Utah - the Struggle for Resources

Conflict between settler and Indian in Utah during the nineteenth century was little different from similar struggles elsewhere in North America. At it's root, it was a disagreement about the use of land and resources. Prior to the arrival of Anglo-European settlers in Utah, Native Americans had often disagreed among themselves over these same issues, but never to the extent of the disagreement brought about by the arrival of the "white man."

Indian cultures did not include the concept of private land ownership. Indian societies did, however, recognize that specific areas and resources were traditionally used by specific tribes and bands of people. As Anglo-European settlers moved into areas previously utilized by one or another group of Indians, conflict over the use of resources became inevitable. At first, when numbers of settlers in a given area were few, disagreements were comparatively easy to avoid or reconcile. In many cases, Indians provided important assistance to the newcomers and in other situations settlers helped Indians. As increased numbers of settlers appeared, however, friction intensified. Many specific disagreements between individuals generated violence from one side or the other.

Once violence appeared in the relations between the two sides, other cultural differences became more difficult to deal with successfully. When European diseases began ravishing Indians, there was a great deal of confusion. Some Indian leaders thought that witchcraft was involved. The cultural divide was so great that neither Indian nor settler understood the other side of most arguments nor, as time went on, were most even willing to try. In situations where an individual Indian perpetrated a wrong on an individual settler, those seeking retribution were frequently unable or unwilling to find the specific individual wrongdoer. Out of frustration, they would take their vengeance out on any Indian they happened to find. This inevitably led to the feeling that the only good Indian was a dead Indian. Understandably, many Indians came to a similar conclusion about "white men."

During the nineteenth century in Utah, there were hundreds, if not thousands of recorded conflicts between the two sides of the cultural divide. An infinite number of unrecorded clashes also took place. Hostile Indians were accepted as a natural part of daily life in the Utah of the day. Between 1865 and 1872, it is estimated that over 150 major clashes occurred. Some of the larger actions were called "wars." These included the Fort Utah War in 1850, the Walker War in 1853-1854, the Tintic War of 1856 and the Black Hawk War of 1865-1872. Each of these conflicts had a series of specific incidents that historians point to in explaining what occurred. While these accounts are interesting to the history buff, they tend to mask the basic, underlying cause of each and every one of the conflicts - which was, of course, the struggle to control resources.

During the 1870s, as was happening elsewhere in the country, a concentrated effort was made in Utah to move all Indians to reservations. Treaties were signed with those Indians willing to negotiate. Hostile Indians were pursued by militia and regular army units and either killed or forced onto the reservations. In the years that followed, the "white man" frequently ignored the treaties whenever it was in his interest to do so. Life on the reservations was miserable. Although it took several decades for him to succeed, the settler eventually gained control of any and all of the resources that he wanted. In the process, Indian Culture has been reduced to a pale shadow of it's former self.

Scholars studying the Fremont Indian Culture wonder as to the reason why it disappeared six or seven centuries ago. Nobody has to be confused as to why Utah's principal Indian cultures of the eighteenth and nineteenth century have all but disappeared. They were consciously destroyed by the conflict with Anglo-European settlers over who would control the resources of Utah. It may have been inevitable, but that does not make it something about which anyone can be proud.