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Friends Despite Differences

If you were a young Ute Indian in the 1850s, could you be friends with one of those kids who just showed up and started to live in your homeland?

If you were a young Anglo American in the 1850s, could you be friends with one of those strange-seeming Ute kids?

Josiah Gibbs

Josiah F. Gibbs in 1931.

It could happen. In fact, history shows that kids who are different can be good friends.

When Josiah Gibbs was in his 80s, he still remembered one particular friend from his childhood.


Josiah was 12 years old in the winter of 1857, when he came down with a bad case of rheumatic fever. His joints swelled up. They became so painful that he couldn't walk.

He was sick in bed for weeks.


That same year, a federal army was marching toward Utah, and the Mormon settlers there were afraid of being attacked. The people in Salt Lake City packed up and moved south, leaving their homes in the city empty.

Josiah rode south with his family. They camped on a creek south of Utah Lake. There they built a shelter out of willows and mud (called a wickiup).

ute tipisA mile away, a group of Utes had also set up camp for the winter.

Out of bed, finally!

When it got warmer, Josiah finally could go outside and sit in the sun. It was a beautiful day. The mountain peaks were shining with snow, the valley was turning green, and he could see Utah Lake in the distance.

But he still couldn’t walk. So he just sat and enjoyed the day.

The friends meet

As he sat, he saw a slender Ute boy walking toward him "with easy, swinging strides." The boy walked up and looked curiously at Josiah.

He had a “frank, happy, boyish face,” –a friendly face. This boy wasn’t afraid, and he didn’t hate Josiah because he was different. He just wanted to be friends.

"Heap sick?" he asked. 

"No," Josiah told him. "Legs sick."

The boy nodded. Then he showed Josiah his bow and arrow. And he started teaching Josiah how to shoot an arrow.

For someone who had lain in bed so long, this was fun! Josiah shot, and the Ute boy ran and picked up the arrows—for two hours! Whenever Josiah made a good shot, this boy got very excited.

Best friends

This Ute boy came back every day, until Josiah could walk again. Then they hung out together, hunting rabbits and wandering around in the hills.

One morning, Josiah’s new friend brought a gift:  a bow he had made from a mountain sheep horn, and some arrows. It was a beautiful gift, and “priceless token of friendship.”

Not long after, Josiah and his family moved back to Salt Lake City. The two friends never saw each other again.

But Josiah never forgot. And because he had had a kind Ute friend, when he got older he himself helped the Ute people and made friends with many of them.


From Josiah F. Gibbs' account in the January 1929 Utah Historical Quarterly