After publishing a few articles on Native American history and studying the Shoshone language, Scott Christensen has completed his first full-length work, Sagwitch: Shoshone Chieftain, Mormon Elder 1822–1887, which won the Evans Handcart Award at Utah State University. Christensen is to be commended for this well-written documentary of the man who was a leader of the Northwestern Band of Shoshone Indians as Indian-white relations developed in early Utah history.
Sagwitch’s life is significant in many ways and deserves the attention Christensen has given him. Sagwitch was born in 1822, a time when his people were enjoying the last days of the traditional life they had known for centuries. After the Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 and as western territories saw more and more exploration and settlement, the Northwestern Band of Shoshone were forced to forever change their patterns of living. Sagwitch was a wise man and a gifted speaker, and he fell naturally into the leadership role that he maintained among his band throughout his life. A survivor of the Bear River Massacre in 1863, Sagwitch believed his people would best survive by assimilating with the Latter-day Saints, who were inhabiting the traditional Shoshone lands. He and his band converted to Mormonism and attempted to follow their Church leaders’ directions in learning to farm and raise livestock. This book details the life of Sagwitch and his band as they interacted with the white pioneers and with other Native American tribes.