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History of Utah's American Indians

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The valleys, mountains, and deserts of Utah have been home to native peoples for thousands of years. Like peoples around the word, Utah's native inhabitants organized themselves in family units, groups, bands, clans, and tribes. Today, six Indian tribes in Utah are recognized as official entities. They include the Northwestern Shoshone, the Goshutes, the Paiutes, the Utes, the White Mesa or Southern Utes, and the Navajos (Dineh). Each tribe has its own government. Tribe members are citizens of Utah and the United States; however, lines of distinction both within the tribes and with the greater society at large have not always been clear. Migration, interaction, war, trade, intermarriage, common threats, and challenges have made relationships and affiliations more fluid than might be expected. In this volume, the editor and authors endeavor to write the history of Utah's first residents from an Indian perspective. An introductory chapter provides an overview of Utah's American Indians and a concluding chapter summarizes the issues and concerns of contemporary Indians and their leaders. Chapters on each of the six tribes look at origin stories, religion, politics, education, folkways, family life, social activities, economic issues, and important events. They provide an introduction to the rich heritage of Utah's native peoples. This book includes chapters by David Begay, Dennis Defa, Clifford Duncan, Ronald Holt, Nancy Maryboy, Robert McPherson, Mae Parry, Gary Tom, and Mary Jane Yazzie.

Forrest Cuch was born and raised on the Uintah and Ouray Ute Indian Reservation in northeastern Utah. He graduated from Westminster College in 1973 with a bachelor of arts degree in behavioral sciences. He served as education director for the Ute Indian Tribe from 1973 to 1988. From 1988 to 1994 he was employed by the Wampanoag Tribe in Gay Head, Massachusetts, first as a planner and then as tribal administrator. Since October 1997 he has been director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs. This book is a joint project of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs and the Utah State Historical Society. It is distributed to the book trade by Utah State University Press.

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Introduction

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Forrest S. Cuch

The day will come, when a white people will set foot on the eastern shores and claim this land as their own. They will build a white house near the shore from where they will govern their people. Upon establishing their government, they will raise a banner upon a flagstaff, on top of which they will place the spirit of the Hopi (Indian) people, this will be a sign to us that the Creator will keep his promises to us. This people, the “Bahana”, will scatter our people, seek to destroy us down to the last child, and bring upon us diseases that we have never known before.

—(Oral History of the Hopi Prophecy)

My understanding of ancient American Indian philosophy is that there is purpose for all things and that there are no accidents in this world. To many, it was no accident that the ancestors of the Hopi, the pre-Puebloan (Anasazi) people, once inhabited the area today known as the state of Utah. I also think it was no accident that my friend and predecessor, Wil Numkena, was Hopi, and a person of great wisdom and esteem. His vision, dedication as an educator, and love for the Indian people of Utah made this book possible. To him we all owe a debt of gratitude for this major accomplishment. I, and many others, will always appreciate his role in making this book possible and his contributions to our state.

 

Setting the Stage: Native America Revisited

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Robert S. McPherson

The writing of Native American history can be said to have started when Christopher Columbus first waded ashore on San Salvador Island in the Caribbean. It has continued ever since. What preceded his arrival—the prehistoric phase of Native Americans—has generally been left to archaeologists and anthropologists to decipher and explain from physical remains. The initial contact, post-contact, and contemporary phases are the realm of historians, who write in keeping with longstanding conventions of their own trade. In both instances, facts, dates, and interpretation generally are presented from an Anglo American perspective that has evolved over centuries.

What this has meant to the Indian people is that rarely, if ever, has their view been predominant, if it has even been known. Calvin Martin, a noted Indian historian, put it this way: “We presume to document and interpret the history of a people whose perception of the world for the most part eludes us, whose behavior, as a result, is enigmatic.... To ignore the Indian thoughtworld is to continue writing about ourselves to ourselves”1 This has been especially true until recently.

 

The Northwestern Shoshone

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Mae Parry

In early historic times the Shoshone Indians were a large nation of Indians who lived and traveled over an extensive territory that included parts of Idaho, Utah, Nevada, and Wyoming. Usually groups of extended families traveled together in varying numbers according to the season and the purpose of their gathering. Groups came together in larger encampments at different times during the year to trade, socialize, and sometimes for protection against enemies.1 The Northwestern Shoshone Indians have always lived in northern Utah and southeastern Idaho. They were nomadic gatherers, hunters, and fishermen.

The Eastern Shoshone lived in the Wyoming area. Chief Washakie was recognized as the head chief among most of the Shoshone bands at the time of the entry of the Mormons into the Salt Lake Valley.2 Washakie was known throughout the western country as one of the most able chiefs and had several sub-chiefs under his leadership, each of whom had between 300 and 400 Indians in their bands. Chief Pocatello was the leader over the Fort Hall area Shoshones. Other Northwestern Shoshones traveled under the leadership of Chief Sagwitch Timbimboo, Chief Bear Hunter, Chief Sanpitch, and Chief Lehi. They believed that a friendly relationship was possible with the pioneers. As a result, the Mormon pioneers and their leaders were initially welcomed into the Shoshone country. Warning of the Latter-day Saints’ wagon train reached Great Basin area tribes in advance of their arrival into the Salt Lake Valley. The reports characterized the LDS as friendly and said that they were not known to have shot at Native Americans. On July 31, 1847, Shoshone tribal leaders, including Chiefs Sagwitch and Bear Hunter, met with LDS leader Brigham Young in Salt Lake City to advance their territorial claims.3

 

The Goshute Indians of Utah

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Dennis R. Defa

The Goshute Indians live in a little known and sparsely populated portion of the state of Utah. There actually are two Goshute reservations, the largest of which is the Deep Creek Reservation located on the Utah-Nevada border about sixty miles south of Wendover, with a portion of the reservation in each state. The second, and smaller, reservation is located in Skull Valley in Tooele County, about ninety miles west of Salt Lake City. Most people who visit this region of the state view it as a harsh, hard, and unforgiving place and wonder why anyone would choose to live there. However, for the Goshutes this desert region is home and they view it much differently than does the casual visitor. Before white Americans moved into the region, the Goshutes knew the land intimately and took from it all they needed to sustain life. As efficient and effective hunters and gatherers, they understood the fragile nature of the desert and maintained a balance that provided for their needs without destroying the limited resources of their arid homeland.

 

The Paiute Tribe of Utah

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Gary Tom and Ronald Holt

Tabuts [elder brother/wolf] carved people out of sticks and was going to scatter them evenly around the earth so that everyone would have a good place to live. But Shinangwav [younger brother/coyote] cut open the sack and people fell out in bunches all over the world and that’s why people fight. The people left in the sack were the Southern Paiutes, and Tabuts put them here in the very best place.1

For a thousand years the Paiute people have lived in an area that is presently known as southern Utah, southeastern California, northern Arizona, and southern Nevada. Their homeland is adjacent to the Great Basin and included the resource-rich Colorado Plateau and a portion of the Mojave Desert.

Neither the written word nor the course of historical events have been kind to the Southern Paiutes. Theirs is a story of resiliency under great pressure and of disappointment after many promises. With the encroachment of Euro-American settlers into the area came the destruction of much of their traditional culture, religion, economy, and the title to their ancestral homeland. It took less than twenty-five years of contact with the Mormon settlers to reduce the Paiute population by 90 percent and turn them from being peaceful, independent farmers and foragers into destitute, landless people who survived by doing seasonal and part-time work for the white settlers. Some Paiute groups even ceased to exist.

 

The Northern Utes of Utah

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Clifford Duncan

The story of Sinauf, the god who was half man, half wolf, and his brothers Coyote and Wolf has been told many times in tipis and wickiups. According to Ute legend, these powerful animal-people kept the world in balance before humans were created. After Sinauf made people, humans took responsibility to care for the world, and in time they created many stories of their predecessors. These stories became the basis of Ute history and culture and defined the relationship of Ute Indians with all living elements, both spiritually and physically.

Most often the stories were told during the winter months. As snow drifted in under the tipis through little gaps, children scrambled to cover the drafts. By the fire sat the elder, the storyteller. His listeners sat in a circle, bundled tightly in warm buffalo or rabbit robes, waiting eagerly for him to begin what could be a long night of stories. There were tales of acts of courage during summer’s skirmishes and bravery during the fall hunts to be added to the tribe’s oral history. But, always a favorite was the story of how the Nuche—the Utes—first came to be.

 

The White Mesa Utes

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Robert S. McPherson and Mary Jane Yazzie

Billy Mike, the oldest living resident of the White Mesa Ute community, sat comfortably and slowly ran his fingers through his silver hair. The thick glasses perched upon his nose served more as a token of past vision than as an aid to see today’s world. Blind in one eye, and with failing sight in the other, he moved about slowly with the assistance of a cane. His life of ninety-some-odd years had spanned a period of transition for the Ute people. At times, his mind wandered clearly over events from the past, while at other times his memory became clouded. But there was no doubt as he remembered his people’s association with the land before it had been divided and controlled by the white man. He recalled, “No one really owned the land. It was like it owned us—the Ute (Nuche) people.”1 This relationship of which he spoke—of land and people—went back, according to tribal accounts, to the beginning of time, when the gods played a part in establishing the Ute’s domain.

 

The Navajos of Utah

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Nancy C. Maryboy and David Begay

Navajos have been living in the Four Corners region of the American Southwest for hundreds of years. The land of the Navajo includes areas of southeastern Utah, northeastern Arizona, and northwestern New Mexico. Navajo people traditionally and historically refer to themselves as the Diné, meaning the People. Other variations in the meaning of “Diné” also exist—for example, Child of the Holy People. Nevertheless, all the variations of meaning are an integral part of one whole, which expresses an interrelationship with the cosmos. Sacred oral stories passed down from generation to generation tell of cosmological origins and continuous evolvement through four eras or worlds, ultimately leading to what the Navajos call Hajíinéi, the Emergence, that brought the Navajos to their present location.

Navajos always have believed that their homeland is geographically and spiritually located within the area bounded by four major sacred mountains. Today Navajo land, held in trust by the United States government, has been set aside by treaty and executive order as an Indian reservation; however, this reservation is significantly smaller than the land that was culturally placed within the area of the four sacred mountains.

 

Conclusion: The Contemporary Status of Utah Indians

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Robert S. McPherson

The preceding tribal histories have brought the reader through the period of termination to more contemporary times. But what direction has Indian affairs taken over the past decade or so, and what does the future promise? Significant adjustments have been made in the past to accommodate the shifting economic, social, and political events and developments that have inundated the tribes following white contact. The direction and rate of change increased in tempo as fresh challenges confronted Native Americans. The only element that appears to have remained constant is that something new seemed to rear its head each year.

In the fast-paced world of contemporary Indian America, one looks for basic themes that have remained consistent through history and into the present. This concluding chapter points out that even though the type and nature of the problems from the past have been altered, they are still very visible in a modern form. The physical battles of the nineteenth century have been moved from the canyons, hills, and basins of Utah to the legal courts and government offices of the city. Still, many of the same issues are at stake. For Native Americans, the safeguarding of lands, the maintenance of an economy, and the preservation of tribal goals and individual ethnic identity are just as real now as they were fifty or 150 years ago. There remains just as much determination to hold on to these cultural ideals and autonomy as there was in the past. The difference lies in how it is done.

 

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