Utah has what might be the largest trove of folk history in all the United States. Thanks to organizations such as the Sons and Daughters of Utah Pioneers, we have thousands of diaries and autobiographies in which the people who lived Utah's history tell us what they saw and felt.
Few of these histories are as valuable as a Danish immigrant's account of Utah's Indian wars.
Not long after his marriage in 1872, Peter Gottfredson took his wife to a sawmill near Spring City to cook while he hauled logs and her brother sawed them into lumber. On Sept. 26, Indians ambushed and killed a man and wounded his son nearby.
Ten years later, the editor of The Richfield Advocate asked Gottfredson to write up the circumstances for publication, which he did. Gottfredson spent the next 37 years compiling a unique history of some of the darkest episodes in our past, Indian Depredations in Utah.
With little education, he diligently recorded the memories of his comrades in the Utah Indian War Veterans to tell a story that would otherwise be forgotten, and which helped with their pension claims.
Depredations describes Utah's longest and most brutal Indian conflict, the Black Hawk War that raged from 1865 to 1872. The struggle began on the day Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox when Ute leaders tried to settle a simmering dispute.
It began when Antonga, or Black Hawk, killed one of John Lowry's cows. The peace conference turned violent when a drunken Lowry jerked Jake Arapeen, a Ute, from his horse and the Utes resolved to avenge the insult.
During the next year Antonga captured more than 2,000 head of "Mormon beef" and killed some 25 settlers. In retaliation, the terrified whites killed about 40 of his warriors and an unknown number of women and children.
The war degenerated into an orgy of vengeance, but fundamentally it was about survival--and who would control the land. As Gottfredson observed, the Utes resented the whites "encroaching upon their rights by crowding them off their lands and hunting grounds. White man's horses, cows and sheep eat Indian's grass. White man burn Indian's wood, shoot Indian's buckskin, rabbits" and caught the fish they depended on for food.
Brigham Young preached it was "cheaper to feed [the Indians] than to fight them," but he spent millions in church funds waging a secret war that ended only when U.S. troops intervened in 1872.
The war created a vortex of fear and hatred that led to greater violence and brutality on both sides. A product of its time, Indian Depredations is bitterly racist: The Utes and Paiutes are "skulking savages," "murderous marauders," "Mr. Redskin" and "the sleepless foe."
But the book reports any number of white depredations that would otherwise be unknown, and like the Iliad, the losers are often more courageous and noble than the victors.
Gottfredson witnessed "the last killing of a white man" by Indians during the Black Hawk uprising. Thinking they were attacking a member of the hated Snow family, Utes shot Daniel Miller, breaking his back. Dragging him from his wagon, the attackers "laid his face on a bed of cactus."
A passing friend heard his moans, and Gottfredson helped carry a litter to take the dying man home.
Miller never made it. He told his rescuers he would like to see his newborn twins before he died, and the men "asked him if he wanted us to take vengeance upon the Indians."
Daniel Miller reportedly said, "No, they don't know any better." A short time later he died.
Phillip B. Gottfredson (philbgtwo@ qwest.net) gave historian Will Bagley the recent reprint of his great-grandfather's classic history.