The Trial of Don Pedro León Luján: The Attack against Indian Slavery and Mexican Traders in Utah

In The Trial of Don Pedro León Luján: The Attack against Indian Slavery and Mexican Traders in Utah, Sondra Jones has written an excellent and accessible discussion of a little-known episode in the history of nineteenthcentury Utah. In the first chapter, Jones makes it clear that the arrest, trial, and expulsion from Utah of Don Pedro León Luján, a New Mexican trader, has often been distorted or even glossed over in Utah histories; she then describes the event using as evidence extant primary records.

Jones contextualizes the story of slave trading in early Utah and supports it with substantial references and informative notes. The Utah Territory into which the Saints settled after being forced to flee from the Midwest was seasoned with tribal customs and traditional trading practices between Native Americans and traders. In particular, the Utes often traded Indian children—children from other tribes and even their own children—for goods and firearms. These children, then, were essentially slaves. Despite moral conflicts, the Saints became part of this slave trade: “The Mormons’ initial reluctance to purchase Indian captives posed no real problem for the Indian slavers. To make a sale [the Utes] needed only to threaten to sell [the children] to Mexican slavers or Navajos (another active market for domestics and herders) or to kill [the children].”

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