The Mormon-Black Hawk War


The “Black Hawk War” that took place in Utah and started roughly around April 9, 1865, was the longest and most destructive war between pioneer immigrants and Native Americans in Utah history. It was a war between the Ute Native Americans and the Mormon settlers.

It all started when a handful of Ute Indians and Mormon settlers gathered in Manti, Utah, to settle a dispute over some cattle and livestock that were killed and eaten by some hungry Utes. The Mormons attempted to reason with the Indians, saying they had the right to take possession of their land because the Indians were heathens and non-Christians who didn’t believe in the Bible or Jesus, or the Messiah. (

One thing led to another and a Mormon settler insulted a Ute Indian as well as a Ute named Black Hawk. But Black Hawk was not his name; his real Ute name was Nooch, a name sacred to the Ute Indians in honor of the Noochew people. Black Hawk was the name that Brigham Young gave him. That is when the Indians promised retaliation, and retaliation is exactly what happened. Over the next couple of days the Indians followed through with their promises and stole hundreds of the Mormon settlers’ cattle as well as killed five men, then escaped into the mountains. Black Hawk was given the title of War Chief after his stand up to the settlers. Historian Will Bagley wrote, “It was a matter of who would own the land and who would survive.  It was a battle over resources that led to a brutal bloody conflict between the Mormon settlers and the Ute.” (

Militiamen mostly fought the war in the northern states, and few Indians were given credit for anything. Miss Doris Duke said, “If a white person would of grown up the way an Indian did, the white person would think the same way, there is no right or wrong, it was just the circumstances.” (Miss Doris Duke)

Over the next year Black Hawk continued with this stealing of cattle and challenging the Mormons. Black Hawk was not supported by everyone in his tribe, though. He had gained the support of only a handful of people, but he also had gained some support from other tribes in the area, such as the Paiute and Navajo. Their task was simple: it was to make life difficult for the Mormons through that area of land. Their goal was to steal as much cattle as they could, as well as taunt and hassle people who were traveling through the area. (Gottfredson)

In the small town of Circleville in the year of 1866 it was said that there occurred “the largest massacre of Indians in Utah’s history.”  (Winkler) The Circleville Massacre was a key event in the Black Hawk War and lives up to every bit of its title. On September 18, 1865, Major Warren S. Snow and a hundred men who were out hunting Indians stopped in the town of Circleville for the night. The next morning they took off, eventually to meet up with some Indians to fight in Wayne County. The Utes heard of this and started their move toward Circleville.  The townspeople saw the Utes all around the mountains just watching them, waiting to make a move. One day after the Utes came to the town and stole some more of their cattle, the townspeople took cover in the meetinghouse with only a few militiamen guarding the town. (Winkler)  After the first raid the people did not want to chance any more Indian attacks so they went to the neighboring tribe to their town where the Paiute Indians were and took sixteen men captive and some women and children, as a precautionary measure against any further raids. They were placed in the meetinghouse under arrest with guards and the women and children were placed in the cellar. That night when the guards were waiting for orders on what to do with the captives, the Paiute men freed themselves and sprung on their captors. In a panic all of the sixteen men were shot and killed in the struggle. Since they did not want the word to get out about the killings they brought up the women one at a time and shot them, and then shot the children one at a time. (Winkler)

Throughout the next couple of years the Mormons decided enough was enough and decided to stand their ground. Historian Robert Carter said, “When the Ute failed to assimilate into Mormon culture, the answer was to exterminate them.” ( The Mormons got hundreds of militiamen and chased the Utes through the wilderness and mountains but did not have much success since that was the Indians’ homeland. But that didn’t stop some of the men who were upset with what was happening to their land and their cattle from killing some innocent Utes, including women and children. Mormons decided to go another route and called upon federal troops to step in and help them out with the growing problem, but their support was not answered for a while. After much fighting and constant little battles, Black Hawk and the Mormons made peace with each other in 1867. A treaty was signed in 1868.

Before Black Hawk died in 1870, from a bullet wound a year earlier that made him sick, he traveled to the Mormon village to apologize for the pain and suffering that the war had caused. He asked for settlers’ forgiveness and asked them to do the same and stop all the bloodshed. ( But even after the treaty was signed, many Native Americans were still being killed, even after Black Hawk apologized to them.

White expansion brought a problem to the Indians. Mormons and Europeans brought in new diseases and their settlement in some areas hurt the natural eco-system, and scared away wildlife, which led to the starvation of many Indians.  All of the events were not uncommon in the western states at this time but the Black Hawk War was different because of the animosity between the United States government and the LDS Church. The war ended without any incident when federal troops were ordered to engage the Indians in 1872. (Lowry)

Chad Manis is a senior at The University of Utah. He is majoring in mass communication and plans to graduate in fall 2010. He grew up in Long Beach, California, but now lives in Salt Lake City with his wife, Casey.


Albert Winkler, “The  Circleville Massacre: A Brutal Incident in Utah’s Black Hawk War,” Utah Historical Quarterly 55 (1987).

Peter Gottfredson. Indian Depredations in Utah (1919), Legislative Assembly Of Utah Territory.

Kate B. Carter. Our Pioneer Heritage, vol 9. Salt Lake City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1958.

The American Indian Oral History Project, Miss Doris Duke, MS 417. Legend Translated by Alvina Quam 1968, Manuscript Division, J. Willard Marriot Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.

The John Lowry, Sr., and John Lowry, Jr., Papers , MS 306. J. Willard Marriot Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Sketch Of The Life Of John Lowry 1799-1867, Manuscript Division, J. Willard Marriot Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Secondary Sources

Carlton Culmsee. Utah’s Black Hawk War. Logan: Utah State University Press, 1973.

Black Hawk Indian War: Utah’s Forgotten Tragedy.”