Indian Slaves “Purchased into Freedom”

Mar 20, 2019
2 min read

I came across this story recently and it reminded me of the tragic complexity of history. We tend to look back and history through the narratives crafted by historians often get a glimpse of how hard some situations were to deal with.

Sometimes you cannot change the situation around you, but you can still find a way to do the best with what you have.

“One problem encountered by the Mormons in relation to the Indians was the rather extensive slave trade in the Great Basin. Various groups of Mexicans and Ute Indians circulated through the territory buying or stealing children of the weaker tribes for sale to Mexicans. Reputedly, each child would bring from one hundred to two hundred dollars and was condemned to a life-time of slavery in a Mexican village. The whole business was repulsive to the Mormons, but there was no easy solution, inasmuch as stopping the trade would suspend an important source of Indian revenue. The nature of the dilemma was illustrated during the winter of 1848-49 when a band referred to in contemporary literature as Cumumbah or Weber Utes came into the Salt Lake Valley desiring to trade. They had previously taken two girls about four and five years old as prisoners and wanted to sell them. When the Mormons declined, the enraged chief took one of the girls by the heels and dashed her brains out on the hard ground, “after which he threw the body towards us, telling us we had no hearts, or we would have bought it and saved its life.” Charles Decker, a young scout and brother-in-law of Brigham Young, moved quickly to prevent the same thing from happening to the other girl, and purchased her with his rifle and pony. He then took her to the home of Lorenzo Dow Young, a brother of Brigham, to be washed and clothed. John R. Young, son of Lorenzo, wrote:

“She was the saddest-looking piece of humanity I have ever seen. They had shingled her head with butcher knives and fire brands. All the fleshy parts of her body, legs, and arms had been hacked with knives, then fire brands had been stuck into the wounds. She was gaunt with hunger, and smeared from head to foot with blood and ashes. After being washed and clothed, she was given to President [Brigham] Young and became as one of his family. They named her Sally.

“After this experience Brigham Young encouraged his followers to adopt Indian children offered for sale…

“…in urging the legislature to pass an Indian slave act that would decree the stopping of the trade, Brigham Young “drew a fine distinction between actual slavery to the Mexicans and purchase by the Mormons,” insisting in the latter case that the Indians were being purchased into freedom instead of slavery.”

 (The Mormon Experience, Arrington P. 150-151)

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