The Utah Black Hawk War & Settler Colonialism
Settler colonialism is the definitive cause of the historic Black Hawk War in Utah and the wrongful actions of Brigham Young, religious leader of the Latter-Day Saints, to exterminate the Timpanogos Nation. In 1848, Brigham Young falsely accused a small group of the Timpanogos Nation of stealing his horses, which led to the massacre of three innocent people. The Black Hawk War culminated in more than 150 bloody confrontations spanning over 35 years. Acknowledging the injustices committed by the settlers and their leaders that led to this significant event in the region's history is essential.
Though the Timpanogos were a passive people, they made it clear to Brigham Young and his followers that they were not welcome to settle in their aboriginal homeland. But because Brigham promised to "treat them kindly," Chief Wakara and his people helped Brigham and his followers survive their first winter in the Great Basin, which later they regreted.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should have thanked our Creator for the Timpanogos helping them survive 'the days of '47' but instead ordered the Mormon Militia to "exterminate" them. Consequently, the conflict between Mormon settlers and the Timpanogos spanned 24 tumultuous years and spread throughout the Great Basin. Over a century and a half has passed since the extermination order, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has never rescinded that order!
As Mormons settled among the Timpanogos, conflict was unavoidable. Quoting from Chief Wakara's Statement to Indian Agent M. S. MARTENAS July 6, 1853. "They were 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—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." See Wakara's Statement.
Despite the numerous attempts by Timpanogos leaders to live in peace, Mormon settlers treated them with much severity, most notably Chief Black Hawk. The life of the Chief had come full circle when, on September 26, 1870, his loving kin honorably laid him to rest on a hillside overlooking Spring Lake, the place of his birth—just 49 years passed when Mormons robbed his grave of his mortal remains and then exhibited them on Temple Square in Salt Lake City for amusement. See Chief Black Hawk's Burial.
As we explore the Biography of the Timpanogos Tribe, we encounter their tragic fate. We confront the truths shattering the romanticized facade of Mormon benevolence of performing kind and charitable acts, laying bare the gritty realities of conflict, life, and death, summarized in one phrase: Settler Colonialism.
Battle Creek, Fort Utah, and Circleville Massacres
The Timpanogos, who are indigenous to Utah, recall the terrifying massacre at Battle Creek Massacre at Pleasant Grove, Utah, in 1849 when Brigham Young's all-Mormon militia, led by Captain John Scott, murdered three unarmed men and took hostage young Antonga Black Hawk, nephew of Wakara principal Chief of the Timpanogos Nation.
And in 1850, Colonel George D. Grant, money-hungry Dr. Blake, and "Wild Bill" Hickman savagely killed some 70 Timpanogos ancestors at Provo, Fort Utah. Dr. Blake sold their decapitated heads to science for profit.
Then at the peak of the Black Hawk War in 1866, Bishop William Jackson Allred led the Circleville Massacre of the Koosharem Paiutes. Twenty-six men, women, and children's throats were slit and buried in a mass grave.
Settler Colonialism; Doctrine of Discovery, and Manifest Destiny
According to Cornell Law School, "Settler Colonialism can be defined as a system of oppression based on genocide and colonialism, that aims to displace a population of a nation (oftentimes indigenous people) and replace it with a new settler population."
We must concede that our European ancestors were descendants of the European mentality of domination and subjugation. Peter d'Errico, Legal Studies Department, University of Massachusetts/Amherst, wrote, "Papal authority is the basis for United States power over indigenous peoples." The Doctrine of Discovery, a five-hundred-year-old decree by Catholic monarchs during the 14th century, was a law based upon Christian doctrine, believing that their religion and culture were above all others, giving Christians and governments throughout the world a legal and moral justification to invade and occupy Native American land.
An example of settler colonialism in America is Andrew Jackson's systematic Indian Removal Act of 1830 that opened the way to the forced relocation of Native Americans. It became known as "the Trail of Tears." The 1832 Supreme Court Ruling declared the Indian Removal Act unconstitutional, but the damage already caused to First Nations was irreversible. In time, the Doctrine of Discovery would become Manifest Destiny to justify Settler Colonialism further.
When the Civil War ended in 1865, the Mormon's extermination order of the Timpanogos in the Great Basin, known as order #2, had resulted in over 40 bloody encounters. The Mormon war on the Indigenous inhabitants of Utah was raging everywhere. The United States government also called for exterminating tribes who resisted giving up their land, and the Government turned its attention toward Western expansion and the U.S. military to 'Indian' fighting.
The 1860s U.S. Peace Policy
Highly publicized massacres of 'Indians' brought the attention of philanthropic groups. American humanitarians proposed a new solution to the 'Indian problem' by eliminating 'Indianness' through acculturation. Christian reformers argued that 'if Indians were assimilated, the Indian problem would vanish.'
In the 1860s, the U.S. adopted a Peace Policy, gradually shifting toward a more peaceful approach, and genocide of Native Americans was officially discouraged. The Peace Policy meant making them wards of the government, forcing Native tribes to reservations and boarding house schools to assimilate them into white culture, thus eliminating Native peoples bloodlessly. The intended effect of the Peace Policy was to prevent the rampant slaughter of Native Americans.
By 1871, Congress created the Appropriations Act, which forced America's Indigenous people onto reservations when they were then made Wards of Government, thus giving Congress more control over them and making it easier to take possession of their land.
A New 'ism' Takes Hold Among Colonists, "Race"
"Race was a fairly new concept among early colonists," wrote Sean P. Harvey, Ph.D. author of Native Tongues. "The concept of 'Race' that took hold in the 1800s created physical and cultural divisions in humanity. It is essential to understand that it was crucial to early American settler colonialism. It provided the foundation for the colonization of Native Land and the enslavement of Native Americans and Africans."
The Devestating Results of Mormon Colonization
In 1847, Mormons faced ever-increasing hostilities when angry mobs forced them to leave Illinois—following the assassination of Latter-Day Saint Church founder Joseph Smith, a polygamist having 40 wives, and member of the Masonic Order. Joseph Smith's successor Brigham Young, with 55 wives, led a massive migration of followers to colonize the Great Basin of the Rocky Mountains in Utah. Aligned with the "Chosen People-Promised Land" model of the Bible," Christians believing they were superior and had a God-given right to Native American land.
The grand tale of destiny colliding with reality did not end with the Mormons' arrival in the Great Basin. The land they now call home was not an empty canvas awaiting their righteous brushstrokes. The land was already inhabited by idigenous tribes, whose sacred connection spanned eons of time.
In 1832, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution gave Congress, not the states, the power to make laws that applied to the Indigenous tribes.
Even though Utah wouldn't become a state until 1896, it should be noted that Mormon settlers arrived on the Wasatch Front of the Rockies during the Mexican-American War. Scholars estimated that some 70,000 indigenous people occupied the Great Basin.
In February 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War. The significance of the treaty is that it preserved certain Indian rights. According to the Constitutional Rights Foundation, "Mexican negotiators won from the United States multiple promises that Indian land rights would continue as they had been under Mexican law."
Disregarding the Timpanogos' indigenous and treaty rights, the Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny empowered LDS Apostle George A. Smith to order the church's all-Mormon militia to "remove the Indian people from their land," saying Indian people have "no rights to their land." Brigham Young spent over a million dollars in church funds, the equivalent of $35 million today, to "exterminate" them.
Our informative timeline of the war shows any number of unheard-of or forgotten battles, such as the Richville Raid, the dire consequences of Settler Colonialism, and the remarkable resilience of those who endured. And that it is a ridiculous assumption that the primary cause of Utah's Indian wars was "Indians lust for Mormon cattle."
Mormon settlers made a mockery of Native American lifeways, leaving a deep wound as Settler Colonialism became institutionalized and continues to shape the present, impeding efforts toward reconciliation and acknowledgment of historical injustices.
The Timpanogos Nation of the Wasatch
Most significant to our narrative on the Black Hawk War is that the Timpanogos are the most documented Tribe in Utah. Early Spanish explorers and scholars have written, recorded, and reported their history since 1776. Then why have they been erased from Utah's history? Adding insult to injury, misinformation and disinformation about the Timpanogos have developed over time, and people have become deluded into believing that they are Colorado Ute.
When Mormon settlers arrived near the shores of the Great Salt Lake on July 24, 1847, the so called "promised Land" was inhabited by numerous Native American civilizations. The Timpanogos Nation of the Wasatch, for example, comprised several bands, the Pahvant, Paiute, Shivwits, Koosharem, Sanpits, and Goshute. The Shoshone was the largest Nation, occupying a vast area from Oregon to Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and California. Other Tribes surrounding the Great Basin were the Montana Blackfoot, Montana Cree, Colorado Utes, Colorado/Wyoming Arapaho, Southeastern Colorado Kiowa, Arizona Apache, Arizona Navajo, and the Nevada Washoe.
The Timpanogos Are Not Ute
Despite decades of relentless efforts to erase the Timpanogos from history, the Timpanogos are still here. They are Snake-Shoshone and direct descendants of famous Chiefs Wakara, Tabby, Arapeen, Sanpitch, Tintic, Grospeen, Kanosh, and Ammon. Who were brothers and figured most prominently in all the histories of the Black Hawk War. Sanpitch (Tenaciono) was Snake-Shoshone and the father of Antonga Black Hawk. Please read the Timpanogos-Ute Misidentity page for a detailed account of these topics.
Mormon Depredations; Treaty Rights, Broken Promises, Conflict, Life, & Death
Brigham Young understood that ultimate domination as a tactic is key to taking possession of Indigenous occupied land. At the rate of some three thousand a month, new Mormon arrivals sprawled out into the ancestral home of the Timpanogos, upsetting the natural order of all living things for Indigenous civilizations. They killed deer, elk, and buffalo and depleted the fish population in the Timpanogos River (Provo River) and Timpanogos Lake (Utah Lake). They diverted and polluted water sources, the environment that First Nations solely depended upon for food, medicines, and life-sustaining necessities. With the rapid increase in the Mormon population, agricultural development, and barbwire, the Timpanogos soon ran out of territory for sanctuary vital to their culture.
—A Gottfredson Legacy Spanning 100 Years—
Peter Gottfredson 1919 Phillip Gottfredson
Click on a book for more information!
At the Black Hawk War Veterans first reunion at the Reynolds Hall in Springville, Utah, 1894 John Lowry spoke these chilling words,
"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. It was a question of supremacy between the white man and the Indian."
In the Bear River Massacre of 1863, over 400 Shoshoni were slaughtered, led by the unashamed Colonel Patrick Edward Connor. Brigham young supplied Connor with troops and equipment.
Terrified of the whiteman, the Indigenous fled to other regions for survival and protection. Epidemics of smallpox and cholera resulted in untold numbers of deaths. Census relied heavily on often inaccurate Indian agency records at the time; educated guesses estimate that the indigenous population was seventy-thousand or more in the Great Basin. Toward the war's conclusion, Brigham Young boasted, "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." That being the case, the death toll of the Timpaogos was staggering.
What Does the Timpanogos Version of the Black Hawk War Look Like?
"After they stole our land, they gave us a book that said, Thou Shalt Not Steal."
According to Phillip B Gottfredson's research, one thousand one hundred seventy lives were lost, including 932 indigenous people and 238 Mormon settlers, representing only a fraction of the devastation. Settlers systematically caused starvation and the spread of disease, which further ravaged tens of thousands of Utah's Indigenous population by 90%, which echoes through time, leaving an ugly scar on their collective spirit.
A somber reckoning took place in the aftermath of the Black Hawk War. University of Utah Prof. Daniel McCool Ph.D., Political Science noted, "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, and 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."
Perry Murdock, a council member of the Timpanogos Nation and a direct descendant of Chief Wakara, said,
"Every day we are reminded of what our ancestors went through. Our families were torn apart. Children murdered, the old, the women, all those who were brutally murdered and made to suffer and die from violence, then disease, then starvation, our ancestors' graves torn up, the land destroyed, it was genocide plain and simple. Why? What did we do? We didn't do anything. We were living in peace. We were happy. Our children were happy. We loved each other. We cared for each other. And when the Mormons came, we tried to help them. Then they tried to take everything away from us. They wanted it all. They wanted to exterminate us, wipe us off the face of the earth. Why? For our land? For our oil? Now we have nothing."
Mary Murdock Meyer, direct descendant of Chief Arapeen wrote,
"As Chief Executive of the Timpanogos Nation, I speak for the people when I ask why? We fed you when you were hungry. We helped you when you did not understand our lands. Why then were we forgotten?"
Heathens, Savages, and Murdering Marauders...?
In 1868 Indian author John C. Cremony wrote, "Will civilized people never learn that they are quite as obtuse to understand real Indian nature as the Indians to understand their civilization? If you must judge them, do so by their own standards." -John C. Cremony Life Among the Apaches.
One of the most compelling aspects of Phillip B Gottfredson's book Black Hawk's Mission of Peace is his detailed description of indigenous people and their deep sacred connection to each other and Mother Earth. "Native American culture is a perfect example of total spirituality without religion," is a familiar saying among Native people. Phillip wrote, "While living with the Shoshoni and several other Tribes, the Elders invited me to participate in numerous sacred ceremonies. It was life-changing. The spiritual experiences I had profoundly changed my understanding of Native American culture," said Phillip. Understanding Native culture and time-honored traditions are essential when establishing meaningful relations with Indigenous peoples, especially for educators with Indigenous students in their classrooms. See Native American ethics and protocols.
Honesty, love, courage, truth, wisdom, humility, and respect are ancient traditional virtues and values that Black Hawk and indigenous people have honored throughout their history.
Simply put, scholars ignore that the age-old message of Indigenous America is about 'connection, relationship, and unity.' All people are one. All are the direct living descendants of our Creator. Lakota Chief Joseph said, 'We have no qualms about color. It doesn't mean anything." After decades of exhaustive research, Phillip Gottfredson wrote, "there can be no doubt that this was Chief Black Hawk's message when he made his last ride home to pass out of this world in peace." He was in severe pain, dying from a gunshot wound to his stomach at the Gravely Ford Battle. In the final hours of his life, Chief Black Hawk made a painful hundred-and-eighty-mile journey by horseback from Cedar City in southern Utah to Payson. He advocated for peace and an end to the bloodshed. This heroic journey was Black Hawk's 'mission of peace.' Still, colonialists were too arrogant to see what it means to be human. Chief Black Hawk died on September 26, 1870. He was buried at Spring Lake, Utah.
Did Mormons try to help the Timpanogos?
We forget that some of our ancestors had deep and meaningful relationships with the Timpanogos, and we need to acknowledge that. In 1866 when Chief Black Hawk had been wounded in battle at Gravely Ford, Canute Peterson of Ephraim paid a visit to the ailing leader Black Hawk—taking sugar, hams, bread, beads, molasses, tea, coffee, tobacco, flour, medicines, and clothing.
Sadly, important stories such as this get buried in all the rhetoric. See The Old Peace Treaty Tree.
In the end, however, members of the LDS Church robbed Black Hawk's grave at Spring Lake, Utah in 1919. His mortal remains were on public display in the window of a hardware store in Spanish Fork, Utah, and for amusement later was moved to Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City, and there remained on public display for decades.
Reconciliation, what reconciliation?
Suppose you were Indian and lucky enough to survive the war. In that case, you are confined to a reservation and made to depend on government-run Indian agencies for scarce and sometimes contaminated commodities to survive. Your children are taken away and sent to boarding house schools with graveyards, all under the slogan "Kill the Indian, and save the man." There has never been any reconciliation, remorse, or even an apology from those who believe God led them to a promised land, and call themselves latter-day saints.
Catapulted Into Near Extinction
The Timpanogos were catapulted into near extinction Brigham Young's extermination order No.2 in 1850. Brigham and the Quorum of the 12 apostles of the LDS Church ordered the "extermination" of the Timpanogos Tribe, the seizure of their land and resources. All because LDS church leaders believed it was God's will. Matthew 7:15 sums it up perfectly, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." See Truth in Education
Brigham Young lays all the blame on his followers he described as "stupid, cork for brains and wooden shoes." In his speech in the Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, on April 6, 1854, he said, "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 Young's Discourses.
The Denver Rocky Mountain newspaper quoted Brigham Young saying, "You can get rid of more Indians with a sack of flour than a keg of powder." Clearly his intention was to "get rid" of the indigenous population. Mormon colonialism was about saving the heathens from hell, and getting rich.
Christianization, education, and cultural development became the means to assimilate tribal peoples so that they could be integrated and absorbed by mainstream society. Example, the LDS church converted many of Utah's Native Americans to Mormonism, according to church doctrine, and in so doing, the so-called "loathsome" Indians would become a "white and delightsome people." They would be forgiven of the sins of their forefathers. (Book of Mormon 2 Nephi 5:21-23) According to church doctrine, the nature of the dark skin was a curse, and the cause was the Lord; the reason that the Lamanites (Indians) "had hardened their hearts against him, (God)," and the punishment was to make them "loathsome" unto God's people who had white skins.
The Legacy Of The Black Hawk War Lives On
The Legacy of the Black Hawk War has caused tremendous obstacles for indigenous people living in Utah. History ignored the Timpanogos Nation, leaving them out of Utah's historical narrative in favor of the Colorado Utes. They have survived severe economic issues, sovereign and aboriginal rights violations, and boarding house schools. According to the July 10th, United States Tenth District Court ruling of 2016, the State of Utah has no jurisdiction over the Uinta Valley Reservation whatsoever. Still, "they take whatever they want," said Tribal members living on the Reservation, "The war over treaty rights never ends."
CONCLUSION: There is much we can learn from First Nation people
There is much we can learn from First Nation people if only we would listen. We need to help each other. We are all interconnected and interdependent upon one another. We need each other to survive and live. We are all in a relationship with each other. And each becomes a relative by relationship. We need to help each other learn and heal from over a century of fake history. We need to find a pathway to forgiveness and help to build that bridge between our cultures with compassion, honesty, and mutual respect for humanity.
"I see a time of seven generations when all the colors of mankind will gather under the sacred tree of life, and the whole earth will become one circle again." -Chief Crazy Horse, Oglala Lakota.
"How do I know these things? I lived with them for over 25 years; I found the truth. These are traditional teachings of the Timpanogos I learned while living with them and Native Americans throughout North America, and the Mayan in South America. I am proud to say I voluntarily and willingly assimilated into Native American culture, without shame or regrets. It has been the best years of my life. History is not just the study of the past; it's also the ethnology of indigenous people, present traditions, rituals, and legacies. But it's not about me, it's not about you. It's about all of us, the human race, the circle of life. I'm only the messenger," said Mr. Gottfredson. ~
This Months Featured Topics
Religion, Race and Manifest Destiny; Justification for Settler-Colonialism
Manifest Destiny had a tremendous impact on North America. "Westward Ho!" the slogan that drove European expansion westward impacting Native Americans territorial rights under the banner of Manifest Destiny. Driven by greed for riches, settler-colonialism disregarded Native American aboriginal rights, vested treaty rights, causing cultural divides, tensions and wars. While the intention behind the Hidalgo Treaty was to provided protection to aboriginal inhabitants, Native Americans were forced to give up vast tracts of traditional homeland... or die.
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