November 1863. Jacob Hamblin had just left his home in Santa Clara to get supplies in nearby Cedar City, Utah. Two Indians rode up to the Hamblin home and angrily demanded: “Where is Jacob?”
When they learned he had gone to Cedar City, they dashed off in that direction with their horses. Overtaking Jacob, they called for him to stop.
“We have come to kill you!” they called angrily.
For a few moments there was silence. Then Jacob climbed down from the wagon seat, looked at the Indians, and pulled his shirt open—as if to say, “Shoot, I am unarmed.”
The Indians stared a moment in silence. Then one muttered: “Can’t Jacob, you’ve got my heart.” They rode away. 1
Jacob Hamblin. At a time when few white people were trusted, the Indians looked upon Jacob as a true friend. Today he is considered the most influential and successful peacemaker and missionary among the Indian people in the territorial period. 2
He was a man totally committed to God and to the building up of God’s kingdom among the Indians. “Although Jacob Hamblin generally carried a gun of some sort,” writes historian John Henry Evans, “his dependable weapon was prayer and the most absolute trust in God. … He ate with the Indians, he slept with them, he talked their language, he prayed with them for the rains to save their crops … , he thought their thoughts, … till he knew more perhaps than any other American ever knew of the native, and exerted far more influence with them.” 3
Jacob Hamblin was born in Salem, Ohio, on 2 April 1819 to Isaiah and Daphne Haynes Hamblin. He married Lucinda Taylor in 1839 and they made their home in Spring Prairie, Wisconsin. Three years later, in February 1842, he attended a meeting where the missionary Lyman Stoddard was preaching. “I shall never forget the feeling that came over me when I saw his face and heard his voice,” Jacob relates. “He preached that which I had long been seeking for; I felt that it was indeed the gospel.” 4 He was baptized 3 March 1842.
Jacob served as a missionary for a short time, but was called home when the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred. When word came from Church leaders to move west, his wife refused to go. But she told him to go and take the three children with him.
Needing help with his motherless family, Jacob relied on the Lord. In a dream he saw a widow and two children in a log cabin. At the same time a widow, Rachel Judd, had a feeling that her future husband would soon call at her cabin. Jacob went to her home, introduced himself, and explained that he had been impressed to ask her to be his wife. She agreed; they were married on 30 September 1849, came to Utah the next year, and were later sealed in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City.
Jacob was directed to settle his family in Tooele, Utah. At that time the Latter-day Saints had developed a policy of feeding the Indians to avoid fighting with them. However, the settlers barely had enough provisions for themselves—and giving food to the Indians proved to be a hardship. The settlers also found that their grain and livestock were often stolen.
To combat the increasing thievery, a military company was formed, with Jacob as a first lieutenant. “I asked for a company of men,” he relates, “to … hunt up the Indians. … One morning at daybreak, we surrounded their camp. … The chief among them sprang to his feet, and stepping towards me, said, ‘I never hurt you, and I do not want to. If you shoot, I will; if you do not, I will not.’ I was not familiar with their language, but I knew what he said. Such an influence came over me that I would not have killed one of them for all the cattle in Tooele Valley.”
Jacob wanted some of the Indians to accompany his group back to the settlement. Afraid, but confident in his assurance of safety, they went. When they arrived, a superior officer decided to ignore Jacob’s promise and have the Indians shot.
“I told him I did not care to live,” writes Jacob, “after I had seen the Indians whose safety I had guaranteed, murdered, and … if there were any shot I should be the first. At the same time I placed myself in front of the Indians. This ended the matter and they were set at liberty.” 5
On a later occasion, the Spirit made it known to Jacob in a dramatic way that he was to be a friend and brother to the Indians—a peacemaker—rather than an enemy. “I … secreted myself behind a rock in a narrow pass. … I had not been there long before an Indian came within a few paces of me.
“I leveled my rifle on him, and it missed fire. He sent an arrow at me, and it struck my gun. … ; he sent the second, and it passed through my hat; the third barely missed my head; the fourth passed through my coat and vest. As I could not discharge my gun, I defended myself as well as I could with stones. …
“I afterwards learned … that not one [of our company] was able to discharge his gun when within range of an Indian. … It appeared evident to me that a special providence had been over us … to prevent us from shedding the blood of the Indians. The Holy Spirit forcibly impressed me that it was not my calling to shed the blood of the scattered remnant of Israel, but to be a messenger of peace to them. It was also made manifest to me that if I would not thirst for their blood, I should never fall by their hands.” 6
In the October 1853 general conference, Jacob was called to be a missionary among the Indians in Washington County. The next spring he left for the southern Utah settlement of Harmony, and then in December, he was selected, with other missionaries, to settle Santa Clara.
The Indians in the area were somewhat nomadic, wandering about in search of food. The settlers had scared their game away, they said, and the white man’s cattle ate the grasses, roots, and grains that the Indians depended upon for food. Since the land was theirs, they maintained they were entitled to part of the crops and cattle the settlers produced. The conflict led to a great deal of trouble.
But Jacob had much compassion for the Indians. He developed a great love for them and set about to help them improve their conditions. Blessed by the Lord, he found a measure of success. He and the other missionaries taught the Indians farming techniques so they would not suffer from hunger. “The patient and industrious Jacob Hamblin … may truly be designated ‘the Indians’ friend,’” wrote Thomas Brown, an early settler. “Under his industrious care, I doubt not they will soon be able to raise their own wheat, stock and other edibles, also cotton.” 7
Jacob completed this mission in June of 1855. But when he met with Brigham Young, the prophet told him to take his family, which by then included an adopted Indian boy, back to southern Utah—and he admonished Jacob not to neglect his mission among the Indians.
On 4 August 1857 President Young appointed Jacob president of the Santa Clara Indian Mission. He urged Jacob to “continue the conciliatory policy toward the Indians … and to seek by words of righteousness to obtain their love and confidence.” 8 Jacob worked steadily alongside the Indians and won their trust and confidence. He talked with them in their language, always spoke the truth, and honored all his promises. As a result, he had tremendous influence with them. In later years his personal code of ethics in dealing with the Indians was distributed to all missionaries and others who dealt with the Indians.
He taught his children well by his example. One biographer records: “A son of Jacob Hamblin says that when he was a very small boy his father called him one day and said, ‘Son, take this horse over to my friend, Chief Frank, and exchange the horse for some blankets.’” The boy, eager to prove himself a good trader, returned with an excessive number of blankets. Jacob, seeing the uneven trade, sent him to give back the excess blankets, “whereupon the chief said, ‘I knew my friend Jacob would send you back; he is our father too.’” 9
Jacob continued to work mightily to keep peace between the Indians and the settlers, and to ensure the safety of the many emigration companies that were passing through the area. He had long been curious about a group of Indians called the Moquis. After receiving approval, he organized an expedition and left with a group of twelve men on 28 October 1858. They traveled in a southeast direction, crossing the Colorado River at the eastern end of the Grand Canyon, known as the Crossing of Our Fathers. After a ten-day journey they arrived at the Indian village in northeastern Arizona. Their visit appeared to fulfill a prophecy: “A very aged man [a member of the Moqui tribe] said that when he was a young man his father told him that he would live to see white men come among them, who would bring them great blessings … and that these men would come from the west. He believed that he had lived to see the prediction fulfilled in us.” 10
After sending a report of their trip to Salt Lake City, Jacob received a letter from President Young. The letter told him to take a second expedition to the Moquis and “as soon as they become sufficiently familiar with our language, present to them the Book of Mormon and instruct them in regards to its history and the first principle of the Gospel.” 11 Jacob did visit the tribe again the next year, staying with them several weeks.
In 1864 a group of Indians made raids upon the settlers by the Colorado River. Jacob settled these difficulties and then made two more trips to the Moquis. His second trip extended into March of 1865.
In 1866 Jacob started out on another missionary expedition but became ill and turned back. He sent word to his family, and his wife came and took him home to Santa Clara. He remained in very poor health for a year—his friends believed he was dying. He relates that he was willing to die. But when he heard his little children crying around him, the question came into his mind, “What will they do if I am taken away? I could not bear the thought of leaving my family in so helpless a condition.” 12 He asked for a blessing and afterwards felt a new desire for food. After this he made a slow recovery.
After some settlers were murdered by Indians, Jacob was called to act as a guide and interpreter for a company of soldiers. In 1867 he was called to visit the Indians to the east of the Rio Virgin. “I had many long talks with them,” he relates, “which seemed to have a good effect. Although some of the bands were considered quite hostile and dangerous to visit, I felt that I was laboring for good, and had nothing to fear.” 13
Indeed, Jacob was fearless in the face of danger. For this quality he was much respected, especially among the Indians. He had a way of winning the hearts of the Indians by his honest ways and with his remarkable courage. For example, on one occasion, wrote an associate, “Jacob Hamblin … was captured by the Indians, and was tied to a stake and faggots and other dry wood piled up around him. The purpose then being to fire same and finish him for all time. The Indians then danced about and uttered their war cries with the blood-curdling emphases, but could in nowise shake his inherent bravery, for he smiled and bade them finish the job. The Chief of the Indians was so astonished at his utter lack [of fear, that] they ever after proved themselves in many ways to be his friends and he ever their brother.” 14
Keeping a watch on the eastern frontiers of southern Utah often kept him away from Santa Clara and home, so Jacob decided to move his family closer to him. They moved to the unfinished fort at Kanab, Utah, in September of 1869. Jacob continued to do much to settle disputes between the Indians and the settlers. He went to Kanab and helped the Paiutes plant corn and vegetables, and they held peace parleys together. 15 When President Brigham Young visited the region in April 1870, he told Jacob to continue visiting the Indian camps, maintain peaceful relations, and prevent the shedding of blood. At that time Jacob was relieved of his previous responsibility of guarding the frontier.
A few months later, Major John W. Powell of the United States Geological Survey sought Jacob’s assistance as an interpreter and guide. On September 19 a peace council was held in the Mt. Trumball area. Major Powell relates: “After supper, we hold a long council. A blazing fire is built, and around this we sit—the Indians living here, the shivwits, Jacob Hamblin and myself. This man, Hamblin, speaks their language well, and has a great influence over all the Indians in the region round about. He is a silent, reserved man, and when he speaks, it is in a slow, quiet way, that inspires great awe. His talk is so low that they must listen attentively to hear, and they sit around him in deathlike silence. When he finishes a measured sentence, the chief repeats it, and they all give a solemn grunt.” 16
Jacob explained to the council the reason for Major Powell’s visit, reassuring them that they meant no harm. He told them that the Indians should be friends and help Major Powell find water. The chief of the Shevwits responded, “Your talk is good and we believe what you say. We believe in Jacob and look upon him as a father. When you are hungry you may have our game … We will show you the springs, and you may drink; the water is good. We will be friends, and when you come we will be glad.” 17
Major Powell, aware of the great abilities of Jacob as a peacemaker, asked him to accompany him to Fort Defiance. At that council Jacob again spoke to the Indians: “I have now gray hairs on my head, and from my boyhood I have been on the frontiers, doing all I could to preserve peace between white men and Indians.
“I despise this killing, the shedding of blood. I hope you will stop this, and come and visit, and trade with our people.” When Jacob finished speaking Barbenceta 18 , the principal chief of the Navajos, stood up and walked over to Jacob. Tears started up in his eyes and he put his arms around him, saying: “My friend and brother, I will do all I can to bring about what you have advised.” 19 A treaty was signed as the result of this council.
Sadly, this was broken by a tragedy during the last part of 1873. Four young Navajo braves were returning home when a blizzard arose. They took shelter in an empty home nearby. The storm continued, and, since they had no food, they killed a cow. When the owner heard that Indians had camped in his house and killed his cow, he gathered his friends and attacked the Indians. They killed three and wounded the fourth, who managed to escape.
Jacob, upon learning of the incident, knew that to the Navajos it would appear as a flagrant violation of the treaty. The offenders were not Latter-day Saints but they were in “Mormon territory.” The Indians would consider it a Mormon treachery.
Brigham Young sent word to Jacob to go immediately to the Navajos and explain that Latter-day Saints were not the perpetrators of the Grass Valley incident. Jacob was unable to find a single man willing to go with him on such a dangerous trip and was advised by many to stay home and prepare for war.
“I left Kanab alone,” Jacob writes. “My son Joseph overtook me about fifteen miles out with a note from Bishop Levi Stewart, advising my return.” 20 Jacob, however, went on. Remaining overnight at Mowabby he received a second note from Bishop Stewart, saying he would surely be killed if he went on. But Jacob stoutly says of that occasion, “I felt that I had no time to lose. … My life was of small moment compared with the lives of the Saints and the interests of the kingdom of God. I determined to trust the Lord and go on.” 21
On his journey Jacob met two Smith brothers, who accompanied him. Upon arriving, Jacob found that Chief Hastile, the arbitrator, was not there. The young braves were set upon a blood revenge, but the older ones agreed to talk. One of the Smith brothers relates the following: “Into this lodge was crowded twenty-four Navajos, four of whom were Counselors of the Nation. The Council opened [the second day of talks] by the spokesman asserting that what Hamblin had said the previous night concerning the killing, was false, … that Hamblin was a party to the killings.” The spokesman then recommended death by fire for Jacob. The other two could return after witnessing the torture.
Fully aware of the danger, Jacob “behaved with admirable coolness, not a muscle in his face quivered.” Then he spoke: “I have been acquainted with your people many years, and I have worked many moons to bring about peace … I hope you would not think of killing me for a wrong with which neither myself nor my people had anything to do.” He “challenged them to prove that he had ever deceived them; ever spoken with a forked tongue.”
After his words, which began to soften the feelings of the elder Indians, the wounded brave was brought in and his wounds were exposed. According to one of the Smith brothers, “The sight of the wounded brave roused their passions to the utmost fury. … It seemed that our hour had come. … It was a thrilling scene; the erect proud form of the young Chief as he stood pointing at the wound in the kneeling figure before him; the circle of crouching forms; their dusky and painted faces animated by every passion that hatred and ferocity could inspire, and their glistening eyes fixed with one malignant impulse upon us. …
“The suspense was broken by a Navajo … who once again raised his voice in our behalf, and, after a stormy discussion, Hamblin finally compelled them to acknowledge that he had been their friend; that he had never lied to them, and that he was worthy of belief now.” The council finally adjourned after a tense eleven hours and let the case go before the arbitrator.
Jacob later said in his wry way, “For a few minutes I felt that if I were permitted to see friends and home again, I would appreciate the privilege.” At the closing of the investigation a month later, Chief Hastile said, “I am satisfied; I have gone far enough; I know our friends, the Mormons, are our true friends.” 22
At the end of 1874 Jacob was placed in charge of the Church’s livestock on the frontier and traded often with the now peaceable Navajos. A happy event occurred on the last of March 1875 when nearly two hundred Indians were baptized.
During the winter of 1875–76, Jacob “had the privilege of remaining at home [in Kanab]. My family was destitute of many things. Some mining prospectors came along, and offered me five dollars a day to go with them, as protection against the Indians. … It seemed like a special providence to provide necessities for my family, and I accepted the offer.” 23
He continued in his labors and met with Brigham Young in 1876. At this time President Young gave Jacob a blessing in which he was given special status as an emissary to the Indians. President Young said to him: “You have always kept the Church and Kingdom of God first and foremost in your mind. … You can have all the blessings there are for any man in the temple.” Jacob says of this meeting, “The assurance that the Lord and his servants accepted my labors … has been a great comfort to me.” 24 At this time he was fifty-seven years old.
Jacob moved his family to Arizona in 1878, but he visited Utah regularly to report on his labors in Arizona, and later in New Mexico, where he moved in 1884. During one trip to Utah in 1885, Jacob met with Wilford Woodruff, who was president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. President Woodruff recognized Jacob’s unusual abilities with the Indians and wrote him a special certificate. The certificate called him to be a missionary among the Lamanites and gave him the right and authority to go into any part of the United States and Mexico to preach the gospel.
The next summer he paid a visit to the home of his son Lyman in Alpine, Arizona. While there he caught the chills and fever. He felt better after two weeks and wanted to go home. On the way back, he and his grandson camped out in the rain in a leaky shelter. Jacob became soaked and suffered a relapse. They camped out another night, and when they arrived home—now Pleasanton, New Mexico—they found everyone ill with malaria. After three days of illness he died, on 31 August 1886. His wife, the only one able to get out of bed, was assisted by some strangers in burying him. His body was later reinterred at Alpine, Arizona. On his gravestone are the words “Peacemaker In The Camps Of The Lamanites.”
Jacob’s devotion to the Church was unfaltering. His faith and trust in God was absolute. And throughout the years, his love and dedication to his family was always a motivating force. Life was never easy for them. But their sacrifices and their loyalty to one another made it possible for Jacob to accomplish all that he did.
Pearson Corbett, one of Jacob Hamblin’s biographers, says of him: “He loved President Brigham Young and the Prophet Joseph Smith and accepted them as direct emissaries from God. … His devotion and loyalty to his Church, his God, his family and fellow associates places his name high among his contemporaries and will be remembered among his people for generations to come.” 25
Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, an explorer and member of the Powell Colorado River Expedition, said of him: “Old Jacob was a remarkable character, and must hold a place in the annals of the Wilderness beside Jedediah Smith, Bridger, … and the rest of that gallant band. But he differed in one respect from every one of them; he sought no pecuniary gain, working for the good of his chosen people. … Old Jacob was one of the heroes of the Wilderness, and one of the last of his kind.” 26
Pearson H. Corbett, Jacob Hamblin, The Peacemaker, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1952, p. 230.
See Milton R. Hunter, Utah Indian Stories, Springville, Utah: Art City Publishing Co., 1946, p. 76.
The Heart of Mormonism, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1930, pp. 452–53.
James A. Little, Jacob Hamblin, Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909, p. 11.
Little, pp. 28–29.
Little, p. 30.
Journal of the Southern Indian Mission: Diary of Thomas D. Brown, ed. Juanita Brooks, Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1972, p. 137.
As quoted in Paul Bailey, Jacob Hamblin, Buckskin Apostle, Los Angeles, California: Westernlore Press, 1948, pp. 153–54.
Corbett, p. 437.
Little, p. 66.
As quoted in Corbett, p. 168.
Little, p. 98.
Little, p. 99.
Brind, letter, 1870–1872, as quoted in Corbett, p. 334.
Utah Historical Quarterly, Vol. XII, July–Oct. 1944, p. 175.
Little, p. 105.
H. Lorenzo Reid, Brigham Young’s Dixie Of The Desert, Salt Lake City: Zion Natural History Association, 1964, p. 169.
The spelling of the chief’s name differs from source to source; some spelling it Barbeneta, other Barboneita. Although James A. Little’s spelling of the name may be questioned, since his book is from direct interviews with his neighbor Jacob Hamblin, I have used his spelling of Barbenceta.
Little, p. 109.
Little, p. 120.
Little, pp. 120–21
See Reid, pp. 176–79.
Little, p. 144.
Little, p. 149.
Corbett, p. 439.
Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, Breaking the Wilderness, New York, New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1905, p. 313.