Few know it, but America's Indian wars came to die in Utah. Consider the Goshute Uprising of 1918. Despised by the first Europeans who met them, the Newe of Utah's west desert were--and are--a proud people who brilliantly adapted to one of the hardest places to live on planet Earth. The first white settlers ruthlessly shot and poisoned the tribe, but members fought to stay on the land they loved. As Joe Peck of the Ibapah Indian Reservation recalled: The pistol shot that started World War I reverberated all the way to Deep Creek.
The Goshutes were not U.S. citizens in the summer of 1917, but that did not stop a federal Indian agent's "patriotic brainstorm" to draft the tribe's young men to fight Germany. The Goshute Nation didn't survive for millennia on the west desert by being dumb. They sent an emissary to the Blackfoot Reservation to complain to the Indian Grievance Committee. The committee reported this injustice to the Manhattan tribe--the New York media--which declared "a war fought only with typewriters."
The feds decided to take a stand and get the Goshutes into uniform, Peck recalled, "if it took the whole might of the country to do it." A young doctor got $50 to examine the youth of Ibapah. When nobody showed up for the physicals, Peck talked to Antelope Jake, the tribal council leader. Jake was worried and puzzled. He couldn't figure out why Americans had to go so far to fight. "How do you know Germans well enough to get mad at them?"
Peck explained they had sunk our ships. Jake asked why we didn't just stay at home. "We stay at home and have no trouble with anybody. What does a German look like? You ever see one?" Germans look like other white people, Peck answered. Why, suggested Peck, the Indian agent was probably of German descent.
The statement presented a solution to Jake. "You tell white father we kill him for free and any other Germans that come around here, too. You go fight your war. Goshutes will stand behind you, and keep Germans from capturing Ibapah Valley." Peck was glad we had such a staunch ally to fall back on "if things got real bad," but he still didn't get to examine anybody. "We keep our boys at home," Jake said in parting. "Anybody comes here you want killed, we do it--Germans, Paiutes, Indian agents." As it turned out the Goshutes weren't citizens, so they couldn't be drafted. But they had to register anyway. They refused and the troops were called out.
In forty-below weather in January 1918, 100 men of the 20th Infantry left Fort Douglas by special train to capture the tribal council. The troops detained most of the Goshute men and took six prisoners. In protest, the tribe bought thirty cases of ammunition at the local hardware store. Jake explained to The Salt Lake Tribune that when he was a boy, an Army general advised his people, "Be peaceful and you will always be happy." The Goshutes promised they would. Now the soldiers had put their leaders in jail because they would not break their promise: "Jake thinks all white men born crazy and never grow up, that's what Jake thinks."
The revolt ended with a negotiated settlement. The tribal council went free, and the Goshutes agreed to register for the draft. But the young men had noticed a Shoshone sergeant with the Army. When the Indian agent again tried to register them, he found most of them had gone to Nevada and joined up. So ended the Goshute Uprising of 1918. But the war went on.
Dennis Defa contributed to this story.