Utah Stories from the Beehive Archive

The Spark That Ignited the Black Hawk War

black hawk war.jpg

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The Spark That Ignited the Black Hawk War


Conflict and rising tensions between a group of Ute Indians and Mormons in Manti, Utah led to an incident that sparked Utah’s Black Hawk War. 

In 1865, on the same day Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee were negotiating an end to the American Civil War, a group of Mormons and Ute Indians were also meeting in the tiny Utah town of Manti to try and find a peaceful way to settle their differences. According to historical reports, several bands of Utes who spent the winter months in Sanpete Valley had killed and eaten at least fifteen head of cattle owned by local Mormon settlers. The winter of 1864 to 1865 had been particularly harsh, and the Utes had taken the white settlers’ livestock in order to stave off the very real threat of starvation. Some Utes also blamed the Mormons for the diseases that had ravaged them over the winter.

Opinions at the Manti meeting over how to handle the rising tensions were mixed. Sow-ok-soo-bet, one of the Ute leaders present at the meeting, cautioned peace as did Toquana, the son of the head Northern Ute chief Sowiette. But John Lowry, an employee of the United States Indian Office, would not be pacified. Lowry lunged at Jake Arapeen, one of the more outspoken Utes, and, grabbing him by his hair, hauled him from his horse. Enraged, Arapeen and his comrade Antonga (otherwise known as Black Hawk) rode out of town, while Lowry headed home to get a gun.

In the months after the Manti fight, Black Hawk led a mixed band of Utes, Paiutes, and Navajos in a series of raids across central Utah. Before long, the conflict began to take on the appearance of a civil war, with people on both sides committing unspeakable atrocities. Things only began to quiet down in 1867 when Black Hawk surrendered, though Indian raids continued until federal troops finally stepped in to enforce the peace.


Brandon Johnson for Utah Humanities © 2007


Image: Fort Deseret. Old Fort Deseret built in 1866. The fort was built to protect settlers against raids during the Black Hawk War. Image courtesy of Utah State Historical Society. 

See John A. Peterson’s entry on the Black Hawk War in the online Utah History Encyclopedia. Also see John Alton Peterson, Utah’s Black Hawk War (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1998), esp. 16-17.


The Beehive Archive is a production of Utah Humanities. Find sources and the whole collection of past episodes at www.utahhumanities.org