From the Archives: Thomas D. Brown’s “Missionaries’ Song”

By February 7, 2014

In late 1853, Brigham Young sent missionaries among the Paiutes in what is now southern Utah. The Southern Indian Mission, as it came to be known, resulted from a combination of factors, including Mormon beliefs in the Israelite origins of indigenous peoples and Young’s Indian policies in the wake of the Walker War of 1853-1854. Many Paiutes, including some prominent chiefs, found the missionaries’ message appealing, with hundreds of baptisms occurring over the next decade. The Paiutes embraced Mormonism for a variety of reasons. During the previous generation, the Paiutes’ Ute relatives had relied on horses and guns to raid non-equestrian Paiute bands, kidnapping women and children and selling them to New Mexican and Mormon buyers.[1] Seeing the Mormons as potential allies against the Utes, Paiute bands accepted the missionaries into their communities and expressed interest in learning new agricultural techniques and wearing Euro-American style clothing.[2] Additionally, many Paiutes who chose to affiliate with the church found the new religion compatible with their traditional religious views. By June 1854, one missionary reported that Paiute proselytes “prefer being called Pahute Mormons to Pahutes.”[3]

Thomas D. Brown, formerly an English school teacher, was called to be the historian and recorder of the mission. He kept the mission’s official diary, which is one of the documentary treasures of 1850s Utah. In it, he chronicled the missionaries’ contacts with the Paiutes, the Mormons’ struggles to learn the language and culture, and the the missionaries’ strained relationship with John D. Lee and other early settlers in the region. It also contains an intriguing window into the ways that Mormons in the 1850s interpreted the Book of Mormon and used it in their interactions with Native peoples. On June 8, 1854, Brown wrote the following song:

“Missionaries’ Song”[4]

 The Spirit loquitor [speaks]

1 “Stop! Stop! some spirit whispers, Who are you? when you come?

Why tread this ground long Sacred? Have you no other home?

The ashes of our fathers sleep soundly here–untrod

Are you in search of paltry gold? or servants of “Shenowab”?

[Brown notes: “Shenowab = God–the Great Spirit”]

Tell, tell, pray quickly tell/ Are you in search of paltry gold?

or servants of Shenowab?

The missionaries speak

2 “Our fathers came from “Kolob,” a long-long time ago,

And we the sons of royal sires are also here below,

In search of Shenowabs children, a noble royal race,

The sons of Joseph–Ephraim–Are any in this place

Tell, tell, pray quickly do,

Or must we go for Israel’s race to Chili and Peru?

The Spirit.

3 Go forward, oh go forward to Toker’s Pahute bands,

The Pemos, Moquies–Na[v]ajos you’ll find in southern lands,

“The keys are turned”–the days have come that prophets have foretold

The sires to sons–the sons to sires are turned, and not to gold.

Tell, tell, pray quickly tell,

The sires to sons–the sons to sires are turned, and not to gold.

The Missionaries.

4 Then are the hearts of fathers to children turned in truth,

We boldly will go forward and labor in our youth,

For Israel’s and the remnant’s sake, we leave wives, lands and home, [p. 80]

Adopt the Indian’s Wickeup, and call it happy home.

Home, home, sweet quiet home

Adopt the Indian’s Wickeup, and call it happy home.

The Spirit.

5 You’ll find some naked-hungry-laborious-honest-poor

Begin with them and aid them first, here is an open door,

We’ve opened it, no man can shut, be patient faithful men,

Their language learn, we’ll aid you “pesherrany” to them,

[per Brown, this is the Paiute word for “to talk or speak.”]

Tell, tell, pray quickly tell

Read Mormon and Moroni’s tales and how their fathers fell.

The Missionaries.

6 The coming of their fathers “etish” from Judah’s land,

[Per Brown, this is Paiute for “a long time back”]

Of Jared also and his sons, from babel’s tow’r a band,

Of faithful Israel’s virtuous race, some thousand moons ago,

On whom the great Shenowab, his spirit did bestow

Tell, tell, pray quickly tell,

Yes, all of this, and much more too, by Heaven’s aid we’ll tell.

The Spirit.

7 Tell them, when Priesthood was obeyed, those saints were greatly blest,

In numbers, plenty, health and peace, and then they oft did rest

And when the people’s will prevailed, and Heaven’s laws were broke

The Priesthood killed–confusion reigned–men Shenowab did provoke.

Tell, tell, pray quickly tell,

All this and more, and Heaven will aid, as surely as God e’er spoke. [p. 81]

The Missionaries.

8 We’ll tell them how by avarice, and selfishness of old,

The Lamanites–their fathers–all, for love of mammon-gold,

Contemptuously–the Iron Rod, and Priesthood they did treat

Obtained therefore a darkened skin, and suffering most meet.

Tell, tell, quickly pray tell,

Yes, all of this, all of this, by Heaven’s aid, and much more too we’ll tell.

The Spirit.

9 Their fathers from the Heavens look, to see if they’ll repent,

And think their sufferings enough, for this and more you’re sent,

The promises they did obtain are sure, and now if they

Will hear your words and be baptized believingly they may.

Tell, tell, pray quickly tell,

All Saints in Heaven and Saints on earth will lift them out of hell.

The Missionaries.

10 Our Father in the Heavens, and Saints on earth we implore,

To aid by Spirit–wisdom too, and substance from your store,

That we may teach, feed, clothe and clean the red man ev’ry one,

Exalt from humble wickeups and save in happy home,

Exalt from humble wickeups to eternal happy homes.

Thos. D. Brown, fe cit.


[1] On Mormon purchases of Indian children, see Brian Q. Cannon, “Adopted or Indentured, 1850-1870: Native Children in Mormon Households,” in Nearly Everything Imaginable, 341-57.

[2] See Ned Blackhawk, Violence Over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006).

[3] Thomas D. Brown, journal, 127, Church History Library, quoting David Lewis.

[4] Juanita Brooks edited a transcription of the journal in 1972: Journal of the Southern Indian Mission: Diary of Thomas D. Brown (Logan: Utah State University, 1972). A digital edition of the diary is available via the CHL catalog:

Article filed under Biography Categories of Periodization: Territorial Period Cultural History Race Theology


  1. What a fascinating document, David. There’s a lot here, but I’m also intrigued by what’s not here: Native voices, even embellished fictionalized ones. The dialogue is between the missionaries and “the Spirit,” who appears to sometimes speak for the Natives and (more often) about them. I’m not entirely sure what to make of that, but it is an interesting stylistic choice.

    Comment by Christopher — February 7, 2014 @ 9:02 am

  2. This is great David! I have lots of questions that I’ll save for a conversation with you, though:

    Have you read Michael K. Bennion’s Captivity, Adoption, Marriage and Identity: Native American Children in Mormon Homes, 1847-1900? I just found it, which isn’t saying much (ha!), and it looks really amazing.

    I also recently started John Alton Peterson’s Utah’s Black Hawk War, which has me enthralled. There are so many dynamics to engage within the topic of Indian-Mormon relations.

    Comment by Tod Robbins — February 7, 2014 @ 9:06 am

  3. Thanks, David, for the citation to the Cannon chapter, and thank you very much, Tod, for the link to the Bennion thesis.

    As with the subject of African slavery in the territory, in many cases you don’t want to take the descendants’ claims about the situation of Indian children in the pioneer homes as reliable statements of fact, so I’m looking forward to reading both those sources for some more context and understanding.

    And, about the Peterson book, if I were teaching a course on Utah history, that would definitely make the list of required readings.

    Comment by Amy T — February 7, 2014 @ 10:54 am

  4. Terrific document. Thanks for sharing, David.

    Comment by Ryan T. — February 7, 2014 @ 11:37 am

  5. Excellent! Thanks, David.

    Comment by J Stuart — February 7, 2014 @ 12:41 pm

  6. “And we the sons of royal sires are also here below”

    It has been a while since I’ve looked at this. Do you think that they were invoking a lineage to Jesus? I have that idea somewhat later chronologically, but I can’t remember exactly.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 7, 2014 @ 6:18 pm

  7. Thanks, all.

    Christopher, it is an interesting stylistic choice. I think it’s partly explained by the fact that Brown had few direct interactions with Paiutes.Brown notes throughout the diary that, despite his best efforts to learn the language, it was a struggle for him, and he seems to have preferred staying at the mission headquarters in Harmony. Other missionaries like Jacob Hamblin lived among the Paiutes and therefore may have had an easier time constructing a poem that represented Paiute voices had he had the literary inclination. Given that barrier, I suspect that Brown felt far more comfortable having an unidentified “spirit” provide idealized dialogue about the Paiutes.

    Tod, thanks for the link to Bennion’s thesis. And yes, in my view, Peterson’s book probably remains the best single monograph on nineteenth-century Mormon-Indian relations.

    J., that’s a good question. I suspect that refers to patriarchal lineages, although I don’t know enough about the development of those ideas to say whether Brown specifically had in mind tying those lineages to Jesus.

    Comment by David G. — February 8, 2014 @ 6:50 pm


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