A few years ago, John Dehlin did a few podcasts about the Priesthood Ban. I wrote up a post which combined about 3 of John’s podcasts (and was nominated for a Niblet), which specifically addressed many of the historical aspects of slavery and the priesthood ban. I was quite surprised to learn that the Territory of Utah legalized slavery. In the podcasts, it was mentioned that one of the reasons was likely due to some of the slaveholding apostles. However, there is more to the slavery issue than just black slaves. Indian slavery was also legal, and I think that the church’s position on Indian slavery was actually a morally acceptable practice.
I’ve been reading a book called Establishing Zion by Eugene Campbell. I couldn’t find it in the library, but Signature Books has posted the entire book online and you can read it right here! Chapters 6 and 7 deal with issues surrounding the Indians when the pioneers first settled Utah. As you will recall, Utah was actually part of Mexico in 1847 when the Mormons literally left the United States due to persecution.
Within a short time, the Mexican-American War broke out. The purpose of this war was to protect Texas, which had declared independence from Mexico. The Mexicans didn’t appreciate the secession of Texas, and the United States came to the aid of Texas, thoroughly routing the Mexicans. However, the war didn’t merely help Texas, but was a major land grab by the United States. The treaty moved the line south, and the United States took in much of the southwestern US, including Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, though Texas was technically an independent nation at the time.
So, once again the Mormons were part the United States. As part of the Mexican-American War, the Mormons even furnished the Mormon Battalion, to show what good citizens they were. During this time period of the 1850’s, slavery was legal in much of the United States, and slavery wasn’t completely abolished until the Emancipation Proclamation and Civil a decade later (1861-1865).
I previously blogged about slavery in my Priesthood Ban post, noting that Brigham Young made slavery legal in the Utah Territory–the only state to approve slavery West of Missouri (besides Texas.) While I was pretty hard on Brigham, I was not aware of the slavery problem with the Indians. I do feel like Brigham tried to make the best of a rotten situation with regards to Indian slavery. I think this is a very important piece of information to consider when viewing Brigham Young and his legalization of slavery. From chapter 6, I quote about the Mormon dealings with Indian Chief Walker,
Another problem was Indian slavery. As already indicated, a slave trade was conducted over the Old Spanish Trail that came through much of Utah since the early 1800s. Walker and his band raided weaker tribes, taking their children and sometimes their wives as prisoners and selling them to Mexicans. As early as November 1851, the Deseret News called attention to a party of twenty Mexicans in the San Pete Valley, trading for Indian children. In his book, Forty Years Among the Indians, Daniel Jones wrote that when this party of traders arrived in Utah Valley, Brigham Young was notified and came to Provo. According to Jones, who acted as interpreter,
Mr. Young had the law read and explained to them showing them that from this day on they were under obligation to observe the laws of the United States instead of Mexico. That the treaty of Guadaloupe-Hidalgo had changed the conditions and that from this day on they were under the control of the United States. He further showed that it was a cruel practice to enslave human beings and explained that the results of such business caused war and bloodshed among the Indian tribes. The Mexicans listened with respect and admitted that the traffic would have to cease. It was plainly shown to them that it was a cruel business which could not be tolerated any longer and as it had been an old established practice they were not so much to blame for following the traffic heretofore. Now it was expected that this business would be discontinued. All seemed satisfied and pledged their word they would return home without trading for children. Most of them kept their promise, but one small party under Pedro Leon violated their obligation and were arrested and [p.107] brought before the United States court, with Judge [Zerubabbel] Snow presiding.
The Mexicans were found guilty and fined. The fines were afterwards remitted, and the men were allowed to return to their homes.
Stopping the slave trade embittered some Indians. Some of them attempted to sell their children to the Mormons. Jones related one graphic incident. Arrapine, Walker’s brother, insisted that because the Mormons had stopped the Mexicans from buying these children, the Mormons were obligated to purchase them. Jones wrote, “Several of us were present when he took one of the children by the heels and dashed his brains out on the hard ground, after which he threw the body toward us telling us we had no hearts or we would have saved its life.”
Incidents such as this led the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah on 7 March 1852 to pass an act legalizing Indian slavery. The purpose was to induce Mormons to buy Indian children who otherwise would have been abandoned or killed.9 It provided that Indian children under the proper conditions could be legally bound over to suitable guardians for a term of indenture not exceeding twenty years. The master was required to send Indian children between the ages of seven and sixteen years to school for a period of three months each year and was answerable to the probate judge for the treatment of these apprentices. As a result of this act, many Mormon families took small Indian children into their homes to protect them from slavery or from being left destitute. John D. Lee, for example, wrote in his journal about a group of Indians who “brought me two more girls for which I gave them two horses. I named the girls Annette and Elnora.”
Negro slavery was also permitted in the territory, but the pioneers had passed no similar rules about the treatment of blacks, certainly [p.108] not the requirement that they be schooled. However, blacks were not permitted to be sold to others without their own consent.
Footnote 9 was also very interesting regarding Indian slavery.
9. The Mormons had first confronted the problem of buying Indian children soon after their arrival in the Salt Lake Valley. Children were brought into the pioneers’ fort as early as the winter of 1847-48, and Indians said that they were war captives and would be killed if not purchased. The Mormons bought one of the children. Two more children were brought to the fort under the same threat, and the Mormons bought both of them. Charles Decker bought one of these two, Sally Kanosh, who was later given to Brigham Young and raised in his family. Speaking with church members in the Iron County Mission, Young advised them to buy children and teach them to live a good life. According to the Journal History for 12 May 1851, Young said, “The Lord could not have devised a better plan than to have put the saints where they were to help bring about the redemption of the Lamanites and also make them a white and delightsome people.”
Now this brings up an interesting conundrum. By purchasing Indian slaves, the Mormons are creating a demand to encourage more slavery. However, they are obviously saving lives. It would take the Civil War to completely rid the country of the practice of slavery. For more information on Mormon dealings with the Indians, click here. What do you think of Brigham Young’s practice of buying Indian slaves?