1858, A Year of Hostile Indians

The history of the United States presents some interesting features for the year 1858, the year in which the principal events recorded in this volume took place. The lines which a few years later marked the separation of the South from the North were being drawn and established with clearness. During this year the great Lincoln-Douglas debates were held. These discussions compassed the dominant political issues between the two sections of the country, and in them the attention of the entire nation was focused. Their results were widely diffused and far-reaching and attached to each of the participants his destiny in the presidential campaign which followed two years later.

The laying of the Atlantic cable was completed, connecting the two great continents, and marking the commencement of an era of international business and political progress which has attained to an incalculable degree of importance.

The discovery of gold at Pike’s Peak generated a riot of excitement throughout the country second only to that which followed the discovery of 1849, in California, and resulted in the migration of thousands of fortune hunters into this new Rocky mountain district.

During that year almost the entire western and southwestern frontier, from the Gulf of Mexico to British Columbia, was infested with hostile Indians. No other year in the history of our Indian warfare has furnished a greater number of stirring events, and, indeed, the most vivid imagination of the novelist who writes of border adventure could hardly excel in deep and exciting interest the exploits of the soldier and citizen on the border. Accounts of combats single handed; of hair’s-breadth escapes of express riders; the company of soldiers or emigrants ambushed; the larger command in relentless pursuit, with all of which, told with modest official formality, the war department records of that year abound.

Small commands of the army were stationed at numerous posts throughout the West designated as forts, each endeavoring to police its surrounding territory, and to acquire as complete information as possible on the status of the Indians’ disposition and their movements. In the light of present day facilities for gathering and transmitting intelligence we cannot but marvel at the accuracy of the information these commands obtained concerning probable points of disturbance, and the rapidity with which such information was forwarded to headquarters.

Among the officers and men who were in service in the West during this year, are found the names of many who became noted figures on either the Northern or the Southern side in the great conflict which followed a few years later. These were times of final and invaluable training in the privations which aggregate the hardships of war; fit ting the participants for those four years of masterly struggle between the states.

Of the Indian tribes mentioned in the reports to the war department as being on the war path, or actually encountered by United States troops during the year 1858, we find the following: In Florida, the Seminoles and Micasokie; in Texas and adjoining territories, the Kickapoo, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Wichita and various branches of the Comanches; in New Mexico, the Navajos, Membre, Gila and Apaches; of the last named there were several branches; in Utah, the Utah and scattering bands from contiguous territories; in Washington Territory, which then included a large part of what is now Idaho, and a part of Montana, the latter Territories not having yet been organized, the Yakimas, Spokane, Palouse and Coeur d’Alenes. There were tribes in California and Oregon which, while not engaged in active hostilities, assumed an attitude so menacing that small parties of whites passing through their respective lands were deemed to risk grave danger. The greatest activity was in the southwest, particularly in New Mexico, yet practically every territory and the one state west of the Rocky mountains, as well as Texas and Florida, contributed its evidence as to the bitter protest of the savage against the approaching flood of civilization.

The year 1858 is distinguished also by reason of the trouble with the Mormons in Utah. During the previous year, incensed at the refusal of Congress to admit Utah into statehood, these people destroyed the records of the United States court for that district and became generally so belligerent that it was found necessary to depose Governor Brigham Young, the head of the Mormon church as well as the territorial government, and Alfred Gumming was appointed in his stead. An armed force of twenty-five hundred men, designated officially as the Army of Utah, under command of Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston, was sent into the Territory to quell the interference with the laws of the United States. Johnston met with armed resistance, incited by proclamation of Brigham Young, and on October 6th, 1857, in an attack made upon his troops he suffered the destruction of several of his supply trains and the loss of eight hundred oxen driven away by the Mormons. An army about three thousand strong was mustered by the Mormons and for a time the mountain passes leading to Salt Lake were fortified and garrisoned by this force. In the spring of 1858 it was planned by the war department, and the necessary steps were taken for carrying out the plan, to increase the Army of Utah to five thousand six hundred men; but placative propositions offered the Mormons by the Federal government having produced the desired effect, the reinforcements were not permitted to reach Colonel Johnston. During the latter part of the year the Mormons settled into a state of submission to United States authority, yet the Army of Utah was not withdrawn from that territory until May, 1860.


Manring, B. F. Conquest of the Coeur d'Alene, Spokane and Palouse Indians. The Washington Historical Quarterly, Vol. 3 No. 2, 1912.

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