Wakara was also involved in the slave trade. Spaniards had made expeditions into Utah since the 1740s, trading cloth and metal objects for furs and people. Raiding more sedentary Great Basin Indian groups such as the Paiute, Wakara traded to Spaniards young men and women to work in the mines of northern Mexico and in the homes of Spanish colonists.
One observer described Wakara in 1843 as the "principal ruling chief...ow [ing] his position to great wealth. He is a good trader, trafficking with the whites and reselling goods to such as his nation are less skillful in striking a bargain." Wakara was becoming the leader of larger numbers of people as several bands coalesced with the invasion of the Europeans. This larger band came to be known as the Tumpanawach.
In 1847 Mormon entered Ute lands. At first Wakara accepted their arrival, even inviting them to settle. He was in hopes they would prove useful trading partners as had the fur traders, most of whom had abandoned the area. Wakara even agreed to be baptized in the Mormon Church (13 March 1850) and several times allayed fears and misunderstandings on both sides.