John Hillers photograph of Paiutes, about 1873

“Between the Colorado River and the Great Salt Lake, there is a stream called Sevier River, which rises in the high plateau to the southeast of the lake, and running some considerable distance in a westerly course, terminates in its own lakes. On the banks of this river there is said to be some vegetation, as grasses, trees and edible roots. Here live the Piutes and Land Pitches, the most degraded Indians known to the trappers……. These poor creatures are hunted in the spring of the year, when week and helpless, by a certain class of men, and when taken, are fattened, carried to Santa Fe and sold as slaves during their minority. A likely girl in her teens brings oftentimes 60 or 80 pounds. The males are valued less.” (Spoken by Thomas J. Farnum, describing central Utah as of 1839.)

In 1813, a seven man expedition, under the command of Mauricio Arze and Lagos Garcia passed through or near Millard County on their way to trade with the Timpanogos Indians of Utah Valley. Their reception there did not go well. “The Indians would trade nothing but Indian slaves, as the Spanish had done on other occasions.” The Arze-Lagos party refused this offer, where-upon the Indians began killing their horses, presumably for food, in payment for trespass. After the death of eight horses and one mule, the Spaniards were able to collect the remainder of their stock and flee south. Upon encountering a river in flood-stage, which they named the Rio Sebero (Sevier River), they met with the same “bearded Indians” described previously by the priest-explorer Escalante; his party passed through this same area in 1776. Friendly then, these Indians were now hostile. Barely escaping with their lives, they turned east to the Colorado River where they again met Indians wanting to sell slaves. This time they gave in and purchased 12 Indian children. The remainder of their journey home to Santa Fe proved uneventful. (The preceding account comes from notarized affidavits on file in the old Spanish Archives at Santa Fe.)

5 Paiute summer huts, Hillers, 1873

Mormon Indian scout and interpreter, Daniel Jones, was outspoken about slave-trading in Utah. Writing in 1851, he said: “Thus we find the people of New Mexico were making annual trips, commencing with a few goods, trading on their way for horses with the Navajos and sometimes with the Utes. Those used-up horses were traded to the poorer Indians for children. This trading was continued into Lower California where the children bought on the down trip would be traded to the Californians for other horses, goods or cash. All children bought on the return trip would be taken back to New Mexico and there sold, boys fetching on average $100, girls from $100 to $200.”

Jones later described an event that happened about 1853: “Walker’s Ute band was camped on Provo bench. They had some Indian children for sale. They offered them to the Mormons who declined buying. Arapine, Walker’s brother became enraged, saying that the Mormons had stopped the Mexicans from buying these children; they had no right to do so unless they bought them, themselves. Several of us were present when he took one of those children and dashed its brains out on the hard ground, after which he threw the body toward us, telling us we had no hearts or we would have bought it and saved its life.” The remaining children were immediately purchased by those Mormons who witnessed this happening.

On January 31, 1852 the Utah territorial legislature passed a law prohibiting the slave trade. Eventually it ceased to exist but active prosecution of that law became a major cause of the 1853-54 Walker War.

These stories were drawn mostly from the book, The Founding of an Empire, by LeLand Hargrave Creer, Professor of American History at the University of Utah, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1947.