Lorena Washburn Larsen, Daughter of Mormon Pioneers
Lorena Washburn (1860-1945) was born in Manti, Utah, five years before the Black Hawk War. Her family belonged to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently called the Mormon Church). Her parents Abraham and Flora Gleason Washburn were Mormon pioneers and emigrated from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1848. Brigham Young, president of The Church of Jesus Christ, called the Washburns to settle Manti in 1849 after Ute chiefs Wakara and Sowiette visited him asking for permanent settlers in the area. In 1865, the Chiefs became uneasy as settlements expanded. Because of starvation among the Utes, a few of them began stealing the Mormons’cattle. On April 9, 1865, in Manti, at a meeting between the Mormons and the Utes discussing the cattle thefts, an altercation ignited the violence. Black Hawk, an Indian brave, successfully united neighboring tribes against the Mormons.
My Memories of the Black Hawk War
I was just a small child when the Black Hawk War with the Ute Indians began in April, 1865. We lived in Manti, Utah. All the people living in the east part of town were told to move onto our street or into houses not farther east than the second row of blocks east of Main Street. That would make it easier to defend the town against the Indians.
In our home there was one large living room, a bedroom, and a kitchen. Under the living room was a large cellar with a trap door in the living room. During the war, we were in danger of Indian attacks at any time of day or night. Mother told us and the neighborhood children to be on the lookout in the daytime. If we saw a group of horsemen coming at any time, we were to all run to our house and she would hide us in the cellar. We had one such scare. A large group of horsemen came riding around Temple Hill and came galloping up our street. We all ran and were quickly hidden in the cellar. Then Mother discovered that it was a scouting party who had been out looking for Indians.
South of Manti the country was covered with an alkali called saleratus. It was crude soda and supplied Utah with soda. It was used in combination with lime and a solution made from wood ashes to make soap. One day during the Indian War, Father was going to get a load of it. He told us children we could go along, as he was just going a little way from town. When we
got there, Father and the boys were busy shoveling it into the wagon and we smaller ones were dipping it up with tin plates. All at once Father looked to the south and saw horsemen coming over a hill. They were too far off for us to tell if they were Indians or whites. It didn’t take us long to hop into the wagon. Father made the ox team run until we were well into town. Again, it was a scouting party returning.
The worst possible sound at that time was the sound of the big bass drum in the night. That was the signal of trouble. Perhaps the Indians had stolen some cattle or attacked some traveler. Perhaps they were attacking our town. The drum was the signal for every man in town to hurry to the public square to do his part, if need be, in fighting the Indians.
The majority of the locks on the house doors were very primitive in those days, they consisted of a long wooden latch on the inside, with a catch nailed on the door casing for the latch to fall into, and just above the latch was a small hole in the door through which a buck skin string was put to the outside of the door. You pulled the string and the latch would fly up and the door opened. On occasions when the men were all called out in the night time the mother or some member of those left in the house would pull the string inside and all hands would begin to move a large flour box or the heaviest movable thing in the house against the door for greater protection.
While the men were gone, the women and children huddled in dark corners, hiding and hoping that the Indians were going some other way. They stayed hidden until some of the menfolk returned to give the word that they were not in danger. When we finally got to bed again, we were always so excited that it was almost impossible to get back to sleep.
[Father] had an old style flint lock musket with a bayonet on the end, which he had used as a member of the Nauvoo Legion, but when the Indians got on the war path he sold a fine ox valued at forty dollars for a new Ballard gun.
At one time a group of Indian prisoners were lodged in the Manti jail which was the upstairs of the old court house. This was near our home. The Indians were chained up and so considered helpless so far as making an escape was concerned. The people took turns cooking food for them. It was delivered to the guards at the jail. The members of the guard took the food to the prisoners up a back stair on the east side of the old court house to an upstairs door in the jail room. The place was heavily guarded, but in some unknown way the Indians had gotten a knife. They made the knife into a saw and at last sawed their chains in two. One day, as the guard opened the door to pass the food in, the Indians rushed and overpowered him and the other guards nearby. They jumped from the stair and headed east toward the mountains. Other guards on the ground sent a shower of bullets after them.
My sister, Huetta, lived east of the jail. When the firing started she looked out of her back door. She saw the Indians, with the guard after them, running straight for her open back door. She was too frightened to move. Her husband grabbed her and held her against the inside of the adobe wall, away from doors and windows and out of the way of stray bullets. Luckily the Indians passed the house without coming in.
The Indians hadn’t gotten out of town; instead they hid in corrals and among haystacks. Darkness came on. There was no moon and it was really dark. There were few lanterns to be had. Every man in town who was brave enough was out hunting Indians in the eastern part of town, while the women and children in that part of town sat or laid [sic] on the floor below the range of the windows, that they might be protected from bullets which might come through the windows. Our large living room floor was filled with people. One of our neighbors came running with his whole family of children to our house as soon as the fleeing Indians and guards had passed his door. His family stayed there until the trouble was over.
There were other battles near town and many scares. Men were killed. We had guards posted along the road. One night the guards heard someone coming along the road. “Who goes there?” they called. There was no answer. The guard got ready for trouble. They called again. Still no answer. A guard called out, “Answer or I’ll shoot!” Suddenly a voice came out of the darkness. “Oh, ve is yust two peoples going to the south.” It was a couple just arrived in Utah from Norway or Sweden. They had been traveling at night, since they thought that was safer.
Another day of awful excitement was the day that the Indians on their way from the Ephraim east mountains going after the herds of cattle in the region of San Pitch River had killed people in the Ephraim fields. A messenger arrived at Manti in a very short time, and the news spread like wild fire. Men, women, and children filled the streets. The more excitable ones were crying, others trying to soothe them.
There were a few Indians who had worked for [Father] prior to the war, and some of them loved him dearly for his kindness to them and his honesty in his dealings with them. Among them was Indian Joe, a chief and on a few occasions when the whites were in battle with them or very close on their trail he would call to some men whom he knew and send a message to [Father] and others of his dear friends. On some occasions when cattle were being driven off, he would turn back some that had the brand of his special friends on them. It was understood quite generally among the men that he was a friend of the whites.
Years after that war Indian Joe met some of [Father]’s sons in Grass Valley and he hugged and kissed them for the love which he bore for their father. On one occasion after [Father] moved to Monroe the son of Indian Joe, who was now a chief, brought his band of Indians there and when he saw [Father] he was overjoyed and gave him his finest buffalo robe as a token of his father’s great love for him.
A few months after the treaty of peace was signed with Black Hawk and his warriors, one late afternoon I was sitting near the hearth in our living room with my back toward the open door. I heard a light footstep and turned quickly and, to my amazement and horror, there stood two large Indian men in the doorway grinning at me. They were the first Indians I had seen since the war. I was so terrified that I never knew how I got past them and out into the garden where Mother and the rest of the family were.
In the fall of 1868 or 69, Mother went to Utah County to dry fruit and put up preserves. She took me with her. My brother Hyrum drove the ox team. We camped in Salt Creek Canyon one night near where some people had been killed during the Indian war. That event had been talked about after we made our camp that evening. I scarcely slept a wink during that night. Early next morning I was up and dressed, waiting for the folks to go on. And wondering if we would ever get out of that canyon alive. I saw a carriage coming toward us and ran out and hailed it and asked the driver how much farther it was through that canyon. My people laughed heartily and could not imagine what prompted me to run out and stop a passing stranger.
I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have moved 64 times and have not tired of experiencing this beautiful earth! I love the people, languages, histories/anthropologies, & especially religious cultures of the world. My life long passion is the study & searching out of religious symbolism, specifically related to ancient & modern temples. My husband Anthony and I love our bulldog Stig, adventures, traveling, movies, motorcycling, and time with friends and family.