Numerous explorers and trappers--Rivera, Dominguez and Escalante
, Robidoux, Ashley
, and Goodyear
--ventured through Utah between 1776 and 1847, making contact and trading with the Native American peoples. They established economic relations but exerted little if any political control over the native peoples of Utah. When the Mormon
migration began there were more than 20,000 Indians living in Utah proper.
The Mormons settled in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847--a neutral or buffer zone between the Shoshone and Ute peoples. Conflict between Mormons and Indians did not really begin until Mormons extended their settlements south into Utah Valley--a major trade crossroads and subsistence area for the Ute people. Brigham Young espoused a moderate Indian policy in line with Mormon theological beliefs that Indians were "Lamanites," with an ancestry in the tribes of Israel. Young counseled that it was cheaper to feed than to fight the Indians, and he instituted some token missionary efforts among them. Yet, as Mormon settlement expanded north and south along the front range, conflict increased with Indians displaced from traditional subsistence areas. Young countered Ute raiding with an iron fist. The Walker War (1853-54) and the Black Hawk War (1863-68) revolved around Indian subsistence raiding to avoid starvation.
During this period the Indian Bureau and the Mormon Church operated reservation farms for the benefit of Indian peoples, but they either proved inadequate or failed completely. Weakened by disease and starvation, Ute Indians faced annihilation or retreat. In 1861 President Abraham Lincoln set aside the Uintah Valley Indian Reservation for the Utah Ute people. In 1881-82 the federal government removed the White River and Uncompahgre Ute from Colorado to the Uintah and Ouray Reservations in eastern Utah. Today these three bands are collectively called the Northern Ute Tribe.