Preaching the gospel to and “gathering” descendants of the house of Israel was a major church objective during the nineteenth century. As Latter-day Saints migrated west and settled in Utah they began proselytizing efforts among the local American Indian tribes. Latter-day Saints believed that American Indians were descendants of the Book of Mormon Lamanites, who in turn were descendants of the Israelites of the Bible; according to Brigham Young, the Indians were “a remnant of the House of Israel, they are of the seed of Abraham, and the Book of Mormon, and all the prophecies concerning that people declare that the gospel shall be preached unto them.” When Young sent missionaries to preach to the Indians, he charged them “to civilize them, teach them to work, and improve their condition by your utmost faith and diligence.” He urged that “every elder, who is now called unto this work, should immediately commence to learn the Lamanite languages.”1
Mormon women also engaged in efforts to instruct Indian women. As Relief Societies were organized among groups of Indian converts, the women were not only taught “in their duties as members of the Church” but also received instructions in cooking, washing, and sewing.2 Other Christian white women in the 1880s had similar priorities for Indian women and came to measure their success “by the degree to which Indian women modeled themselves after middle-class white women and rejected their former practices.”3 The following document—the published minutes of a September 1880 Relief Society meeting organized among Ute Indians in central Utah—reflects similar themes.
In the spring of 1877, Brigham Young authorized John Spencer, an interpreter, missionary, and local branch president, to organize volunteers from the north end of Sanpete County to help the Ute Indians in that area build houses. Young wished the Indians to possess the land in Thistle Valley and to serve as a model for other tribes “how to go to work and sustain themselves.”4 The following year Spencer reported that the Utes “continue to live on their homesteads, in houses from one to three miles apart, and are laboring to improve their claims, looking forward with eagerness to the time when they will receive their [land] patents from Government.”5
A report from John Taylor’s 1879 trip to Sanpete County noted that the Relief Society in Thistle Valley was made up of white and Indian women “in about equal numbers.”6 The following year, after reorganizing the Relief Society in Thistle Valley, Eliza R. Snow and her traveling party returned to Salt Lake City and reported their experience in the Woman’s Exponent. They were impressed by the appearance of the Indian women, saying all were “nicely dressed, looking as happy as possible.” They also noted the humanitarian efforts the women performed: “The Lamanite sisters have already done some benevolent work, and are very persevering in piecing quilts and other similar labors.”7
The Indianola Relief Society was evidently the first to include an American Indian woman in the presidency.8 Spencer baptized ten Indians in August 1879, including a man named Nephi.9 Nephi’s wife, whose name is recorded in the Exponent report as Susan, was appointed second counselor when the Indianola Relief Society was reorganized in August 1880.10
LAMANITE SISTERS TESTIFY,
At a meeting of the Relief Society of Indianola (Thistle Valley), Sept. 16, 1880, Mrs. [Betsey] Jane Simons, President of the Payson Relief Society, with her counselors and other sisters, were present.11 Meeting called to order by Pres. Lodisia [Lucy Lodica] Spencer.12 Singing. Prayer by Pres. Jane Simons. Singing. Roll called, thirteen members present. Minutes of previous meeting read and approved.
Sister Douglas [Agnes Douglass] spoke to the sisters: said she felt glad to have the privilege of meeting with the sisters of Indianola; was glad to see the improvement made by the Lamanite sisters. Also gave some very good instructions, and encouraged them to do right, and the Lord would bless them. Interpreted by Pres. John Spencer, who was present and acted throughout the meeting as interpreter.
Sister Moore said she felt glad to meet with the sisters of Indianola, and that she lived in this day and age of the world, when the Gospel had been made known to the human family; and gave some very good instructions. Prayed the Lord to bless them all.
Sister Hancock13 said she was glad to have the privilege of living in this day. She felt that the Spirit of God was in their midst to-day. Said she could see a great improvement in the Lamanites; also felt well.
Sister Martha Simons spoke to the sisters; said she felt thankful to God for having the privilege of meeting with the Lamanite sisters of Indianola. Said we ought to be faithful and set a good example to the Lamanites, and also teach them to be cleanly and to have faith in God; and gave other good instructions. Prayed that God would bless those who are called to lead the Saints here in Indianola.
Sister Phebe [Onump] (Lamanite) said she felt glad to see the day when the white and the red sis[p. 74]ters could mingle together. Said she knew it was right to keep herself clean; and also encouraged the sisters to diligence.
Sister Mary Tackipo (Lamanite) said she felt glad to meet with the sisters from Payson; had known some of them for a long time. Said she was learning to keep house, and assisting her husband in his labors. Said she liked it better than her former way of doing.
Bro. Joseph [A.] (Lamanite) said he was glad to see the sisters from Payson. Said the Indians with him felt well; felt like doing right, and loved peace.
Sistsr Hannah Moritze (Lamanite) said she felt well in hearing the sisters who had spoken there that day. Was anxious to learn to keep house and to keep herself clean.
Sister Annetta Panawatts (Lamanite) said she felt well and was glad to hear what she had heard. Was willing to learn how to become a good Latter-day Saint, but was rather slow. Said she felt different altogether since she had been baptized.
Sister Jane Simons said she felt well in meeting with the sisters, and of hearing what she had heard from the white women and also the Lamanite sisters. Felt that the Spirit of God was there on that occasion. Gave some good instruction and encouraged the sisters to diligence and to be faithful. Said she was present at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. Had heard the Prophet Joseph Smith prophecy in regard to the Lamanites embracing the Gospel in the last days.14 Related to them a testimony of the laying on of hands.
Sister D, D. [Rebecca] Tanner said she felt well could see a great improvement in the Lamanite’s since she came to this valley and in the Relief Society. Prest. John Spencer said he was glad to have the opportunity of meeting with the Relief Society of Indianola and said, I am pleased to see our Sisters who have been with us to-day, said they had an object in view in coming to visit the Lamanite Sisters, described how he found the Lamanites, in their low state some three years previous. Said they are now commencing to gather in, they say the Latter-day Saints are the only friends they have got. President Young told them many years ago that we desired to teach them truth. There is a great labor in teaching them in their temporal as well as their spiritual affairs, also encouraged the sisters in their labors.
Sister Douglas[s] felt glad to see the peace and good order which we have had to-day would like very much to visit the Lamanite sisters at their homes.
Sister [Charlotte] Seely said that she felt glad that the sisters had come to visit and hoped it would not be the last time. Said she felt willing to take hold and assist all she could in teaching the Lamanite sisters, and also the brethren, said they were making great improvements and are willing to learn everything that is taught to them. Brother Joseph’s wife was administered to by Brother John Spencer. President Lodisia Spencer spoke, returned her thanks to the visiting sisters said she appreciated the good spirit that had been there that day and was glad her sisters had come from Payson to visit them and hoped it would not be the last time. Singing. Benediction by Bro. Joseph, (Lamanite.)
Lodisia Spencer Pres.
M. [Mormon] V. Selman, Clerk, Protem.