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A Powerful Ute Leader

Wakara (Walker), c. 1815-1855


Wakara and his brother Arapeen (on the right), from a book printed in 1855.

In short:

Chief Wakara of the Timpanogots Utes is a legend in the West.  When he was alive, some believed he could be in many places at once, and after his death, his legend only continued to grow.  He was born around 1815, and came to power in his band as the Western exploration and migration boom was beginning. In the early days of Utah settlement, Wakara mostly helped the settlers. He sometimes traded using less than honorable means, but he also served as an important negotiator and ally for the Mormon settlers.  Later, he resented the settlers’ taking over his land, and he and his followers started the “Walker War” by raiding and attacking the new settlements.

More of the story:

A strong leader.
Wakara was a leader in the Timpanogots Ute band in the first part of the 19th century.  Because he spoke both English and Spanish, he became a successful trader. He specialized in trading horses and slaves.

A thief and slave trader.
He got many of his horses by stealing them from ranches in California. He also stole the slaves.  He and his men would raid Paiute bands and take women and children prisoner.  He would sell the slaves to Spanish or Mexican traders and explorers, who would take them back to New Mexico to work in the mines or as domestic servants.  In return, Wakara would get guns, ammunition, and other goods. He also sold children to the Mormon settlers, threatening to kill the children if he couldn't sell them.

Brigham Young didn’t like New Mexican traders associating with the Utes. He made a proclamation outlawing New Mexican traders in Utah Territory.

This didn’t help Wakara’s business! He began to get angry about the large disruption the Mormons were creating for his people.  His anger boiled over after a Mormon settler killed a member of his band near Springville during a fight about a trade. 

His Utes began to raid Mormon settlements, and the Mormons began to retaliate.  This conflict is called the “Walker War.”  It caused much fear, bloodshed, and deaths of innocent people--on both sides.

Defeat - and peace.
Brigham Young finally ordered that the settlers end all trading with the Utes. He then sent a negotiator to meet with Wakara, and eventually Young met with him himself.  Wakara had learned what all Native American leaders learned: that they couldn't win fighting against the Anglo Americans.

Wakara agreed to stop the fighting and live peacefully with the Mormons who had taken over the lands his tribe had used for centuries. He died not long after that.