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UTAH'S BLACK HAWK WAR by John Alton Peterson


by John Alton Peterson

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1999
ISBN: 0-87480-583-X

A first-rate investigation into a little-known episode of the Indian Wars. Although it raged for nearly a decade and cost a few hundred lives, Utah’s Black Hawk War is rarely mentioned in histories of the American West. In that war, a Ute elder named Black Hawk gathered an army of Utes, Shoshones, Navajos, and Paiutes and attacked Mormon livestock-raising settlements throughout central and southern Utah, determined to drive the ranchers from their country. The conflict was little advertised as it was happening, even within Utah, writes Peterson, in large part because the Mormon Church carefully disguised its existence; Brigham Young and other church leaders feared that the federal government would use the Indian uprising as a pretext to send in troops who, after the Indians had been properly chastised, might turn their attention to polygamists and other of the territory’s nonconformists. Quietly, then, Mormon militiamen battled Black Hawk’s people in a war that, Peterson holds, was “an anomaly in Western history.” It was an anomaly because in the territories bordering Utah frenzied campaigns against Indians were then being mounted (after a couple of miners were murdered in Colorado in 1863, for instance, federal troops slaughtered hundreds of Cheyenne and Arapahos in the Sand Creek Massacre), and by comparison Utah’s actions were conducted with much restraint. It was also an anomaly because Brigham Young’s agents, convinced that the Indians were somehow connected to the so-called lost tribes of Israel, sought to make peace at every turn and labored “to encourage the Latter-day Saints to lay down their vengeful feelings.” The frontier artist George Catlin, Peterson reveals, even went so far as to propose a grand Mormon-Indian alliance to battle the federal government as “mutual protection against the invading military forces which are entering the great Far West on every side.” That alliance never materialized. Neither, however, did the anti-Indian reprisals and vendettas that occurred elsewhere in 19th-century America. Although it is a lightly revised doctoral dissertation, Peterson’s book is accessible to—and highly recommended for—all readers with an interest in western history.