Academic journal article Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought

Becoming a "Messenger of Peace": Jacob Hamblin in Tooele

Academic journal article Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought

Becoming a "Messenger of Peace": Jacob Hamblin in Tooele

Article excerpt

On March 13, 1852, two men, one white and armed with a rifle, the other a Goshute armed with bow and arrows, confronted each other in the Stansbury Mountains west of Tooele, a small, two-year-old settlement some twenty-five miles southwest of Salt Lake City. The first man, Jacob Vernon Hamblin, a lieutenant in Utah's Nauvoo Legion, had been given specific instructions by his military and ecclesiastical superior to kill all Indians, as they had been raiding the whites' cattle.1 However, when Hamblin and the Goshute faced each other in the mountains, neither could kill the other despite multiple arrows loosed at Hamblin and multiple attempts to shoot the Indian. Finally the Indian fled after Hamblin threw a stone at him. This was a tense, dangerous, yet almost comic confrontation that would profoundly shape Hamblin's subsequent life. He concluded that the incident was a sign given him from God that he should not kill Indians and that, if he followed this directive, he himself would never be killed by them.2

Thus, though Hamblin is known for his missions, explorations, and diplomacy in southern Utah and Arizona, Tooele was the place where he changed from a militaristic soldier sent to achieve success by killing Indians to a person who strove to avoid killing and bloodshed when dealing with Goshutes, Paiutes, Utes, Navajos, and Hopi. Through the rest of his life, in many dangerous situations on the frontier, he relied on this experience in Tooele and felt that he could travel among dangerous Indians in perfect safety if he did not seek their blood.

Hamblin's "conversion" is especially remarkable given that many Mormons had harsh and militaristic attitudes toward Utah Indians in the early 1850s. The story of the relationship of Mormons and Native Americans in early Utah history is complex and riddled with ambiguities. In some ways, the Book of Mormon caused Mormons to regard Indians highly, as descendants of Israel; according to this scripture, the pre-European inhabitants of North and South America were descendants of Lehi, a Hebrew prophet who had sailed to America with his family. Thus, Mormons often felt a high mission to convert and educate Indians. On the other hand, the culture gap between Mormons and Indians was vast; and when Indians did not convert quickly, as the Mormons had hoped, and in fact acted with hostility, Mormons sometimes viewed them as decadent, fallen children of Lehi, especially since they were regarded as descendants of Lehi's two wicked sons (Laman and Lemuel) rather than descendants of his righteous sons.3 The Saints in Utah in Hamblin's day often referred to Indians as Lamanites. In fact, Mormons developed many typical American attitudes toward Indians4-pursuing the policy of harsh punitive actions against them whenever it was deemed necessary.

Brigham Young has been regarded by historians as a generous friend to the Utah Indians, and his saying that it was cheaper to feed Indians than to fight them is often quoted.5 Mormons certainly were not involved in genocidal massacres of Indians, such as occurred in other parts of the West.6 For good and practical reasons, Young wanted Indians to be allies and friends. Nevertheless, Young's colonization of Utah and the Southwest, brilliantly carried out from one point of view, nevertheless consistently pushed Indians from their traditional homelands and away from precious water resources. Mormon settlements and herds made progressively ruinous inroads into ecosystems on which Indians relied. Historian John Alton Peterson comments: "Often conducting themselves more like conquerors than missionaries, the Latter-day Saints displaced native societies and colluded with federal officials to place them on reservations."7 Peterson remarks on the tragic irony that the Saints, a displaced people, were now themselves displacing a people.

If Young was moderate in his policies to Indians on the whole, historian Howard Christy, in an influential article, "Open Hand and Mailed Fist: Mormon Indian Relations in Utah, 1847-52," has argued that Young was initially more punitive than conciliatory with Utah's Indians. …

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