Black Hawk War (1865–1872) - Causes


Definitive reasons for the Black Hawk War are unknown. Lack of written history at the time makes the determination of cause and effect difficult. However, stories and opinions passed down by word of mouth from the side of the Native Americans and the settlers give insight into the state of affairs at the time leading up to the conflict.

The causes from a Ute perspective were given in the words of Chief Walkara in an interview with interpreter M. S. Martinas 1853. "He (Walkara) said that he had always been opposed to the whites setling on the Indian lands, particularly that portion which he claims; and on which his band resides and on which they have resided since his childhood, and his parents before him—that the Mormons when they first commenced the settlement of Salt Lake Valley, was friendly, and promised them many comforts, and lasting friendship—that they continued friendly for a short time, until they became strong in numbers, then their conduct and treatment towards the Indians changed—they were not only treated unkindly, but many were much abused and this course has been pursued up to the present—sometimes they have been treated with much severity—they have been driven by this population from place to place—settlements have been made on all their hunting grounds in the valleys, and the graves of their fathers have been torn up by the whites." This contrasts with Chief Walaka's meeting with Brigham Young in 1849 when Walkara offered his summer hunting ground for white settlement. One likely reason for this invitation was for Walkara to obtain cattle to feed his people.

Ever since Mormon pioneers moved into Utah Valley in 1848 and built their fort at Provo, the Timpanogos Ute bands had been gradually pushed aside by settlers' increasing demands for grazing land and farmland. Frustrations on both sides led to several short 'wars' that broke the grudging coexistence that characterized the relations between whites and Utes in central Utah between 1848 and the end of the Black Hawk War. After the 'Fort Utah War' in 1850, the 'Walker War' in 1853–1854, and the 'Tintic War' in 1856, Mormon leaders were able to convince the Ute leaders to stop hostilities when the losses incurred by Utes were compensated with food, presents, and promises of future friendship. A young Antonga, Chief Blackhawk to local whites, was directly involved in these wars either as a combatant or in being coerced to serve as a guide for Mormon punitive expeditions against his own people.

From the Mormon settlers' point of view there were several reasons to go to war. The continuing loss of livestock to theft and the continuous begging by Native Americans strained individual and community resources. Settlers viewed Utes as a threat to their personal and community future. The 'feed them, don't fight them' policy in dealing with Utes on a day to day basis was a failure.

Many of the attacks against the settlers were in retaliation for broken promises, mistreatment, or other acts that injured or killed Utes in the constant interaction between whites and Utes between the late 1849 and the 1873. For example, Richard Ivie and his family were murdered outside Scipio for his murder of a Ute nicknamed Bishop in Utah Valley sixteen years earlier.

The years 1865 to 1867 were by far the most intense of the conflict. Latter-day Saints considered themselves in a state of open warfare. They built scores of forts and deserted dozens of settlements while hundreds of Mormon militiamen chased their illusive adversaries through the wilderness with little success. Requests for a federal troops went unheeded for eight years. Unable to distinguish "guilty" from "friendly" tribesmen, frustrated Mormons at times indiscriminately killed Indians, including women and children.

Living with the geography and harsh climate of Utah for centuries, Utes learned how to thrive, but white settlement disrupted the economic equilibrium. Ute bands in Utah's central valleys were pushed out of traditional hunting and foraging areas by Mormon towns, farms, and livestock. Within a few years, some Ute bands struggled to feed themselves. Cattle or horses put out to graze in former hunting areas were occasionally taken as a kind of 'rent' payment for the settlers' use of Ute land. It seemed a fair enough solution to a hungry Ute family by stealing cattle. The Blackhawk War saw Black Hawk and their allies make a business out of taking livestock, transporting it out of Utah Territory to sell or trade for things they needed or wanted from 'brokers' like Isaac Potter. They understood that the loss of livestock was the quickest way to interfere with the growth of settlements.

Troubles that arose between the Mormons and the Utes, as between most all "more advanced" and "more primitive" civilizations, resulted from culture clashes. White men refused or were unable to accept the Natives' culture, and Natives ignored or could not understand settlers' sense of individual property. Coexistence with each culture intact was impossible, and compromise seemed unattainable. Ideals of Native culture (such as "sharing" of cattle and slave-trading) were in conflict with the ideals of the settlers. Similarly, the ideals of settlers (buying, changing and selling land, and imposing the white man economy and culture upon natives) conflicted with those of the Natives'.

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