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Suzie

Brigham Young, Indian Slavery & Indentured Servitude

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Slave trade was an essential and established activity of native Indian life in Utah prior to 1847. The Utes, often traded Indian children (including their own) for goods and firearms. When Mormons arrived, they were confronted with this disturbing reality and were coerced into participation. Early members felt they didn’t have a choice in the matter, if they were not willing to do it the Utes would sell the children to the Mexican trade, torture them or kill them. However, when Mormons first arrived in Utah, Ute Chief Walkara welcome them with open arms, thinking perhaps that they would become potential customers and business partners.

In 1848 New Mexico became part of the United States, and as a result, things were about to change dramatically for known Mexican traders such as Don Pedro Leon Lujan. He made a request to Brigham Young (Utah's governor and ex officio superintendent of Indian affairs) for a new license. Young refused to grant it and also, gave him a lecture about the evils of Indian slavery. Later on, Don Pedro was discovered with Indian slaves and was charged with trading with Indians without proper documentation, arrested and sent to trial. Chief Walkara was furious at this unexpected outcome because his livelihood was now being threatened by the Mormons. The Indian slave trade as previously mentioned, was an established practice long before the Mormons arrived in Utah.

In 1851, the brother of Ute Chief Walkara, decided to go to Provo, confront the Mormons and force them to buy slaves. When the early members refused, he went into a rage telling them they didn’t have the right to stop Don Pedro Leon Lujan from buying children unless they were willing to do it themselves.

Daniel W. Jones (Mormon pioneer and who started the first translations of the BOM into Spanish) recorded:

“Several of us were present when he took one of the children by the heels and dashed his brains out on the hard ground. He then threw the body toward the Mormons and told them that if they’d had a heart, they would have purchased the child instead.” (The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America, Andres Resendez)

Solomon F. Kimball stated: “The red men were not long in learning that the Saints were a tender hearted people and could not witness such scenes without sympathizing to the uttermost with those who were being tortured”. (The Effects of Spanish Slavery on the Indians of the Intermountain West, Carling Malouf & A. Arline Malouf). 

John Young described one of the children they were able to save: “She was the saddest little piece of humanity I have ever seen, they had shingled her head with butcher knives and fire brands. All the fleshy parts of her body, legs and arms have been hacked with knives, then fire brands had been stuck into the wounds. She was gaunt with hunger and smeared from head to foot with blood and ashes.” (Memoirs of John R. Young, Utah Pioneer, 1847)

Even though Mormon pioneers opposed the practice, Brigham Young saw it as an opportunity to save them from death and starvation. He stated that these children were so emaciated that they were not able to stand upon their feet. He also mentioned that Ute Chief Walkara was in the “habit of tying them out from his camp at night, naked, and destitute of food unless it is so cold, he apprehends they would freeze to death”. (The Whites Want Everything: Indian-Mormon Relations 1847-1877 ) So he encouraged early members to buy Indian children, particularly those who were on the verge of death.

Brian Q. Cannon noted that Mormons bought slaves for a variety of reasons: Some early members wanted to buy these children because they felt they needed to be “civilized” and wanted to convert them to Mormonism (and Anglo-Americanized). Child slaves soon became a vital source of labor for early settlers. They traded these children with other members or even gave them as gifts. Orson Pratt stated that “the Lord has caused us to come here for this very purpose that we might accomplish the redemption of these suffering degraded Israelites.” (Journal of Discourses Volume 9: Salvation of the House of Israel to Come Through the Gentiles).

At least one of these minors, Sally Pidash Young, was indentured by Brigham Young himself. There is anecdotal evidence that suggests that these children were not always treated equally. Some were treated as children of the family and others were exploited and mistreated. They worked as servants for long hours and were not taught how to read or write. They also slept separately from the rest of the family.

Brigham Young was aware of this and advocated the passage of the Act for the Relief of Indian Slaves and Prisoners of 1852 which allowed Utah residents to become guardians of Indian minors for up to 20 years. Even though it was not the ideal outcome, it provided some sort of legal protection towards these children since part of the agreement was to ensure that they were clothed "in a comfortable and becoming manner" and receive an education.

Some members and historians argue whether or not the church is guilty for engaging in the Indian slave trade. The following is not to justify the activity; however, true motives of why some early Mormon settlers started to engage in the practice shouldn’t be ignored. Despite the controversy, Young himself was opposed to Indian slavery.

In his address to the Utah Territorial Legislature in 1852 he stated the following:

It is unnecessary perhaps for me to indicate the true policy for Utah in regard to slavery...When human flesh is to be dealt as property; it is not consistent or compatible with the true principals of government. My own feelings are that no property can or should be recognized as existing in slaves, either Indian or African.

No persons can purchase them [Indians] without their becoming as free, so far as natural rights are concerned, as persons of any color; under the present law and degraded situation of the Indian Race, so long as the practice of gambling away, selling and otherwise disposing off their children, as also sacrificing prisoners, occurs among them, it seems indeed that any transfer would be to them a relief and a benefit…

This may be said to present a new feature in the traffic of human beings; it is essentially purchasing them into a freedom instead of slavery; but it is not the low, servile drudgery of Mexican slavery, to which I would doom them, not to be raised among beings scarcely superior to themselves but where they could find that considerations pertaining not only to be civilized but humane and benevolent society.” (Address to the Utah Territorial Legislature, 1852)

Edited by Suzie

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It’s hard for me to avoid characterizing Wakara as a miserable, evil SOB.  Didn’t he leave instructions for the live burial of a couple of slave women and children with him to serve him into the afterlife?

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JAG, he was the definition of evil. About your question, it was actually a common practice by the Utes. When he died, I believe a couple of women and one boy were buried alive. His horses were killed too to keep him company. It has been said he was buried with the last letter of Young in his hand.

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I wonder how our modern sensibilities apply in the eternal sense to such people. I am reminded of Ammon the Disarming, who told the Old King bluntly that if he (the Old King) were to die at that moment, his soul could not be saved. Not "would not", but "could not". Yet in a matter of dozens of hours, this exceedingly wicked man was converted to God and spent the rest of his life (not long) serving God.

 

Walkara indeed seems like a brute and a force of evil. I'm just not sure what that means in any eternal sense. If our judgments of good and evil here in mortality are so ephemeral, passing such judgment seems futile. I suppose that is why we have been encouraged (read: commanded) not to judge people in what Elder Oaks called a final sense.

tl;dr—Righteous judgment is hard.

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22 minutes ago, NeuroTypical said:

Yep, passing judgment on the cultural aspects of other or past cultures.   I try hard to pass on the opportunity.

You pass on passing judgement on the past? So passe!

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