June 7, 2009



Synopsis of the Black Hawk War in Utah


"It's a curious business, the history of the First People of Utah. Our ancestors came from abroad seeking freedom. Here the American Indian were already free and had been for thousands of years. Our ancestors took from the First People their freedom, and they have been struggling ever since to be free again.

Over the past seven years as I have sifted through the now silent ashes of their lives, the haunting words of my great-grandfather, who spent much of his life in the Timpanogos camps during the war, kept echoing in my mind "I have often queried; why should those conditions be forgotten, and why has so little interest been taken in keeping memoranda's and records of events and conditions of those early and trying times." He was of coarse referring to the Black Hawk War. It was 116 years ago when he wrote these words, and the answer still remains a dark troubling mystery.

It is deeply disturbing to me that the tradition has been for most historians and writers to trivialize, and underrate the agony of the Indian people in Utah, those who suffered the greatest loss in terms of land, culture, lives, and dignity. It is criminal to ignore their history, and it is time their story be told.


"If the inhabitants of this Territory, my brethren, had never condescended to reduce themselves to the practices of the Indians, to their low, degraded condition, and in some cases even lower, there never would have been any trouble between us and our red neighbors. Treat them kindly, and treat them as Indians, and not as your equals."


The above quote are the words Mormon prophet Brigham Young delivered to a congregation in the Tabernacle, Great Salt Lake City, April 6, 1854. He was the father of the flock, and his words helped forged the mindset of supremacy toward the Indian people, while arcane messages such as his have some how survived unchallenged in our modern society. Remember, discrimination has to be taught. Our children learn to discriminate from their parents, friends, and community. Up to this Brigham Youngtime when Brigham gave this speech, 139 Timpanogos had been killed at the hands of Mormon settlers. The family of Black Hawk had been murdered, innocent of any wrong doing. Seventy more were killed at Fort Utah, beheaded, tortured, while heads were hung by their long hair from the eves of the buildings. Human heads that would be later shipped to Washington for scientific examination. Among those held captive at the fort was a young boy by the name of Black Hawk, who had been made to view the horrid sight of his kin for two long agonizing weeks. This tormented boy would later become known as Chief Black Hawk of the Black Hawkee', better known as the Northern Timpanogos Indian Tribe.


But the name "Black Hawk" is not a Timpanogos name, it was a name Brigham Young in jest called him. So it became that Brigham being supercilious referred to him as 'Black Hawk' and this is the name by which he is now most commonly known. His Timpanogos Name was Antonga, Black Hawk was born into a noble family of legendary leaders spanning centuries of time.    


The 'Walker' War had broke out, even though Black Hawk's uncle Chief Walkara, (or "Walker" as the settlers called him), had been baptized and given membership in the LDS Church.


Then in late 1849 apostle George A. Smith instructed the legislature, "Indians have no right to their land," to "extinguish all titles and prepare for their removal." And the most essential first step in the removal process was to change the conditions in which they thrive. Without any legal basis for doing so, it was the LDS Church's land grab. Undoubtedly fueled by O'Sullivan's 1838 Manifest Destiny. Remember these were different times, and looking back on American history it is easy to see that the Manifest Destiny concept was ego driven, manipulative, hypocritical, and down right wrong. But some things, in their minds were, simply put, necessary evils.


Walkara was poisoned to death, with the Timpanogos leader out of the way, chaos soon spread among the tribes. It was the beginning of the end for the Timpanogos Nation. Twenty-three years of bloody confrontations followed until the year 1872 when Black Hawk, the last of the great war Chiefs, died. The decimated population of the Timpanogos now overcome with despair and hopelessness, the remaining fewer than 3000 survivors would be rounded up as prisoners of war and placed on the Uinta Reservation, which in all truth was nothing more than a concentration camp. There they were left with little regard as to their well being. Many more would parish from starvation.


"Why has so little interest been taken in keeping memorandas and records of events and conditions of those early and trying times" my great-grandfather pondered in 1884. It would be inaccurate to suggest the settlers were without conscience, as many accounts attest to their remorse. But memories of the past were short lived as the promise of prosperity unfolded before their eyes. The end justifying the means giving birth to the words, "the past is the past, we just need to forget about." And forget they did, 150 years have passed and but a handful of people know anything about the war. But for the First People of Utah the story is quite the opposite.


On September 20, 1919, an article appeared on the front page of the Deseret Evening News with the headlines that read, "Bones of Black Hawk on Exhibition L.D.S. Museum." Deep within the article, the writer explains that first the remains of Black Hawk had been on public display in the window of a hardware store in downtown Spanish Fork, Utah, before they were taken to the church museum on Temple Square.


Just 46 years had passed when Black Hawk had been laid to rest in 1872 at Spring Lake, Utah, when miners deliberately plotted the robbery of his grave. Accompanying the article is a photo of a man standing in the open grave, grinning ear to ear, while in his hands he is holding the skull of Black Hawk. While the living descendents of Black Hawk were outraged, but their voices fell on deaf ears. They had no legal recourse until the enactment of the National American Graves Protection Reparation Act, or NAGPRA, passed in 1994. Black Hawk was again reburied in the year 1996. This raises the question why a religious institution and it's leaders would have no moral compassion toward the family of Black Hawk.


It's common knowledge Euro-Americans have for centuries forced upon the First People their views, opinions, cultural and religious beliefs. "The Mormons brought with them a moral code, a new technology, and an economic system. Mormon's inability or refusal to accept Indian culture on its own terms is a conflict repeated countless times throughout the west. Coexistence, with each culture intact, was impossible; compromise seemed unattainable, for the cherished ideals of one culture were the unpardonable sins of the other."(The Other 49ers) Mormons brought the ways of civilization with them, in their minds. Contrary to their desire for a enlightened sacred way of life, they gave way the very kind of discrimination that they ran from.


Today it's also the little things that add insult to injury that go unnoticed. For years anMassasoit State Capitol Utah Indian statue by renowned artist Cyrus Dallin has adorned the grounds of the Utah state capitol, which to many has came to symbolized the First People of Utah. The fact the figure in the statue is that of Massasoit who died circa 1662, and that Massachusetts was named after him, or that Dallin employed a African-American model from whom he sculpted the Indian figure, this irony doesn't seem to matter to the non-Indians of Utah, but most assuredly the Indian people of Utah are less than amused. For never has there been a monument or memorial built in honor of the First People, much less a statue accurately representing Utah American Indians. Is it anti-Indian or anti-Mormon? Actually it's both. A paradox considering the thousands of Native Indians who are members of the LDS church."  


The arrogance and attitudes of supremacy toward the First People of Utah has prevailed since before the Black Hawk War, and few have had the courage to stand up and say, enough, we must defend a person's right to live a decent life. I am astonished that they have had little or no voice, ignored, shunned, kept out on the fringes of society and denied access to even most the basic fundamentals of equality and human rights. That they live in fear of telling their story, their truth, that there may be retribution for exercising their legal right of free speech. That non-Indians have been made to feel they have no obligation to own the past. I often wonder, is the Black Hawk really over, or has discrimination simply morphed and become institutionalized?


What is the true story of First People of Utah? The only people who can intelligently and accurately answer that question are the Indian people. But has anyone ever asked the Indian people? And that is the essence of our film documentary project. Twenty-six years of Utah history has been ignored and left out of school curriculum. Twenty-six years of Utah Indian history that more than 90% of Utah's population never heard of. A quarter of a century of the history of 40,000 lives has been tossed aside, forgotten, and made a mockery of.