Ute Chief Walkara invited colonists to Sanpitch

Chief Wakara invited President Brigham Young of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to send colonists to the Sanpitch (now Sanpete) Valley. This statue represents the story and can be seen in the Pioneer Heritage Gardens located a short walk east of the Manti Temple. (Photo courtesy of Ray LaFollette)

Chief Colorow Ignacio Ouray Walkara (aka Wakara or Walker) 1808 — 1855, was a leader of a Ute Timpanogo band, with a reputation as a diplomat, horseman and warrior and a military leader in the Walker War.

Walkara was born along the Spanish Fork River in what is now Utah, one of five sons of a chief of the Timpanogo band. He gathered a raiding band of warriors from Great Basin tribes, including Utes, Paiute and Shoshone.

Walkara learned to speak English, Spanish and became fluent in several native dialects. His band raided ranches and attacked travelers in the Great Basin and along the Old Spanish Trail between New Mexico and California. Small native bands and tribes in the area paid him tribute in return for protection and assistance.

Walkara created a disciplined cavalry and organized effective raiding campaigns. Sections of his cavalry, under the leadership of his brothers and other trusted band members, were distinguished by appearance, adopting bright dyes and metal ornaments. Walkara’s public name, translated as “yellow,” was based on the yellow face paint and yellow leather which he wore.

In California, Walkara was known as a great horse thief, primarily due to an 1840 campaign through the Cajon Pass into Southern California, which resulted in the capture of a large number of horses, with estimates ranging from several hundred to 3,000 horses.

In some of these raids, the band fought Cahuilla leader Juan Antonio. Mountain men James Beckwourth and Thomas “Pegleg” Smith were involved in this campaign and were known to trade with Walkara, providing the band with whiskey in return for horses.

In 1845 Justice of the Peace and assistant for Indian affairs in Riverside County Benjamin Davis Wilson was also commissioned to track down Walkara and his marauders and bring them to justice.

Their mission was interrupted by the discovery of the Big Bear Lake area and no additional story of the pursuit was ever given.

Relations with the Saints

Walkara invited President Brigham Young of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to send colonists to the Sanpitch (now Sanpete) Valley. In 1849, Young dispatched a company of about 225 settlers, under the direction of Isaac Morley.

The settlers arrived at the present location of Manti, in November, and established a base camp for the winter, digging temporary shelters into the south side of the hill on which the Manti Utah Temple now stands.

At that time it was an isolated place, at least four days by wagon from the nearest settlement of other colonists. Relations between the new settlers and the local Ute Indians were helpful and cooperative. Morley and his settlers felt that part of the purpose of the settlement was to bring the gospel of The Church of Jesus Christ to the Indians.

Morley wrote, “Did we come here to enrich ourselves in the things of this world? No. We were sent to enrich the Natives and comfort the hearts of the long oppressed.”

During the severe winter, a measles epidemic broke out and the settlers used their limited medicine to nurse the Indians. When supplies ran low, Indians helped settlers haul food on sleds through the snow.

Walkara negotiated a trading relationship with the colony through Young, and, in 1850, allowed himself to be baptized into the church membership. However, relations with the church settlers deteriorated rapidly.

Walkara’s raiding lifestyle was under pressure from an increasing number of federal troops in the Great Basin and southwest and from the expansion of church sponsored settlements.

The church settlers also strongly objected to the profitable traditional trade in native slaves and interfered in many transactions. In addition, central and southern Utah saw increasing numbers of non-church sponsored trading expeditions and settlers traveling through the area.

Some isolated natives were killed, and Walkara and other leaders became increasingly angry with the church sponsored settlers as well as the other American colonists.

Walker War

These pressures, additional measles epidemics in the 1850s, and the rise of competing bands of Shoshone raiders, ultimately led to a brief conflict known as the Walker War.

Local historical accounts attribute the outbreak of the war to Walkara’s failure to acquire a wife who was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, it more likely began with a July 1853 confrontation with settlers in Springville, in Utah Valley, which resulted in the death of several band members.

The war primarily consisted of raids conducted against church sponsored outposts in central and southern Utah. Casualties probably totaled 12 white settlers and an equally modest number of Indians. Young directed settlers to move from outlying farms and ranches and establish centralized forts for a passive defense.

The Walker War ended through an understanding negotiated between Young and Walkara during the winter of 1853 and finalized in May 1854 in Levan.

In his contemporary work, “Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West” (1857), photographer and artist Solomon N. Carvalho gives an account of the peace council held between Walkara, other native leaders in central Utah and Brigham Young.

Carvalho took the opportunity to persuade the Indian leader to pose for a portrait, now held by the Thomas Gilcrease Institute, Tulsa, OK. Although immediate hostilities ended, none of the underlying conflicts were resolved. Walkara died in 1855 at Meadow Creek.

Baptisms

After the Walker War had ended, on July 27, 1854, under the direction of Stake President Welcome Chapman, 120 members (103 males, 17 females) of Wakara’s tribe were baptized in Manti’s City Creek to become members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Chief Wakara was possibly re-baptized at this time.

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