paiutes at Circleville. Or William E. Croft looting Chief Black Hawk's grave and placing his remains on public display in the window of a hardware store my father remembered so well, and later at Temple Square for decades as amusement. The disturbing image of seeing Black Hawk's remains on display at the age of twelve are still vivid in my mind. Or glorifying unprincipled leaders like John Scott, or James A. Allred, or Colonel George D. Grant. Or exonerating questionable heroics of soldiers in Brigham Young's illegal militia like John Lowry, Niels O. Anderson, Dimmick Huntington, or Brigham's bodyguard and serial killer Porter Rockwell. Or perhaps their intentions are to dehumanize and make a mockery of Utah's native inhabitants. To justify the genocide of Utah's Native Americans and romanticize 'man's inhumanity to man' calling it the "Black Hawk War." Unrighteously placing all blame on the Native peoples of Utah, whose only crime was they being Indian, is an inbred mind-set that has prevailed since the Mormons arrived a hundred and seventy seven years ago.
The questions that keep haunting me is why all the inaccuracies and fallacious stories surrounding the Black Hawk War? Who is benefiting by covering up the truth?
This kind of mendacity only alienates and divides people who are seeking truth regardless of what happened and want to heal from the wounds of the past be they Native American or Mormon. Yes, Mormon! Those whose ancestors carried out these atrocities are seeking answers too. I know, for I have spoken with many who have broken down in tears shamed by their ancestor's cruelty.
In closing, I am reminded of what great-grandfather Pete wrote in the preface of his book in 1919, Indian Depredations in Utah:
"It is a half-century and more since the raids and assaults recorded in this book took place, most of the persons who took active parts in the same have responded to the last earthly call, and what information we get first handed must of necessity to be obtained now or never. I have often quarried; why should those conditions be forgotten, and why has so little interest been taken in keeping memoranda and records of events and conditions of those early and trying times."
Why indeed grandfather... why indeed...
About: Phillip B Gottfredson
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