August 3, 2007
Fort Utah An Amusing Story? Really?
by Phillip B Gottfredson
Over the past few days I spent my time in the archives scanning through old books in the special collections section of the Provo City Library. Reading an account by Ray C. Colton titled A historical Study of the Exploration of Utah Valley and the Story of Fort Utah written in 1946. A lead-in to one of his sentences gave me reason to pause. The sentence started out, "An amusing story..." he notes one of the troops firing a cannon at a tee pee when another soldier takes over, loads the cannon with chain, fires the cannon sending the chain ripping through the tee pee and "cutting off the legs of a squaw." An "amusing story" he says. Reading over the paragraph several times I was trying to understand exactly what was so "amusing." Personally I find comics amusing. I find nothing amusing about a woman having her legs torn off by a cannon.
No longer amused by Colton's book, I returned it to the shelf and selected something entirely different. This book written in the 1840's titled "Provo, A Pioneer City" was interesting for the first few paragraphs, when I began to see the same kind of slant as the previous book. So I took another book from the shelf and read awhile, and another, and repeated until I had several books by different authors, but one thing in common, they were all written by Mormon authors. I know, your eyes are probably rolling back in your head, you might be thinking what is it I have against Mormons? The truth is reader, I don't have anything against Mormons purse. Keep in mind I have spent several years reading books written by Mormon scholars, and have kept an open mind. I can't help but see a pattern in the writing style of these authors though. For when ever they are writing about church members, or those of European descent in general, they always portray the person they are writing about with respect. But when they write anything about the Native Indian their remarks are rude, racist, degrading, and unkind. And when they speak of the battles with them, they are "skirmishes." During a "skirmish" Indian people are killed, most are outright murdered. But these are just skirmishes. Just a minor argument or dispute that ended up with some deserving "savage" getting killed. And more than half the time the victims have no names, and their bodies left to be eaten by animals, unless his family happens along and finds him unexpectedly. And the story becomes an amusing tale of the old west. But when a white man is killed, its not amusing at all, it's a massacre. They are respectfully carried off, funeral services are held, the ground where they are buried is consecrated, and their names enshrined in glory. Most always followed by a depiction of the victims suffering, and the militia called out to hunt down the "savage murders" and slaughter any who even look suspicious.
The racism and hatred the early pioneers had toward the Indian permeates every line and paragraph of every account, directly and indirectly, and to think these are the historical records that have long been the source material for educators for decades of time. There is no reason to misunderstand why our society discriminates, why bigotry thrives, why our Native brothers continue to suffer. So often the Mormon mindset is so well cloaked in innocence and purity, exempting themselves from any wrong doing, as they discusses their deadly deeds of genocide with amusement.
I suppose its been very amusing for those who are behind the BIG LIE, I imagine they are getting a real good laugh. But for you and I, and our Native brothers, if we have one thing in common it would be that we all have been the brunt of someone else's very sick amusement.
Sorry Mr. Colton, I am not amused. May I suggest to historians and educators who find Indian history amusing that you speak with the descendants of the victims and see how amused you are then.