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Black Hawk War 1865-1872

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The United States Vs The Ute, Paluite, Navajo and Apache

The Black Hawk War, or Black Hawk's War, from 1865 to 1872, is the name of the estimated 150 military engagement between Mormon settlers in the Four Corners region and members of the Ute, Paiute, Apache and Navajo tribes, led by a local Ute chief, Antonga Black Hawk. The conflict resulted in the abandonment of some settlements and postponed Mormon expansion in the region.

Mormon version of events

The immediate causes of the Black Hawk War depend on which side is telling the story. The Mormon version is short and to the point. Black Hawk and Jake Arapeen and a group of Utes rode into Manti on April 9, 1865 to attend a meeting between local Utes and US government representatives there. The Utes came to make amends for butchering fifteen cattle to feed starving Ute families outside Manti, Utah. One of the cattle was owned by John Lowry, an interpreter for the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Utah. Lowry and Jerome Kempton had been assigned to hand out food to the starving Utes who had congregated around Manti during the winter and spring of 1865. John Lowry, who was drunk, began shouting at the assembled Ute leaders; Jake Arapeen, the son of Chief Arapeen, began to argue back. Chief Sow-ok-soo-bet and Toquana, Chief Sowiette's son reminded Jake Arapeen that the Mormons had often helped the Indians with food and clothing, and urged a peaceful settlement of the issue. Black Hawk and Jake Arapeen refused, implying that if the Utes were hungry they would continue to take Mormon beef. When Lowry launched into a second drunken tirade, Jake Arapeen set an arrow to his bow; Lowry instantly grabbed Jake by the hair and dragged him from his horse. There was a brief scuffle in the dirt until anxious associates on both sides dragged the two apart. Furious, Lowry raced home to get his pistol, and the Utes hastily left town shouting threats over their shoulders.

Ute version of events

The Indian version is very different. The incident at Manti was not the cause of the war; it simply set a match to the powderkeg of anger and frustration that had been building since 1848. 1864 had been a drought year, and the food shortage in Mormon settlements and the US Indian agent's failure to provide enough supplies to Utes on the new Uintah Reservation brought many bands to the brink of starvation. Older chiefs continued to urge peace with Mormon settlers, but younger men were more inclined to listen to Black Hawk and Jake Arapeen who had already made threatening statements against the Mormons at Manti and the other Sanpete Valley settlements, who had failed to help the Utes during the winter.

Contemporary sources help explain the deeply personal hatred which kept Black Hawk fighting for seven and a half years. Black Hawk had lost "wives and children" to measles and other diseases associated with the Mormons. To placate Shenob's anger against his people, Black Hawk led his people to fight the whites. Black Hawk, who had a reputation as a prophet, told contemporaries that his dead ancestors had come to him in a dream and told him to go ahead, fight, kill; Mormon cattle were his cattle. This aspect of Ute culture, which had a significant impact on the events of the Black Hawk War, are seldom recorded. Black Hawk had personally experienced the whites' distrust and contempt for his people. He had been beaten for a supposed theft with a bucket, family members had been shot, and heads taken as trophies in the Fort Utah War. He had been forced to lead Mormon militia against his own people. He was not alone; an entire generation had arisen who refused to give way to white settlers