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The Last Battle Hasn't Been Fought in the War Over Utah's West Desert
Will Bagley
Published: 10/06/2002 Edition: Final Section: Utah  Page: B2

One of the hardest stories in Utah history--the war against the Kusiutta, the original inhabitants of the harsh lands west of Great Salt Lake--isn't over.              

"The Great Spirit gave land for all his children," Brigham Young told Utah's Indian leaders in May 1850. "Enough for red children. Enough for white children. All can have as much as they need. They need not leave."                

But that fall, he told the federal government he wanted all "the Indians removed from our territory."               

By 1852 there were about 16 Indian men to eight white men living at today's Grantsville. The Indians seemed "to be perfectly friendly and not disposed to steal," but settlers felt they were "very treacherous," and had "become a burden on our hands," claimed Benjamin Baker. He asked Young for advice on what to do.               

Next summer, Nauvoo Legion Lt. Jacob Hamblin received orders to "go after the Indians, to shoot all we found and bring no more into the settlement." He confessed the legion had been trying to destroy them for about three years.   

Hamblin's patrol surprised a small band between Tooele and Skull valleys and chased them into the mountains. He hid behind a rock and shot at the first Indian he saw, but his rifle misfired. "He sent an arrow at me, and it struck my gun," Hamblin recalled. The second arrow cut through his hat, the third barely missed his head, and "the fourth passed through my coat and vest."                

With his gun out of commission, Hamblin started pitching rocks at the Indian, who threw some back but "soon left the ground."              

Hamblin felt a special providence had protected him and his men and had prevented them "from shedding the blood of the Indians." He had an epiphany calling him "to be a messenger of peace to them," but this did not stop him from joining another expedition against the Kusiutta.               

His soldiers attacked and surprised an Indian camp. When Hamblin saw women and children fleeing for their lives, "barefooted over rocks and through the snow, leaving a trail of blood," he decided to quit fighting Indians.               

But not right away.               

First, he tried to hunt down Old Big Foot, feeling the warrior "deserved killing." Hamblin lost him in dense cedar brush, but Big Foot later told him if he had come three steps nearer the tree where he was hiding, "I would have put an arrow into you up to the feathers."                

Most of Hamblin's companions also were under the impression that "it was wrong to kill these Indians."  Hamblin said that "if I would not thirst for their blood, I should never fall by their hands," and he died of influenza in New Mexico in 1886, one of the most renowned frontiersmen in the West.               

The killing in the west desert didn't stop, however. By 1860, some 1,000 settlers and Pony Express, telegraph and stage stations had taken over the creeks and springs the Indians needed to survive.

The tribe fought back, but in 1863 they agreed to end hostilities and allow military posts, station houses, railways, mines and ranches in their lands.  In return, the government promised the Kusiutta $20,000 over 20 years to make up for the destruction of game.               

The government broke its treaty, and the Kusiutta, now known as the Goshutes, were given barren reservations at Ibapah and Skull Valley. There they learned to farm and struggled with bitter poverty for generations.               

But the Goshutes never surrendered their sovereignty--and thereby hangs a tale.               

To be continued next week.

Will Bagley learned about the Kusiutta from Dennis Defa and the recent book, A History of Utah's American Indians.

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