Early Indian Encounters

from Utah As It Is

by S.A. Kenner, published in 1904

Editors Note: This article contains a perspective that we believe is accurate for the period. We recognize that the language used in this article might be uncomfortable and not be considered appropriate today. Nevertheless, we believe there is much to be learned by acknowledging the reality of our history, and as such, this article appears as originally written.

For a long time, the were peaceable, even friendly, and it may be readily comprehended that this state of things was encouraged to the utmost. Undoubtedly the knowledge on the part of the savages that the invaders had improved firearms which they knew how to use and always kept their powder dry had its effect, but it was not altogether owing to this by any means. 

President Young’s policy and that of nearly all the Pioneers from the start was to be prepared always for any possible outbreak, but never to be the aggressors, never to deceive or defraud the Indians, and always to treat them with as much kindness and liberality as circumstances would permit. What the red men lack in the matter of scholastic attainments they make up for in native instinct, this in some cases amounting to discernment and comprehension of things which are actually wonderful; so they were not long in discovering that all white people were not alike, that their new neighbors did not come among them to kill, or harass, or steal, or introduce bad habits, and above all that the strangers did not rely exclusively upon their firearms nor superior death-dealing capacity for protection.

No, the Pioneers only wanted as much of the possessors’ estate as could be used properly and profitably, and as the latter had no earthly use for – it—it being destitute of the better kinds of game and altogether unproductive without labor—there was for a time, not even a remonstrance against the new situation. Thus things went along for some time.

While emigrant trains other than those of the Mormons were compelled to run the gauntlet almost every mile after leaving the Missouri River, while they were watched continually, whether aware of it or not, their stock stolen at every opportunity, and one or more and some times all of a company murdered and mutilated, the Mormons almost invariably got through without serious trouble of any kind, losing but little property and no lives at all from the cause named for a long time.

While it is true that the Indians were and have ever remained on terms of amity with the Mormons as a rule, there have been some exceptions, but not many; when the indiscriminate barbarity of the savages, as shown in the massacre in 1854:  The Gunnison party—who had uniformly treated them kindly—is considered, this condition of things becomes little less than wonderful.

It is also true that the Indians fought each other—the different tribes, of course—with continuity and zest worthy a better cause. The placid demeanor which the white people maintained when listening to a recital of a battle between the hostiles, in which several had fallen to rise no more, is suggestive of an incident that occurred many years later when the Union Pacific Railway was in process of construction. At Green River one of the working parties precipitated a riot which became general; firearms were used, some few were killed and many were injured more or less severely.

In a terror-stricken condition the telegraph operator—who seems to have been about the only non-combatant on the ground—rushed to his key and sent a message to the superintendent of construction at Omaha, saying: “A riot going on here. The road workmen are shooting and killing each other. What shall I do?”

In a few minutes, this answer and no other was returned: “Encourage the killing all you can.”

During the cricket plague previously spoken of, the pests were gathered by the bagful, dried, and ground into meal by the Indians, out of which a bread (said to be) quite nutritious and palatable was made. Anyway, the red brethren enjoyed it, and if they didn’t get fat on it, it was doubtless for the reason that it is a difficult matter to fatten an Indian.

In company with his fellow vandal the grasshopper, the cricket still plies his unholy vocation, but not on as grand a scale as formerly. There is no immediate prospect of their extinction, either; for, since the Indians have found out that white peoples’ bread is preferable and can be had as a general thing with no greater exertion than asking for it (which none of them has the slightest hesitancy regarding), they have almost entirely abandoned cricket cakes and grasshopper stews, and as a natural result about the only diminution that befalls the destroyers is such as is wrought by those who raise the other kind of breadstuffs.

The first recorded troubles with the natives occurred during the fall of 1849. Provo had but recently been established, the ground and stream on which it was situated being claimed as the property of a tribe or band known as the Timpanogas, and these as a body had never consented to the occupation. Their chiefs (Sowiette and Walker), however, had not only tolerated the proceeding but extended an invitation to the whites to come.

It is easy to understand how such a situation created friction and this increased from time to time. Walker’s enmity and treachery were constantly in evidence, and he had now an aider and abettor in the person of a chief called Elk. The Indians stole whatever they could get hold of, becoming bolder as time advanced, and not infrequently firing upon those who were at times compelled to be in exposed places.

At last, an engagement took place at a point just east of where the town of Pleasant Grove now is, the stream on which it occurred acquiring the name of Battle Creek, which was straining the proprieties a little, as the encounter was hardly a “battle;” it was, however, considerable of a fight, especially for those days, and resulted in the defeat and rout of the natives, who were commanded—rather indifferently, one would think—by Chief Roman Nose. (This name was of necessity a gift of the white interloper, as the red men knew of none of our distinctions regarding the nasal organ and had of course never heard of Rome, Romans, or Roman characteristics in all their lives.) Five of his men were slain and several wounded; the whites, under Colonel John Scott, suffered no injuries whatever.

In accordance with the confessional of some of the Christian sects, the Indians have done many things they should not have done and left undone some things they should have done, and the white transgressor is not responsible for all of it. For example, the untutored savage can give the white despoiler cards, spades, and an ace or two and then beat him at lying anywhere and stealing when on or near his own heather. He has a natural appetite for liquor which he assuages whenever the opportunity is presented, whereby both the Government and the State have found it necessary to enact stringent measures involving severe penalties against letting Indians have intoxicants of any kind; and he smoked before he ever beheld a white transgressor. He is also no slouch at card gambling where experience has been had, but his perennial impecuniosity—except where kept in surveillance and at work, as on Government reservations or in little communities adjacent to and overseen by the whites—has more than anything else perhaps been the means of cutting him out of a record in that always flourishing industry.

The Indian is cunning and his proneness to deception helps him in this respect, but when candid he is apt to be brutally so, as witness:

A romantic young woman who might have been brought up within the precincts of classic Boston and whose conception of the noble red man had been obtained from Fennimore Cooper’s works, Longfellow’s “Hiawatha” and similar publications met her first Indian face to face while visiting friends in the far and (to her) uncivilized West. The specimen was a healthy-looking, good-sized buck, well-appearing as Indians go and not so dirty as most of them, and on his face there appeared from the midst of the paint and clay an expression of care and pain.

The maiden turned loose on him in this gushing style—“Alas, noble scion of the forest, have you wandered from your home to visit again the haunts once all your own but now usurped by the ruthless vandals who have despoiled you? Does it not afford you gloomy satisfaction to once more look upon the landscape now defiled and breathe anew the air now made noisome by the oppressors of your race? Is that why you look so soulfully sad?”

The “noble scion” seemed to understand that she was asking after his health but had not correctly diagnosed the case, so with a grunt he replied in all his native dignity:

“Ugh, ugh! Too much drink whisky, too much eat sour beans. Heap dam sick!”

I never learned what became of the girl, but hopefully, nothing serious befell her.

Shortly after the people had become domiciled here, a begging squaw, wandered to the doorway of Bishop Edward Hunter, a portly Pioneer and one of the best men that ever wore clothes. Having nothing else handy he gave her a small piece of bacon, no doubt the first she had ever had. The next morning his front yard was filled with female Indians of all ages, sizes and, I was going to say, conditions in life, but will not; the natives who have not yet been contaminated by the invaders and brought into some degree of usefulness have but one condition—that of unceasing want.

The cry from the assembled host at once went up—“Bishop, gimme little piece bacon!” Seeing what a big job he was up against, the Bishop waved his hand deprecatingly and called out with all the voice he could muster—“Go ’way, squaw, go ’way!” which the squaws “to a man” refused to do until a compromise was effected, this being on bread and flour. The practice holds to this day, the few prowlers that are left expecting rations at whatever domicile they happen to honor with a call and seldom being disappointed, which is all right, too.

Some thirty-five years ago the Navajoes occupying the southern borders of Utah, concluding no doubt that the weak and piping times of peace had been in vogue so long that they were getting enervated, concluded to take the war-path, which they inaugurated in a time-honored way by stealing all the white people’s stock they could find on the ranges.

Some resistance was made in places and the whites got the worst of it. In one of the raids, Dr. Whittemore of St. George was killed and his body left where it fell upon the snow. Other snowfalls completely concealed it and it was found only after a wearisome search by a posse which went out for the purpose.

The men succeeded in regathering some of the stock and with it a couple of young braves in charge. These were separated for cross-examination. Getting an account of the doctor’s body from one, the rescuers then paid their respects to the other.

They began by saying—“This other Indian has told us all about this matter; now if you don’t tell us the same thing he did we will hang both of you.”

With the utmost complacency, the savage replied—“All right, what did he say?”

Notwithstanding the seriousness of the situation, all hands had to laugh. The body was recovered and a good deal of stock recaptured, but there was “heaps of fighting” before it was all over, in which James Andrus, now Bishop of St. George, showed himself to be one of the most intrepid and sagacious Indian fighters in the business.

There were others; in fact, nearly all the colonizers of that country showed that they could as readily employ means to crush as to conciliate when the latter failed, as it often did because of the natives construing it as a sign of weakness or timidity. They learned better in time in the costly school of experience.

Of course, they learned slowly and not so well that no watchfulness and care have not since been needed. Before subsiding, however, a gang of them wantonly slew Franklin B. Woolley, at a point near the Utah line and the Colorado River, in Arizona; he was returning from Southern California with a load of goods and was a prominent, respected citizen. The tragedy occurred in 1869.

Others took place about the same time, before and after, among them the more than savage slaughter in Sanpete of J. W. Vance and Heber Houtz; O. P. Miles and Nathan Tanner, Jr., who was attacked at the same time, escaped. To enumerate all such cases would be quite impossible.

For many years before the railroad reached Sanpete an enterprising cattle thief and cut-throat named Black Hawk, at the head of a band of native Boxers who differed from him in rascality only in degree, made life for the whites a period of unceasing watchfulness and anxiety, especially to travelers. The people came nearer reproducing the practices of the Plymouth Rock forefathers by taking muskets to church with them than has been the case, perhaps, with any other part of the West.

When the dusky scoundrel previously spoken of took a notion for a fresh supply of beef, mutton or whatnot, if he could find enough outside the towns to satisfy him and could add to his trophies a light-haired scalp or so, well and good; otherwise he showed no false delicacy or overstrained breeding in the matter, but just simply entered the nearest town and levied tribute for what was required. It was generally forthcoming.

The depredations of this prime agent of old Satan and his band, if enumerated and detailed, would fill a volume as large as this; and the suppression of the gang was only effected after the peace policy had been abandoned and fighting men were put upon his trial, which soon brought him to terms, a suitor for peace.

His greatness then became a story of former days, but he made things lively, or deadly, rather, for the people while it lasted. He numbered his scalps by the hundred and his stolen cattle by the thousand. The command which did so much toward extinguishing his career still maintains an organized existence as the Black Hawk Veterans, although this was not their only service and a right splendid body of men they are. Uncle Sam owes them and others, along with the commonwealth, over a million dollars on account of services rendered and damages through the depredations of his wards. He receives the bill every now and then with his blandest smile and shows on each occasion that he is entirely willing to—keep on owing it.

The Indians are known to Mormon history as Lamanites, but even in his primeval estate (as set forth by the Book of Mormon) he was blood-thirsty, cruel, crafty, and, on the whole, a thoroughly bad citizen. And yet he is to become “white and delightsome,” as we learn from authority not to be disputed. It will be observed, however, that the word “white” occurs before the other, and is beyond doubt a condition precedent thereto. In the language of the song, “It ain’t going to happen this year.”

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