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A Squaw Fight--1858



A Squaw Fight by John R. Young Andrew Smith Gibbons Squaw Fight (The habits and customs of the Indians of this inter-mountain country have been made known to us through the journals and writings of the Pioneers. The following account of "A Squaw Fight" by John R. Young is well and interestingly told. P. N.) THE coming of our people to Utah in 1847 brought us into contact with the powerful inter-mountain tribe of Utes. Up till then, these Indians had but little association with the white man; consequently in their social life, they were following exclusively the customs and traditions of their savage ancestors. Many of their practices were horrifying. The law of "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" was born and bred in them; hence, if a white man killed an Indian the tribe took revenge by killing the first white man who chanced to fall into their hands, though he might have been perfectly innocent, having never harmed them. They also took great delight in torturing helpless victims. At our coming, the notorious Chief Walker was at the zenith of his power. Not only was he a scourge to the Spaniards in California, but he remained also a terror to the weaker bands of Indians inhabiting the inter-mountain country, from whom he exacted a yearly tribute of children, to sell into slavery to the Spaniards. It was Governor Brigham Young's prohibiting of this child-slave traffic in the territory that led to the Walker war. Next in brutality to child-slavery was what we termed "squaw fights." They came about in this way: If a brave saw a maiden that he desired, he would go to her father, who, according to their laws, had a right to sell her, usually paying from one to five ponies for her. If it happened that the girl had a lover, and he would put up as much purchase money as had the first applicant, then the lovers would settle it by a fist fight. Sometimes conditions would be such that every warrior in the tribe would be allowed, nay, would be honor-bound-to take part in the melee, and aid his tribesman to win his wife. It would then be a national war, and would be conducted on long established rules and ceremonies which the Indians hold in deep reverence. In 1861, at the frontier town of Santa Clara, in southern Utah, I witnessed one of these tribal fights. A young, slender, delicate-looking girl, evidently the belle of Tutsegavit's band, was purchased by a brave of Coal Creek John's band ; but a brave of the Santa Clara tribe was the girl's accepted lover. The aspirants were men of influence in their respective bands, though they were unequal in physical ability. The man from Cedar, whom I will call Ankawakeets, was a large, muscular, well-matured man of commanding personality--a warrior tried and proven, while Panimeto, the Clara man, was only a stripling; a youth of fine features and an eagle eye, bespeaking pride and ambition, but fifty pounds lighter in weight than Ankawakeets. By the rules of the contest, this physical difference made it impossible for the lovers to settle it by a single combat ; hence, it was arranged by tribal agreement, that twenty warriors on each side should participate in the struggle. The ground selected was a flat just west of the old Clara fort. A square was marked off, the creek being chosen for the south line; a line drawn in the sand marked the east, west, and north boundaries. East of the east line was Ankawakeets' goal, which, if he could reach with the girl, she was his; contra, west of the west line was Panimeto's goal, claiming the same concessions. On opposite sides of a line running north and south through the center of this square were the braves, lined up, stripped to the skin save for the indispensable gee-string. At a tap of the Indian drum, with bowed heads, and arms wildly beating the air, the two files rushed like angry bullocks upon each other. The air-hitting was fierce and rapid for a few minutes, until a second tap of the drum, when the warriors clinched, and the mass became a seething, whirling, cyclone of dark figures, cheered on by the squaw, and by an occasional war-whoop from some interested, on-looking warrior. To vanquish an opponent you had to throw him and hold him flat on his back for the supposed time it would take to scalp an actual enemy. At the end of an hour's exciting struggle, a few warriors on each side had been vanquished; but the forces remaining were equal in number, so neither party had gained any advantage. They now changed the procedure. The father led the maiden to the central line. She looked terrified; and well she might, for the ordeal through which she was to pass was a fearful one; one of brutal pain that would test her powers of endurance to the utter-most. The champions ran to the girl, and seizing her by the wrists, undertook to force her to their respective goals. Soon it became a "tug-of-war" with fifteen strapping warriors on each side. The flesh of the trembling maiden quivered under the strain of thirty brutal demons struggling and yelling to accomplish their aims. Gyrating from one side of the field to the other they came, in one of their wild swirls, to the banks of the creek and fell into the water pell- mell up to their necks. The girl evidently in a swoon, was entirely submerged, only her mass of glossy tresses floating on the surface of the water. Andrew Gibbons, one of the Indian missionaries, flung himself on the bank; and seizing the girl's hair, he raised her head above the water. Instantly every brave broke his hold, and scrambled on to the bank; and Ankawakeets angrily demanded that Gibbons should fight him for having interfered. To my surprise, Gibbons accepted the challenge, flung aside his hat, and stepped into the ring. Tutse gave the signal, and Ankawakeets sprang to the fray, only to measure his length backward on the sand. Three times in succession his stalwart body kissed the earth. Then, moving with more caution, the Indian dodged a blow, and succeeded in grappling with Gibbons, but again the white man's skill was superior to the savage's strength. Ankawakeets was flung to the ground and held until the imagined scalping was performed. Then Gibbons stepped back and folded his arms. His vanquished opponent arose, and with a majestic air, that a white man could not imitate, he stepped to the maiden, spoke a few low words that seemed to have a magical effect, and taking the unresisting hand, led her to the victor and presented her as a bridal trophy for the white man's valor and skill. Gibbons, with a face glowing with satisfaction at the happy turn of the combat, accepted the maiden, and leading her to Panimeto, gave her to himCa mistake wherein the white man's sympathy for the weak overruled his judgment. The presentation was followed by a war-whoop from Ankawakeets and his braves. Rushing to their camps they returned with guns in hand, and forming a circle around the girl, ordered her to march. This fight gave me a deeper insight into the nobility and sterling character of our Indian missionary boys. What fearless men they were, ready for any emergency! At this crisis it looked as if Ankawakeets would triumph by armed force; yet the whites felt that his cause was not just; but an unsuspected champion, a veritable lion, stood in the path. This time it was Thales Haskell, another Indian missionary, of whom it was said, "His .cheeks never paled, and his voice never trembled.." He sprang in front of Ankawakeets and said, "I called you a chief, but I see you are a boy, and a coward at that. Put up your gun, and be a man." Then Tutsegavit's voice was heard, commanding the father to lead the girl to the center of the field, and told the warriors that they might go on with the fight until the sun should hide its face behind the mountain. If neither party won by that time, the girl should be released from the father's vows. Each band of warriors withdrew by themselves for a few minutes' consultation; then, with firmness depicted on every countenance, they took their places, the champions grasping again the wrists of the trembling young squaw. A look of despair deepened the pallor of her face, as if the terror of death was resting upon her; and a death-like silence reigned as both sides waited the signal to begin the encounter. At this critical moment, the girl's younger brother, who had stood aloof with folded arms and clouded brow during all the struggle, bounded to his sister's side and, drawing his knife from its sheath, he buried it in her bosom. She fell lifeless into her father's arms. The brother, holding the bloody knife on high, said: "I love my sister too well to see her suffer more. You call me a boy; but if there is a brave who thinks I have done wrong, let him take the knife and plunge it into my heart; so will I join my sister and lead her to the red man's happy hunting ground. I am not afraid to die." Every warrior bowed his head, and turning, walked in silence to his camp. On the morrow, our people aided in giving fitting burial to the lovely Indian girl, whose life had been sacrificed to the demands of a brutal custom. I will only add that shortly after this tragedy, Jacob Hamblin, the man whom the prophet Brigham Young ordained to be the "first apostle to the Lamanites" gathered the Indians in a council and talked to them until they promised to give up the squaw fights. It was a step which marked an epoch in the life of the Indians ; and incidentally it serves to illustrate the influence for good that this wonderful peace-maker held over our fallen brethren, the Lamanites.

Linked toAndrew Smith GIBBONS

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