The Old Peace Treaty Tree

Ephraim, Utah


The Old Peace Treaty Tree in Ephriam, Utah

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


Of all the Black Hawk War monuments there are in Utah, one, in particular, stands above all others, which is the Peace Treaty Tree in Ephraim, Utah. It stands above others because it recognizes the greatness of the human spirit. A place and time where two men with vastly different backgrounds make a sacred vow to one another to look beyond their differences and end the bloodshed. A story of the Black Hawk War that should be remembered and never forgotten.

Antonga Black Hawk was wounded while in battle at Gravely Ford near Richfield attempting to rescue a fallen warrior when he is shot in the stomach by James E. Snow. Black Hawk was a War Chief subordinate to his uncle Chief Tabby who was the principal Chief of the Timpanogos.

In 1866 Canute Peterson of Ephraim paid a visit to the ailing Timpanogos leader Black Hawk, taking gifts of sugar, hams, bread, beads, molasses, tea, coffee, tobacco, flour, medicines, and clothing. The Chief was grateful for the presents, and a friendship developed, which partially ended the hostilities. Five important chiefs called upon Canute Peterson's home to express their respect and appreciation. As they talked, "Sarah Peterson prepared a meal of the good things that could be brought from the cellar and pantry." After a good meal, Black Hawk and Canute smoked the pipe of peace under the old juniper tree, now referred to as the "peace treaty tree." The old Juniper tree still stands on the south bank of the creek. There they agreed that they would not fight as long as water continued to run in the creek. A Black Hawk Peace Treaty marker was erected there in 1982. And, by the way, water still runs in that creek.

The Juniper is a sacred tree to the Native people. It's a medicinal plant traditionally used for healing and in ceremonies. It also provided sustenance in difficult times. The symbolism then is powerful. Black Hawk chooses the Juniper to smoke the sacred pipe under and make their promises. Being true to ancient traditions, the Chief honored their friendship and commitment to each other. Both acknowledged their connectedness in spirit; they were making a sacred vow to live in harmony. Does this not demonstrate the humanity, virtue, and compassion of Antonga Black Hawk and his friend Canute? Just a kind, heartfelt gesture from Canute Peterson, and Black Hawk who willingly offers the sacred pipe to honor Canute's kindness and compassion. In contrast, Brigham Young spends millions in church funds to exterminate the Timpanogos that began with the Battle Creek Canyon Massacre in 1848. Perhaps all people needed to soothe tensions during the Black Hawk War was a little unconditional love and respect.

Not all Mormon colonists conflicted with the Timpanogos Nation. I recall another exciting story that Benjamin F. Johnson of Spring Lake wrote in 1855 about his Timpanogos friend known as Guffick: "I saw someone moving in the brush at the foot of the mountains, and thinking it might be Guffick, I started in that direction. Seeing me (Guffick) hurriedly came, clasped me in his arms and wept. I asked him with his family and friends, to come and live with me through the war. I would give my life for his did anyone kill him or his. He said he could not, for if the Mormons did not kill him the Indians would, should he do so. His grief of the war then going appeared extreme, and at parting he again hugged me and wept as before. Such was his integrity to me, and our mutual confidence and love for each other that to but a few would I have entrusted my life sooner than with him."

Tribal elders, and my Native friends said this to me when I was researching my book My Journey to Understand Black Hawk's Mission of Peace: "The message of Indigenous America is connection, relationship, and unity. All people are one. One of the direct, living descendants of Creator." Chief Joseph says, "We have no qualms about color. It has no meaning. It doesn't mean anything. When we are together, we are one. Nothing can break it." This is the same message Chief Sitting Bull conveyed when he said, "The heart knows not the color of the skin. This is an ancient traditional teaching. It still lives among our true traditionalists everywhere. The power of forgiveness is greater than hate; love vanquishes condescension and discrimination. That is the power our elders, our true traditionalists, hold. They are treasures; they are the most beautiful people on Earth."

And I believe that was Black Hawk's message too when he made his last ride home to pass out of this world in peace. He was in severe pain, dying from the gunshot wound to his stomach. Chief Black Hawk made an epic hundred-and-eighty-mile journey by horseback from Cedar City, 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,' but it gets left out of Utah's history.

I most sincerely congratulate the people of Ephraim City for having preserved the old Peace Treaty Tree. It honors the friendship made over a hundred and sixty years ago between Timpanogos Chief Antonga Black Hawk and Canute Peterson. It is extraordinary to think that a promise made so long ago is still remembered. Thank you, Ephraim City, and may you always be blessed with beauty and prosperity. - Phillip B Gottfredson

Note: In an interview with Dr. Floyd O'Neil at the University of Utah, O'Neil explained to Mr. Gottfredson, "no "treaties" were made between the Indian people of Utah and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." He explained that agreements were made between the Mormon Church and the indigenous people. These agreements were titled "treaties," but the Federal Government, namely Congress, was the only one who had the legal authority to make treaties. These so-called "treaties" were made in Heber, Mt. Pleasant, Ephraim, Cedar Valley &, etc., but Congress ever ratified one. Such agreements had no legal basis for binding either party to contracts.

The Old Peace Treaty Tree monument  in Ephriam, Utah


by Historian and Author Phillip B Gottfredson

Recently, I revisited one of my favorite Black Hawk War monuments in Ephriam, Utah. Though the old juniper tree has since died and is supported by cables to prevent it from falling, I am grateful for the efforts to preserve it until the park managers decide what to do with the present monument.

I took a photo of the existing plaque below the old juniper tree, and in the last sentence, it says, "...the treaty was signed and later ratified by Pres. Andrew Johnson." The truth is, this is incorrect. Only Congress had the power to ratify treaties, and the so-called "Fort Ephriam Peace Treaty" was not a treaty but an agreement. Congress never ratified any treaty negotiated in the Utah territory before or after Utah became a state. The question is, where is this treaty? Where can a copy of the original be found?

The truth is that several towns along Highway 89 have monuments claiming a treaty was signed that ended the war. There were no treaties, just peace agreements! None were ever ratified by Congress, not even the Spanish Fork Treaty of 1865. Congress refused to ratify the Spanish Fork Treaty, saying, "We would rather the Indians have the land than the Mormons."

Chief Black Hawk continued to campaign for peace until he died in 1870. Peter Gottfredson refers to Black Hawk's "mission of peace" in his book Indian Depredations in Utah. I wrote a companion book to Peter's book about his peace mission titled "My Journey to Understand Black Hawk's Mission of Peace."