The Black Hawk War: Utah's Forgotten Tragedy
As Americans, and citizens of Utah, when we look back at our history we want to find the heroes and stories of our ancestors that are inspiring. But the story of the Black Hawk war in Utah is brutal and bloody—one of the most inhumane wars in American history.
Following the invasion of the Conquistadors who robbed them of their gold and enslaved a good number of them, then came the fur trappers. During the years of the 1700's to the early 1800's trappers would all but empty the rivers and streams of Oregon, Idaho and Utah of the beaver population. Literally millions of pounds of pelts would be shipped to Europe making fur merchants wealthy beyond belief. During this time and subsequent years to follow the British, French and Americans would divvy up Indian land, waging war against each other when necessary to gain control.
Through it all the Snake-Shoshoni Timpanogos would emerge victorious having survived wave after wave of Euro-invasions. Mormons arrived in 1847 and settled in the arid Salt Lake valley the valley had long become the crossroads of the west as trappers, explorers and the like passed through on their way to Oregon, and California. An old medicine man Wuna Mucca had prophesied the coming of the missionaries decades before their arrival. And come they did, to worship God almighty, to save the heathens from hell, and get rich.
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 Timpanogos’ 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 Timpanogos with no choice other than to prey upon the settlers’ cattle, or die of starvation. Another example recorded is 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.
Christian crusaders' mandate was to convert the Indigenous people and believed it was their divine duty to save their souls from Hell—to have dominion over them, their land, and so its riches. The Black Hawk War of Utah is a classic example of a model of systematic conquest—one which had evolved over the centuries since Columbus that I call: "The 12 Steps of Conquest."
Step #1 Dehumanize them.
Step #2 Demoralize them.
Step #3 In the chaos, exploit them.
Step #4 Build forts and take control of their land.
Step #5 Interrupt their food supply.
Step #6 Take control of the people, using violence when necessary.
Step #7 Ban their culture by forcing their children into boarding schools.
Step #8 Remove them from the land and place them on reservations.
Step #9 Extinguish all their rights, making them wards of government.
Step #10 Assimilate them in to western culture.
Step #11 Sanitize history, make the decimation of the American Indian amusing tales of the Old West, with half-truths, platitudes, and omissions; placing all the blame on the victims. Grant amnesty and exonerate the perpetrators as being innocent of any wrongdoing.
Step #12 Take away their reservations.
Besides superior weaponry, the settlers had another weapon—disease. Measles, Smallpox, Tuberculosis, Cholera, and Scarlet Fever spread epidemically from the settlers among the Indians and, at times. intentionally. There were times disease-contaminated blankets and food were given to the Indians. Quoting from the book Violence Over the Land by Ned Blackhawk, "Colorado Governor David Meriwether, in 1854, had engaged the help of the Mouche band of Colorado Utes to participate in a manhunt for a suspected murder. Being paid each with a gray cloth coat... decorated handsomely with red and yellow braid. These Ute leaders returned home fashionably attired in tailored officer's clothing." The book goes on to say, "They had also contracted smallpox, and many came to the conclusion that the Superintendent was the cause of the disease being among them...everyone that received a coat died."
"We forget that our ancestors, both Indian and non-Indian, lived close together—that our children grew up with each other. And that's what makes this story so difficult to talk about and remember. But if we are going to understand who we are, then we have to understand and remember the Black Hawk War." -Historian Will Bagley
Meanwhile, on July 24, 1847, Brigham Young along with a party of 143 Mormons emerged from the mouth of Cottonwood canyon on a hill overlooking Salt Lake valley of the Wasatch Front, thus concluding a thousand mile journey taking 111 days by horseback and covered wagons. Brigham seeing the valley said, “Its enough, this is the right place, drive on.” The Mormons made their camp in the heart of the Snake-Shoshoni Timpanogos Nation. The Timpanogos Indians would soon confront Brigham Young and his followers for trespassing on their ancestral land.
The Timpanogos were under the leadership of seven brothers namely Sanpitch, Wakara, Arropeen, Tabby, Ammon, Sowiette, Grospeen and eventually Black Hawk who was the son of Sanpitch. These seven legendary leaders were referred to as "the privileged blood." They ruled every Eutah clan and village along the Wasatch. Their population was at least 70,000 and more. They were the ruling Tribe that occupied the entire territory comprised of some 250,000 square miles.
Let's also understand when Mormon settlers arrived in 1847, a year later the Hidalgo Treaty of 1848 was signed wherein the United States agreed to recognize Indian land holdings, and to allow Indian people to continue their customs and languages." Settlers ignored the treaty with impunity. Utah territory bordered the northern section of Mexico.
When Chief Wakara confronted Brigham Young shortly after they entered the valley, he made it clear they were not welcome to settle on their land. Brigham assured Wakara that they were only passing through on their way to California. That they had made a long journey, lost many of their people along the way and were short on supplies. That they needed to spend the winter there and would move on in the spring. Wakara understood, and generously helped the Mormons survive through the winter. When spring came, the Mormons began to clear-cut the timber and build houses.
And there after more Mormons began to arrive in large numbers at the rate of some 3000 a month. Mormons begin seizing Timpanogos land, water holes, and timber.
In the winter of 1849, trouble began when a company of 35 Mormon militia, under the leadership of Colonel John Scott, left Salt Lake City in pursuit of a so called “renegade band of Indians” who were falsely accused of taking horses belonging to Mormon leader Brigham Young. So it followed that war with the Mormons began in earnest on February 28, 1849 with the first of six massacres at Battle Creek in the foothills above Pleasant Grove, Utah.
In the crisp morning air, on that cold February morning, shots echoed off the canyon walls. There lingered a thick gray cloud of gun smoke; the frozen snow was now crimson red with fresh innocent Native blood. This day would mark the beginning of a 21 year battle with Mormons, the US Government, and the Timpanogos Indian Nation. According to reliable accounts, Brigham gave the order for Colonel Scott "to take such measures as would put a final end to their depredations in future." But, before morning they received orders from Salt Lake City stating that "the horses were not stolen..." Three times the company had received word the Indian's had not stolen Brigham Young's horses, they had only been moved to a different location to pasture." Still, not one of the thirty-five men turned back.
Scott, under orders from Brigham Young, he and his men met up with a Shoshoni Indian they referred to as Little Chief on the Provo River. Little Chief regretfully led Scott to an encampment of Timpanogos Indians who allegedly had been doing some stealing. Moreover, it seems unlikely Little Chief would have betrayed his people in this way, more likely threatened, he gave in. The trail took the company of soldiers to the mouth of a canyon above Pleasant Grove. Scott and his men split into four groups and surrounded the camp, and opened fire on the unsuspecting people sleeping there in their teepees. It is said that the "battle" continued for a couple hours, highly unlikely since most took shelter and then were trapped in a nearby ravine, standing in freezing water, and they had only one gun, while the surrounding army pelted their victims with rocks. As they immerged from cover unarmed, troops shot them repeatedly. A Timpanogos man named Kone, unarmed, was shot in the back as he came out of his teepee.
A brave girl about the age of 16 emerged from cover and pleaded with Colonel Scott not to harm her brother. Scott ordered her to bring her brother to him. Terrified of Scott she brought from the thicket her younger brother who bravely stood face to face with Scott and said, "Go away, what are you here for? Go away... you kill my father, my brother... for what? Go away, let us alone."
"Joshua Terry, a pioneer of 1847, and a mountain man who married into an Indian tribe, once told the writer (Howard R. Driggs) that this Indian boy became the warring leader Black Hawk. When peace came, after the Black Hawk War of the later eighteen sixties, this Chief, Terry declared, told him that he was this same boy taken after the fight on Battle Creek. 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. That is why he later made war against them." (Story of Old Battle Creek and Pleasant Grove, Utah, Howard R. Driggs, 1948)