The Legacy of the Utah Black Hawk War


The writer is Indigenous Day Award recipient Phillip B Gottfredson, the author of My Journey to Understand Black Hawk's Mission of Peace.

Utah's Black Hawk War legacy is rooted in settler colonialism, Brigham Young's extermination of the Timpanogos Nation, forced removal from their land, and subjugation. Mormon colonization caused severe loss of lives, loss of resources, religion, language, and freedom. It should be noted that the Extermination Order imposed upon the Timpanogos Nation by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1849 was never rescinded, further complicating the issue.

Utah's Black Hawk War legacy is rooted in settler colonialism, Brigham Young's extermination of the Timpanogos Nation, forced removal, and subjugation. Mormon colonization caused severe loss of lives, loss of resources, religion, language, and freedom. 

In our quest for truth, students of Utah's history with the Indigenous people of the Great Basin have little choice but to accept the Mormon's one-sided version of the Black Hawk War, Accounts tainted by half-truths, intentional omissions, and denials. The very mention of genocide triggers a defensive response from many Latter-Day Saints who say, "That's all in the past; get over it." 

A dismissive claim often emerges: "We have given the Indians every chance to succeed, yet they choose to live off the government and dwell in poverty." Such disinformation has taken hold among Utah's Mormon population as justification to exclude the true history of Native Americans from the school curriculum. Because the truth is that the choice to live on reservations or endure poverty was never a choice for Native Americans. The facts reveal that colonialism systematically stripped Native Americans of their freedom and made them Wards of government.

We should confront the reality that we have relentlessly tried to take everything from indigenous peoples and have never given back—encroaching upon their water sources, exploiting their timber, undermining their hunting and fishing rights, and taxing reservation land. The truth is Native Americans lived successfully for eons of time without the Whiteman. We cannot deny our role in perpetuating their suffering, and we can no longer ignore the legacy of subjugation and injustice.

A group called "The Other 49ers" put it nicely, "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. Mormons brought the ways of civilization with them, in their minds. Contrary to their desire for an enlightened sacred way of life, the world followed, and they gave into the kind of discrimination that they ran from."

It should be deeply troubling to everyone that discrimination has become institutionalized; it has become the norm to trivialize, mock, and downplay the history of Native American people in Utah and across America.

"We want our children to have a good life. We don’t want them to live in fear, hating each other. We want them to respect our ancient ways, and pass on our sacred teachings to their children. We want them to be proud of our ancestors, Wakara, Black Hawk, Arapeen, Tabby, and understand that they died for us. They lived for us. We are still here because of their love," said a council memeber of the Timpanogos Nation.

As I continued to learn from the Timpanogos what it means to be a Native American in Utah, I often heard them speak of the discrimination they face daily. Initially, my response was to say that they have the same opportunities for a decent life as anyone living in America. Unfortunately, saying that drew some angry responses. And the more time I spent with them, the more I realized how ignorant I was about their lives.

They are entangled in a mess of "Indian Laws", Congressional Acts that Native Americans were not given any say in the laws that govern them.

The 10th District Court ruled in 2015 that the Uinta Reservation is a Sovereign Nation that the State of Utah has no legal jurisdiction over what-so-ever. "They don't listen." Tribal members of the Timpanogos told me, "they continue to arrest our people. They take children, property, whatever they want."

From my own experience, I find these atrocities to be factual. And the shocking reality is that we never hear about this off the reservation. I lived with the Indigenous people on the Uintah Valley reservation for many years. I became fully aware of the criminal activity on the reservation as Whitman gets away with murder, literally, and the courts there are corrupted. Still nothing is done, why? Follow the money. Over 350 million barrels of oil come off the reservation each month. Do people know this? Not many, but all you need to do is ask the Department of Energy.

Scholars of 'Indian law', say The Doctrine of Discovery is at the heart of all laws that the Federal Government uses to have continued dominion and subjugation over First Nations.

The erasure, sanitization, and Christianization of Native American history in Utah's school curriculum have left a devastating mark, distorting Indigenous culture, history, and life-ways, all for the cause of assimulation. Consequently, many of Utah's Native communities grapple with a profound disconnection from their ancestral heritage. Their true history is relegated to insignificance within Utah and even in the broader scope of American history. This is what Settler Colonialism looks like. This is what genocide looks like.

Compounding the injustice of true Native American history left out of the school curriculum sends a clear message to our children that genocide is justified when under the guise of religion—an utterly outrageous notion! Despite claims to the contrary, prejudice, and discrimination persist in our society. Settler Colonialism introduced Racism long ago and has now become deeply entwined within the fabric of our community, much like a noxious weed choking our collective conscience. Racism has seeped into the institutionalized structures of power, rendering it natural within our social landscape.

It is our government that needs to stop holding the indigenous people hostage and making them tenants on their own land.

It is we who need to stop blaming them for the actions of our ancestors.

It is we who need to respect their sovereignty.

It was our ancestors who invaded their country and wrecked their lives.

It was our government and our ancestors who made treaties with Indian Nations and broke every one of them.

It was our ancestors who stole their children, and placed them in boarding house schools with graveyards, then punished them for speaking their own language, physically abused them, and forbid them from practicing their religious beliefs. Carlisle’s founder, Capt. Richard C. Pratt, championed a disastrous approach to educating Native Native Americans that aimed to “kill the Indian, and save the man.”       

It was President Lincoln who set aside 5.6 million acres of land for the Timpanogos, known as the Uintah Valley Reservation, and it was the State of Utah who took back 4.3 million acres of that land, the best of that land, and put it in public domain, and did it without any authorization from congress or compensation, they stole it. See Misidentity of Timpanogos & Ute Tribes

It is we, not Native Americans, who have dug up the graves of their ancestors, and sold the contents for profit, and put their bones on public display as a mere public curiosity. See The Robbery of Black Hawk's Grave

And it is we who have looked the other way and said nothing and remained silent saying, "it's not my problem."

And in the end it is we who are ignorant and say "we have given the Indian people every opportunity to succeed, yet they choose to live in poverty, and live off the government..." and indifferently state: "it's their own damn fault...?"

Both Indian and non-Indian who do not recognize the names Black Hawk, Walkara, Arapeen, Kanosh, Sanpitch, Tabby, and events such as the Black Hawk War, Fort Utah battle, Circleville Massacre, or the Bear River Massacre, and what they represent; have no sense of true history or the reality of settler colonialism in Utah.

I am often asked, "What can we do to help Native Americans and bring about healing?" The answer is simple:

1. Teach true and honest Native American history in our schools. Break the cycle of misinformation and disinformation.

2. Demand that our government honor the treaties made with First Nations. Over 365 treaties were signed with Native Americans and not one has ever been honored.

3. Help build that bridge between our cultures and tear down the wall of lies that separate us. Be the change you want to see in the world. I truly believe that we all can do better than we are now.

See The Silent Victims of the Black Hawk War