“Sagwitch,” Church History Topics
Sagwitch, a Northern Shoshone (Newe) chieftain in the 19th century, was an important ally and friend to Latter-day Saints who settled in his people’s homeland of northern Utah and southeastern Idaho.1 He was born in 1822, a son of Pin-in-netse and Woo-roats-rats-in-gwipe, and distinguished himself early on as one able to negotiate and speak on behalf of his people. His name, Sagwitch, means “speaker” and “orator.”
Sagwitch and other Shoshone leaders met with Brigham Young in the Great Salt Lake Valley just eight days after the Saints arrived in 1847, starting a positive and enduring relationship.2 The Saints’ settlement of Cache Valley beginning in 1856, however, introduced tensions as both Shoshone and the new European American settlers competed for subsistence on many of the same scarce resources. As chieftain and orator for his people, Sagwitch brokered peaceful arrangements with Latter-day Saints, and the two groups enjoyed an amicable, though sometimes strained, relationship.
Some did not share Sagwitch’s commitment to peaceful coexistence, and skirmishes erupted across the region.3 United States Army colonel Patrick Edward Connor, stationed at Camp Douglas on the east side of Salt Lake City, decided a preemptive strike on the Shoshone winter encampment near current-day Preston, Idaho, could curtail ongoing raiding and violence. On January 29, 1863, he dispatched a regiment to engage the Shoshone in battle. The ambush, known at the time as the Battle of Bear River, came to be known as the Bear River Massacre. One of the deadliest atrocities in the history of the Western United States, this attack on Sagwitch’s community by United States Army troops left around 400 Shoshone adults, children, and infants dead. Sagwitch was injured but survived the massacre, along with three of his sons and a daughter. His wife and two stepsons were killed.
A decade later, in 1873, Sagwitch sought Church affiliation, and missionary George Washington Hill taught and baptized 101 of his Shoshone band. Three days later, Sagwitch traveled to Salt Lake City, met with Church leaders, and was ordained an elder. Later, in 1875, Sagwitch and his wife, Beawoachee, and another Shoshone couple met Wilford Woodruff at the Endowment House on Temple Square, received their endowments, and became the first American Indians to have their marriages sealed.4
The Church assisted Sagwitch in relocating his community to different farmland under a new amendment to the United States Homestead Act. Eventually Sagwitch and other Latter-day Saints established the town of Washakie, Utah, making them among the first Indians to own land under the amendment. When Sagwitch learned of plans to build the Logan Utah Temple in nearby Cache Valley, he endorsed the effort and led Shoshone work groups to the site. When the temple was completed, Sagwitch and his people periodically traveled to the Logan temple to do ordinance work for deceased family members, including those killed in the 1863 Bear River Massacre.
Sagwitch died in 1887 and was buried in Washakie. One of his sons, Pisappíh Tímpin-poo (also known as Frank Warner), was likely the first American Indian to serve as a proselytizing missionary. Another son, Yeager, spoke at general conference in 1926 in the Shoshone language, the first conference address given in a language other than English. Sagwitch’s grandson, Moroni Timbimboo, was the first American Indian to be called as a bishop. He led the Washakie Ward from 1939 to 1945.