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Historical society learns about the Paiute Indians

Emery County Historical Society President Evelyn Huntsman welcomes speaker Steve Taylor.

The Emery County Historical Society met at the Museum of the San Rafael to learn about Paiute Indians from Steve Taylor of Fremont, Utah. Evelyn Huntsman opened meeting with a welcome to all who came. She then proceeded to play on the piano several songs from the 1940s.

Val Payne came forward and discussed the reasons for joining the Old Spanish Trail Association. This is Americas 15th National Historic Trail and in 2002, Congress added The Old Spanish Trail route to the National Historic Trails System. Bernice Payne introduced historian Steve Taylor a native of Fremont. Fremont is named after John C. Fremont.

Taylor has been studying for several years about Indians, Spanish Slave Traders, Trappers, The Old Spanish Trail, and teaching Utah History. The topic this night was the Paiute Indians. Taylor started out with the question of, what caused the Paiute Indians to disappear from the high plateau regions in the first half of the 19th century? What were the circumstances around the Paiute Indians?

He then defined the High Plateau region and the various valleys, mountains and mountain passes. He described what the Paiute Indians were like. They were very poor and easily preyed upon by other tribes such as the Utes, and by the slave traders. The Paiutes made a very sparse living off the land and had no horses. They frequently killed horses of the people traveling through their valley for food.

Taylor mentions the various trappers explorers and traders that went through Utah, such as Jedediah Smith, Daniel Hawks, Wolfskill and Yount, Parley P. Pratt, Kit Carson, the Indian Agent Edward Fitzgerald Peel, and John C. Fremont. He described from their journals and diaries the hardships they encountered and their contact with the Indians. Which in the case of the Paiute was minimal. The Paiute Indians would send up smoke signals to warn other tribes of intruders into the valley where they lived.

The Black Hawk War was precipitated by stopping the slave traders from bartering for Indian slaves in Utah by the Mormon court in Salt Lake City. The Utes trading with the Spanish goes back into the 1600s. There is evidence to suggest that extensive slave trade was going on during that period of time. The trade evolved around horses, Navajo blankets, the Old Spanish Trail and slaves.

Taylor pointed out, in order for the slave trade to really function you had to have a commodity (people that can be taken into slavery) and you had to have a market. The Paiute Indians were the commodity. They were readily available. The market was the strong demand for Indian slaves in Santa Fe and in California. Girls brought $200-250 and boys about $150. This was Chief Walker's principle means of operating.

Chief Walker would take Paiute slaves to California and come back along the Old Spanish Trail with horses and mules. Prior to the Spanish Trail being established he did not have a market. The Old Spanish Trail is the road that was used to get the commodity to market. The Spanish would take Paiute Indians from the Ute Indians and market them in Los Angeles. They would then do the same thing on the way back to Santa Fe.

The second component of this lucrative trade was the horse trade. They could at that time buy horses and mules in California for $10-15 each and sell them in Missouri for $400-500 each. They moved as many as 4,000 head of horses at a time across the trail. These Spanish traders would also take Navajo blankets from Santa Fe to the market in Los Angeles. On the way back they would bring horses and mules. It is believed that the influx of settlers into the region and the Spanish slave trade along the Old Spanish Trail wiped out the Paiutes in the high plateau region.

There is still a small group of Indians in Grass Valley that ended being called the Koosharem Band with their headquarters there. These Gopher Paiute Indians are a last remnant of the Black Hawk War. At the end of this lecture Taylor gave out a list of publications from which he gained the information he presented.

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