From the Archives: White Child Adopted by the Paiute Indians

By January 13, 2016

A few weeks ago, I found an entry in the Church History Library about an Indian woman who had adopted a white child. There was almost no information about the document in the library catalog. I immediately asked for it to be digitized but questions about the location of the original document meant that it was impossible for it to put online. I eventually asked Joseph Stuart, a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah to look at it for me.

Here’s the summary he provided:

“Rose tells the story of a ‘Squaw’ Kaibab [a band of Paiutes] woman named ‘Mourning Dove’ [also called Ayoba by her people, the Kaibab]. She adopts a white child whose parents were murdered by an African American cook on their way to California. The uncle of the child arrives with a nurse and takes the baby from Mourning Dove. She goes into a deep depression and the author ‘almost felt like a cowardly murderer for letting them take her baby.’ (9) He wanted to give her back, because ‘he’d have a mother’s love such as few white boys are ever lucky enough to know.’ (9) The baby is left with the nurse in Tuba City by the white uncle because it becomes too sick to travel. The author learns this from a Navajo named ‘Moon’ who says that he saw the baby alive.

The author learns that Mourning Dove has been abducted by Moon and the Navajoes [sic], and sets off to rescue her with the help of the Kaibab. The Kaibab refuse to cross the river to reach the Navajo because of their religious beliefs about crossing the big river. She is taken away, and the author decides to wait to be able to cross the river.

The author writes about MD’s grandfather, ‘Old Blind Jim,’ an elder in the Kaibab community. When the author catches up to Moon, the Navajo will not speak to him. ‘Blind Jim’ executes Moon with a bow and arrow for murdering a woman who saved Mourning Dove’s life. The baby is still alive. The Navajo had not captured Mourning Dove; she had been chasing the child. ‘Dr. Lyon’ saves Mourning Dove and ‘Little Jim’ is allowed to go to college. Little Jim is presumably the white infant.

**Handwritten note at end**: I guess you read in the papers about the young painter who won the Exeter medal with the ‘Madonna of the Painted Desert?’ well, that was our Jim.”

There are many questions about this piece:

  1. Who is Will Rose?
  2. Is the piece fiction? Local history?
  3. Did any of the figures in the story actually exist?

Joseph and I have had trouble locating any of the people mentioned in the story. Even the painting comes up with nothing. And, so we turn to you, JI readers, does anyone know anything about this story?

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. This is the only mention I can find of a painting by that name:

    fascinating mystery and story!

    Comment by Anita — January 13, 2016 @ 6:28 am

  2. It sounds much like the period fiction Ardis features at Keepapitchinin, so perhaps it was something written for the Relief Society Magazine?

    I’ve been working on my project on African American slaves in Utah Territory for three or four years now and have never heard anything about an incident like this. Nothing turns up in a search of the California papers, and they were usually pretty good about featuring stories of crime in the desert.

    Comment by Amy T — January 13, 2016 @ 8:31 am

  3. Amy T. Is on the right track, I think. Will Rose, identified as a resident of Kanab, wrote fiction for the LDS magazines. See “Enchanted Park” in the July 1915 issue of the Improvement Era, for example, which has a setting similar to your story. Your “Mourning Dove” has the same kind of melodramatic, improbable flavor as that tale, IMO.

    Comment by Ardis — January 13, 2016 @ 9:23 am

  4. The Salt Lake Telegram of 29 August 1915 has an article by Will Rose, (whoever he is) “Where the Colorado Calls,” again set in the Kaibab. That one is not fiction, but is straight journalism, intended to help early motorists drive to the Grand Canyon over roads that had not been built for automobiles.

    Comment by Ardis — January 13, 2016 @ 9:38 am

  5. Thanks everyone! Joey and I went back and forth on this being local history or fiction. It definitely seems to sensationalized to be real, but there are postscripts on the manuscript claiming things like “This is our Jim.” We leaned toward fiction but weren’t sure. It helps to know that he wrote fiction for the Relief Society and that it was in 1915. The piece also has no date, which made it hard to know what context to place it in. Knowing it’s probably early 20th century is very, very helpful.

    Comment by Amanda — January 13, 2016 @ 3:05 pm


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