Mormon History

Mistreatment of Indians - 1851

Saint Joseph Gazette June 11, 1851


Copy of a letter recently addressed by Gen. Thos. Jefferson Sutherland to the Hon. Luke Lea, Commissioner of Indian affairs.

                                                                   Council Bluff, Nebraska Territory.
                                                                    May 22, 1851.
Hon. Luke Lea, Com'r of Indian Affairs.

Sir: Conceiving, as I do, that there are matters transpiring in this remote section of our country which are calculated to involve with opprobium the character of a considerable section of people, and to invalidate the principles of justice embraced in the administration of the laws of the United States as they relate to the remnants of Indian tribes located on this frontier, I beg leave communicate the facts stated in this manuscript for the information of the Government at Washington.

The lands on this (the westerly) shore of the Missouri river from the mouth of the Nebraska or Platte northerly for the distance of one hundred miles, as I suppose it to be known to you, sir, is claimed by a tribe of Indians called the Omaha, whose numbers are variously estimated from six hundred to one thousand. These are located in a village consisting of about sixty huts, (some constructed of poles stuck in the ground, lashed together at the top, and covered with buffalo hides -- others built of sod,) situated five or six miles westerly from this place, and ten or fifteen miles from the mouth of the Nebraska.

For agricultural purposes, the lands of the Omaha tribe of Indians are equal to any in the world; but the Indians are ignorant of the science of husbandry, and they are no ways inclined to be therein instructed; and their country is entirely ruined as a hunting ground. The females of the tribe annually plant from forty to sixty acres with corn, the produce of which is all they raise; and the tribe own[s] from 50 to 75 small inferior horses; and in addition to these they have no animals either of hair or feathers.

The westerly shores of the Missouri river, (below this place,) extending between the mouth of the Nebraska river and the upper Nemha, is claimed by the Otoe and Missouria Indians, whose numbers are variously estimated from 500 to 1000; and the condition of these, who have no village, and who are as wandering in their habits as Arabs, is even worse than that of the Omahas. The lands of the Otoe and Missouria Indians are equal to any for agriculture, but they make little or no use of them for such purposes.

Through the Territories of the Otoe and Missouria Indians the United States forces stationed at Fort Kearney are monthly and weekly passing their trains; and on the government trail leading through the country of those Indians there have been many and large companies of emigrants, bound for Utah, California and Oregon, annually travelling; and all these have been permitted peaceably and unmolested to pass through their country, though it was apparent to the Indians that the emigrants were depredating upon their rights and despoiling their country of its game.

On the North side of the Nebraska river through the territories of the Omahas leads the principal trail for emigrants to the plains, over which the emigration of this present season for Utah and the Pacific coast, has been variously estimated from 3,000 to 10,000 persons; and these emigrants pass through the Indian country at the breeding time for game, and destroy the last lone animals of foot and wing, and yet they have met with neither opposition nor molestation by these Indians.

In 1846, several thousand people calling themselves Latter-Day-Saints, or Mormons, entered the country of the Omahas and made a settlement on this shore of the Missouri river, distant about twenty-five miles above the place from which I date my present communication, and there continued for more than a year, committing depredations upon the property and possessions of the Indians, and despoiling their country of timber -- and destroying its game, which was the main reliance of the Indians for subsistence.

Thus have the Omaha, Otoe, and Missouria Indians, (tribes claiming lands on the west shore of the Missouri river and inhabiting this neighborhood,) had their country ruined as a hunting ground, and their principal means of support taken from them by a section of the people of the United States -- and the Otoes and the Missourias receiving only a small annuity from the Government at Washington, and the Omahas none at all, these remnants of tribes now exist in a condition of wretchedness and destitution close upon actual starvation; and then their traffics with the white population on the opposite shore, with whom they exchange their moccasins and beadwork, and a few skins, for food and other necessaries, is now important to their existence

But, sir, this privilege of intercourse and traffic with the people on the opposite shore of the Missouri, the right of which is so justly due the Omaha, Otoe and Missouria Indians, is now denied by the principal chief of a section of people, claiming to number several thousand souls, (comprised of American citizens with a very considerable portion of aliens,) calling themselves Latter-Day-Saints or Mormons, who have entered upon the unsurveyed public lands of the United States embraced in the western limits of the State of Iowa, known as the Pottawatamie purchase, and which chief is now engaged, with his principal sub-chiefs, in parcelling out the said tract of unsurveyed public lands. in large parcels, to their followers, native and alien, to the exclusion of the honest and industrious citizens of the United States, who are not members of their associations and clubs.

The Mormon principal chief to whom I refer is Orson Hyde, who claims to be an elder and a high-priest of the Church of Latter-Day-Saints, a secular judge among those professing the faith of Mormonism, (and now occupying the unsurveyed Government lands aforesaid,) and President of the Twelve Apostles, late satelites of Jo. Smith, (and now of Brigham Young, Governor of the Territory of Utah,) and who is in fact the Alpha of all the Mormons on this side of the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. This man is also the proprietor and publisher of a newspaper, called the Frontier Guardian, printed at Kanesville, (within the said Pottawatamie purchase,) district, on the opposite shore of the Missouri river, about nine miles from the [crossing?] which newspaper is the only and exclusive newspaper publication printed within the western section of the State of Iowa, comprising forty or fifty counties.

The Frontier Guardian is an official gazette for the Mormon government existing on the opposite shore of the Missouri river, of which this Orson Hyde is the chief, and of which newspaper he is the controlling editor and principal writer; as well as proprietor and publisher, and in a number of the paper published under date of May 16, 1851, he put forth an article entitled "Indian Depredations Again," of which the following is a copy; and to the matters expressed therein I respectfully ask your attention, and beg you will lay the same before the Secretary of the Interior, to the end that the article may have, together with the facts I herewith suggest, due consideration by the Government at Washington.

Within the three months last past I have travelled much within the territories of the Otoe and Missouria Indians, and I have visited the Omaha village twice, and I have recently travelled over their entire country, accompanied only by a single companion. At the Otoe's village the Indians were kind and respectful; and when I have met them, as I did many, in the remote sections of their country, kindness and courtesy on their part has never been wanting and the like was the deportment of the Otoes and Missourias; and in no instance have I, while within the Indian Territory, been subject to insult or injury by any member of the tribes; and, sir, on the very day of the publication of the preceding article by the Mormon chief, from whose pen it emanated, there were several thousand cattle belonging to emigrants bound for Oregon and California undisturbedly feeding upon the lands of the Omaha, Otoe and Missouria Indians; and large drives of cattle belonging to the Mormons under the government and immediate direction of this Orson Hyde, have since grazed on the lands of these Indians and driven through their territories.

Again, sir; persons wishing to trade with these Indians are subject to no restraint or hindrance from entering their territories, even for the purpose of selling to them intoxicating liquors; the provisions of the Indian Bill of 1846, being a dead law here; and, therefore, it is not for the restriction of any privilege of the white population that the poor Indians are to be Lynched and driven from the opposite side of the river, where they have been compelled to go for food, in consequence of the robbery of their resources to which they have been subjected by persons acting under the direction of these same Mormon leaders.

Having in mind the fact that this Orson Hyde, who commands the Lynching of the poor Indians, upon suspicion of commission of acts, of which white men, calling themselves Saints, are as likely to have been guilty, and who requires them to be beaten with rods, without distinguishing those who may have justly been subject to suspicion from those who can not, and merely because these persons are Indians, is an elder of the Saints and a high-priest of the Church of Mormon, the want of justice and Christian charity which pervades the entire of this sect of Latter-Day-Saints will be seen in full demonstration. As for the "poor widows," the slaughter of whose cows by the Indians is set up as a justification for the outrages commanded to be inflicted upon these poor Indians, there are comparatively none in the country, (if my information be sufficient, and I believe it is,) except that those women, whose libidinous habits carried on under the sanction and authority of the canons of the Church of Latter-Day-Saints have separated them from their husbands, may be regarded as such; and as for the charge that "several poor men" have had their "entire teams butchered by the red skins," I pronounce it false; and I aver that there has been no case of the butchering by Indians of any man's team, poor or rich, since the opening of the present season. But, sir, if these Mormon "depredations" upon the Indians be not restrained and prohibited for the future, they will stand before the civilized and christianized people of this continent, and the whole world, as justification for greater retaliatory "depredations" than those complained of by the Mormon chief -- and the "butchering" of peaceable and innocent men, may be apprehended, (instead of cows and oxen,) who shall be regarded as enemies by these Indians, because they have the like complexion and speak the same language that is used by these man-whipping, lynching Mormons.

Your predecessor, sir, in his annual report of 1849, included a paragraph as follows: "I would beg leave to say that there is encouraging grounds for the belief that a large share of success will, in the end, crown the philanthropic efforts of individuals to civilize and to christianize the Indian tribes." Then, I submit, sir, if this treatment of the Indians on this frontier, (alleged to have been recommended by the Government Agents,) resolved upon and commanded by the Mormon chief, who with his sub-chiefs and followers, have usurped the control of the entire Pottawatamie purchase, comprising land[s] which stretch along the shore on the opposite side, breasting the territories of several of the Indian tribes residing on this side of the river, is not calculated to remove the grounds of encouragement, heretofore entertained by your Department, that success would crown "the philanthropic efforts of the Government" to "civilize and christianize the Indians;" and to render the whole scheme of the Government one of impracticability, by planting in the minds of the savages a disgust for civilization and Christianity, which must be the result of the horrid practices of violence and injustice inflicted upon them by the resolve and command of the leaders of a sect of people who claim to be Christians and civilized?
                    I have the honor to be, sir,
                          Your very obedient servant,
                                Th. Jefferson Sutherland.

==> The reader will find on the first page of this sheet a copy of a letter addressed to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, by General Sutherland, to which we invite attention. The course adopted by the [leading] Mormons to be pursued towards the Indians is most unseemly for SAINTS, and satisfies us that these Latter-Day-Saints [are] but a degenerate race when compared to the saints of former days. The [exceptions] of Gen. S. to their course are well [-----], and the arguments which he has [s-------] against them will not be broken down [by] any explanations which can be made...