The Last Indian War
As a young man growing up in the small southeastern Utah town of Blanding, I often heard the story of Paiute warrior William Posey, and how he sparked the last Indian war in the United States.
At the time, we lived on the south end of town, just two blocks from the home of Clarence Rogers, an old-timer who had been involved in the incident. At scout camp, fireside chats and various other outings, Clarence related his experiences, bringing to life the characters involved in the melee. Those who participated in the hostilities seemed to come from the all too distant past, but it was only a memory away for Clarence.
To my youthful mind, Clarence’s cowboys, Indians, government agents and pioneers were towering figures, far superior to the likes of Superman, the Green Hornet or Batman. In the age of abundant automobiles and airplanes, I could envision those individuals riding their horses, sleeping out on the range, slinging guns, drinking whiskey and fighting just to survive.
With that background firmly planted in my subconscious, I recently reread Steve Lacy's book, “Posey; The Last Indian War.” The book details many of the stories I remember from time spent with Clarence, and fleshes out the incidents that led up to the battle and the people involved in the skirmish.
As I read through the text, I was once again struck by how thoroughly things have changed since Posey roamed the San Juan drainage. His was another world, one with seemingly no connection to the modern day. Around Bluff, one sees constant reminders of the hardships endured by the settlers who arrived in this river valley in early April 1880, and the difficulties their Native neighbors endured as a result of this incursion into their ancestral homeland. There are also signs of the benefits derived from this interaction. It is clear, however, that the resulting relationship has produced its share of conflict.
At Twin Rocks Trading Post, we often joke about our ongoing battles with the contemporary warriors. We sometimes feel pierced through the heart by their unhappy tales, mourn the loss of yet another pound of flesh when we are not competent negotiators, and lament the resulting scrapes, scabs and scars. Battle worn as we are, however, we continue to enjoy the fight.
In spite of our humorous outlook, we all realize there is a contemporary war raging; one based in progressive thought rather than direct conflict, but a war nonetheless. It involves those of us with lighter skin trying, often unsuccessfully, to comprehend those with darker skin, and those with darker skin trying, often unsuccessfully, to integrate into a dominant society in conflict with their traditional values.
Having been at the trading post over 30 years, I have seen countless skirmishes, and, to my satisfaction, have never witnessed anyone sustain a lethal blow. In fact, I have seen many people, myself included, develop a deeper understanding of our neighbors as a result of the struggle. It is often heartbreaking to witness firsthand the pain associated with life on the Reservation, and difficult to cope with the economic hardships of this geographic region, but all-in-all it is a battle worth fighting and an investment that must be made.
The good news is that, although the end is not in sight, there is progress being made. As a result of the struggles, we belligerents have come to understand each other better than we otherwise might, and integration without loss of self is occurring on many levels. It has been a painful process, but as King Lear said, “You will gain nothing if you invest nothing.”
(“Posey’s War” occurred in 1923 and is the last time the U.S. Army was called out against Native American opponents.)