Known as a missionary and friend of the Indians, Jacob Hamblin played an integral role in helping smooth relations between Indians and Mormon settlers throughout the West and in establishing the cotton mission in Southern Utah. He served as both a peacekeeper and a community builder.
Born April 6, 1819 in Salem, Ohio to parents who were farmers, Hamblin learned farming in his youth. In the fall of 1839, he married Lucinda Taylor (They separated in February 1849). He joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in March 1842 after hearing the preaching of a few missionaries. Hamblin became a missionary himself almost immediately and soon moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, church headquarters at the time.
Hamblin became one of the first pioneers to cross the plains to Utah in 1847. He first settled in Tooele, a small ranching community west of Salt Lake City. He married Rachel Judd on September 30, 1849. In 1853, when Hamblin’s gun would not fire during a skirmish with Native Americans, it inspired him to stop fighting the Indians, and instead to live among them and work with them. While in Tooele, Hamblin built an excellent relationship with the local Indians, learning to speak the Pauite and Ute languages. This led to his eventual call as a missionary to the Native Americans of Southern Utah in 1854.
Upon arrival in southwestern Utah, Hamblin helped build a fort in the small community of Santa Clara, located just upriver from St. George. Contrary to the region’s current reputation of a resort and retirement hotspot, back then Utah’s Dixie was difficult to settle because of its harsh desert environment, which included less than 10 inches of annual rainfall and summer temperatures that regularly climbed to 110° F. Early settlers also had to deal with floods, one of which washed away three of the Santa Clara fort’s walls in 1862. Hamblin and his family dismantled the remaining wall and used its materials to build a two-story adobe, sandstone and ponderosa pine home just down river from the former fort. Completed in 1863, the Jacob Hamblin home is one of the few pioneer-era homes still standing in the area. Early residents utilized its large upstairs room as a school and community center. Hamblin held great stature in the community, serving as a father figure to many. Today, Hamblin’s home in Santa Clara is open daily for tours conducted by LDS missionaries.
Just as he did in Tooele, Hamblin became a friend to the local Indians and help ease relations between them and Mormon settlers. He gained the Native Americans trust and confidence. The Indians always honored their agreements with Hamblin. One of his most notable accomplishments in making peace with the Indians was the negotiation of the Treaty of Fort Defiance, New Mexico in November 1870. Hamblin also frequently visited Hopi villages in northern Arizona, which led to the reopening of “Crossing of the Fathers,” a key passage on the Colorado River.
Hamblin married two other women, Sarah Priscilla Leavitt (September 1857) and Louisa Boneli (November 1865), and fathered 24 children, taking in several others through adoption. After passage of the Edmunds Act of 1882, which outlawed polygamy, Hamblin became a fugitive in the eyes of the U.S. government. He went into hiding to avoid capture, staying with families in Arizona, New Mexico and Chihuahua, Mexico to evade federal agents. Hamblin died in Pleasanton, New Mexico on August 31, 1886. He is buried in Alpine, Arizona.
n late August, Hamblin was traveling north to Salt Lake City in company with LDS Apostle George A. Smith. Smith had been dispatched to the southern Mormon colonies to warn of the approaching United States army and recommend that the colonists not trade with any non-Mormons then traveling through their territory. He also counseled that they prepare to flee to the mountains if required. At Corn Creek nearFillmore, Utah, Smith, Hamblin, and Thales Haskell encountered the ill-fated Fancher party, a wagon train of Arkansans en route to California. Upon their questioning about the road ahead and a place to rest their cattle, Hamblin suggested that they stop further south in the grassyMountain Meadows, where he maintained a homestead. This was a traditional stopping point on the Old Spanish Trail leading from New Mexico to California. Hamblin and company then continued on to Salt Lake City where he stayed for roughly a week to “conduct Indian business and take a plural wife.” This “Indian business” included bringing a delegation of Southern Paiutes to meet with LDS church leaders. These were then authorized to steal cattle from travelers on the road to California as a part of Brigham Young’s Utah War strategy. In Salt Lake City, Hamblin was also informed that the Fanchers had allegedly “behaved badly” and had “robbed hen-roosts, and been guilty of other irregularities, and had used abusive language to those who had remonstrated with them. It was also reported that they threatened, when the army came into the north end of the Territory, to get a good outfit from the weaker settlements in the south.”
On his way home, Hamblin became aware through rumors among the Indians of the slaughter of the Fancher Party in the infamous Mountain Meadows massacre. In fact, on his trail south, he met John D. Lee who was on his way to Salt Lake City. In both his autobiography and his testimony at the second trial of Lee for the massacre, Hamblin claimed that to his great distress, Lee admitted to him his role in the killings along with other whites although he placed the blame for the attack on the Paiutes. Many accept Hamblin’s account of his meeting with Lee as he was well known for honesty. However, others believe that Hamblin either did not give a full accounting of events or his testimony amounted to perjury and was given to implicate Lee while shielding other Mormons. Indeed, in his book Mormonism Unveiled, an embittered John D. Lee refers to Hamblin as “Dirty Fingered Jake,” and spins tales of Hamblin’s attempts to waylay non-Mormon travelers in Utah, kill them, and take their property. He relates, “Hamblin was in Salt Lake City when the Mountain Meadows Massacre took place, and he pretends to have great sympathy with and sorrow for their fate. I can only judge what he would have done towards the massacre had he been home by what he did to help the next train that passed that way.”
As Hamblin continued south towards Santa Clara, he was told that a band of Paiutes was planning to attack a second wagon train, the Duke party. Perhaps believing Lee’s account that the Indians were primarily responsible for the Mountain Meadows massacre, he quickly returned south to prevent another slaughter. He recounts that he did not himself overtake that wagon train, but as he had been traveling very quickly without sleep he sent Samuel Knight and Dudley Leavitt before him. These overtook the train and were able to negotiate with the Paiutes wherein the Indians took the trains’ loose cattle (nearly 500 head) and left the train in peace. Knight and Leavitt continued with the company and saw it safely through to California. Hamblin was later able to return that stock not killed to the Duke party after conferring with those Indians involved. Again, some dispute Hamblin’s account and claim that in fact he organized the Paiute raid on the Dukes, though only to gain their cattle and not to harm any of the travelers. Indeed, the taking of cattle and burning army wagons seems to have been the primary Mormon tactic of the Utah War. However, Hamblin’s direct complicity seems unlikely as he was traveling from Salt Lake City at the time of the first attacks, and he later returned to the party at least a portion of those cattle taken after writing to their owners in California. Whatever the case may be, Hamblin spent the rest of 1857 and early 1858 shepherding non-Mormons through Utah on the trail to California and Mormons returning to Utah from outlying settlements in order to participate in its defense should the army attack.
After the conclusion of the Utah War , Hamblin claims to have been willing to testify to his knowledge of the Massacre at the behest of Apostle Smith. However, due to the amnesty proclaimed by the President of the United States to the Mormons, the new governor, Alfred Cumming, did not wish to discuss the matter. He did, however, testify at John D. Lee’s second trial for the massacre in 1876.