Tracing my Mormon pioneer roots because my story began with those who came before.
According to Mormon scriptures, Native Americans were Lamanites, an ancient group of people who had fallen into evil. Their abhorrent ways earned them a curse of darker skin. Because their ancestors were not as wicked as black people, their skin color was not as dark as those with roots in Africa.
The slave trade among some Native American tribes was already happening before the Mormons moved to Utah. Tribes might have realized their survival was better if they were the seller of other tribespeople rather than being sold off themselves. Tribes with horses had the advantage over tribes without horses.
Mormons entered Utah with little regard for the indigenous people already living there. It didn’t take them long to begin participating in the purchase of Native people to add to their labor force. Mormons believed it was better to have them live as an enslaved or indentured person among the Mormons rather than a free life of what they perceived was savagery and degradation with their people.
Mormon’s believed that Lamanites, unlike black people, could change their skin color from brown to white. Their skin could become white and delightsome by following the righteous doctrines of the Mormon faith. Mormons believe they are the only true church led by a living prophet.
I imagine God with a shade-o-meter turning a skin color dial from dark to light depending on his judgment of the severity of the bad behavior.
While Mormon enslaved people of African descent had no hope of gaining their freedom, some native people were indentured with a promise of liberation once they paid the cost put out to purchase them.
Though Mormons kept some records of the native women and children “taken in” by saints, the actual number is unknown as not every church member provided this information; many died, and some escaped.
Rather than help support native children staying with their families and communities, Some starving native families sold their children to Mormons, hoping they could survive.
Mormons didn’t see or care to know the role they played in the decimation of the native population. They didn’t show they saw value in the indigenous culture, practices, and ways of life. As far as Mormon pioneers were concerned, Utah was a better place with fewer of them and more of us.
The heroic family lore of Daniel taking in three native orphans, placing them in the home of his native wife Peninah, and loving them as his own, seems a white-washed version of a much bleaker reality for the young children.
They lost their parents, extended family, traditions, and rich identities. Daniel renamed them Thomas, Lucy, and Mary. As babies, I wonder what names their mothers whispered in their ears as milk flowed from breasts to mouths. Or the name their fathers called when teaching the ways of their people.
These three native children didn’t belong to Daniel or the Mormon church. They did not belong to Brigham Young, who gave them to Daniel. They belonged to their mothers, fathers, aunties, uncles, grandmothers, and grandfathers. I wonder how their tribe mourned the grief of their loss.