Yesterday was Pioneer Day in Utah. My post on 17 Miracles would have been the most appropriate Pioneer Day post, but I don’t think I can re-use that post since it was just a month ago. I thought I’d talk about some stories you probably won’t hear at church. Since I discussed early Mormon positions on slavery last week, I thought it might be nice to review some stories related to that topic as well.
Brigham Young is famous for saying “This is the Place” when he arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. The actual quote was, “This is the right place. Move on.” What’s not so famous is the fact of who he was talking to, and who was driving the wagon: a slave by the name of Green Flake.
Flake was baptized in 1844 in the Mississippi River by John Brown. James Madison Flake was Green’s owner, and was given Green as a wedding present by James’ father. Green was age 10 at the time. Brigham Young released Green from slavery in 1854. There’s no evidence that Flake held the priesthood (though other blacks did hold the priesthood at this time), but he holds a very interesting place in Mormon history.
As I mentioned last week, between 1830-1844 under the direction of Joseph Smith, Mormons were Anti-Slave and Anti-Abolition. However, under Brigham Young, Mormons developed a more pro-slavery position. As we talk about race relations, many often point to the fact that Utah passed a law legalizing slavery in the territory called “An Act in Relation to Service.” It doesn’t appear that slavery was very popular in Utah; there were never more than about 100 slaves in the territory. However, what often gets lost in the conversation is the subject of Indian slavery. Eugene Campbell discusses this in his book Establishing Zion. Signature Books has published the entire book online, and you can read it here. Campbell is a former history professor at BYU. In a footnote, he says,
The Mormons had first confronted the problem of buying Indian children soon after their arrival in the Salt Lake Valley. Children were brought into the pioneers’ fort as early as the winter of 1847-48, and Indians said that they were war captives and would be killed if not purchased. The Mormons bought one of the children. Two more children were brought to the fort under the same threat, and the Mormons bought both of them. Charles Decker bought one of these two, Sally Kanosh, who was later given to Brigham Young and raised in his family. Speaking with church members in the Iron County Mission, Young advised them to buy children and teach them to live a good life. According to the Journal History for 12 May 1851, Young said, “The Lord could not have devised a better plan than to have put the saints where they were to help bring about the redemption of the Lamanites and also make them a white and delightsome people.”
However, the Mormons did try to stop the practice of trading Indian slavery. In
November 1851, the Deseret News called attention to a party of twenty Mexicans in the San Pete Valley, trading for Indian children. In his book, Forty Years Among the Indians, Daniel Jones wrote that when this party of traders arrived in Utah Valley, Brigham Young was notified and came to Provo. According to Jones, who acted as interpreter,
Mr. Young had the law read and explained to them showing them that from this day on they were under obligation to observe the laws of the United States instead of Mexico. That the treaty of Guadaloupe-Hidalgo had changed the conditions and that from this day on they were under the control of the United States. He further showed that it was a cruel practice to enslave human beings and explained that the results of such business caused war and bloodshed among the Indian tribes. The Mexicans listened with respect and admitted that the traffic would have to cease….
The Mexicans were found guilty and fined. The fines were afterwards remitted, and the men were allowed to return to their homes.
Stopping the slave trade embittered some Indians. Some of them attempted to sell their children to the Mormons. Jones related one graphic incident. Arrapine, Walker’s brother, insisted that because the Mormons had stopped the Mexicans from buying these children, the Mormons were obligated to purchase them. Jones wrote, “Several of us were present when he took one of the children by the heels and dashed his brains out on the hard ground, after which he threw the body toward us telling us we had no hearts or we would have saved its life.”
Incidents such as this led the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah on 7 March 1852 to pass an act legalizing Indian slavery. The purpose was to induce Mormons to buy Indian children who otherwise would have been abandoned or killed.9 It provided that Indian children under the proper conditions could be legally bound over to suitable guardians for a term of indenture not exceeding twenty years. The master was required to send Indian children between the ages of seven and sixteen years to school for a period of three months each year and was answerable to the probate judge for the treatment of these apprentices. As a result of this act, many Mormon families took small Indian children into their homes to protect them from slavery or from being left destitute. John D. Lee, for example, wrote in his journal about a group of Indians who “brought me two more girls for which I gave them two horses. I named the girls Annette and Elnora.”
Negro slavery was also permitted in the territory, but the pioneers had passed no similar rules about the treatment of blacks, certainly [p.108] not the requirement that they be schooled. However, blacks were not permitted to be sold to others without their own consent.
What do you make of these stories. Did you hear any non-traditional stories yesterday?