clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

WARRIOR BURIED ON LAND HE LOVED

A Ute warrior of color and courage, Black Hawk was laid to rest Saturday beneath the mountain he loved in a community he protected, after a century and a quarter of displacement.

He was surrounded by family, descendants of his brother "Mountain" and residents of Spring Lake who welcomed him back "home" as a part of the town's heritage and as a friend.Known as "Chief Black Hawk" - although Ute tribes didn't have designated chiefs - the man buried in the simple pine box in the town park of Spring Lake has a fascinating and oft-disputed history.

He originally befriended the Mormon settlers moving into the area, even lived with a non-Indian family in Salt Lake City for a time after being taken prisoner in a battle in Pleasant Grove.

But as he watched his people go hungry as the game disappeared and agonized over the suffering they endured at the hands of more and more white people, he became a feared and cunning foe, raiding cattle and stealing food to help feed Indians in five states in two years of skirmishes and bloodshed.

"Any food Black Hawk took, he gave away," said Charmaine Thompson, U.S. Forest Service heritage program leader. "He was a very careful, excellent warrior, very powerful and strong, who suffered a lot of hardship and hunger, who had a wife and a family and the hopes and dreams that go with that."

"It's actually a real person we're laying to rest here. It's part of us, part of you," said Wayne Gardner, a member of the Ute tribe.

A pine bough, sage and berry bush bouquet graced the casket, tied with strips of red, white, yellow and white cotton cloth. Casket bearers gripped rope handles and lowered the box into the earth with rope.

John Peterson, historian and author of a book about the Black Hawk era, said Black Hawk - or Antongeur as he was known to his people - was the greatest single leader of resistance to the white expansion through Utah.

"His is a story of agony, he was the father of the hungry child," said Peterson. "His were desperate acts with the welfare of his people in mind."

Peterson explained that Black Hawk's attitude changed after he was sent in as a scout to assess damage done to the Indians after two days of fighting in the Provo River bottoms. He found a brave known as Old Elk frozen and many dead. In Black Hawk's presence, Old Elk's head was severed and those of several of the nearby braves and "sent back east for study."

Peterson said that incident changed Black Hawk and for the next 15 months he plagued the white settlements, even forcing back the expansion for a time.

"He displayed extraordinary regionalism, fighting his war on two fronts," said Peterson, who noted the Black Hawk Wars were "secret wars" because Brigham Young did not want the United States militia to become involved. Therefore Black Hawk's name is not listed among those of other Indian patriots.

He eventually died on Sept. 26, 1870, of tuberculosis and from complications born of a gunshot wound to the stomach. His wives buried him on the mountain above Spring Lake dressed in a blue military jacket along with his prized possessions, a faded Eagle feather, a decorative bridle for his horse (and his horse), a set of sleigh bells, a spur, a clay pipe, an ax, a cup, a bucket and beaded clothing.

Miners dug his body up in 1911 and stored his remains with a local physician who eventually persuaded them to donate Black Hawk's bones to the LDS Church Museum of History.

They've remained in the possession of church museums until a Pleasant Grove boy decided to find out why Black Hawk's grave site wasn't registered with the Forest Service, which now owns the area where he was buried.

Shane Armstrong took on the double task of determining where Black Hawk's remains were for his Eagle project and getting an answer to his original question about the grave registration. He chased information until the bones were located at the BYU Museum of Peoples and Culture. He contacted the Forest Service.

Thompson then took on the task of working through the paperwork to get Black Hawk returned to his people.

Armstrong said he never expected to be taking part in a burial service for the ancient warrior. "I wanted to do something for my Eagle that would be a challenge and believe me, it was a challenge," he said.

"He was a very brave guy," said Armstrong. "I know a lot more about him now."

Thompson said the reburial in Spring Lake is "just the right thing to do. This is land where he would have walked and hunted. It feels very good to me to be here. This serendipitous journey began on this mountain and now gives him a chance to rest permanently and securely in a place that will not be disturbed."

Peterson added, "Today he returns to this sky, to this wind and to this soil."