“Like Fire in the Dry Grass”


This article originally appeared in Vol.66, No.1 (2019) of Pioneer Magazine.


While Elder Marlin K. Jensen was serving as Church Historian and Recorder, he learned that Gary Hipwell, husband of a high school classmate, was the owner of a twenty-two-foot-long painted scroll signed on the back by Danish artist C, C, A. Christensen.2 Ownership of this scroll had passed through Hipwell’s family from his ancestor, George Washington Hill, a missionary to the Shoshone and Bannock nations. It had been commissioned by Dimick Baker Huntington, another early missionary, who spoke the Shoshone language and was seeking a way to more effectively teach the restored gospel of Jesus Christ to Native Americans in the Intermountain West and beyond.

For more than a century Latter-day Saints generally considered the native peoples of the Americas to be descendants of Book of Mormon Lamanites—and thus fellow Israelites. This understanding likely helped motivate Huntington’s missionary endeavors, and it may have influenced Christensen’s painted scriptural scenes as well. The impressive scroll proved to be an effective teaching tool and attracted great interest from the Shoshone, Bannock, and other native peoples.3

Survival of the Shoshone in the Balance

For several years after Latter-day Saints began settling in the Rocky Mountains, the Shoshone retained frill access to Cache Valley, the epicenter of their world as hunter-gatherers. Initially, the valley was considered too cold for permanent white settlement. That changed in September 1856 when, under the direction of Brigham Young, Elder E. T. Benson instructed the members of the failed Tooele County settlement of E. T. City4 to colonize what soon became known as Wollsville.

Within a short time, Latter-day Saint colonization of Cache Valley began to negatively impact resident Shoshones. Native grasses were grazed down before they could produce seeds, an important Shoshone food source. Game was overhunted and streams were fished-out. Although Latter-day Saint leaders and members tried to follow President Young’s policy of feeding the Indians rather than fighting them,5 tensions between the settlers and the native people remained high. After white provocations in 1859, Shoshone men launched a campaign against Cache Valley communities, including theft of horses and cattle and direct confrontations with whites.6

After several years of raids and escalating conflict. Colonel Patrick E. Connor decided to eliminate the “Indian problem” On January 29,1863, he led federal troops in a surprise attack on the sleeping Shoshone village at Beaver Creek near its confluence with the Bear River, north of present-day Preston, Idaho. A lopsided battle soon became a wholesale massacre as the Shoshone men tried to mount a defense without adequate weaponry or protection. About four hundred Shoshone men, women, and children were murdered; some Shoshone women were raped as they lay dying from their wounds. Latter-day Saint settlers in Franklin cared for the wounded and frostbitten soldiers and for several wounded Shoshone women and children.7

Chief Sagwitch, who had long been on friendly terms with the Church and its members, was injured in the attack but survived. For a few months he approved raids on Latter-day Saint cattle herds as retaliation for the involvement of frontiersman Orrin Porter Rockwell as Connor’s guide to the Shoshone camp and for the aid local Latter-day Saints gave federal troops after the massacre. Sagwitch then resumed a pattern of negotiating peaceful coexistence. He also supported the signing of the Treaty of Box Elder on July 30,1863, which required the Shoshone to adopt a policy of peaceful coexistence in return for land retention and $5,000 of federal assistance each year.

With this treaty in place, the Shoshone resumed hunting and gathering activities to the degree still possible with so many prime areas now claimed and fenced by white settlers. By 1871 several Shoshone bands had been relocated to Fort Hall, the Wind River Reservation, or other locations.8

It was increasingly difficult by the early 1870s for non-reservation Shoshone bands to maintain access to traditional natural resources as federal policies and colonizing white Saints increasingly displaced them. Affiliating with the Church of Jesus Christ as a strategy made sense for many including the various northern Shoshone bands living in northern Utah and southeastern Idaho, since conversion gave them social standing and hope for a better future. Many members of the Northwestern Shoshone bands led by Sagwitch and Sanpitch experienced a conversion process that led not only to baptism but to subsequent devotion to the Church.

Creation of the Panorama

It was likely in October 1871 that Carl Christian Anton Christensen completed his scroll of eleven carefully painted scenes portraying biblical and Book of Mormon stories.9 Christensen was a Danish immigrant who had been studying at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts when he joined the Church of Jesus Christ in September 1850.10 While serving as a missionary in Norway, he met and taught Dan Weggeland, with whom he later collaborated on several artistic projects in Utah Territory.

As with other Christensen projects, Weggeland may have assisted with the Book of Mormon scroll, which rolled vertically to display its paintings while the missionaries taught their Indian investigators one scene at a time.

So why did Dimick Huntington11 commission this painted panoramic scroll to teach Native American peoples? Panoramas were a fairly common form of educational entertainment and religious instruction by the mid-1850s. Philo Dibble had traveled throughout Utah Territory showing scenes of the Restoration, scenes that Christensen then imitated and improved upon when he created his own multi-scene scroll of Church history. It made perfect sense to Huntington to use the panoramic format to more effectively teach and bring to life the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.12

“Mysterious Movement” among Native Tribes

In 1872 the Reverend George W. Dodge reported a “mysterious movement” that started when a Nevada Pai- ute (likely Wodziwob),13 declared that he was appointed by the Great Spirit to teach the “origin and destiny” of “all the Indians in America” and how to reclaim the good life they had lost. His statements prompted Indians from various tribes to flock to settlements that had been established under direction of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and to seek affiliation with the Church.14 In addition to experiencing very real spiritual yearnings, many tribespeople saw strategic reasons to align with their colonizers.

In early spring 1873, Sagwitch was told by fellow Shoshone chief Ech-up-wy that three men had appeared to him in a vision and said that he “must go to the ‘Mormons’ and they would tell him what to do, and that he must do it; that he must be baptized, with all his Indians; that the time was at hand for the Indians to gather, and stop their Indian life, and learn to cultivate the earth and build houses, and live in them.”15 Sag witch gathered his sub-chiefs and traveled to Ogden to meet with George Washington Hill, a man known to them as Ankapompy (“Red Hair”).

Hill was a sympathetic friend to and advocate of the Shoshone. Since his missionary days at Fort Lemhi in the Salmon River Mission two decades earlier, he had traded with the Shoshone and had often served as an interpreter.16 Chief Sagwitch informed Hill that “the Great Spirit had sent his people dreams and other manifestations, telling them that the Mormon people had the true Church.” He added, “We want you to come to our camp and preach to us and baptize us.”17 Hill was pleased, but he declined, explaining that he was not currently serving as a missionary and that there was order in the Lord’s kingdom. Sagwitch and the other Shoshone leaders went home, then returned in a few days. Hill declined again. Days later, a letter from Brigham Young called Hill to Salt Lake City, where he was appointed a missionary to gather the Indians to “a central gathering place where they can be taught the art of civilization, where they can be taught to cultivate the soil and become self-supporting.”18

“Like Fire in the Dry Grass”

Sagwitch and other chiefs again approached Hill on May 1. Four days later, Hill took the train to the town of Corrine, then walked twelve miles to the Shoshone camp on the Bear River. The Shoshone were expecting him, and he taught, baptized, and confirmed 102 Shoshone that first day, reporting in a letter to Brigham Young,

“[I] never felt better in my life nor never spent a happier day!19 In a letter to Huntington, a fellow missionary and interpreter, Hill wrote, “To-day I am called on to baptize another band of about twenty and still they come, and the work is extending like fire in the dry grass.”10

Feeling overwhelmed, Hill asked Huntington for counsel from Brigham Young. The next day, Sagwitch and colleagues Warrah, Shonop, and Ejah, along with several others, arrived in Salt Lake City and were greeted by Huntington, who had been set apart a day earlier as “patriarch to the Lamanites.”11 Huntington conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood and ordained Sag witch and his companions elders.

In March 1874, to help the Shoshone develop an agrarian lifestyle, Hill looked for available farmland near their ancestral campground, Mosotakani, just outside Franklin, Idaho. He worked with local bishop Lorenzo H. Hatch and the county assessor to lay legal claim to land near Cub Creek and south of Little Mountain. There, Shoshone men helped dig a canal to bring water to the land.22 In a powwow with the colonizers, Chief Sagwitch expressed goodwill toward them and asked to be left alone to manage their own affairs. Sag witch’s band were among the core developers of this farm, and they planted wheat, corn, potatoes, peas, melons, beans, squash, and other vegetables.23

“Quite a Stir among the Lamanites”

Church leaders felt that the Shoshone were now prepared for more of the gospel message. On February 22,1875, Wilford Woodruff endowed and sealed two Shoshone couples in the Endowment House, including Sagwitch and his wife (listed as Mogogah but probably Beawoachee).24 Efforts were ongoing to teach and baptize Native Americans, and records show that both Huntington and Hill used the Christensen panorama in various locations to teach individuals and groups.

Salt Lake City bishop Frederick Kesler recorded in his diary on March 15,1875, that he went “to D. B. Huntingtons to select a place for the Baptising of the Lamanites which he wants near his Dwelling. There seems to be quite a stir amongst the Lamanites.” Three days later, Kesler met at his ward’s schoolhouse with the First Presidency—Brigham Young, Daniel H. Wells, and George Q. Cannon—and a sizeable body of Native Americans. Kesler wrote,

“D. B. Huntington was interpreter. The indians manifest a desire to go farming & of living more as we do.” The meetings continued on March 19: “Prst Young & his Councilers met in council with the Lamanites in our ward School House; 50 or 60 indians ware presant [and] a few of our Breathern ware present. A Small panarama got up by D. B. Huntington was exhibited commencing with adam & eve in the garden of Eaden with several interesting circumstances or insidences which transpired from then until the time that the angle moroni delivered the plates unto Joseph Smith. Each picture was Explained unto them, they ware verry timely & good Council.”25

During the April 1875 General Conference of the Church, President Young called several new missionaries to teach the gospel—and farming techniques—to the Indians. That year Chief Pocatello and other Shoshone traveled to Salt Lake City and requested baptism. In a June 1875 response to a query from Elder Joseph F. Smith about the total number of Indian baptisms to that point, Huntington wrote, “There have been 2,000 baptisms already,” then adding, “They are coming in by hundreds to investigate, are satisfied and are baptized.”26 The July 22 Deseret Evening News mentions that Hill was then working with a Shoshone settlement in the Malad Valley and that the men had begun digging a canal to irrigate their crops. Hill reported that the Indians wanted to build homes and farms and “lead industrious and respectable lives, at peace with all their fellow creatures, refraining from stealing and all manner of bad practices, and abide by the conditions of their baptism.”27

In an August 25 letter to President Young, Hill reported;

“I find by looking over my work that I have baptized this season if I have not a miss count eight hundred and eight whitch [sic] with 102 that I baptized two years ago and sixteen I baptized last summer and fifteen baptized by James H. Hill makes a total of nine hundred and thirty nine that belong to this mission.”28

Unfortunately, non-Latter- day-Saint citizens of nearby Corrine circulated rumors that the Shoshone were using the farm as a ruse—and that they were well-armed and preparing for an uprising against them.29 The district attorney fueled such rumors by emphasizing that the Indians were “Mormons”—and that, like their white counterparts then preparing for the Utah War, were plotting against the US Government. When angry Corinne residents demanded that the Shoshone be forcibly returned to Fort Hall, the Fort Hall agent correctly noted that this Shoshone body had never resided at Fort Hall but had always made the Bear River area their home.30 Nevertheless, Chief Sagwitch believed it wise to yield, and, in 1876, he and his band left the farm at Bear River, relocating to undeveloped land near present-day Tremonton. It was Hill who named their new settlement “Lemuel’s Garden.”31

Continued Use of the Scroll

After the death of Huntington on February 1, 1879, Hill continued to use the scroll. His daughter- in-law reported; “It was a big scroll, about [18 inches tall], and he used to have that when he talked to the Indians, and turned to different characters and told them about their forefathers. I do not know what became of that scroll, but I know grandpa had it It had nice large pictures of the different Nephites and different leaders.”32

In 1880 Church leaders purchased a 1,700-acre farm near Portage, Utah, along with the unfinished Samaria Canal. The canal was to supply irrigation water from Samaria Lake because the Malad River was too alkaline for watering crops. Many Shoshone moved to this new location, which they named Washakie after the great Shoshone leader who yet lived at Wind River, Wyoming.

Later that year, Amos Wright was called on a mission to the Wind River Reservation where he spent many hours conversing with his friend. Chief Washakie. Early on, Washakie told Wright that “Mormonism” was an invented story, but that the Saints had always been his friends. In broken Shoshone, Wright described the contents of the Book of Mormon and their relationship to American Indians. He emphasized the promises that God made to the descendants of Lehi. It isn’t known whether he used the Christensen scroll, but eighty-seven people requested baptism, including Chief Washakie himself, together with seventeen members of his family. During a four-week period, Wright baptized 422 Shoshone living on or near the reservation.33

The Shoshone community of Washakie, Utah, also thrived over the years. Its citizens donated many hours of labor to the construction of the Logan Temple.34 Chief Sagwitch, his descendants, and many members of his tribe are buried in the Washakie Cemetery.

Longtime missionary George Washington Hill died on February 24,1891, and the panoramic scroll passed to his descendants, where its presence remained generally unknown until its rediscovery in 2007. It was acquired by the Church History Museum in 2017.

Conclusion: A Rich Heritage of Service

Today, descendants of early Shoshone converts continue a rich heritage of service to their tribe and to the Church. For example, Sag witch’s son, Frank W. Warner (born Pisappih “Red Oquirrh” Timbimboo)—who was largely raised by the Amos Warner family after his mother was killed during the Bear River Massacre—became one of the first Native Americans to serve as a full-time missionary for the Church. Sagwitch’s grandson Moroni Timbimboo was the first Native American to serve as a bishop in the Church. Great- grandson Darren Parry, coauthor of this article, serves as the chair of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation and has been instrumental in purchasing Bear River Massacre land and planning for construction of the Boa Ogoi Cultural and Interpretive Center that will help preserve his people’s heritage.

Darren added, “One day I read a quote attributed to Winston Churchill, and he said, ‘History is always written by the victors.’ That explains perfectly why my people’s perspectives were never written.”35

This small article and the future interpretive center are part of a sacred history that must not be forgotten.

  1. Ovan Jensen Is the executive editor at the Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University. Scott R. Christensen is a hlstorlan/anchlvlst at the LDS Church History Department In Salt Lake City. Darren Parry Is the chair of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone nation and Is a great-grandson of Chief Sagwitch.
  2. The Church History Museum acquired the scroll In 2017, where It awaits display. Steven L. Olsen, senior historic sites curator In the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, brought the panorama scroll to our attention and encouraged this paper.
  3. Instead of terms llke native peoples’ or “Native Americans’ most nineteenth- century Latter-day Saints used the term ‘Lamanite’’ In reference to native peoples of the Americas. For com plexitles attending the usage of this term, see John- Charles Duffy,’The Use of ‘Lamanlte’ In Official LDS Discourse,’’Journal of Mormon History 34 (Winter 2008): 118-67.
  4. E.T. aty, north of the present-day city of Tooele, was named for early settler E.T. Benson.The location Is new known as Lake Point.
  5. Scott R. Christensen, Sagwitch: Shoshone Chieftain, Mormon Elder, 1882-1887 (1999), 26. For more about late nineteenth-century Shoshone culture, see Leonard J. Arrington, History of Idaho (1994), 1:45-9.
  6. Christensen 30.
  7. Christensen 57- Arrington 1268 Beaver Creek was soon renamed Battle Creek (Franklin County, Idaho), and the event was labeled the Battle of Bear River.
  8. George W. Dodge to C. Delano, Secretary of the Interior, 10 Oct 1871,”Letters, Utah,’ Roll 903, as cited In Christensen 221, n107; Christensen 77-81.
  9. The date on the back appears to be 10- 1871, though It Is difficult to read, wen with multispectral Imaging.
  10. Richard L Jensen and Richard G. Oman, C. C. A Christensen, 1831-1912: Mormon Immigrant Artist (1984), 17.
  11. In Utah Territory, Huntington Joined Parley P. Pratt’s company to explore southern Utah in 1849 and became the first Latter-day Salnt-lndlan Interpreter. Latter-day Saints established Fort Supply In Shoshone country In 1853. During the ensuing winter, many Shoshone sought refuge with the Latter-day Saint settlers. Looking on this as an opportunity to make proselytizing Inroads, the Latter-day Saints tried to learn as much as they could from the Shoshone regarding their marriage customs, burial rites, and the tribal roles of the medicine men.They also studied the Shoshone language, and that year Huntington published his Few Words in the Shoshone or Snak Dialect. Huntington helped negotiate peace treaties at Battle Creek In Utah County (today’s Pleasant Grove) and In Fillmore around 1855—and following the Black Hawk War In 1868. See’Dimick Baker Huntington, Mormon Missionaries, online.
  12. R. Devan Jensen,”Philo Dibble’s Dream of’ a Gallery In Zton” Journal of Mormon History AAA (Oct2018): 19-39.
  13. Wodziwob (‘Gray Hair’) was a Northern Palute who claimed to have traveled In a trance to another world, where he learned that Indians could revitalize their culture through a series of rituals, and Ghost Dance teachings and Latter-day Saint millennial doctrines mingled to a degree. Gregory Smoak, Ghost Dances and Identity: Prophetic Refigion and American Indian Ethnogenesis in the Nineteenth Century (2006), 131; see also’Ghost Dance,’ United States History, online. The Reverend George W. Dodge was appointed special agent to the Western, Northwestern, and Goslute tribes of Utah and Nevada In October 1871 and, In that role, met frequently with representatives of the various Northwestern bands.
  14. George W. Dodge to CIA, 24 Jul 1872, Interior,”Letters, Utah,’ Roll 903, as cited In Christensen 222, n 17.
  15. George Washington Hill,”An Indian Vision,’ Juvenile Instructor, Jan 1877,11. Born March 5,1822, in Athens, Ohio, Hill was baptized a Latter-day Saint in June 1847. In 1849 he was tasked with helping Church emigration at the Missouri River, returning to Utah Territory in 1850 at the end of his emigration mission. See “George Washington Hill “Early Mormon Missionaries, online.
  16. During the April 1855 General Conference of the Church, Brigham Young called 160 missionaries to preach to the Indians. He had appointed 27 of those men to proselytize among the buffalo-hunting Indians of the Bannock, Shoshone, and Flathead nations, whose territories lay north of Utah Territory. Among them was George W. Hill.The men departed from Ogden for that missionary service on May 18,1855. The missionary party traveled to the banks of the Salmon River at a site where the Bannock, Shoshone, Nez Perce, and Flathead met each summer to gamble and trade horses (“Salmon River Mission Journal,” Church History Library; also online). Bannock Chief Shou-woo-koo, also known as Le Grand Coquin, greeted the Latter-day Saints warmly and said they could settle in the area. Latter-day Saint settlers worked very hard to catch salmon, plant crops, and build a fort that they called Fort Limhi (after the Nephite Limhi, who lived among the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon).The Latter-day Saints began holding classes to learn the Shoshone language, and Hill began teaching tribal members the restored gospel in early May.The first Bannock converts received baptism on May 29. Eventually fifty-five Indians joined the Church (“Salmon River Mission Journal,”29 May 1855; David L. Bigler, Fort Limhi: The Mormon Adventure in Oregon Territory, 1855-1858 [2003], 47-9,74,102^-).
  17. Chief Sagwitch, as cited in George Richard Hill,”Events in the Lives of George Washington and Cynthia Stewart Hill, Utah Pioneers of 1847, As Recorded by Their Son George Richard Hill,”54, Joel Edward Ricks Collection, Special Collections and University Archives, Merrill- Cazier Library, Utah State University.
  18. Brigham Young to George Washington Hill, as cited in Ralph O. Brown,’The Life and Missionary Labors of George Washington Hill”(MAthesis, Brigham Young University, 1956), 59.
  19. George Washington Hill to Brigham Young, 6 May 1873, Young, “Genera I Correspondence, Incoming, 1840-1877,” “General Letters, 1840-1877,”Church History Library.
  20. George Washington Hill to Dimick Huntington, 7 May 1873, Young, “General Correspondence, Incoming, 1840-1877,” “General Letters, 1840-1877,”Church History Library.
  21. Scott G. Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, vo 1.7,1 January 1871-31 December 1880 (1985), 135, entry for 7 May 1873.
  22. Christensen 96-7.
  23. Christensen 105. Some Shoshone families remained in Franklin, while others returned to the Bear River area midway between present-day Plymouth andTremonton (see Christensen 98-9).
  24. Christensen 104.
  25. Diary of Frederick Kesler, 1874-1877, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah; also online. Jonathan A Stapley kindly provided this reference.
  26. Dimick B. Huntington to Joseph F. Smith, 6 Jun 1875, in Millennial Star, 6 Jul 1875,426.
  27. “Civilization Among the Indians,” Deseret Evening News, 22 Jul 1875.
  28. George Washington Hill to Brigham Young, 25 Aug 1875, Young, “General Correspondence, Incoming, 1840-1877,” “General Letters, 1840-1877,”Church History Library.
  29. “Do the Mormons Mean War?,”Omaha Daily Bee, 16 Jul 1874; “Apprehension ofTrouble with the Mormon Indians,” Arizona Sentinel 14 Aug 1875; see also Brigham D. Madsen, Corinne: The Gentile Capital of Utah (1980), 272-89.
  30. Madsen 285-7.
  31. Christensen 140-50.
  32. Charles E. Dibble,The Mormon Mission to the Shoshone Indians, Part Three,” Utah Humanities Review 1 (Jul 1947): 284.
  33. Ojibwa,”19th Century Mormon Missionaries &the Shoshone,”online.
  34. Christensen 174-7.
  35. Darren B. Parry, remarks at San Juan Freedom Fest, Blanding, Utah, 9 Sep 2017.

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