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1853: Walker War

photo of painting

Wakara, from a painting by Solomon Carvalho.

In short:

After six years of being pretty nice to Mormon settlers, a smart and powerful Ute leader named Wakara decided he’d had enough of them. He felt they were ruining the Utes’ traditional way of life. So Wakara and his people fought back. But the settlers had the advantage: better guns and ammunition, more resources, sturdy forts, and more people. The “War” didn’t last long.

More of the story:

After the Mormons arrived in 1847, the American Indians in Utah were gradually got used to the presence of foreigners in their territory.  After all, the Spanish, Mexican, and American explorers and traders had been crossing Utah for nearly a century by then. 

But still, the relationship between the old residents of the territory and the new wasn’t always easy.  Wakara was one of the principal players in the area.  As a Ute leader he thought that friendship with the new settlers could help his people become more prosperous.

He had been trading horses and slaves to the Spanish and Mexicans for guns and other supplies.  So at first, he welcomed the Mormons because he saw a profit opportunity. 

Things weren’t so rosy, actually.

It didn’t happen quite like that. First, the settlers and their livestock took over traditional hunting and fishing areas. Then Brigham Young outlawed the slave trade in the territory and began to kick the Mexican traders out of Utah.

The frustrations of Wakara and his Ute band boiled over during a trade dispute in 1853.  It turned violent after a Mormon settler fired on a group of Utes, injuring several and killing one. 

The Utes rebelled against the “invaders.”

Angrily, Wakara and other Utes began to raid and attack Mormon settlements. The settlers retaliated with more violence. People on both sides killed innocent people. The cycle of violence was called the Walker War (because the settlers called Wakara “Walker”—a name more familiar to them than the Ute name Wakara).

Peace—for a while.

The “war” ended in 1854 when Brigham Young and Wakara negotiated a peace. Wakara lived peacefully with the Mormon settlers until he died of pneumonia in 1855. 

But tensions continued and would again grow very violent in the Black Hawk War.