Following the assassination of LDS Church founder Joseph Smith and ever-increasing hostilities in 1847, angry mobs forced Mormon polygamists to leave Illinois. It was the age of Manifest Destiny, that aligned with the "Chosen People-Promised Land" model of the Bible. Church leader Brigham Young led a massive migration of followers to colonize the Great Basin of the Rocky Mountains in Utah, believing God wanted them to.
Mormon settlers arrived on the Wasatch Front of the Rockies during the Mexican-American War. The Shoshone was the largest tribe, occupying a vast area from Oregon to Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming. Other Tribes surrounding the Great Basin were the Montana Blackfoot, Montana Cree, Colorado Utes, Colorado/Wyoming Arapaho, Southeastern Colorado Kiowa, Arizona Apache, Arizona Navajo, and the Nevada Washoe. Most significant to our story is the Timpanogos Nation, who were indigenous to the Wasatch that Spanish explorers Domingus and Escalante in 1776 describe in their journals, 'who spoke the language of the Snake-Shoshone' and were comprised of several bands, i.e., the Paiute, Shivwits, Koosharem, and Goshute.
The idealisation of Mormon colonialism clashes with historial records. In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War. The United States agreed to recognize 'Indian' land holdings and allow 'Indian' people to continue their customs and languages. Despite their treaty rights, LDS Church leaders declared that the Timpanogos "have no right to the land" and ordered that the Timpanogos were to be "exterminated." Brigham Young spent over a million dollars in church funds, the equivalent of $35 million today, to get rid of the Timpanogos.
Religion had a significant role in the Black Hawk Warin Utah, cultural conflict, political motivation, and legal justification for settler colonization of North America. "Papal authority is the basis for United States power over indigenous peoples," wrote Peter d'Errico, Legal Studies Department, University of Massachusetts/Amherst."
The Doctrine of Discovery is a document contrived by Catholic monarchs and papal law during the 14th century, based upon Christian doctrine to give Christians and governments a legal and moral justification to invade and occupy Native American land. It followed that Andrew Jackson's systematic Indian Removal Act of 1830, opened the way to the forced relocation of Native Americans. It became known as "the Trail of Tears," from which Manifest Destiny evolved to justify Settler Colonialism and Race.
"Race was a fairly new concept among early colonists," wrote Sean P. Harvey, Ph.D. author of Native Tongues. "The concept of 'Race' that took hold in the 1800s created physical and cultural divisions in humanity. It is essential to understand that it was crucial to early America. It provided the foundation for the colonization of Native Land and the enslavement of Native Americans and Africans."
Brigham Young understood that ultimate domination is a tactic key to the success of settler colonialism. At the rate of some three thousand a month, new Mormon arrivals to the Great Basin wasted no time taking control of the land. They sprawled out into the ancestral home of the Timpanogos Nation, upsetting the natural order of all living things for indigenous tribes. They killed deer, elk, and buffalo and depleted the fish population in the Timpanogos River(Provo River) and Timpanogos Lake(Utah Lake). They diverted and polluted water sources, the environment that First Nations solely depended upon for food, medicines, and life-sustaining necessities. With the rapid increase in the Mormon population, agricultural development, and barbwire, the Timpanogos soon ran out of territory for sanctuary.
As Mormons settled among the Timpanogos, conflict was unavoidable. Quoting from Chief Wakara's Statement to Indian Agent M. S. MARTENAS July 6, 1853. "They were friendly for a short time until they became strong in numbers, then their conduct and treatment towards the Indians changed—they were not only treated unkindly—they have been treated with much severity—they have been driven by this population from place to place—settlements have been made on all their hunting grounds in the valleys, and the graves of their fathers have been torn up by the whites." See Wakara's Statement.
When the Civil War ended in 1865, attention turned toward western expansion and the U.S. military to Indian fighting. The United States government called for the extermination of tribes who resisted giving up their land. Highly publicized massacres of Indians brought the attention of philanthropic groups. American humanitarians proposed a new solution to the "Indian problem" by eliminating Indianness through acculturation. Christian reformers argued that if Indians were assimilated, the Indian problem would vanish. In the 1860s, the U.S. adopted a Peace Policy, gradually shifting toward a more peaceful approach, and genocide of Native Americans was officially discouraged. The Peace Policy meant forcing Native tribes to reservations and boarding house schools to assimilate them into white culture, thus eliminating Native peoples bloodlessly. The intended effect of the Peace Policy was to prevent the rampant slaughter of Native Americans.
Christianization, Education, and cultural development became the means to assimilate tribal peoples so that they could be integrated and absorbed by mainstream society. Eample, the LDS church converted many of Utah's Native Americans to Mormonism, according to church doctrine, and in so doing, the so-called "loathsome" Indians would become a "white and delightsome people." They would be forgiven of the sins of their forefathers. (Book of Mormon 2 Nephi 5:21-23) According to church doctrine, the nature of the dark skin was a curse, and the cause was the Lord; the reason that the Lamanites (Indians) "had hardened their hearts against him, (God)," and the punishment was to make them "loathsome" unto God's people who had white skins.
"They were given the choice, either join the church or die," said Historian Robert D. Carter, author Founding of Fort Utah.
"You have a situation where true Native American history is left out of Utah's school curriculum and people are confused with Tribal identity. It is the most overlooked topic causing significant, and sometimes consequential inaccuracies in our histories, leading to baseless conclusions, and false assumptions about Utah's Native American culture and history," said Gottfredson.
Example, the Timpanogos and Utes in Utah are distinctly different Tribes in origin, ancestral bloodlines, language, and customs. Utah historians have misidentified the Snake-Shoshone Timpanogos Nation as Colorado Utes for over a century. They are not enrolled members of the Ute Tribe, never were, and never wanted to be. However, people refer to them as "Timpanogos-Ute," an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. The Utes are a Utah Tribe but indigenous to Colorado. Congress sent the Utes to Utah in 1881 as "prisoners of war." For a detailed account of these topics, please read the Timpanogos Ute Oxymoron Page.
The Timpanogos Nation
The Timpanogos Nation has filed with the United States Department of the Interior hundreds of documents and vital records that prove they are indigenous to the Wasatch and the Great Basin. The Snake-Shoshone Timpanogos today are the direct descendants of famous Chiefs Antonga Black Hawk, Wakara, Tabby, Arapeen, Sanpitch, Grospeen, Kanosh, and Ammon. Who were brothers and figured most prominently in all the histories of the Black Hawk War. Sanpitch(Tenaciono) was Snake-Shoshone and the father of Antonga Black Hawk.
Wakara was the principal Chief of the Timpanogos when Brigham and his followers arrived in 1847. Wakara's nephew Black Hawk who later had a pivotal role in the war, was barely in his teens and wouldn't become War Chief until 1865, when his uncle Tabby was the Nation's principal Chief. See Timpanogos Tribe Biography; The Utah Black Hawk War for details.
Timpanogos Chief Antonga Black Hawk
One of the most compelling aspects of Phillip B Gottfredson's book Black Hawk's Mission of Peace is his detailed description of indigenous people and their deep sacred connection to each other and Mother Earth. "While living with the Shoshoni and several other Tribes, the Elders invited me to particapate in numerous sacred ceremonies. For me it was life-changing. The spiritual experiences I had profoundly changed my understanding of Native American culture," said Phillip.
Honesty, love, courage, truth, wisdom, humility, and respect are ancient traditional virtues and values that Black Hawk and indigenous people have honored throughout their history. Being a solid leader came naturally for Black Hawk. His charismatic charm befriended people from all walks of life, and his leadership skills aroused people's loyalty with enthusiasm.
"Will civilized people never learn that they are quite as obtuse to understand real Indian nature as the Indians to understand their civilization?" -John C. Cremony 1868 Life Among the Apaches.
Colonist ignored the age-old message of Indigenous America is 'connection, relationship, and unity.' All people are one. All are the direct living descendants of our Creator. Lakota Chief Joseph said, 'We have no qualms about color. It has no meaning. It doesn't mean anything." After decades of exhaustive research Phillip wrote, "there can be no doubt that this was Chief Black Hawk's message when he made his last ride home to pass out of this world in peace." He was in severe pain, dying from a gunshot wound to his stomach at the Gravely Ford Battle. In the final hours of his life, Chief Black Hawk made a painful hundred-and-eighty-mile journey by horseback from Cedar City in southern Utah to Payson. He spoke to Mormon settlers along the way. He advocated for peace and an end to the bloodshed. This heroic journey was Black Hawk's 'mission of peace.' Still, colonialist were too arrogant to see what it means to be human. Mormon colonialism was about saving the heathens from hell, and getting rich.
Did the Mormons try to help the Timpanogos? We forget that many of our ancestors had deep and meaningful relationships with the Timpanogos, and we need to acknowledge that. In 1866 when Chief Black Hawk had been wounded in battle at Gravely Ford, Canute Peterson of Ephraim paid a visit to the ailing leader Black Hawk—taking sugar, hams, bread, beads, molasses, tea, coffee, tobacco, flour, medicines, and clothing. Sadly, important stories such as this get buried in all the rhetoric. See The Old Peace Treaty Tree.
In the end, however, members of the LDS Church robbed Black Hawk's grave at Spring Lake, Utah. His mortal remains were on public display in the window of a hardware store in Spanish Fork, Utah, and for amusement later was moved to Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City, and there remained on public display for decades.
Though hiding and distorting the truth and identity theft are essential to the success of settler colonization. It's a mockery of what it means to be honest and respectful of others' lives and history—leading to mistrust, resentment, hate, racism, and bigotry. It sets an awful example for our children, who are our future. See Truth in Education
The Black Hawk War, Colonization, & Conflict
"In those early days it was at times imperative that harsh measures should be used. We had to do these things, or be run over by them. It was a question of supremacy between the white man and the Indian." - John Lowry
The Timpanogos recall the horrifying Battle Creek Massacre above Pleasant Grove in 1849 when Captain John Scott's all Mormon militia murdered two unarmed men and took young Antonga Black Hawk hostage.
They remember Colonel George D. Grant, money-hungry Dr. Blake, and "Wild Bill" Hickman. Who savagely decapitated 70 of their ancestors at Provo, Fort Utah, in 1850 and sold their heads for profit.
In the Bear River Massacre of 1863, over 400 Shoshoni were slaughtered, led by the remorseless Colonel Patrick Edward Connor. Brigham young supplied Connor with troops and equipment.
At the peak of the Black Hawk War in 1866, Bishop William Jackson Allred led the Circleville Massacre of the Koosharem Paiutes. Twenty-six men, women, and children's throats were slit and buried in a mass grave.
Many fled to other regions for survival and protection. Epidemics of smallpox and cholera resulted in untold numbers of deaths. Census relied heavily on often inaccurate Indian agencies records at the time, educated guesses estimate that the indigenous population was seventy-thousand or more in the Great Basin. Toward the war's conclusion, Brigham noted, "I do not suppose there is one in ten, perhaps not one in a hundred, now alive of those who were here when we came." That being the case, the death toll was staggering.
Perry Murdock, a council member of the Timpanogos Nation and a direct descendant of Chief Wakara, said, "Every day we are reminded of what our ancestors went through. Our families were torn apart. Children murdered, the old, the women, all those who were brutally murdered and made to suffer and die from violence, then disease, then starvation, our ancestors' graves torn up, the land destroyed, it was genocide plain and simple. Why? What did we do? We didn't do anything. We were living in peace. We were happy. Our children were happy. We loved each other. We cared for each other. And when the Mormons came, we tried to help them. Then they tried to take everything away from us. They wanted it all. They wanted to exterminate us, wipe us off the face of the earth. Why? For our land? For our oil? Now we have nothing."
Mary Murdock Meyer, direct descendant of Chief Arapeen, "As Chief Executive of the Timpanogos Nation, I speak for the people when I ask why? We fed you when you were hungry. We helped you when you did not understand our lands. Why then were we forgotten? Historians have never asked us about our history or our ancestors. People are wrong when they say we are Ute. We are Shoshoni. The Ute Tribe came from Colorado."
The Denver Rocky Mountain newspaper quoted Brigham Young saying, "You can get rid of more Indians with a sack of flour than a keg of powder." Clearly his intention was to "get rid" of the indigenous population. See Brigham Young Discourses.
There has never been any reconciliation. The Timpanogos were catapulted into near extinction by Mormon colonization and Brigham Young's extermination order No.2 in 1850. Suppose you were Indian and lucky enough to survive the war. In that case, you are confined to a reservation and made to depend on government-run Indian agencies for scarce, and sometimes contaminated commodities to survive. Your children are taken away and sent to boarding house schools with graveyards, all under the banner of "Kill the Indian, and save the man."
A Century of Contradictions and Half-Truths
Phillip B Gottfredson began his research in 1989, seeking knowledge about Utah's Black Hawk War. Unpacking the truth about the war meant sorting through decades of moral ambiguity, paradoxes, and half-truths in mainstream accounts before realizing a crucial element in the story was missing, the Native American's version. "It was frustrating," Phillip said, "I couldn't find any accounts where indigenous people had a voice.
"If we want to understand the Native American's side of the story, then they need to tell it," said Phillip. Phillip went on an incredible 20-year fact-finding journey. Living with many Tribes throughout North and South America, Phillip found honest and authentic insights into their history and culture. It gave him a perspective of the Black Hawk War in Utah, unique among historians today. In his book My Journey to Understand Black Hawk's Mission of Peace, Phillip reveals disturbing facts about Mormon colonization that are not part of the narrative.
Firsthand accounts of the Black Hawk War underscore the 'extermination' of the Timpanogos by LDS authorities who proclaimed they had no right to the land of their ancestors they had lived upon since time immemorial. Examples are documented in Peter Gottfredson's book Indian Depredations in Utah that was published in 1919. For twenty years Peter was a bishop of the LDS church in Glenwood, Utah, until he retired. He was a friend of Chief Antonga Black Hawk and spent much of his time in their camps. He compiled any number of tell-all reports of early Mormon racism and cold-hearted brutality that happened over more than a decade. Please take a few minutes and read some excerpts from his book.
History ignored the Timpanogos Nation, leaving them out of Utah's historical narrative in favor of the Colorado Utes. The legacy of the Black Hawk War has caused tremendous obstacles. Scholars have said "they are the most documented Tribe in Utah," yet they have fought for Federal Recognition for decades. They have survived severe economic issues, sovereign and aboriginal rights violations, and boarding house schools. According to the July 10th, United States Tenth District Court ruling of 2016, the State of Utah has no jurisdiction over the Uinta Valley Reservation whatsoever. "They take whatever they want," said Tribal members living on the Reservation, "The war over treaty rights never ends."
"How do I know these things? I lived with them; I found the truth. These are traditional teachings of the Timpanogos I learned while living with them and Native Americans throughout North America, and the Mayan in South America. I am proud to say I voluntarily and willingly assimilated into Native American culture, without shame or regrets. It has been the best years of my life. History is not just the study of the past; it's also the ethnology of indigenous people, present traditions, rituals, and legacies. But it's not about me, it's about the human race, it's about the circle of life. I'm only the messenger," said Mr. Gottfredson.
There is much we can learn from First Nation people if only we would listen. We need to help each other. We need to help each other learn and heal from our history's challenging times. We need to find a pathway to forgiveness and help to build that bridge between our cultures with compassion and mutual respect for humanity.
"Native American culture is a perfect example of total spirituality without religion," is a familiar saying among Native people. Understanding Native culture and time-honored traditions are essential when establishing meaningful relations with Native American peoples, especially for educators with Native students in their classrooms. See Native American ethics and protocols.