I came across the following story while reading The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints by Leonard Arrington and Davis Bitton. It deeply saddened me and I felt the need to share it with someone. My wife became the unwilling person I shared it with. Part way through the story, she asked me to stop because it horrified her so deeply. But I told her that I needed to finish telling the story because it was a reminder to me that the 19th century world was alien to a 21st century middle class American living comfortably in my nice neighborhood. My Mormon ancestors dealt with horrors and difficult moral choices that I hope to never face.
Many of you will wonder what my purpose is in sharing this story. I have no real purpose except that it moved me and drew me closer to the conditions that both 19th century Mormons and Native Americans lived in. In understanding their difficult lives better, I understand them a bit better.
And I just felt the need to remember Sally.
One problem encountered by the Mormons in relation to the Indians was the rather extensive slave trade in the Great Basin. Various groups of Mexicans and Ute Indians circulated through the territory buying or stealing children of the weaker tribes for sale to Mexicans. … The whole business was repulsive to the Mormons, but there was no easy solution, inasmuch as stopping the trade would suspend an important source of Indian revenue. The nature of the dilemma was illustrated during the winter of 1848-49 when a band… came into the Salt Lake Valley desiring to trade. They had previously taken two girls about four and five years old as prisoners and wanted to sell them. When the Mormons declined, the enraged chief took one of the girls by the heels and dashed her brains out on the hard ground, “after which he threw the body towards us, telling us we had no hearts, or we would have bought it and saved its life.” Charles Decker, a young scout and brother-in-law of Brigham Young, moved quickly to prevent the same thing from happening to the other girl, and purchased her with his rifle and pony.[John R. Young wrote] She was the saddest-looking 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 had 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. After being washed and clothed, she was given to President [Brigham] Young and became as one of his family. They named her Sally.
After this experience Brigham Young encouraged his followers to adopt Indian children offered for sale.
This ends the story in the main text of the book. But as it turns out, the rest of the story is told in the footnotes:
Sally became famous for her excellent cooking. On one occasion, when she was serving a group of chieftains at Brigham Young’s table, the Pahvant chief, Kanosh, fell in love with her and tried to buy her from Brigham Young. Young would not sell her, but said she was free to accept Kanosh’s offer if she wished. She refused, but Kanosh was persistent, and ultimately she did accept his proposal. He built her a “white man’s house” and allowed her to follow “white man’s ways.” Later Kanosh married another Indian woman, this time a tradition-oriented female, who hated Sally and her white customs. One day when Kanosh was away, she killed Sally and buried her in a shallow grave. When Kanosh returned and found Sally gone, he suspected what had happened and angrily hunted until he found her grave. “In his grief he seized the murderess, and would have burned her at the stake, but white men interfered. In due time the Indian woman confessed her guilt, and in accordance with the Indian concept justice, offered to expiate her crime by starving herself to death. The offer was accepted, and on a lone hill in sight of the village, a wik-i-up was constructed of dry timber. Taking a jug of water, the woman silently walked toward her living grave. Like the rejected swan, alone, unloved, in low tones she sang her own sad requiem, until her voice was hushed in death. One night when the evening beacon fire was not seen by the villagers, a runner was dispatched to fire the wick-i-up, and retribution was complete.”
(From The Mormon Experience, p. 150 and footnote 20.)