The Black Hawk War; Utah's Forgotten Tragedy

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Phillip B Gottfredson

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About Phillip B Gottfredson

PHILLIP B GOTTFREDSON Recipient of the Indigenous Day Award: The day, declared Indigenous Day by Gov. John Huntsman Jr. as part of the 10th annual American Indian Heritage Month, was capped off by a reception and awards ceremony at the Sheraton in Salt Lake City.

As Americans, and citizens of Utah, when we look back on our history we want to find the heroes and stories of our ancestors that are inspiring. But the Mormon's Black Hawk War in Utah was brutal and bloody for Native Indian peoples, one of the most inhumane wars in Native American history.

As a student of the Black Hawk War in Utah for over 16 years learning from Utah's Native Indians and, living with the direct descendants of notorious Chiefs Black Hawk, Wakara, Tabby, and Arropeen, it follows a very different story of those troubled times emerges. And it becomes clear the truth of the Mormon's war on the Timpanogos Indians has been divisively buried beneath a veneer of revised history, folklore replete with religious dogma and myth. Which only confirms one's suspicion of there being efforts made to justify man's inhumanity to man. Shamefully, Christendom's arrival in the Americas as seen through the eyes of Utah's Indian peoples has been deliberately ignored and left out of the history books. Why? If we leave out the Native peoples side of the story then our history is based on half-truths.

In my quest to learn the truth regarding the Indian Tribes of Utah and the battles they fought with Mormon immigrants, I devoted all my time over the past decade and half researching State archives, libraries, and history books. I soon grew wary of Mormon scholars and writers who published a plethora of one-sided accounts for over a century and half. I became suspicious of what they wrote of the Indians which is often scant, brief and disingenuous. They did not ask or care what the Indians they studied had to say about their work, nor did they ask how they would analyze, interpret, or if they had their own version of the particular story they were writing about. I found that Tribal leaders have invited historians to discuss their version of the story to no avail. As a consequence accounts filled with omissions, ambiguities and half-truths have become standard. "Tell a lie often enough and it becomes the truth" and Utah's history is well-provided with inaccuracies.

Being a great-grandson of Peter Gottfredson, author of one of the oldest and highly cited firsthand accounts of the Utah Black Hawk war... the book Indian Depredations in Utah, I respectfully honor and admire the friendship that Peter had with Black Hawk and the Timpanogos Indians during and following the War. It was grandpa's book that ignited my interest in the War, and the need for me to know what his experience was like living among the Indian peoples. That led me on a life changing journey, and like my great-grandfather, I too lived with the Timpanogos Nation, Shoshoni, and spent considerable time with the Utes and many others I have listed below, learning firsthand of their life-ways and the tragic consequences of the war.

Drawn in by curiosity I began researching the history of the war on my own in 1990. My extraordinary journey into the indigenous world began in Washington DC at the Grand Opening of the National Museum of the American Indian in 2004. It followed that the past decade would be a time of great honor and privilege for me to experience. I'm grateful to the Snake-Shoshoni Timpanogos Nation, Shoshone, Lakota, Makaw, Siletz, Choctaw, Apache, Maya, Washoe, Paiute, Goshute, Pahvant, Colorado Utes, Hopi, Pueblo, and Dine' Navajo, and many more for sharing with me their version and interpretation of Christendom's arrival in the Americas. Don't think this to be a small matter reader. "No one has ever asked us," was their reply when I inquired "why have you never told your side of the story?" And I will bear witness to the fact that Native Indian peoples of Utah many live in absolute fear of Mormon vengeance to this day should they tell their side of the story. Whether their perception is true or not it is a testament to the extreme trauma Utah's Native Indian peoples have experienced that needs to be acknowledged and remembered regardless of what happened.

Sixty years have passed and the images are still vivid in my mind, the glass case, the dry decayed remains of a man in the case, father whispering to me "that's Chief Black Hawk". It was a strange and eerie feeling for an eleven-year-old. It was the first time ever I had seen a decomposed human corpse, And that this display was in a small relic hall on Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City didn't have any significance to me at the time. That was the first time I learned about Timpanogos Chief Black Hawk. I also remember father telling me when he first saw Black Hawk's remains, the Chief was on display in the window of a hardware store in Spanish Fork, that was after members of the Mormon Church had robbed his grave in 1919. Father was about the same age as me then, eleven or so.

The past decade and half has been a tremendous and rich experience for me researching the Black Hawk War, and learning from Native American Indians their version of those troubled times. An experience that has been life changing. It has been a labor of love, for I have never asked for any compensation. Always I have donated my time and resources to better understand the life ways and struggles of indigo no us peoples of North America.

Phillip B Gottfredson