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 Black Hawk Declares War

April 9th 1865


Peter Gottfredson

Indian Depredations in Utah



War Is Declared!

"During the winter of 1864-65, a small band of Indians were camped near Gunnison, Sanpete County (Utah). It is said that they contracted small-pox, and that many died. The Indians seemed to think that the white people were to blame in some way for this and were threatening to kill the whites and steal their horses and cattle. Arrangements were consequently made for a meeting between the Indians and the whites at Manti on the 9th of April, 1865, to talk over matters.

 On that date a number of prominent Utes came to Manti. They met at Jerome Kempton's place, and it appeared that an understanding would be arrived at, but a young Chief (Yene-wood) also known as Jake Black Hawk War Indian Depredations in UtahArropeen (Wakara's brother) could not be pacified. "John Lowry, believed drunk at the time, told the Chief to keep quiet, when someone yelled, "look out he's getting his arrows!" Lowry jerked the Chief (by his hair) off of his horse, and was about to abuse him, when some men stepped in and broke them up."-Indian Depredations in Utah - Peter Gottfredson

Chief Yene-wood being dishonored before his people saw it as the final blow of a long endurance of insults and depredations over nearly 30 years that rallied the Utes under the leadership of Chief Black Hawk to declare war against the Mormons. This marked the beginning of what the whites later dubbed "The Black Hawk War."

 1865- Brigham Young at the point of heightened frustration told his followers; "Seek out the murdering Indians and slay them;" but in light of the political situation he commanded them "to keep quiet about it. Do your duty and say nothing to any man," he ordered, "and call upon nobody to help you for you are able to help yourselves." Utah's Black Hawk War by John Alton Peterson.

1847 is the year the first Mormon pioneers arrived, and it was not until 1865 when the besieged Chief Black Hawk, declared war. The white population had dramatically increased to about 50,000. At the same time the Ute population is estimated to have been 15 to 20 thousand. Measles, smallpox and tuberculosis was spreading epidemically among the Indians. The environment was drastically altered the Utes only source of food, hundreds starved to death.

The Black Hawk War in itself was not a single incident. Over 150 deadly confrontations took place over a seven year period throughout Utah territory and spilled over into Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming as tens of thousands of Mormon Pioneers poured in at the rate of 3000 a month.



JANUARY 25th 1894

On January the 25th the Black Hawk War Veterans held their first re-union, at the Reynolds Hall at Springville. There John Lowry gave his personal account of the cause of the Black Hawk War.

"The occasion of the present re-union being opportune, in order to correct any erroneous impression that has become wide-spread as to what precipitated the Black Hawk War. I take this opportunity or means of placing the facts before the world.

But first let me state that I came here as a pioneer, and took part in the first battle fought with the Indians under the command of Col. John Scott. And I have in one way or another been associated with almost every Indian trouble in the early history of this region. I served as Indian interpreter for years in Manti and have passed through many close places in dealing with the red man. At times having been surrounded by them I knew that one word, look, or action would have cost me my life in the event I showed fear. A man who betrayed cowardice might be killed without any consideration, but a brave man was always approached with consideration. Among then were some strange traditions and peculiar notions in relation to their spiritual life, they served Satan, not God, the idea being to placate the power bent on doing injury. The elder brother (God) was good, and never harmed anyone, but Satan was served through fear. For instance, should a white man write the name of an Indian on a slip of paper and give it out that it would be sent to Satan, the Indian would sacrifice his life if necessary to get possession of it. In 1864 a small band of Indians were wintering at Gunnison, and many of them died, and they found reason for their trouble in conclusion that the Mormons had written their names and sent them to Satan. And he had caused death to come upon them.  So in their councils they were directed by their Chief to stop the sickness among them by killing (Mormons) in retaliation. In February Black Hawk informed me what the Indians were going when the snow went off. They would kill the Mormons and eat Mormon beef. I immediately went to my Bishop with the information. He thought, as did many others, that it was just Indian talk and amounted to nothing; but the Indians told me several times what they intended to do and so I went the second time to the Bishop. My story was received by his saying "There are not enough of them." I then told him it did not matter how few the number as long as they entertained the idea that it was the wish of Satan, they would accomplish their purpose regardless of results to them. Shortly after I learned they were killing cattle. I had some cattle on this range myself, and in my search for them I found the skull of an ox which I owned. I operated a grist mill at the time, and the Indians would come there for grinding, and I remember it was about the sixth of March that I informed them that I had found the skull of my ox and asked them why they had killed it, as I had always been a friend to them, as had the Mormon people, generally. I talked to them in such a way that they agreed to pay me for the animal which had been killed by fetching me a horse, and they did so the next day. I agreed to meet with them at Manti about the eighth of April and talk the matter over of their killing our cattle. Accordingly the council took place. It appeared the difficulty would be settled amicably, but a certain young Indian present who's father had died during the winter continued to halloo and make demonstrations, saying that he would eat Mormon beef and kill "Mormons" when the snow went off. I told him a time or two to stop and to permit me to finish my talk. Just then someone called out "lookout, he is getting his his arrows!" I rode up to him and turned him off his horse, and pulled him to the ground. The bystanders interfered and we separated. I had fully exposed what they intended to do. The next day as our people were out hunting cattle a man named Peter Lugvigsen was killed. I have always taken the position that that talk with the Indians "showed their hand." I believe they started hostilities sooner than they would have done had not the incident above mentioned occurred. But the trouble would have come just the same. I am confident that many lives were saved, because it put the people on their guard. The Chief, Black Hawk told Charles Whitlock of Ephriam, the same thing as had been told me concerning the intention of the Indians. These are the facts as to the starting of the Black Hawk Indian depredations. In those early days it was at times imperative that harsh measures should be used. Hamilton killed an Indian dog, and whipped some Indians too, but that didn't start a war; I threw an Indian out of my house and kicked him off the place, and no war came of it. 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. 

I have patiently born the stigma placed upon me, for I knew the facts, and those who still persist at looking upon me as guilty of precipitating the Black Hawk War I will say this, that I appeal from their decision to a higher court---Our Creator, who will ultimately judge all men.

Signed John Lowry.

Stamped with--- Commissioners of Indian War Records Seal.




Events at Fort Utah in 1850 would haunt the Mormons for many decades to follow, even to the present day. Dr. James Blake who was a surgeon among the Stansbury company was greatly influenced by Gen. Wells trophy of Old Elk's head he had hacked from his frozen corpse during his foray into Rock Canyon located today above the LDS temple in Provo. He then ordered the Mormon Militia to go out and behead the frozen corpses laying about in the snow. Dr. Blake told them he "wanted to have the heads shipped to Washington for scientific examination." Blake and his men then acquired as many as 50 heads, placed them in open boxes where then young Black Hawk and his traumatized kin were to view them for a period of two long and agonizing weeks. The heads were never shipped to Salt Lake to Blake, the heads began to rot, so the men at the fort built a fire and burned them. No record of what became of 50 headless corpses.

After the Fort Utah event in 1850, the massacre at Bear River occurred January 29, 1863 when approximately 160 Shoshone men were slain, and 90 women and children. After the slaughter ended, soldiers went through the Indian village raping women and using axes to bash in the heads of women and children who were already dying of wounds. Chief Bear Hunter sub-chief, Lehi both were killed. The troops burned seventy-five Indian lodges, recovered 1,000 bushels of wheat and flour, and 175 Shoshone horses. While the troops cared for their wounded and took their dead back to Camp Douglas for burial, the Indians' bodies were left on the field for the wolves and crows.

Although the Mormon settlers in Cache Valley expressed their gratitude for "the movement of Col. Connor as an intervention of the Almighty" in their behalf, the Bear River Massacre has also been overlooked in the history of the Mormon Church.

Understanding the political and economic situation, in 1865 one of the most brilliant leaders of the time,  leader Black Hawk commanded a formidable counter attack against all odds and held back white expansion into southern Utah for nearly a decade. Because of the dramatic impact upon the environment as a result of the exploding white population, the Indians only source of food was significantly diminished. His paradox was that his people were famished and they had little choice but to risk their lives by helping themselves to Mormon cattle in order to feed their hungry families. Brigham Young said, "It is better to feed them than fight them." The Denver Rocky Mountain News paper quoted Brigham also saying, "If you want to get rid of the Indians try and civilize them." Whatever his Indian policy was, it failed miserably.

In 1865 several treaties were negotiated between the Church and the Indians of Utah. Treaties that would take away the land and all rights of the Indian. While the Indians had very little command of the English language, they were never given the chance to clearly understand what they were signing, they believed the treaties were to their benefit, but of coarse the opposite was true. None of the Mormon treaties were recognized or ratified by the United States Government.

Blamed for the the massacre at Mountain Meadows was place squarely on the shoulders of the Paiute, when in fact non ever participated. Three Paiute were witness to the massacre wherein the Mormons murdered a wagon train of 129 whites, men women and children. 

The Utah Indian were never treated with respect, they were a nuisance to the Mormons who's only intention was to clear the land of them.  

Brigham Young acknowledged an alarming rate of decrease of the Indian population when he was quoted in a Denver newspaper saying, "Just three out of three hundred Indians remain from the time we first arrived in the valley." he went on to say, "you can get rid of more Indians with a sack of flour than a keg of powder."


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