“Wind River Mission,” Ensign, Aug. 1982, 28
Amos R. Wright has been dead sixty-seven years. Until 1978 his written record of how he baptized the Shoshone Chief Washakie along with over three hundred of his tribesmen had been lost for nearly one hundred years. Now that it has been discovered in the Archives of the Historical Department of the Church, it can be told again—in Amos’s own words.1
When Elder Charles C. Rich of the Quorum of the Twelve asked Brother Wright in 1880 to serve a mission to the Wind River reservation in western Wyoming, he told him that the Shoshone Indians had sent word that they wanted a Latter-day Saint to preach to them. Amos had learned Shoshone while playing with Indian boys in Brigham City when just a youngster, and had gone on a mission to Fort Lemhi in Idaho to the Shoshone tribe as an interpreter at the age of sixteen. Later he helped settle Indian troubles in Bear Lake valley. For over two years now he had been a missionary to them in Bennington, Idaho, whenever they camped there during the summers.2
Amos was forty years old when he received his mission call in 1880, one of many calls given him to preach the gospel to the Indians during the next twenty years. He had a wife and eight children living in Bennington at the time and made a scant living by farming in that cold, six-thousand-foot country. His wife, Cate, encouraged him, however, saying that she and their boys would take care of things while he was gone. None of them knew how long this would be.3
But Amos knew the Indians needed the gospel and that he had it to give them. Most of all, he believed Elder Rich was the Lord’s servant and that if he said no to Elder Rich he would be saying no to the Lord. Amos’s testimony was too strong for that. And so, in September 1880, he left for the Wind River reservation.
When Amos returned from his month-long mission, he was asked to send President John Taylor a detailed report. What follows is Amos’s account, dated 18 November 1880 from Bennington, Idaho. Spelling, capitalization, and punctuation of the handwritten letter have been retained.
Bennington, Idaho, Nov. 18th 1880
Pres John Taylor
Salt Lake City
Your Kind letter was Received. I have appropriated what time I could, (seeing it was Confrence times here) in copying my Baptismal Record which I forward herewith to You to make such disposal of as you may deem proper. …
Judging from my experience I should say that … were it not for the promises of the Lord Concerning them [the Indians in general] I should Despair, or abandon the idea of trying to enlighten them, but I believe the Promises. Accordingly I am thankful for this mission and have enjoyed it very much from the beginning and hope I shall never do any thing that will procure me a dishonorable discharge. One thing About them which is remarkable, when they fall into error and lose the spirit they act ashamed but never show any disposition to persecute.
My reason for making this last trip among the Indians was because I understood I was legally call[ed] so to do. I went alone because there are but few men that would be willing to adopt the plan I thought best and those who would were buisy haying and harvesting and I did not wish to call them from their work when I could get along alone
The former agt [agent] Mr Patten upon being introduced to one of my brothers, at Evanston one day, told him that if ever he could get hold of me he would put me in Irons I heard also from other sources that the present agt has made similar threats and considers our Missionary Work among the Indians as an Insurrection against the government, though I am not prepared to Vouch for the truth of this last report.
Nevertheless for this and other reasons I thought it best to go out there as quietly as I could.
Accordingly I left the Road about 35 miles above this place and tried to follow an Indian trail but owing to its dimness and the fact that I knew little or nothing of the country I could not follow it, but was obliged to strike across the country and find my way as best I could.
I undertook to cross the Wind River Range of Mountains about 40 or 50 Miles north of South pass City, but I encountered so much fallen timber Rocks and other obstacles of a Rugged character I thought best to try some other route, which I did, by Heading that Range leaving South Pass Miners Delight and Lander City in the Valley all to my Right, Keeping Close to the foot of the main Range of Mountains all the time so as not to be discovered by White Men.
However I unavoidably Came in contact with several during the time I moved up the Valley but was not Recognized by any of them though I was considerably acquainted with one of them and made some enquiries of him respecting the route, Etc.
After 12 Days travel I arrived at a place called Quakenasp Springs by the Indians. I suppose it is about 5 miles from Camp Brown, the government Post there though I did not know exactly where I was at the time. I found four lodges of Indians at this place and though strangers to me, they received me very kindly.
I enquired of them How far it was to the Main Village, Agency & Camp Brown. I soon found out exactly where I was. I made my business known to the principal man of the Camp, called Sam by the Whites there but (Tor namp pe Black Feet) by the Indians, who said he was a Mormon and appeard to be almost beside himself he was so glad I had come among them
I told him I wished to send a message to Washakie. He Replied that he was just getting ready to go to Town that day and would take any word I desired to Send
I told him that when he got to the village to take one of the chiefs with him and acquaint Washakie of my arrival, & buisness, but be sure he said nothing to anybody Else. he was soon Ready & off. in the mean time one of the young men of the Camp, accompanied me up on the side of the Mountain, where I had as good a view of the village & garrison of the Troops, as Could be had in that valley, at that distance the whole country being a succession or series of gulches Buttes and Bluffs, so one cannot see but a very short distance from any point, only high up on the Mountain except a narrow Strip of land on Either side of the River which the people Call the valley.
The messenger did not return till after Dark I thought I could see that he had been disappointed. He said that he had done as I told him. But Washakie said that Pres Young had told him of our faith years ago, but he did not Believe our Doctrine and as for himself he choosed to remain as he was.
Furthermore his advice to me would be too Keep out of camp for if I were Discovered by the Whites there I would be arrested & Chained up. The Old Man & the government Interpreter were both very sick [and] unable to go away from the lodge in which they were respectively Confined. The other chiefs who visited me, said that these two were the only ones of their people who were Indiferent to our preaching. You will perceive that if I obtained an Interview with Washakie I must of necessity go where he was, he being entirely unable to come where I was.
The Indian with whom I was staying was Quite uneasy for fear I had become alarmed & would Return without any further effort toward accomplishing the object for which I was sent. He was untiring in his efforts to please me all the time I was there, sent to or generally went himself to the settlements and brought vegetables and such things as he thought I would most Relish. … the Man erected a good comfortable Tent in the centre of the grove for my special benefit, furnished me a horse whenever I wanted to go anywhere. (My own horse having become so lame I had to leave him Entirely) and finally loaned me the best horse he had to come home upon. he said his family had never had the Privilege of being baptized and he hoped I would not forget him now that I was there. in fact he gave me no peace till I performed that ordinance for them & then he was Just as much Concerned as before, because one of his sons was or had gone to the Railroad after supplies, he was afraid I would go away before the boy Came Back, but the boy came all Right and was baptized, Contrary to this Indian’s fears. I was not at all alarmed or Discouraged at the Reception I had met with from Washakie for I had fasted and prayed and I felt that god was with me, and if so who could be against me. However I concealed my real intentions from this man, but told him to catch a couple of horses Early the next morning and with one make haste to the Village and I with the other would prospect the country a little. Moreover I directed him to visit the next chief to Washakie himself, & tell him I was near Camp and wanted to see him Immediately. This chief (who by the way Belongs to the church and has the name of being a very good man) soon Came to where I was stopping. I told him why I was there, and how I had thus far been received. he said if he were in my fix he should go and have a personal Interview with washakie myself. he thought I would look very Destitute to come away and not be able to say that I had even seen the chief. he Questioned me very Closely in Order to find out what I would do, but as before I said nothing about my Contemplated Mode of Procedure. The next day after Baptizing this mans Family with whom I was stopping and some others in that same Camp, I started for the village, which Contained about 1,000 Indians I suppose more or less. I left about 4 o clock in the evening so as to arrive about Dark. I rode up to the chiefs lodge about dusk [.] he had changed so much since I had seen him 16 years ago that I did not know him. I asked where washakie lodge was [.] he Replied that he was Washakie Pointing to Himself. I dismounted introduced myself, and told him my business asked him if he had any objections to his people joining our church if they wanted to. I thought he answered rather reluctantly, but before I left him he appeared to be anxious to give me all the Information concerning the people and premises there, that he could. I asked him what he thought of our Doctrine. He said he thought it was an Invented story, and not true. Still the Mormon People were and had always been his Friends and he wished to be Considered their friend. I gave him an account of the visit to Joseph Smith By the Angel Moroni Restoration of the gospel Etc[.] he said Pres Young had told Him the same year[s] ago.
After saying all to him that I thought I was prompted to say & obtaining his Consent to labor among his people, I returned to my stopping place. The next morning I dispatched a messenger telling him to circulate the word in the Camp that those who wished to be baptized could find me there at those Springs above mentioned, but [to] come in small squads one after the other so as not to excite suspicion. that day I performed the ordinance for 87 persons … as well as administering to many. … That evening I received a message from the Interpreter who is a Half Breed Indian, saying that he was so sick that he expected to die, but hoped I would come and see him Immediately. Accordingly I took my Indian Friend, (Tor namp pe) with me for a guide. we started about sunset. upon entering the village I procured a wrapper and went on in disguise. when only a few Rods from the sick mans lodge, which seemed to be only just across the Road from the forte, I told the guide to go in and prospect the premises and if the Post Doctors had retired Come back and let me know. he soon returned saying the coast was Clear Follow Him. The Interpreter I found lying upon his Back in a perfectly helpless condition. His Right arm was paralized so that he was unable to raise his Hand to shake hands with me, his left arm also was so to the Elbow. However he could raise his left Hand but not his arm. His legs too were so Completely paralized that they appeared to be of no use to him whatever[.] He said he wanted to hear of our Doctrine[.] much had been told him but he said he did not think he had got it as it was. I commenced at the beginning and talked fast until 1 or 2 o clock I suppose, arranging what I had to say so as to accommodate myself to the time as near as possible. he said he believed Every word I said, and if he got able before I got throug[h] with the people there he would be glad to be baptized, wanted to know also where I had stationed myself as he wanted to send his Family to me to be Baptized, which he did the next day. His Brother, (John Sinclare) also Came joined us. the lodge was full of Indians & Half Breeds. my guide said on the way home that night that the Indians present could feel that I gained upon that man until he was overcome, though we spoke in English on that occasion. I told him it was not me that gained upon him, but the spirit of God. he replied that he knew that. I had asked Washakie if he thought there was any Danger of some young wreckless Indian Informing on me. he said no. … when we left the lodge that night I found myself completely surrounded by Indians for several Hundred yards. It seemed as though I could not get away although it would soon be light. One would take hold of me and another and another, till I could not Begin to answer them all. The next day they commenced Coming Early[.] I was in the water almost constantly until after sundown, except when Confirming & Recording. [I] Baptized & Confirmed about 120 persons that Day[.] I have no Ideah how many I administered to. … I became so weak towards Evening that it seemed to me that I could not say another word. still I said if they should come all night I would not turn one person away, & they did come till after sundown; some of them appeared to be perfectly Out of Breath and their Horses all of a Foam. …
One Morning just before Daylight after I had Spent almost the Entire night in the village Preaching & Baptizing, I had only just Retired to Bed at my own Camp, when I was aroused again by the Indians who had followed me up in the night to have me do something for them that they might he Healed[.] Candidates were accompanied by their Friends so I was Enveloped almost Constantly by a Perfect Swarm[.] How such crowds could leave the agency & Post day after day and not Excite suspicion, I don’t know, without God was in it, but they told me that they had sent you Men on Horses to watch the movements of the Troops and settlers up and Down the Valley, and if suspicion should be aroused I should know it first or before any one could take me. furthermore if any one was to be Imprisoned, they would go in first. How true this would have proved to be I can’t say.
But they acted like they thought I was the Hero of the whole Country. they Brought me Various Kinds of Food from different parts of the village, and nothing seemed to Good for me. I had Canned Salmon, Nuts, Fresh Beef, Good Bread, Milk, Potatoes onions, Turnips, Groceries, if I wanted them. they paid 50 cts apiece for Water Melons & brought [them] to me, which By the way was Quite a treat as I had not seen any for 12 or 15 years nor was they unmindful of me when I left, but furnished me with a good supply to come home with, sent a young Indian to show me the trail across the Range of Mountains, so that what it took me 5 days to travel going out, I made in 2 Coming Back. After I had been employed for 9 or 10 Days in this manner, or at least the day before I intended Getting Ready for Home, Washakie sent me word by his Herder that he had come to the conclusion I had told him the Truth (for I had Declared to him with all my Might that I was telling him the right way and there was no other that would do, That it was not Merely my word or Pres Youngs word, but the word of God.) Hence he wanted to see me again right away[.] myself & guide went Down that night Upon our arrival[.] The Old Man wanted to know How he could be Baptized, as he was unable to come up to where the rest Came. I told him that he might select his own place and I would attend to it no Matter where, it might be. accordingly he sent his young Men & Boys to prepare a place in a Creek Close by, which took them about 2 Hours. they built a log Heap Fire on the Bank, and after the Moon was up so we could see better, I performed the Ordinance for Himself and all his Family 17 Persons. before I left I administered to him. I cam Back by the Interpreters lodge[.] He said if he Died he wanted some one to be Baptized for him[.] I told him it Could be Done when Our Temple was finished. He said if He got well he would attend to it himself. He asked me to pray for him[.] I administered to him[.] I never went to the village any more after that night having Baptized all but two of that Camp, (The Int [interpreter] and His Mother, who was waiting on Him) But very many Indians were off Hunting so I could not see near all, of them. The next Day was Issue Day. My friend Sam went to Town that Day to receive supplies while I went into the Mountains about 6 Miles to see if my Horse would be able to come Home.
When I got Back Home that night Sam told me that Washakie was on his Horse that Day attending to Busness as usual. I have seen One Indian from that Country lately[.] he says Washakie and the Int were Healed, & are both well and Hearty now. When I left for Home I thought proper to ordain My Friend Sam. I did so. The kindnesses done me by Himself and Family brought tears to my Eyes many Times, & what could I do for Him[.] I only had 50 cts. I gave him that, but I could Exercise the Power of the Priesthood in his Behalf. I did so.
The first night out Coming Back I camped alone in the Tops of the Mountains of that Range. after I had made preparation for the night, I heard the neighing of a Horse some distance from me through the Timber. I saddled up as soon as I [c]ould and made my way for the place from whence the sound proceeded. I soon Discovered a light which Proved to be the Camp Fire of 3 Indians. I stopped there that night. shortly after Retiring I was taken very sick. the Indians were very much alarmed[.] they said that if I died there the whites would say they killed me. not only that but they were very sorry for me because they Considered that I had been a Benefactor for the Indians. My Sufferings were so severe that I thought the sickness was a judgement upon me for something I had Done sometime in my life, though I did not know what it was. One of the Indians said or suggested that I pray to God to Heal me. They had Hunted through the Brush and timber for something for me but could find nothing, and now what Else Could be done. I did pray that I might be relieved or taken out of the world, for my suffering seemed to be beyond Endurance. Finally I asked the Indian who seemed to be so much Concerned for me, if he was a Mormon, (for they were all Strangers to me,) he replied that he was.
I then asked him if he would pray for me[.] he said he did not know how but would try. I ordained Him and told him to put his Hands on my head and Pray for me which he did[.] I felt very Much Relieved. I then asked him if those other two belonged to the church[.] he said they did. I ordained them[.] they all put their Hands on my head, and prayed for me. As the Gentiles would have it, the moment they took their Hands from my Head I happened to be Entirely well, but I would be afraid and ashamed to say that I was Healed in any Other way Only by the Power of God. And whether the sick were healed through my ministrations or not I think I was Healed through the ministrations of those 3 Indians.
On a Stream Called the Labarge about One Days travel this side of Green River the way I came Back, there is quite a large settlement of Mountaineers. I stayed there all night[.] their Women were very anxious to know where I had been. I told them. all that heard me talk wanted to be Baptized, (I mean Indians and Half Breeds) no whites. I sought and obtained permission from the principal Man among them, & Baptized 18 Persons almost against their Doors. Thus Closed my Missionary labor of that Trip. I left home with only a loaf of Bread tied behind my Saddle and 2 Dollars the People gave me. Before I was 5 Miles away I had $5 1/2 and before I was 2 days Away I had $11 Dollars, but I felt that I could get along without it. I did not ask any body for a cent Either. From the way I had been threatened I supposed it was all my life was worth to go. But Pres [Elder] Rich, (who by the way has always been a Father to me,) Blessed me and told me that I should have wisdom to know what to do when I got in that Country. It was so, & though I knew not the country or how I was going to live or how I should accomplish the Mission, I never lacked for 3 Good Meals a Day without I choosed to fast. Strangers treated me like I was an Old Friend. I was fed and Clothed and Men Gave me Money, though I never asked for any of these things. Enemies to the South seemed to be afraid of me and Perfectly Powerless, though I was alone. Of course I could write Volumes but I am afraid I have already said to much. Again I don’t like to talk so freely about myself but I never was so blessed before & never was so thankful[.] I never Enjoyed myself so long at one time. I don’t wish to weary you but you understand these things[.] in fact I thought of the time you were in France and of Bro Cannon on the Sandwich Islands, and of many of the experiences of the Elders of the Church, and how the Lord had proposed to Bless me too, though I was only a poor Private Man.
Of course you are at liberty to make such Dispositon of the Accompanying Record and these Papers as you may Deem Proper.
Thanking you for your kind letter, I remain your Brother in the Gospel of Christ.
A. R. Wright
Thus concludes Amos Wright’s letter describing his 1880 mission. Four years later, President Taylor asked Elder Lorenzo Snow, then seventy-one years old, to take a party of hardy men, including Amos R. Wright as interpreter and guide, to the Wind River reservation again. They left in late October.4
Suffering great hardships in order to visit the Shoshones, they proposed that the Church buy land in that vicinity and send teachers among them to show the Indians how to plow and sow, water and harvest, thus helping them become independent like their white brothers. The Indians seemed to be willing, but the difficulties and problems proved to be too great. Former habits were too strong to be overcome at that time.5
In 1885 Amos was again called, along with Brother James Brown (who was part Indian), to Wind River to teach the gospel. They spent five months, from November through March, living under extreme hardships. Then in the winter of 1901–1902, Amos responded to still another call at the age of sixty-one. This time he stayed six months.6
Brother Wright’s November 1880 missionary report was discovered in 1978 in the archives of the Church, together with a small leather-bound notebook containing the names of all the Indians he had baptized during his numerous missions. These names were carefully recorded, together with sex, pronunciation, date and place of baptism, and confirmation. Included was the name of Chief Washakie, some of his other names, and their interpretation in English.
After the notebook was brought to the attention of the Church’s Genealogy Department, processing of the names it contained began for temple endowments. The names were sent by request to the Mesa Temple in Arizona, and the necessary ordinance work began for the Shoshone women. Temple workers and friends caught the spirit and volunteered to help. Brethren likewise offered with enthusiasm to do the men’s names. In a number of cases the brethren were themselves of Indian descent.
Certainly Amos R. Wright had the spirit of missionary work in his efforts to help bring to realization the Lord’s promises to his children among the Shoshone Indians.