On Pioneer Day in 1941, the Provo branch of the Sons and Daughters of the Utah Pioneers erected a monument to honor the Ute Chief Sowiette for the aid he gave to Mormon settlements in early territorial Utah. The monument, which stands at the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Museum in Provo, has the following inscription:
PROVO WAS SETTLED BY MORMON PIONEERS
MARCH 12, 1849. EAST OF THIS MONUMENT A SECOND
FORT WAS BUILT IN APRIL, 1850. IT WAS HERE THAT
THE SETTLERS WERE THREATENED WITH MASSACRE BY
CHIEF WALKER AND HIS BAND OF INDIANS, BUT WERE
SAVED BY CHIEF SOWIETT’S STERN WARNING, “WHEN
YOU ATTACK YOU WILL FIND ME AND MY BRAVES DEFENDING!”
ERECTED BY GEORGE A. SMITH CAMP, SONS AND
DAUGHTERS OF UTAH PIONEERS, JULY 24, 1941.
(Photo courtesy of Manuel Villalobos)
In 1999, a wooden statue of Sowiette was added at the site:
(Photo courtesy of Manuel Villalobos)
The problem with the monument, as Jared Farmer argues, is that it probably depicts a scene that never happened. The earliest documented telling comes from local historian Edward Tullidge, who included it in his 1884 “History of Spanish Fork.” The two people mentioned on the monument–Walker and Sowiette–were historical figures, although as portrayed in the story they are little more than literary representations of white stereotypes of the “blood-thirsty Indian” and the “good Indian.” Farmer however finds no evidence from contemporary sources that the scene occurred.
Regardless of whether Sowiette ever really stopped Walker from attacking Fort Utah, like all stories and commemorative monuments, this one tells us more about the people who tell them and erect them than the history they claim to represent. First, the monument commemorates a threatened massacre, without providing any context or causation, leaving the reader with the impression that Walker wanted to slaughter the white Mormons simply because he was “blood-thirsty.” Richard White calls this tendency among whites to cast themselves as innocent victims of “savage” Indians on the frontier the “inverted conquest.” Second, although the monument reflects this violent context, the emphasis remains on Sowiette, the peacemaker. Just as white Americans have long honored the Wampanoags Squanto and Massasoit (coincidentally, a statute of Massasoit stands outside of the library at BYU) for aiding struggling Europeans in the seventeenth century, Sowiette allowed the builders of the monument to remember Utah’s early Mormon-Indian interactions without having to reconcile assumptions of white innocence with the violence that accompanied white settlement. And third, by remembering this (bogus?) event, the monument symbolically “forgets” the actual massacre/battle that occurred in 1849 near what is now Pleasant Grove, Utah, when Mormon militiamen fought a small band of Timpanogos Utes during an “extermination” campaign ordered by Brigham Young earlier that year.
Clearly, remembering those who call for peace and cooperation is a good thing. For too long, Pioneer Day celebrations in Utah featured reenactments of Indian raids, kidnappings, and battles, and the Sowiette monument does provide a nice reprieve from other, more explicitly violent, commemorations. And currently, Utahns and tourists can celebrate Pioneer Day by visiting the Native American Village at This is the Place Heritage Park and attending the Native American Celebration at the Park. While I would not advocate a return to the Indian raid reenactments, I think there is some danger in allowing ourselves to forget too much the violence that marked early Mormon-Indian interactions. David Blight, the leading scholar of the Civil War in American memory, postulates that remembering divisive and traumatic events necessitates negotiating between two profound ideals–healing and justice. One serves to unite, while the other tends to divide. Blight quotes a William Faulkner novel that encapsulates this point (read this in a Southern accent): “men have done learned howta forget quick what they ain’t brave enough to try to cure.” In 1941, when the Sowiette monument was built, Native Americans were the poorest people in the United States. They remain so today. Although that poverty stems from several factors, it is at root the legacy of the violence and trauma that accompanied the European colonization of North America. Some may question if a connection really exists between monuments and contemporary Native poverty, but as Ned Blackhawk has argued, “reconciling the dispossession of millions with the making of America [and more specifically here, the making of Utah] remains a sobering challenge, an endeavor that requires reevaluation of many enduring historical assumptions,” such as those embedded in the Sowiette monument and our Pioneer Day commemorations. Until we are willing to reevaluate those assumptions and their consequences, the reconciliation between whites and Natives that the Sowiette monument celebrates will remain incomplete.
 Jared Farmer, On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape, 134-37.
 Richard White, “Frederick Jackson Turner and Buffalo Bill,” in The Frontier in American Culture: An Exhibition at the Newberry Library, August 26, 1994-January 7, 1005, edited by James R. Grossman (Chicago: The Newberry Library, 1994), 7-66. For an excellent examination of Walker’s accomodations to Mormon settlement, see Ronald W. Walker, “Wakara Meets the Mormons: A Case Study of Native American Accomodation,” Utah Historical Quarterly 70, no. 3 (Summer 2002): 215-37.
 Eric A. Eliason, Celebrating Zion: Pioneers in Mormon Popular Expression, 32-33, 70-71.
 David Blight, “The Civil War,” podcast, available through the Gilder Lehrman Institute.
 Ned Blackhawk, Violence Over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West, 3.
For concise articles on Utah’s Native Americans and the major Indian Wars in Utah, see here.