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Mormon and Federal Indian Policy in the 1850s: A Portfolio of Primary Documents

Transcribed and annotated by Brent M. Rogers

Mowry Map

Mowry Map

Deseret News, June 22, 1854, Page 2, Column 3

Albert Carrington, the editor of the Deseret News, possibly wrote this unattributed article just two months after the LDS church opened its Southern Indian Mission and about eight months after October 1853 LDS general conference, when the Mormons renewed their convictions to preach to the Indians. It informed all missionaries, and all church members reading it, of “The Best Course” to take when interacting with Indians. It suggested that Mormons had the responsibility to obtain influence over and peaceably subject Indians “that we may accomplish the good for them required at our hands.” According to the article, the Mormons’ Indian policy required church members “to feed them when hungry, to clothe them when naked, and to constantly do them all the good in your power, regardless of the immediate, or present remuneration.” This article also subtly diminished the role of the federal government and federal representatives in Utah’s territorial Indian affairs, while highlighting the good Mormon settlers could accomplish if they followed the outlined course.


The Best Course

TO PURSUE WITH THE INDIANS IN UTAH. – We are fully aware that the policy to be adopted in the intercourse between the whites and aborigines has been a vexed question from the first settlement of America, after its discovery by Columbus. Our school children also know that the conduct of the whites towards the natives has been far more varied than their views of the best policy; and thus, between views and conduct so diverse, and failing so often, the best course is still an open question, and one upon which we wish to comment briefly, but shall aim to confine our remarks to the subject as it exists within our own boundaries.

When the whites first began to form regular settlements in Utah, in 1847, they found but few small tribes, widely scattered, and none even temporarily located in Great Salt Lake Valley. The Indians met with were poor, illy clad, and very ignorant. Since the extinction of the buffalo in these mountain valleys, game has been scarce, and difficult to obtain; hence the fare of the red men has been coarse, scanty, and precarious; and they were often compelled to subsist upon crickets and other insects, mice, ground squirrels, and the seeds of weeds.

Trained up in gross ignorance, under the most abject poverty, and in idleness; and taught to look upon their successful thieving as praiseworthy, as well as remunerative, it should not be deemed a matter of surprise that our grain fields, our cattle, our horses, and our provisions were looked upon with longing desires, and depredations committed upon them. The only real ground for surprise is, that many of those who profess to be intelligent and enlightened, indulge such hostile feelings towards a people so destitute, and degraded.

The events that have transpired, since the settlement of 1847, have brought the settlers and Natives of Utah into frequent and extended intercourse under very diverse circumstances; sometimes pleasant, and mutually beneficial—at others quite the reverse. Almost invariably, in the latter case, excitement has run high, and the mode to be adopted has been warmly discussed,—some crying out, “kill them off,” others, “drive them out of the country, &c.;” while fortunately the large majority advocated the forbearing policy, even to the utmost endurance, which has prevailed up to this date. Having had so long, varied, and extended experience in the matter under examination, it does seem high time for all to be able to see, and act alike, and that too upon the best possible plan the circumstances will admit of,—which we will endeavor to present understandingly.

In all your intercourse with the Natives, appreciate their condition, and treat them with the humanity and kindness which your relative position actually demands. This course does not require you to invite them into your houses as equals, to mingle with your family, to lounge about either upon chairs, sofas, or beds, and to sit at the head of your tables; nor to suffer insolence, and abuse to yourself, and family, when you have not courted it by descending to their level, and often, in consideration of the knowledge you possess, far below it. But it does require you to feed them when hungry, to clothe them when naked, and to constantly do them all the good in your power, regardless of the immediate, or present remuneration.

Of those who have not reflected much upon the constant effects, and ultimate result of the above coarse, we ask, do you think it necessary for us to obtain influence over the Indians that we may accomplish the good for them required at our hands? Your answer must be yes. Do you not know that to obtain this influence, the method to most effectually obtain it is thro’ their subjection, and that peaceably? Why yes. Now who does not understand that the most absolute peaceable subjection of one person to another, arises when an individual is clothed, fed, and sustained at another’s expense, without compensation therefor? —This being a known fact, it is obvious that the moment we begin to sustain the Indians in their idleness, they will begin to lean upon us, and in a little while to look up to us, and ere long be ready and willing to listen and attend to our counsels for their benefit; because from us they derive their support. It may be urged that this course is rather slow, trying and expensive; but a fair trial will prove it to be the quickest and cheapest method of attaining the object in view.

Only a small, very small amount of funds have as yet been paid to Utah by the General Government for the sustenance, comfort, and advancement of their red children. For this we should doubtless kindly thank our good friends at Washington, as that course will compel us to learn the lesson of self-reliance, which all are aware is honorable and that we have got to learn it sooner or later, and of course the sooner the better; even at the expense of some inconvenience and privation, for then it will be better remembered, and more apt to be continued in practice.

If you will reflect but slightly, upon the circumstances and conduct which have surrounded and influenced the advancement, or retardation of new colonies, or settlements, in different countries, you will be compelled quickly, and satisfactorily to come to the conclusion, that the earlier they become weaned from their mother’s milk, the more rapid, hardy, and certain has been their growth, and prosperity. In other words, we do not recollect an instance where an individual, community, or nation that has properly learned the lesson of self-reliance, has failed of attaining all the prosperity, and pitch of advancement which Providence saw fit to permit, while on the other hand, under apparently as fair opportunity, a practice of unduly leaning upon others, has resulted in the being shorn of more or less power, wealth, and influence; and when the leaning has been complete; the result has been complete vassalage.

Therefore it follows that, from the nature of the country, the position and habits of its tribes, our position and relationship to them, and the conduct of the General Government thus far, if we desire to accomplish what we know has to be done sooner or later; and to accomplish it in the most satisfactory and effectual manner, we have simply to add a few more degrees in our present skill, industry, and energy, trusting in the integrity of our motives, the soundness of our policy, and above all, in the God of the remnants of Jacob, and cease leaning upon a broken reed which might fail and pierce the hand.



National Era, May 24, 1855

This newspaper article provides an early example of press coverage and American popular opinion on Mormon-Indian relations. In the aftermath of the Gunnison murders and trial of three Pahvant Utes for manslaughter in late March 1855, Brevet Lt. Col. Edward J. Steptoe sent missives to federal officials in Washington, including the commissioner of Indian affairs George Manypenny. Based on his observations and from his interactions with Great Basin Indians during his time in Utah, Steptoe stated that the Indians in the territory had learned “for the first time, what relation they hold to the government,” and, according to the newspaper account here, that the Mormons were “tampering with the Indians” to ally with them against federal authority.[1] In his correspondence to Manypenny, Steptoe asked for the full support of the government to establish federal control over Indian administration in the territory. Steptoe’s letters triggered public fear that Brigham Young and the Mormons had plotted to usurp the authority of federal sovereignty in Utah.[2] This National Era article, and others like the New York Times account mentioned herein, helped influence public perception about the allegedly sinister nature of Mormon-Indian relations as the two groups were thought to be allying together in defiance of the United States.

The Mormon Evil

That evil is before us in connection with these people, we have never doubted; and the events are pressing onward toward it. The daily papers publish full details of the trial of three Indians, for the murder of Captain Gunnison and his companions; and the New York Times remarks upon the subject:

“Our readers will recollect the excitement which pervaded the public mind when news of this bloody and brutal massacre reached this country, as well as the vigorous efforts made by the Government to detect and capture the savage miscreants by whom it was perpetrated. These efforts were successful. The murderers were captured, brought within the jurisdiction of the United States, and tried before the District Court in the Territory of Utah. The testimony was clear and undisputed. The accused parties were proved beyond all possibility of doubt to have been the murderers. No attempt even was made to rebut the evidence. The guilt of the Indians was conceded; and yet the jury returned a verdict of manslaughter only. The facts stated by our correspondent show conclusively that this result is due entirely to the interference of the Mormons, who seem to be in league with the Indians in resisting the authority of the United States. The verdict was rendered by a Mormon jury, acting under the direction of the Mormon leaders.

“But the whole story is not yet told. The sentence of the Court was, that the Indians, for this brutal massacre of eight or ten American citizens and soldiers, should be imprisoned for three years. They were accordingly handed over to the authorities of Utah, (Mormons,) and committed to prison to serve out their terms. But, within less than a week, they were permitted to escape, and are again at large. We learn from our private correspondence that no doubt whatever is entertained by Col. Steptoe and the authorities, that the whole thing has been brought about by the Mormons, for the express purpose of conciliating the Indians, and exasperating them against the Federal authority. For some time past, Mormon missionaries have been maintained among the Indians, and Brigham Young has proposed that intermarriage between the Indians and the Mormons be introduced and encouraged as much as possible.

“These occurrences indicate the commencement of a system of tampering with the Indians, on the part of the Mormon leaders, from which the worst results may be apprehended. We have reason to believe that the United States authorities are fully alive to the extent of the danger, and are prepared to take such precautions as may be needful.”



Sylvester Mowry to Colonel S. Cooper, July 23, 1855, 12, Selected Letters from Sylvester Mowry, 1854–1855, MIC A 106, Utah State Historical Society, Salt Lake City.

Mowry List of Camps and Distances

In the spring of 1855, Brevet Lt. Col. Edward J. Steptoe directed Second Lieutenant Sylvester Mowry to take a detachment of U.S. forces then in Utah Territory to Benicia, California, by the “southern” route (present-day I-15). Steptoe planned to take the remainder of the contingent to Benicia via the northern route. Mowry’s travels took him and his detachment through the small Mormon villages of Fillmore, Parawon, Cedar City, and Harmony. In a letter to U.S. Army adjutant general Col. Samuel Cooper, dated July 23, 1855, from Benicia, Mowry reported on the geographic, topographic, and anthropologic details of the routes, country, and people throughout the journey.

Mowry’s full report reveals the interesting observations of a non-Mormon. Mowry felt no love from the settlers then living in the southern territory. Mormons, he wrote, were “scrupulous” in their quest to make money. On the settlers practice to raise the price of grain, Mowry wrote: “Lest this should seem irrelevant, it is proper for me to say that I mention it to show the feeling that exists every where in the Territory, towards Government agents or employees, – a disposition to annoy and embarrass in every possible way, and to extort the greatest sum of money for the least possible services.” Of interest to some readers may be his glowing description of “Mountain Meadows” where in two short years one of the most atrocious massacres in the West would occur. “This camp is worthy of notice,” he wrote. “Seven or eight thousand feet above the sea, a beautiful level plateau, shut in by mountains, carpeted with luxuriant grass of the best varieties for grazing, and divided by a perennial stream of clear cold water, – it is one of the few places on the route that the traveler remembers with pleasure.”

In a report of sixteen pages, Mowry spent four pages on the subject of “Indians,” which is the excerpt featured here. Mowry, like Garland Hurt and Col. Steptoe, claimed that as a way to curry favor among the Indians, Mormons emphasized to the indigenous groups a difference between themselves and Americans. Though the chain of custody following its arrival in Washington is unclear, it is likely that the adjutant general forwarded Mowry’s report—including a list of camps and distances from Salt Lake City to Fort Tejon, California—to the secretary of war, Jefferson Davis.


The subject of the Indians I have preferred to notice separately, as it appears to me to be a subject of great importance.

Col. Steptoe in his communication with the Department, stated his belief that the Utah Indians inhabiting the Valleys of Salt Lake, Juab and Fillmore had been taught that the Mormons were a superior people to the Americans, and that the Americans were the natural enemies of the Indians, while the Mormons were their friends and allies. During my march, I found on the Santa Clara, Virgin, Muddy and Vegas Rivers several hundred Warriors who had undergone the same tutelage. In each tribe two or more Mormon Missionaries were found, whose object was to impress upon the Indians the belief in the inferiority and hostility of Americans and the superiority and friendship of the Mormons. The Indians on the Santa Clara have been supplied with arms and ammunition to a great extent. More than seventy were counted in and around my camp all armed with good rifles. Two years ago they were armed with nothing but bows and arrows of the poorest description. The first appearance of these Indians was sullen impudent and had they dared they would have been openly hostile. To counteract as far as lay in my power the mischievous impression made upon them by the Mormons I “talked” with all the Chiefs explained to them the true relation existing between Americans and Mormons issued rations to the tribes as far as I could afford to do so, and made the Chiefs some trifling presents of old uniforms, tobacco and shirts.

I have learned from gentlemen who have since passed over the road that the presence of my Command among them had had a beneficial effect.

The enmity of the Mormons went so far in one instance as to induce the Chief of the Pah-Utes [Paiutes] of the Muddy River to believe that my Command was on its way to attack his tribe. The Squaws and children were hurried into the Canons [Canyons], and when I arrived on the Muddy the whole tribe was in “War paint” to receive me. By kindness I so completely changed the opinion of this Chief that he followed the train some miles to “renew the assurances” of his friendship towards all Americans.

I would respectfully suggest that if practicable troops be sent over this route every year, with instructions to the Commanding Officer to seek for opportunities to meet the Indians and secure them by kindness and by presents of the real strength and good intentions of the Government towards them. If some such precaution is not taken I am satisfied they will become formidable allies of the Mormons.

It is a fact perhaps unknown to the Dept that Wah-Kar [Walkara] the late Great Ute Chief was a member of the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” that his brother and successor Arrowpine [Arapeen] as well as Ka-noshe [Kanosh] Chief of the Par-vents [Pahvants] and several other Chiefs are members of this same “Church.” Brigham Young styles them Brother Wah-Kar, etc. It is the “counsel” of Brigham and the “Apostles” to the “Brethren” to inter-marry with the Indians. I have heard several members of high standing in the Church express their willingness to take in addition to their already numerous household a few Squaws because Brigham said it was right.

The gentleman who fills so ably the post of Indian Agent in Utah, Garland Hurtt, is well acquainted with these facts, and I am satisfied from personal observation that he will make every effort to destroy this dangerous influence. Forced to confide in Mormon interpreters, to whose treachery Col. Steptoe can bear witness, he can hope at best for only partial success.

There are as I have observed before many places on the route easily defensible against a large force. These are well known to the Indians. As friends of the U.S. or even neutral, the Indians are necessary to a successful march to or from Salt Lake. As enemies they cannot be too much dreaded armed and directed by an intelligence superior to their own. I have no desire to predict an intestine war, but it is in the minds of all intelligent men who have lived among this God forsaken people of Utah only a question of time. I have deemed it my duty to make these suggestions without regarding the value that may be attached to them.

If they should be accepted, a company of Dragoons might leave Fort Tejon descending directly to the Mohave, make an easy march through these tribes, and return in three months. The beneficial effect of their presence can scarcely be overrated.

In concluding my report, I beg leave to express my acknowledgment to Lieut J. G. Chandler 3d Artillery for very great assistance on the march and for the cheerfulness with which he undertook and energy executed the very arduous duties often assigned to him.

I have to honor to request that this communication be laid before the Hon. Secretary of War – and am, Colonel.

With high regard,

Your Obt Servt

Sylvester Mowry

1st Lieut 3d Art

Comdg Det. 1st Dragoons



Correspondence of Garland Hurt

“The Utah Expedition,” 35th Cong., 1st Sess., H. Ex. Doc. 71 (1857), 176–77.

Garland Hurt, a St. Louis physician, arrived in Utah Territory in February 1855 to serve as an Indian agent, an organizational subordinate of Brigham Young in the office of Indian affairs. His letters and reports to his superiors in Washington helped confirm the image of a subversive Mormon-Indian relationship. Hurt primarily criticized the Mormon missionaries because they taught the Indians their theology and gave gifts in the form of food and clothing, paid for by the U.S. government but attributed to LDS largesse. The Indian agent was so disgusted with Mormon missionary practices that he went over Young’s head to Washington. Hurt reported to Commissioner of Indian Affairs George Manypenny that soon after his arrival in Utah he “became impressed with the fact that the Indians had made a distinction between Mormons and Americans, which was calculated to operate to the prejudice of the interests and policy of government towards them.” It appears that the acting commissioner of Indian affairs, Charles E. Mix, received the letter. Mix found the information contained in Hurt’s letter of such importance that he wrote two letters to Secretary of the Interior Robert McClelland: one on July 10, 1855, with a copy of Hurt’s letter, and a second on August 15, 1855. In his first letter, Mix wrote “the Mormons, at their last semi-annual conference, nominated a large number of missionaries to go among the Indians of Utah Territory for the avowed purpose of preaching to them; that these saints have either accidentally or purposely created a distinction in the minds of the Indians tribes of the Territory between the Mormons and the citizens of the United States … must prove prejudicial to the interest of the latter.” In his August 15 memorandum to McClelland, Mix noted that “The suspicions which the agent throws upon the character of those Mormons engaged as missionaries are such as may make it necessary as a precautionary step to preserve the harmony of our relations with the Indian tribes, to instruct the superintendents, agents, and sub-agents, to scrutinize the conduct of Mormons and all others suspected of having a design to interrupt the peace and tranquility between the Indians and the government.” Hurt’s letter, as well as a number of others reproduced below, were among the forty-six documents on Indian affairs included in the Buchanan Administration’s official report on the “information which gave rise to the military expedition ordered to Utah Territory.”


May 2, 1855.

SIR: Permit me to call your attention to some facts which I do not feel myself altogether at liberty to remain silent upon.

At the last semi-annual conference of the Latter Day Saints, a large number of missionaries were nominated to go and preach to the Indians, or Lamonites, as they are here called. Now, since my arrival in this Territory, I have become satisfied that these saints have, either accidentally or purposely, created a distinction, in the minds of the Indian tribes of this Territory, between the Mormons and the people of the United States, that cannot act otherwise than prejudicial to the interests of the latter. And what, sir, may we expect of these missionaries? There is perhaps not a tribe on the continent that will not be visited by one or more of them. I suspect their first object will be to teach those wretched savages that they are the rightful owners of the American soil, and that it has been wrongfully taken from them by the whites, and that the Great Spirit had sent the Mormons among them to help them recover their rights.

The character of many of those who have been nominated is calculated to confirm this view of the case. They embrace a class of rude and lawless young men, such as might be regarded as a curse to any civilized community. But I do not wish to excite prejudice or encourage feelings of hostility against these people. On the contrary, I think such a course would be unwise and impolitic. They always have and ever will thrive by persecution. They know well the effect it has had upon them, and, consequently, crave to be persecuted. It is due to many of them, however, to say that they are honest in the belief that they are the only Christians on earth, and that God is about to redeem the world from sin and establish His millenium. It is possible, too, that many of them are loyal in their feelings to the United States, but, perhaps, this cannot be said of many of their leaders. But time will convince many of them of their errors; many of their prophecies must come true in a few years, or doubt will take the place of sanguine hope, and will do more to relax their energies and weaken their strength than anything else could do at this time.

My object in writing is to suggest that the attention of all superintendents, agents, and sub-agents, and all other loyal citizens residing or sojourning in the Indian country, be called to this subject, that the conduct of these Mormon missionaries be subjected to the strictest scrutiny, and that the thirteenth and fourteenth sections of the “Act to regulate trade and intercourse with the Indian tribes, and to preserve peace on the frontiers,” be properly enforced.

Very respectfully, &c.,

                  GARLAND HURT,

Indian Agent for Utah.

Hon. Geo. W. Manypenny,

Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Washington, D.C.

P.S. – In proof of the facts before stated, I would say that I have had great difficulty in procuring an interpreter, though there are many persons in the Territory who speak the Indian language, but they were all nominated as missionaries, and I was forced to the humiliating necessity of imploring the clemency of his excellency Brigham Young to permit one of them to remain with me. I never saw any people in my life who were so completely under the influence of one man.

G. H.



The Utah Expedition, 35th Cong., 1st Sess., H. Ex. Doc. 71 (1857), 179–81.

In the letter featured here, Utah Indian agent Garland Hurt reiterated the point made in his May 2, 1855, letter to Commissioner Manypenny written approximately fifteen months earlier. In that letter, and again here, Hurt informed the commissioner in Washington that the Indians, based on Mormon missionary teachings, made a distinction between Mormons and Americans, which favored the Mormons. Hurt updated Manypenny on the state of Indian affairs in Utah Territory.

                  OFFICE INDIAN AGENT, UTAH,

                  Great Salt Lake City, August 30, 1856.

SIR: As your letter of July 9, and copies of those of November 14 and March 19 were received on the 28th instant, which informed me of the non-acceptance of draft No. 18, I take occasion to make a brief statement of the motives that prompted me to pursue the course which I have.

Soon after my arrival in the Territory, (February, 1855,) I became impressed with the fact that the Indians had made a distinction between Mormons and Americans, which was calculated to operate to the prejudice of the interests and policy of government towards them. I have endeavored to apprise you heretofore of the policy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, of sending missionaries among these Indians, and of the character of the persons generally chosen. These facts were embodied in a letter to you, (April 28, 1855.) I determined to counteract these impressions if possible, but in attempting to do so, a liberal policy was necessary, otherwise their prejudices towards government, and myself as its agent, might have been confirmed. As the course pursued by his excellency Brigham Young has been a liberal one in making presents to them, I thought it inexpedient to relinquish that policy unless a better and more popular one could have been adopted immediately in its stead. And in fact, I was not authorized to deviate from his policy, for in a letter from your office I had been directed to look to him for all my instructions in the discharge of my official duties. And I have letters of instruction from him authorizing all the expenditures that I have made since entering upon the discharge of the duties of this office. I confess, however, that the policy of introducing manual labor among them was suggested by myself; but even in that I have received his most cordial approbation. Believing this to be the more judicious policy, it has been my chief concern to impress this fact upon your notice through his excellency. Consequently, in all my quarterly communications I have alluded to this subject with the liveliest feelings of interest. Being fully convinced of the propriety and necessity of this policy I applied through him, (for I supposed that the proper channel,) on the 31st of December last for an appropriation to meet my expense in this undertaking. And as necessity required in the progress of this enterprise I drew for money, and as I was not yet advised of any other provision having been made to meet my engagements, I drew upon the fund for incidental expenses. I had used all diligence to have the necessary provision made; my engagements were such that I could not relinquish them. To have done so would have been disastrous in the extreme, blighting at once, and perhaps forever, the growing confidence which was rising in the minds of the Indians towards government and its accredited agents; and it was reasonable to suppose that his excellency, after having encouraged me in every way possible in the policy of farming, would have relinquished in some degree his own peculiar policy, that a larger portion of the funds appropriated might be applied to that of farming, as he was fully advised of the course I expected to pursue and had given his sanction to the same. But, contrary to my expectations, so soon as spring opened I received a note from him, requesting me to make a visit to the valleys of the Humboldt, Carson and Trucky rivers, which he knew would require an absence of near four months from my farms, after I had adopted such measures as rendered it impossible for me to retrace my steps, and when the trip could not be made without the expenditure of some five or six thousand dollars of the funds on hands. But no doubt his excellency saw a necessity for these arrangements, and I confess it does not become me to speak in terms so plain of a superior officer. But I am charged in your letter of the 19th March, with neglecting to consult his excellency and Agent [George W.] Armstrong as to the manner in which the public funds should be taken up. I feel it due to myself to make these explanations; and I will say further, that I called at his office directly after receiving the letter of instructions to visit Carson, and expressed my fears that there would not be funds enough to meet our engagements for farming purposes; that the agency had been expensive during the winter; that I had been purchasing stock and farming implements, breadstuffs, &c., and that I had fears of overrunning the appropriation. His only reply was that he had no doubt but my drafts would all be paid. The policy of giving presents to the Indians is a popular one with them, but its benefits are of a transient character, and leaves them disappointed and dissatisfied, or to remain a burden upon the government and our citizens without any permanent good. Any one conversant with the feelings and prejudices which prevailed for some months after my arrival in the Territory, will bear me out in the opinion that my policy has been the best that could have been pursued under the circumstances, and has in all probability averted some of the most serious calamities that could have arisen between the two races.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Indian Agent, Utah.

Hon. Geo. W. Manypenny,

Commissioner Indian Affairs, Washington, D.C.



The Utah Expedition, 35th Cong., 1st Sess., H. Ex. Doc. 71 (1857), 181–82.

After spending some twenty months in Utah Territory, Indian agent Garland Hurt continued to perceive and remain disappointed that Mormon missionaries identified themselves to Great Basin Indian peoples and to other Mormons as distinct from Americans. In this letter to Brigham Young, Hurt’s organizational superior, the Indian agent indicated that the Indians had begun to make that distinction. Although Hurt had corresponded regularly with Young, the way this letter was written suggests that this was the first time that Hurt explained his observations about Mormon differentiation to Young, even though he expressed his “views on all suitable occasions, to the people” with whom he encountered in his duties. Hurt had made similar observations and accusations in a letter to Young’s superior, the commissioner of Indian affairs, nearly eighteen months earlier.


October 31, 1856.

SIR: Having just returned from an excursion in the southern settlements, in company with Surveyor General [David H.] Burr and Mr. [T. R.] Peltro, late of the topographical corps, I take the liberty of presenting to your notice a few incidents of rather mysterious and otherwise unpleasant character, which occurred to us during the trip. Travelling by way of the Indian farm in Sanpito [Sanpete] county, we reached Fillmore on the morning of the 23d instant; but learning that Kinosh [Kanosh], the Pah-vante chief, was very sick, we concluded to go on to the Indian farm at Corn creek to see him. But we had not proceeded far till we saw, between us and the base of the mountains, two persons on horseback going in the direction of the Indian lodges at full speed. I supposed them to be Indians, but before we reached the Indian settlement we saw them returning by the same route. When we drew up to the lodges I asked who they were? the Indians said they were Mormon boys, and on inquiring what they had come down in such a hurry for, they answered, Nothing: After some little confusion when we first drove up, the Indians became quiet, and appeared glad to see us. We remained with them until the 25th, when, as the weather was becoming more inclement, we returned to Fillmore, and put up at the house of Mr. Peter Robinson, where we were received and entertained in a hospitable manner. In the evening we were visited by Mr. Edwin Pugh, who invited two young men of our party, R. W. James and James White, to accompany him to his house, which they did; but they had not been there long till some persons began to stone the house, some of the rocks passing through the windows and smashing the lights. Mr. P[ugh]. ran out and asked what they meant? They asked what was doing with those damned Americans about his house? Mr. P[ugh]. said they were not Americans, but Mormons. They replied that they were no better than Americans, or they would not be with them. I state these facts as they were related to us the next morning by the young men. Mr. Pugh also informed us that the young men who went ahead of us in such haste to the Indian camp had been sent by the bishop to tell the Indians that the Americans were coming to their camp to arrest the murderers of Captain Gunnison, and to advise them to look out. As we were about leaving, I did not investigate the matter any further. But as the subject came up again in the evening, after we had camped for the night, I thought to ask Pin-tuts, who had accompanied us from Spanish fork, if he had heard the Pah-vantes say anything about it; he said when he reached their camps, some two or three miles ahead of us, the Pah-vantes were in great confusion, and some of them were running off. They said that the Mormons had sent them word that the Americans were coming to tie them, but he told them that they were fools, for we were not tying captains, but friends, and were coming to give them presents. On the next day some teamsters, whom we met, asked Pin-tuts who we were; they Indian replied that we were Americans. They told him that we were “cots-at,” (not good.) He told them they were fools, and passed on. Now I am satisfied, sir, that you cannot approve of such conduct, and may easily imagine how direful the consequences might have been to our little party, when we, unsuspectingly, drove up to their village and camped for the night, had it not been for the interposition of our faithful friend and guide in behalf of our innocence.

Soon after commencing my labors among the Indians of this territory, I learned that they made a distinction between the Mormons and Americans, which I thought was not altogether compatible with correct policy, believing that it would ultimately operate to the prejudice of one or the other party, and I have not been backward in expressing my views on all suitable occasions, to the people in regard to this matter, and have almost invariably, as my interpreters will certify, took occasion in my intercourse with the Indians, to teach them that there is no distinction between the two classes, but that we were all the Great Father’s people. If they believe me they will accuse the opposite party with lying and attempting to deceive them, and then how easy it will be for men to imagine that I am stirring up prejudices among the Indians against the people, and the foul aspersions of slander will brand me, and I am to be hunted down for crimes of which they, themselves, are the guilty perpetrators.

I am not unmindful of the delicate position I occupy as a mediator between the two races in this Territory, yet I am not unwilling that my official conduct should be subjected to the strictest scrutiny, for I am satisfied that our prospects for success in the policy which has been adopted for the civilization of the Indians in this Territory, depends greatly upon the conduct of those with whom they are daily brought in contract, and it is to be regretted that men will so far forget themselves, and the relations they sustain, both to Indians and to government, as to be guilty of gross misrepresentations so fatal to their own peace and prosperity.

Very respectfully, yours, &c.,


Indian Agent.

His Excellency Brigham Young,

Governor, &c.



Correspondence between Brigham Young and James W. Denver, 1857

The Utah Expedition, 35th Cong., 1st Sess., H. Ex. Doc. 71 (1857), 183–85.

With the U.S. Army en route to Utah in the late summer of 1857, Brigham Young wrote this letter to Commissioner of Indian Affairs James W. Denver. President James Buchanan appointed Denver as commissioner in April 1857, replacing George W. Manypenny in that position. Young, writing on September 12 with vouchers for expenditures on Indian affairs, reported that Indians “along the line of the Oregon and California travel” had taken the lives of many emigrants and a great deal of property. He stated that the reason for the widespread raiding was the abhorrent practice of overland travelers “shooting at every Indian they could see.” Young also requested that the march of the army be stopped and that the army be kept out of Utah. His reason for such a demand was that the presence of troops would attract “the greatest amount of hostile Indians and the least security to persons and property.” (Young probably thought that, with delays in communication from Utah to Washington, this letter would not halt the troops before their arrival in Utah Territory. Only three days after penning the note to Denver, Young issued a martial law proclamation informing Utah’s inhabitants of an invasion “by a hostile force, who are evidently assailing us to accomplish our overthrow and destruction.”[3])

In his response to Young’s September 12 letter, Denver offered a general rebuff. He repeated the claim that the Mormons had sought to impress upon the minds of Indian tribes the differences between Mormons and Americans—“that the former were their friends and the latter their enemies.” As for the presence of troops, he argued that their presence was necessary to secure the peace, and that no “peaceable citizens should object to their presence.” Finally, Denver generally criticized Young’s management of Indian affairs in the territory. The commissioner’s retort demonstrates the power and authority of the president, and by extension the federal government, over territorial matters and Indian affairs.


Great Salt Lake City, September, 12, 1857.

SIR: Enclosed please find abstract, account current, and vouchers, from 1 to 35, inclusive, (also abstract of employés) for the current quarter up to this date, as, owing to the stoppage of the mail, I have deemed it best to avail myself of the opportunity of sending by private conveyance, not knowing when I may have another chance. The expenditure, as you will observe by the papers, amount to $6,411[.]38, for which I have drawn my drafts on the department in favor of Hon. John W. Bernhisel, delegate to Congress from this Territory. You will also observe that a portion of these expenditures accrued prior to this quarter, which may need a word of explanation.

Santa Clara is in Washington county, the extreme southern county of this Territory, and this labor was commenced and partly performed; seeds, grain, &c., furnished prior to the time that Major [George W.] Armstrong visited those parts of the Territory, hence failed to find its way into his reports, and failed being included in mine because the accounts and vouchers were not sooner brought in, and hence not settled until recently. But little has been effected in that part of the Territory at the expense of the government, although much has been done by the citizens in aiding the Indians with tools, teams, and instruction in cultivating the earth. The bands mentioned are part of the Piede tribe of Indians, who are very numerous, but only in part inhabit this territory. These Indians are more easily induced to labor than any others in the Territory, and many of them are now engaged in the common pursuits of civilized life. Their requirements are constant for wagons, ploughs, spades, hoes, teams, and harness, &c., to enable them to work to advantage.

In like manner, the Indians in Cache valley have received but little at the expense of the government, although a sore tax upon the people. West and along the line of the Oregon and California travel they continue to make their contributions, and, I am sorry to add, with considerable loss of life to the travellers. This is what I have always sought by all means in my power to avert, but I find it the most difficult of any portion to control. I have for many years succeeded better than this. I learn by report that many of the lives of emigrants and considerable quantities of property have been taken. This is principally owing to a company of some three or four hundred returning Californians, who travelled those roads last spring to the eastern States, shooting at every Indian they could see—a practice utterly abhorrent to all good people, yet, I regret to say, one which has been indulged in to a great extent by travellers to and from the eastern States and California; hence the Indians regard all white men alike their enemies, and kill and plunder whenever they can do so with impunity, and often the innocent suffer for the deeds of the guilty. This has always been one of the greatest difficulties that I have had to contend with in the administration of Indian affairs in this Territory. It is hard to make an Indian believe that the whites are their friends, and the Great Father wishes to do them good, when, perhaps, the very next party which crosses their path shoots them down like wolves.

This trouble with the Indians only exists along the line of travel west, and beyond the influence of our settlements. The Shoshones are not hostile to travellers, so far as they inhabit in this Territory, except, perhaps, a few called “Snake Diggers,” who inhabit, as before stated, along the line of travel west of the settlements. There have, however, been more or less depredations the present season north, and more within the vicinity of the settlements, owing to the causes above mentioned, and I find it of the utmost difficulty to restrain them. The sound of war quickens the blood and nerves of an Indian. The report that troops were wending their way to this Territory has also had its influence upon them. In one or two instances this was the reason assigned why they made the attacks which they did upon some herds of cattle. They seemed to think it was to be war; they might as well commence and begin to lay in a supply of food when they had a chance. If I am to have the direction of the Indian affairs of this Territory, and am expected to maintain friendly relations with the Indians, there are a few things that I would most respectfully suggest to be done:

First.That travelers omit their infamous practice of shooting them down when they happen to see one. Whenever the citizens of this Territory travels the roads they are in the habit of giving the Indians food, tobacco, and a few other presents, and the Indians expect some such trifling favor, and they are emboldened by this practice to come up to the road with a view of receiving such presents. When, therefore, travellers from the States make their appearance they throw themselves in sight with the same view, and when they are shot at, some of their number killed, as has frequently been the case, we cannot but expect them to wreak their vengeance upon the next train.

Secondly. That the government should make more liberal appropriations to be expended in presents. I have proven that  it is far cheaper to feed and clothe the Indians then to fight them. I find, moreover, that after all, when the fighting is over, it is always followed by extensive presents, which, if properly distributed in the first instance, might have averted the fight. In this case, then, the expense of presents are the same, and it is true in nine-tenths of the cases that have happened.

Thirdly. The troops must be kept away, for it is a prevalent fact that, wherever there are the most of these we may expect to find the greatest amount of hostile Indians and the least security to persons and property.

If these three items could complied with, I have no hesitation in saying that, so far as Utah is concerned, that travellers could go to and from, pass and repass, and no Indian would disturb or molest them or their property.

In regard to my drafts, it appears that the department is indisposed to pay them; for what reason I am at a loss to conjecture. I am aware that Congress separated the office of superintendent of Indian affairs from that of governor; that the salary of governor remained the same for his gubernatorial duties, and that the superintendent’s was fifteen hundred. I do think that, inasmuch as I perform the duties of both offices, that I am entitled to the pay appropriated for it, and trust that you will so consider it.

I have drawn again for the expenditure of this present quarter, as above set forth. Of course you will do as you please about paying, as you have with the drafts for the two last quarters.

The department has often manifested its approval of the management of the Indian affairs in this superintendency, and never its disapproval. Why, then, should I be subjected to such annoyance in regard to obtaining the funds for defraying its expenses? Why should I be denied my salary; why should appropriations made for the benefit of the Indians of this Territory be retained in the treasury and individuals left unpaid? These are questions I leave for you to answer at your leisure, and, meanwhile, submit to such course in relation thereto as you shall see fit to direct.

I have the honor to be, most respectfully, your obedient servant,


Governor, and ex-officio Superintendent of Indian Affairs,

Utah Territory.



Denver to Young, November 11, 1857, Letters Sent, 1824–1886, M21, Records of the Office of Indian Affairs, Record Group 75, National Archives; also in The Utah Expedition, 35th Cong., 1st Sess., H. Ex. Doc. 71 (1857), 186–88.

Department of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs.

November 11th 1857

Young Brigham, His Excy

Great Salt Lake City

Utah Territory


Your communication of the 12th of last September has been received, and would not require a formal reply were it not for the effort you make to place this office in the wrong, when, in fact, whatever difficulties exist, have resulted from your own conduct. As the superintendent of Indian affairs for Utah Territory, it was your duty to keep a supervisory control over the different agents, and to see that they did not exceed their authority. It was your duty, also, to notify them of all things pertaining to their duties, and especially to keep them, in their expenditures, within the appropriations made for your superintendency. Their reports were made to you, and by you transmitted here. You cannot, therefore, plead ignorance of their transactions. Knowing then the amount of the appropriations, and being fully advised of the affairs of the Agents, and that money could be taken out of the Treasury without an act of Congress, you have allowed the drafts to exceed the appropriation to the amount of $31,380.50 to the close of the fiscal year, ending 30th June, 1857. When the agents were notified that their drafts could not be paid in consequence of the appropriations having been exhausted, and rebuked for exceeding them, they replied that they had no information from you on the subject. These communications passed through your hands, and yet you seem to have passed them by unnoticed. With a full knowledge then of all the facts, you took no steps, so far as this office is informed, to protect the public interests, or to keep your subordinates within the proper sphere of their duties. On the contrary you seem to have been disposed to encourage these things, as is evidenced in your orders to Agent Hurt, sending him to Carson’s valley, at a heavy expense to the government when it was well known that the services of an agent were not required in that quarter; and again when you fitted out an expedition yourself, and conducted it northward out of your superintendency, to give presents to Indians not under your control. From all this it follows that if your drafts are not paid, you have no right to complain, because you knew, at the time, that the appropriations on which they were drawn were exhausted.

But even if the money was in the Treasury ready for the Indian service in Utah, I do not see how it can be applied to the payment of your drafts until they shall have first passed through the strictest scrutiny; for this department has information from reliable sources, that, so far from encouraging amicable relations between the Indians and the people of the United States outside of your own immediate community, you have studiously endeavored to impress on the minds of the Indians that there was a difference between your own sect, usually known as Mormons, and the government and other citizens of the United States – that the former were their friends and the latter their enemies.

In addition to this, you have been denouncing this government and threatening an armed resistance to the authorities sent out by the President. Indeed, unless you and your coadjutors are most grossly misrepresented, and your language misquoted, the appearance of these authorities among you is all that is necessary to prompt you to an overt act of treason. It could never have been intended, when the appropriations were made by Congress, that the money should be used in arousing the savages to war against our own citizens, or to enable a subordinate officer to carry on treasonable practices against his government. The rule of this office is to withhold annuities from the Indians whenever they place themselves in a hostile or antagonistic attitude towards the government, and I know of no reason why the same rule should not be applied to you at this time, but as the appropriation has been exhausted it is not necessary to consider that question now. You say “the troops must be kept away, for it is a prevalent fact that wherever there are the most of these we may expect to find the greatest number of hostile Indians, and the least security for persons and property.” The troops are under the direction of the President, and it is fair to presume that he would not send them to Utah Territory, unless there was a necessity for so doing; and if it be true that wherever the greatest number of troops are, there are to be found the greatest number of hostile Indians, it arises from the fact that the troops are necessary at such places to preserve the peace and to keep the Indians in subjection. There is no reason why persons and property should be any less secure in the neighborhood of the troops; nor is there any reason why peaceable citizens should object to their presence. If it is your intention to preserve peace, the troops will not interfere with you; but if you intend otherwise, then it is necessary that the troops should be on the ground to enforce it.

It is much to be regretted that such a state of affairs should exist, and it is always with great reluctance that we arrive at the conclusion that American citizens should at any time require the strong arm of power to compel obedience to the laws, or that a subordinate officer should so far forget his duty as to use his official position to injure one portion of his fellow citizens, and to alienate another portion from loyalty to their government. But, when convinced of the existence of such facts the chief executive has no alternative left but to crush out rebellion; and for this purpose all the powers of government are placed under his control.

Your claim for double salary cannot be allowed, for even if it did not come in conflict with the general rule which forbids the payment of two salaries at the same time to the same person, yet you could not be entitled to it, for the reason you became superintendent of Indian affairs by virtue of your appointment as governor of the Territory; and although these offices have since been separated, yet you had not, at the date of your communication, been relieved from duties appertaining to them. Your other accounts will be examined into, and whenever it shall be ascertained that the expenditure was properly made it will be paid, should Congress make an appropriation for that purpose.

You say “the department has often manifested its approval of the management of the Indian affairs in this superintendency, and never its disapproval.” The reverse is the fact. This office has often found fault with your conduct, and to prove this is only necessary to quote your own language. One extract from your communication to this office dated “Great Salt Lake City, June 26th 1855”, will suffice. You there say, “for the last two years I have experienced the greatest difficulty in getting my accounts adjusted at the department; and when they have finally been so adjusted, that it has been done by suspending and disallowing a great portion thereof.” Many similar extracts might be given, but this is sufficient to establish the incorrectness of your statement that this office had never manifested its disapproval of your conduct.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,






San Francisco Evening Bulletin, February 16, 1858, Page 1, Column 2

In the early months of 1858, newspaper coverage about the Utah War speculated wildly on the strength of the Indian-Mormon alliance. This short article from the San Francisco Evening Bulletin is one such example. American public discourse continued to propagate the idea of a subversive Mormon-Indian alliance. Some, including California governor John Weller, believed that the Mormons and Indians in Utah Territory were a “heartless monopoly” and a detriment to white western expansion.

Indians and Mormons. – The latest Eastern news says that information was received in St. Louis from Fort Lawrence, through an Indian trader, which tends to throw discredit on the report that the Mormons intend to evacuate Utah in the spring. On the 23d of December, a party of 700 or 800 Camanche and Cheyenne Indians were encountered on their way from Salt Lake City to their homes, about 80 miles from Fort Laramie, accompanied by about twenty Mormon leaders. These Indians, who had been led to believe that the Mormons had 80,000 fighting men well equipped for service, were to be employed in the spring, under Mormon influence, in harassing and cutting off supply trains sent to the relief of Colonel Johnston. It was asserted that the Mormons had no idea of leaving Utah.



Arapeen to Brigham Young, 1858


Box 26, folder 3, CR 1234 1, Brigham Young Papers, LDS Church History Library.

Young’s correspondence with Native American leaders in the Great Basin suggested the possibility of an Indian-initiated Mormon-Indian martial alliance. One such Indian leader who wrote to Young at this time was Jake Arapeen (also known as Chief Yene-wood), a Ute leader who had been baptized into the LDS church in 1850. Arapeen, through an unknown interpreter, expressed a loyalty to Young and “all the good Mormons” and a willingness to form an alliance with the Mormons to fight the approaching U.S. Army. These fascinating letters shed light onto the desires and decisions of Arapeen to act according to what he thought to be his and his people’s best interests in the tumultuous winter of 1857–58. Although Young considered military aggression against the invading army, the intervention of Thomas Kane and the ensuing diplomatic solution to the crisis that occurred in the months after these letters were written made such a response unnecessary. Nevertheless, the presence of the army and new non-Mormon federal officials altered the dynamics of Mormon-Indian-federal relationships in Utah Territory in the years leading to the American Civil War.

Jan 3d 1858

Manti Sanpeete County

President Brigham Young

Dear Brother as brother [Welcome] Chapman has not brought those artcles that I sent to you fore I wish you to send them to Brother George Bradleys at & he will forward them to me Brother Chapman forgot to call at the office & get them & Brother [Ira] Hatch left them in Chapmans care to bring to me. I wish you to send me one s<m>all brass kittle if you can I feel well when I think about you & as I know that you feel well towards me & all good Utahs & I pray to the Great Spirrit to bless you & all the good Mormons.

I do not understand what the Americans can want to come here & fight the Mormons for I do not know where the mormons have don rong that the Americans can be justified in such a corce [course]   I want you to write to them & tell them for me to throw away their guns & be friendly & trade with the Mormons & with the Utahs & ask them whare I have killed any of them or whare the mormons have   I do not know any thing that has ben don bad to them but I k[n]ow that the Mormons treated them well & traded them wheat & Cattle & horses & money for their goods & they have fed them when they ware hungry & it is not good for them to come & fight but to come & trade & be brothers and do right but if they will not hear what you & I say to them & throw away the papers & want to fight tell them that I am not afriad of them   I know how to fight & I under stand all about the mountain tell the Americans that I have got a plenty of Powder & lead Guns & caps & I [k]now how to use them & that they must not come on my Land to shead bllood  tell them that that I am a big Chief & am not afraid to fight   I have ben shot seven times with bullets & not a boan broken twisce with arrows & I am alive still & able to fight & if they will not hear good counsil they will find me & my men a verry formidable fo[.]  Tel Col Johnson [Albert Sidney Johnston] that he is a white man & that he has a good education & aught to set good examples and not come & fight a good people as the mormons are but go away & let them rase wheat & corn & liv in peace  I am not a white man as you are I cannot red nor wright but I know better than to do such things as you are trying to do[.] tell Johnson that the roads to Calafornia has be open so that the American<s> should travail [travel] across my land & not be disturbe<d> & that they could travail in peace & go & get money that they loved so much & why do they come here to fight my brothers you cold go and get money & trade & who sended your people I did not neither did my people nor the Mormons but some of your people Killed some of my brothe[r] Kanoshes men & they kild some of your me[n] in 1 year that was an course swap & why do you keep making a fus about it[.] I do understand when Judg [John F.] Kinney was here & Col Stepto[e] they took 2 Parvants & trid them by the Bo[o]ks and put them in prisson why did they not do the same to the Americans that kild the Indians. Brother Brigham[,] Ammon & Spoods my brothers have ben & seen the Navajo Shief 3 moons ago & he has got a letter that you gave me which I gave to him & he carries it in his boosom & loves a great dea & say his peac is good all the time & he want to see me very much as he loves me very much & wants me to come & trade with him & if the Americans go away & leav us in peace I want you to let me have some Ammunition to trade with them & I will g[o] and see them <the spring> the Elk Mountain Utes are fighting with the Navajoes all the time & I do not like that[.]

I remain your brother




Manti, U.T. Feb. 28th 1858

President Brigham Young Dear Brother

I write to let you know that I am well although I have been very sick with the distemper. My Peace is good I wish to be at peace with all mankind. Still I do not want to give up my home and the home of my father & friends without a strugle.  No I will fight first.  I do not want the Americans to come upon my land. unless for Peace.  Some of the Utahs hang around the american Camp they promise them great Preasants and are trying to hire the Indians to take the Mormon Cattle & Horses in the Spring I talk good to the Utahs and tell them to stay away from them. Bro Benson sent for me to say so I have been with him was at meeting at month – heard him preach. he Blessed me and I felt good under his instructions and council after which I went with him to Ft Ephraim[.] I want a Mormon wife that understands the Books and can make Bread. Butter. And wash and make things comfortable in my house. I am very Poor and in destitute circumstances as regards things for my wives and children. If you could send me a Little tobaco. or any thing Else I should be very thankfull a little whiskey if you please. I want you to write to Bro [George W.] Armstrong and tell him I want some more team and Ploughs on the farm here as the time to put wheat in is close at hand, and I want to have my Boys at work to Learn them to raise wheat. I have been dreaming a good deal lately and dream that peace will soon be made. but if the americans come here and want to drive the Mormons from this land I will geather all the indians from the sorounding mountains and fight them untill they will be glad for peace, why cant they go home and let us alone [p. 1] we dont want to fight they are the ones that dont have good peace and that want to fight when have I ever went the their land to fight never but they have drove you and your people from your homes to my land and I want you to stay and raise cattle horses sheep wheat and build houses and everything else.  I claim this country still it is not mine nor any body else but the Lords, and he dont want Blood to be spilt on it  he loves this country  I want to talk a good deal to you I am full, and my heart is good  where is the american I have killed no or stole any thing from them no. I wont sell this land to them  the Lord says no, no.

May God Bless you and Heber [C. Kimball] and Daniel [H. Wells] and all this people together with me and mine

write to me,




[1] Edward J. Steptoe to George Manypenny, April 5, 1855, Ex. Doc. 71, 178–79.

[2] See Bangor (ME) Daily Whig and Courier, May 22, 1855; New York City Christian Advocate and Journal, July 19, 1855. 

[3] Brigham Young, “Proclamation by the Governor,” September 15, 1857, PAM 14971 c.1, Utah State Historical Society, Salt Lake City, Utah.