PROPHET IN THE WILDERNESS
While engaged in carrying the mail across what is now approximately one third of the United States, Eph quickly adapted to the ways of the Indian with whom he had frequent contact. Because he treated them fairly, over the years he established a rapport with them that was remarkable. His generosity, along with an aptitude for their language, also helped win many friends. He came to know them intimately as he ate and slept in their lodges and hunted with them on the plains. In some of these associations Eph reveals another dimension of his character that might be considered quite extraordinary, if not contradiction, when compared to the rugged adventurer he portrays in earlier Chapters of this paper.
Although we have already demonstrated his loyalty to Brigham Young, we have as yet said little of his religiosity. Kimball claims the Indians from Salt Lake City to the Missouri River knew Eph as "the man who could talk with the Great Spirit."97 Those who knew Eph and wrote of him, practically without exception, extolled his gift of healing the sick. Solomon Kimball,98 Dave Rust,99 N. C. Hanks,100 Josiah Rogerson, Sr.,101 and Andrew Jensen,102 among others, have recorded such accounts. "Ephraim Hanks possessed the gift of healing to a remarkable degree and always carried a bottle of consecrated oil," writes Kimball.103
According to several sources he also evidently enjoyed the gift of prophecy, an attribute, which Solomon Kimball reports, saved his life on several occasions.104 It would seem dreams ofttimes served as a pipeline for his inspiration,105 especially when traveling the mail route. Dave Rust, who Eph blessed several times when he was ill with diphtheria and once with acute tonsillitis, agreed he had a special gift. "He had a reputation for healing," maintained Rust. "I mean he really had it."106 He also remembered his sister, Laura, receiving blessings from Eph when she was sick.
Eph's popularity with the Indians was due only in part to his kind treatment of them. At least one tribe was convinced he had a special influence with the Great White Spirit. On December 11, 1856, Eph and Feramorz Little, after receiving a blessing from the Presidency of the Church, started east with the mail. After reaching the Continental Divide where they encountered an unusually severe storm, they continued to Ash Hollow where they came upon eight freight teams belonging to Majors and Russell. Learning they had been snowbound forty days,107 the scouts assured the foreman, Captain Remick, whose immediate concern was a short food supply, that they would gladly assist him to the Missouri River despite the impossible weather. Eph went so far as to guarantee the freighters their fill of buffalo meat enroute.108
Before leaving Ash Hollow, however, Eph visited a nearby Sioux village. His visit produced such dramatic results; the writer believes it worthwhile to quote the account in full.
A large tribe of Sioux were encamped a short distance away, and Ephraim felt impressed to visit them before leaving. As soon as he reached their camp he made his way to the chief's tent, where he found no one present except an elderly female. Soon, however, the chief came and the lodge was filled with representative members of the tribe. As Ephraim took his place among them, the chief wanted to know who he was and where he had come from. Elder Hanks answered that he lived in the mountains and belonged to the people who had pulled handcarts across the plains, that his chief's name was Brigham Young, who sometimes talked with the Great White Spirit. The chief then wanted to know if Hanks himself could talk with the Great Spirit, which question the scout answered in the affirmative. The chief then spoke a few words to the assembled warriors, after which a number of them left the lodge and in a few moments returned, carrying an Indian boy in a blanket.
It seemed that the boy, while out on a buffalo hunt, had been thrown from his horse. His back was so badly injured that he had not been able to move for months. The chief, pointing to the boy, asked Elder Hanks if he would talk to the Great Spirit in behalf of the injured lad, which Ephraim consented to do. After the clothing had been removed from the boy's body, Elder Hanks anointed the afflicted parts with consecrated oil, which he always carried with him, and then administered to him in the name of Jesus Christ, promising that he should be made whole from that very moment. The boy immediately arose from his bed and walked out of the lodge to the astonishment of the Indians.109
Following this incident, Eph inquired if the tribe could furnish provisions for the near destitute freighters camped nearby, whereupon the chief informed him that his own people were starving because of the buffalo's disappearance that winter. Eph then promised the chief that within three days buffalo would overrun the country and meat would again be plentiful. Returning to the camp he said nothing to his comrades of his visit to the tribe. The following morning as the freighter company started their six hundred mile trip to Independence, some thirty Indians lined both sides of the road. As the wagons passed between them each brave handed Eph a package of sausage made from choice buffalo meat and inquired as to when the would return. Knowing that Indians seldom part with food during a famine winter, Little remained puzzled at such generosity, but nevertheless obligingly accepted Eph's explanation that "he had treated them kindly and Indians never forget a kindness."110
While enroute to Fort Kearney, Eph dreamed one night there would soon be such an abundance of buffalo meat in camp even the animals would join in the feast. That evening, just before making camp, Eph fulfilled part of the dream himself by killing a large buffalo bull. After cutting part of the meat into small chunks, the pieces were then rolled in flour and cooked in a stew. After dinner, the leftover portion was thrown out on the ground where it was eaten by the hungry mules.111
Several days later as they approached a river, Eph advised his traveling companions to follow his instructions and none would get wet. "What is that, Mr. Wizard?"112 quipped Remick, expecting a practical joke of some kind. While crossing on the ice, all went well until they neared the middle of the river, and Eph counseled them to stop. Seeing no apparent danger, Remick continued forward until he hit a patch of thin ice. His outfit broke through the surface and was buried in water.113
As the freighters moved to within twenty five miles of Fort Kearney, Remick, now probably more out of interested curiosity than jest, challenged Eph with "What next Mr. Prophet?"114 "You will ride into Fort Kearney blindfolded," rejoined Eph.115 And so it happened according to Kimball's narrative. The intense sunlight reflecting from the snow temporarily blinded several teamsters, including Remick, and for the next few days until reaching the Fort it was necessary that they wear protective blindfolds.116
On the return trip from Independence, while traveling near Ash Hollow, Hanks and Little visited the local traders who wanted to know what Eph had done to excite the Indians, for since his visit two months before they had been traveling up and down the territory looking for him. The couriers were then informed that three days after they left Ash Hollow one of the largest buffalo herds ever seen in that country passed through the neighborhood.117
Both Hanks and Little visited Indian camps whenever possible while crossing the plains, and learned to appreciate their special kind of hospitality. In December 1857, a blinding a snowstorm intercepted the two couriers while traveling in the neighborhood of Platte Bridge, making progress almost impossible. Upon reaching a protective stand of timber on an island in the Platte River, they were preparing to make camp when they heard a dog bark. Exploring the other side of the island, the two scouts found a young Indian boy who, upon request, escorted them to his nearby village. When arriving at the chief's lodge they remained on their horses according to Indian custom until invited to dismount, after which they were presented to "Old Smoke," a friendly Sioux chief whom they both knew.
The guests were invited into the chief's lodge where a dozen warriors soon gathered to welcome them. Biscuits were baked from flour furnished by the couriers while the chief furnished meat and coffee for the occasion. Following the meal and a congenial smoke, the couriers were invited, as is Indian custom, to another lodge for a second meal. Following the fourth invitation, Little found it impossible to eat more, so Eph continued making the rounds alone. Eph had evidently learned from previous experience the secret of storing large quantities of food because for several days following this eating orgy, he required little nourishment.118
It was this type of association with the redmen that prompted Kimball to write:
"The Indians of the plains learned to love and respect him; and in later years, he wielded an influence among them that was nothing short of marvelous."119
Perhaps no other experience portrays Eph in the dual roles of mountaineer and prophet more accurately than his experience with the snowbound handcart companies on the Sweetwater in the late fall of 1856. The dramatic account of that rescue which is recorded in Chapter Seven is especially relevant because, for all practical purposes, it is the only document available wherein Eph tells his own story.
In June 1891, Church historian, Andrew Jensen visited Eph at his home in Pleasant Creek, Wayne County, Utah, and recorded the account. After describing his ordeal in fighting his way to the stranded emigrants Eph relates:
When I saw the terrible condition of the immigrants on first entering their camp, my heart almost melted within me. I rose up in my saddle and tried to speak cheering and comforting words to them. I told them also that they should all have the privilege to ride into Salt Lake City, as more teams were coming.
After dark, on the evening of my arrival in the handcart camp, a woman crying aloud passed the campfire where I was sitting. Wondering what was the matter, my natural impulse led me to follow her. She went straight to Daniel Tyler's wagon, where she told the heartrending story of her husband being at the point of death, and in pleading tones she asked Elder Tyler to come and administer to him. This good brother, tired and weary as he was after pulling handcarts all day, had just retired for the night, and was a little reluctant in getting up; but on this earnest solicitation he soon arose, and we both followed the woman to the tent, in which we found the apparently lifeless form of her husband. On seeing him, Elder Tyler remarked, `I cannot administer to a dead man.' Brother Tyler requested me to stay and lay out the supposed dead brother, while he returned to his wagon to seek that rest which he needed so much. I immediately stepped back to the campfire where several of the brethren were sitting and addressing myself to Elders Grant, Kimball, and one or two others, I said: `Will you boys do just as I tell you?' The answer was in the affirmative. We then went to work and built a fire near the tent which I and Elder Tyler had just visited; next we warmed some water and washed the dying man, whose name was Blair, from head to foot. I then anointed him with consecrated oil over his whole body, after which we laid hands on him and commanded him in the name of Jesus Christ to breathe and live. The effect was instantaneous. The man, who was dead to all appearances, immediately began to breathe, sat up in his bed and commenced to sing a hymn. His wife, unable to control her feelings of joy and thankfulness, ran through the camp exclaiming: `My husband was dead, but is now alive. Praised be the name of God. The man who brought the buffalo meat has healed him.'
This circumstance caused a general excitement in the whole camp, and many of the drooping spirits began to take fresh courage from that very hour. After this the greater portion of my time was devoted to waiting on the sick. `Come to me,' `help me,' `please administer to my sick wife,' or `my dying child,' were some of the requests that were made of me almost hourly for some time after I had joined the immigrants, and I spent days going from tent to tent administering to the sick. Truly the Lord was with me and others of His servants who labored faithfully together with me in that day of trial and suffering. The result of this our labor of love certainly redounded to the honor and glory of a kind and merciful God. In scores of instances, when we administered to the sick and rebuked the diseases in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the sufferers would rally at once; they were healed almost instantly. I believe I administered to several hundreds in a single day; and I could give names of many whose lives were saved by the power of God. But I will only give the details in one more instance.
One evening after having gone as far as Fort Bridger, I was requested by a sister to come and administer to her son, whose name was Thomas. He was very sick, indeed, and his friends expected he would die that night. When I came to the place where he lay he was moaning pitifully, and was almost too weak to turn around in his bed. I felt the power of God resting upon me, and addressing the young man, said: `Will you believe the words I tell you?' His response was `Yes.' I then administered to him, and he was immediately healed. He got up, dressed himself, and danced a hornpipe on the end board of a wagon, which I procured for that purpose. But notwithstanding these manifestations of the Lord's goodness, many of the immigrants who extremities were frozen, lost their limbs, either whole or in part. Many such I washed with water and castile soap, until the frozen parts would fall off, after which I would severe the shreds of flesh from the remaining portions of the limbs with my scissors. Some of the immigrants lost toes, others fingers, and again others whole hands and feet; one woman who now resides in Koosharem, Piute Co., Utah, lost both her legs below the knees, and quite a number who survived became cripples for life. But so far as I remember there were no fresh cases of frozen limbs after my arrival in camp. As the train moved forward in the daytime I would generally leave the road in search of game; and on these expeditions killed and dressed a number of buffaloes, distributing their meat among the people. On one occasion when I was lagging behind with a killed buffalo, an English girl by the name of Griffin gave out completely, and not being able to walk any further, she lay down with her head in the snow. When I saw her disabled condition I lifted her on my saddle, the horse being loaded with buffalo meat, and in this condition she rode into camp.120
The boy who in the above account danced on the end board of a wagon with frozen feet was Thomas Dobson who remembers Eph's memorable entrance into camp:
He was using a buffalo tail for a whip. He swung it over his head as he rode into the circle by the fire, calling, `Hurrah, boys, hurrah! Keep your spirits up. There is a load of food on the way.' He dropped the buffalo tail into the fire and stepped off his mule. I was a boy twelve years old, but Ephraim Hanks looked more like a god to me than any human being I ever saw... He returned to the fire and with a stick extracted the buffalo tail. After scraping the burned hair and outside of the skin, he cut it into small pieces and dropped it into the broth which they had boiling in the kettle... Hanks, with his mule and lariat and the men with axes, soon provided a fire down the middle of the road. The circle of handcarts was broken and placed on either side of the road. It was not dry enough to make beds. Hanks, with his hunting knife, amputated a baby's feet, and a lady's legs at the knee to stop the spread of gangrene.
I will never forget Uncle Eph. My toes were frozen black. He showed me how to wrap them in burlap and gave me a place on a platform which protruded behind the wagon. Then he said to me, `Now Tommy, this is your place. You walk every step you can, but when you cannot walk anymore, sit right down on this corner and have a ride.'
Two middle aged ladies were given the back inside corners of the wagon for their place to ride when they could not walk. One day they were riding almost all day. The weather was very cold. Uncle Eph rode by and said, `Sisters, if you don't get out of that wagon and walk, we will have to bury you both before sundown.' Their graves marked the campground on that day's trip...
While supper was cooking, Uncle Eph said, `Tommy, put that endgate in front of the fire and dance as you have never danced before. I promise you in the name of Israel's God your toes will get well.' And my toes did get well.121
Among those who were near death from exposure when Eph arrived on the scene was a twelve-year-old girl, Thisbe Read. Her mother was so concerned for her she promised Eph he could have her for his own if he would save her life. "So he built a fire and wrapped her up in his buffalo robe and save her."122 He later married this girl and she became this writer's great grandmother.
Even though having just evidenced examples of Eph's faith and spiritual courage, by presentary Mormon standards, he could not have been considered wholly orthodox. For example, Moroni Lazenby who knew Eph well, relates the following account:
He liked beer well and one night he got a little too much. A kind lady friend took him in and put him to bed. She had a very sick baby and as the night went on the baby became worse. She decided to wake Ephraim and have him administer to it. She had quite a time to arouse him. But with a lot of effort she got him awake and he administered to the child. It was healed instantly.123
Again during the 1880's when federal marshals were seeking Mormon polygamist families to prosecute under the law, several deputies appeared in Caineville, Utah, where Eph was living at the time. As they approached his home, Eph commented on his friend Will Beal, "I'll make them think we are hard cases."124 He then rolled a cigarette from a plug of tobacco and assured his friend, "They won't be looking for cohabs (polygamists)125 here with this going on."126
Yet another example of Eph's practical disposition is when, during the so-called Utah War in 1857, while attending a briefing in a mountain tent, Eph refused a request to pray vocally. Inviting the man sitting next to him to pray in his place, he walked out of the meeting for "he had a hunch and had to leave."127 Searching in the bushes near the tent he apprehended an army spy who had been listening to the discussion. Eph remarked, "You have to watch as well as pray."128
In later years at Hanksville, Dave Rust heard Eph pray in church and recalled the prayer word for word. Eph prayed, "Lord, we have come here tonight to learn something. Bless us to that end, Amen." Rust then added, "I loved that man."129
Eph's pragmatic thinking, however, on one occasion prompted a misunderstanding with Edward Hunter, who at the time was the presiding bishop of the church. The incident is noted because once again it provides a peephole through which to see and better evaluate the philosophy that molded Eph's life.
In the fall of 1852, Eph was riding from his Heber home to Salt Lake City. Passing by the church farm he stopped and looked at the beef cattle browsing in the pasture. Remembering several impoverished neighbor families living in Heber he singled out one of the steers, which he then drove back home, where he killed and quartered the animal. Grandma Clegg recalls what happened next:
My children and I were starving. We had eaten our last food. In the middle of the night there was a rap on the door. When I opened it, a quarter of beef rolled in on the floor and Ephraim Hanks said, "The Lord has plenty of cattle and the Lord's children must be fed."130
The following day in Salt Lake City, Eph informed Bishop Hunter what he had done. According to Dave Rust the two men did not get along well after that. Not until Bishop Hunter became seriously ill and sent for Eph to heal him was there reconciliation. After Eph administered to Hunter he reportedly became well.131
Evidently this was not the only occasion that Eph distributed goods from the storehouse unofficially.132
Notwithstanding Eph's independent mind and sometimes-questionable orthodoxy, there can be no doubts as to his spiritual acumen. His accomplishments along this line are unequivocal.
In an 1896 obituary notice wherein is Eph is eulogized we read:
Like the Prophet Joseph and others he had remarkable faith and power in healing the sick. He would rebuke sickness and disease without ever touching the afflicted; a silent prayer to others and he could accomplish almost anything he desired for the benefit of others. The sick all over the country had so much faith in him that if he could only administer to them, they were healed; even the Indians would bring their sick for a hundred miles for Brother Hanks to administer to them and they were invariably made whole.133
In assessing Eph's influence with the Indians Kimball writes:
There was not a man in the Church that had more influence with them than he had. So many cures he performed among them that they almost looked upon him as a superhuman being. They fed him when he was hungry, clothed him when he was naked, and cared for him when sick. The Spirit of the Lord was with him, and no one realized that fact more than did the redmen of the plains.134
HE SPOKE THEIR LANGUAGE
When Solomon Kimball wrote of Eph's work with the Indians suggesting "there was not a man in the church who had more influence with them than he had,"135 he was likely referring to his resourcefulness in dealing with them forcefully when necessary, as well as the more positive relationship already noted. Not all Indians were friendly, but then neither were all the emigrants. Whatever the cause of misunderstanding, Eph, like his fellow couriers, at times had to defend himself and the mail from attack. Once while traveling alone on the plains, marauding Indians stripped him of everything except his clothing. Realizing the necessity of recovering his stolen equipment if he were to survive, he pursued the Indians four days on foot before catching up with them. Waiting for the cover of night he crawled undetected near to the Indian camp where the horses were tethered and quietly slipped away unnoticed with two of their animals. Two days of hard riding then brought him safely to Fort Laramie where government officials reoutfitted him. In spite of this delay he arrived at his Missouri destination several days ahead of schedule.136
It appears that on several occasions, Eph's quick thinking and sense of showmanship probably saved his life while traveling. During the summer of 1858, when returning to the Mormon capital after delivering a message in San Francisco for Brigham Young, Eph and an Indian companion, Yodes, prepared to camp one night by a lake in the Sierras. While unloading the wagon, Eph momentarily caught the reflection of a moving shadow on the surface of the water. Realizing the possible danger of an Indian attack, Eph without looking up, directed Yodes to harness the mules and reload the supplies, and in a matter of minutes the tired mules were traveling at a good clip away from the suspicious ledges above the lake. They hadn't traveled far, however, when twelve armed braves with painted faces rode out from the trees and surrounded the wagon. Convinced there was little hope for negotiation, a fair fight, or a run from it over the narrow mountain road, Eph suddenly jumped to his feet, flailing his arms around excitedly and shouted at the top of his voice, pretending to address the Great White Spirit. Then cupping his hands over his ears as if expecting an answer, he listened intently. After repeating the demonstration several times he twirled his hat around his heat and sent it spinning into the air. His coat was next seen flying in the same direction. Yelling unintelligibly, he pulled at his beard and hair while contorting his face into a score of grotesque expressions. Removing his vest he then flung it into the air and his shirt followed it, and by the time he removed his pants the war party had evidently seen enough to convince them Eph was indeed a wild man and they rode off.137 Eph knew only too well the Indians' fear of the mentally ill.138
On at least two other occasions Eph employed similar tactics to escape his Indian captors. He also learned the effectiveness of prominently displaying a double row of teeth that were his own.139
While assisting members of the death ridden Martin Handcart Company into the Salt Lake Valley during the difficult winter of 1856, Eph and a small company of pioneers were surrounded one evening by menacing braves. Sizing up the situation, Eph responded by quickly blackening his teeth with charcoal and instructing his traveling companion to tie him to the front wheel of the lead wagon where he commenced to cry and scream until the alarmed Indians went away.140
Probably one of his most impressive performances was auditioned by Ute Indians who attempted to burn Eph at the stake in the mountains east of Salt Lake City. After being tied to a post in preparation for the fiery ordeal, he again won a last minute pardon because of his crazy man antics.141
Even his biographer, Kimball, had difficulty understanding how "Eph could go from sublime to the ridiculous with such little effort."142 But then Rust, too, acknowledges "he was a showman and at times hypocritical."143 It appears to the writer, however, after a careful study of this western scout's life, that it was indeed this very flexibility that served him so well in doing the improbably throughout his life. Kimball credits him with "accomplishing the impossible," and with "being always equal to emergencies, notwithstanding the situation."144 Tom Dobson, who credits Eph, in Chapter Seven, with saving his life on the plains, lends support to this idea by noting "Eph was never stuck; when there was anything to do he did it.145
Eph's flair for the dramatic is further evidenced in an incident with some Indians near Devil's Gate and the Sweetwater in October 1856. After having been immobilized several days by a storm while carrying supplies to several stranded handcart companies, Eph chanced upon a small band of Indians traveling south. Having wandered from the road because of the deep snow and poor visibility, Eph solicited their help in finding the handcart people. The Indians being none too friendly not only refused to assist but also made some covetous overtures towards his animals. After sketching with his knife the main route in the snow, to let them know he was acquainted with the country, Eph purposefully let the weapon slip from his hand onto the ground as he talked. After observing from the corner of his eye one of the braves kicked snow over the fallen instrument to conceal it, Eph mounted his horse and started to ride off. Then stopping a few yards away, he pretended to search his boot for the missing knife. Returning to the waiting braves he inquired about its whereabouts, but received only negative replies. The astonished Indians then watched as Eph raised his hands high in the air and fervently began addressing the Great White Spirit in the mixture of Indian dialect and English. Slowly lowering his arms, he then gave indication of having received an answer to his petition for both hands came to rest on the Indian who was standing on his knife. Impressed with Eph's psychic powers, the Indians not only returned the weapon but also offered assistance in finding the missing emigrants.146
Due in part to religious beliefs, the early Mormon pioneers were sympathetic in dealing with the Indians.147 Even when trouble erupted with the Utes and Shoshone Indians living near their settlements in the Great Basin, the settlers generally adopted Brigham Young's program of feeding them instead of fighting them. There were times, however, when stronger measures had to be taken for their own self-protection.
In the winter of 1850, Eph, along with one hundred other militia volunteers, was sent to Provo to pacify Chiefs' Big Elk and `Stick on the Head,' who, along with their braves, had been stealing cattle and, in general, threatening the settlers in Utah Valley.148
Arriving at Fort Provo, the volunteers discovered the Indians had barricaded themselves behind a defensive breastwork of timber close to a log house, which they also occupied. Prior to directing this show of force against the surely chiefs, Brigham Young sent Eph, along with Hiram B. Clawson, Lewis Robison, and George D. Grant as peace commissioners to trade and talk with them as a gesture of good will.149 But even after a day of successful trading with the sub chiefs, Arapeen and Talbow, the Indians continued to be troublesome and, as a last resort, the militia was sent to intercept them. But now the Indians were determined, and after two days of heavy fighting some fifty braves remained firmly entrenched behind their barricade. So stubbornly did they fight that Captain Grant, commanding the volunteers, finally ordered a diversionary flanking attack by a handful of militiamen.150
Eph, along with Robert T. Burton, Lot Smith, and twelve other handpicked men, led by Lieutenant William H. Kimball, concealed themselves directly opposite the rear of the house fortified by the braves. Working their way through a ravine that hid them from view, they were able to approach within one hundred yards of the fortification. Then, on signal, the small attacking force charged on to the flat toward the house. The first volley from the fortification wounded Trooper Isham Flynn and felled Eph's horse.151 But the attack succeeded, for almost immediately the defenders fled from the house to the safety of the log barricade a short distance away. The first volunteers to reach the house were Smith and Burton who momentarily found shelter between the house and a shed. By now, the defenders having regrouped, they fired a second volley at the militiamen, this time killing a number of horses but somewhat miraculously missing the men, some of whom were huddled against the back wall of the house. Needing to strengthen their position from inside the house, but unable to get in except through the front, Hanks and Kimball sprinted around the house and charged in the door before the Indians could set up an effective fire. Once inside, they were able to force a hole in the back wall through which the others entered.152 Although unharmed in the exchange, Eph displayed two bullet holes in his Navajo blanket coat he had worn during the attack.153
After three days of fighting the outnumbered braves surrendered but not before Chief Big Elk and forty of his braves had been killed. Joseph Higbee, who was mortally wounded during the first day of fighting, was the one volunteer casualty.
Eph's valuable service as guide and Indian interpreter is further evidenced by William Morley Black in the following incident:
In February 1850, in company with Ephraim Hanks, William Potter, and four others, the start was made for Sanpete County. There were no settlements south of Salt Lake City until we reached Provo, where the settlers were living in a fort. Our progress was slow on account of muddy roads, the melting snows, and frequent storms that came at that season of the year. At the crossing of the Spanish Fork Creek, as we were moving along a narrow road cut through heavy willows, a troop of Indians appeared on the opposite bluff and opened fire on us.
I was driving the lead team and am free to confess that I halted as soon as I could. Ephraim Hanks, the leading spirit of the company, stepped fearlessly to the front and in Spanish held a parley with the redmen, who were under the leadership of Josephine (sic), reputed half brother of Chief Walker.
The Indians refused to let us advance unless we paid tribute. We gave them one sack of flour and three sacks of cornmeal as a peace offering, which was in harmony with President Young's counsel that it is cheaper to feed the Indians than to fight them.
It was by President Young's wisdom and foresight that Hanks was along. He was by nature an athlete of wonderful power. He loved excitement and danger, qualities that gave him great influence with the Indians. On this occasion they had the advantage of us and had they continued the onslaught we could not have escaped. The whistling of the bullets was new music to me and I was glad when the music ceased. We received no further harm than a scare and the loss of four sacks of provisions.154
During the following summer of 1851, Eph volunteered, along with thirteen others, to track a band of Indians who had stolen one hundred head of cattle near the south end of Salt Lake.155 Led by Captain William McBride, they followed the Indians into the Skull Valley area, but finding themselves greatly outnumbered by the braves, they returned to Salt Lake City for reinforcements. Now with thirty-six additional men the posse returned to the Indian camp now located in the Cedar Mountains, and in the early morning hours mounted a surprise attack against the Indians in which nine braves were killed. This show of force quickly ended the Skull Valley hostilities.156
Even though Eph continued to be active in carrying the mail during these troubled years at home, it seemed as if he were always available when his services were needed most. Following the Indian War of 1853, for example, the effects of which were felt along a 250 mile stretch of settlements in the Great Basin, Eph accompanied Brigham Young and others to Nephi to meet with Chief Walker for a peace conference.157 Then, in 1854, Eph and George W. Bean, following the counsel of Brigham Young, met with a gather of Indians thirty miles east of Green River on Big Sandy in an effort to keep peace among several tribes. Bean records the visit:
They had about one hundred lodges. Among the Indians were many of my old acquaintances: To-shar-pooe, or White Eye, Anterro, To-ko-woonah and his father Sowiette, and the leading White River and Uintah Utes. They received us very kindly and were instructed as to their obligations hereafter in keeping off the territory of the other tribes, viz: Sioux, Shoshones, Arapahos, Cheyennes and Crows, whose country they were in. We also explained further that boundaries of Indian superintendencies and agencies as being generally in conformity with state and territorial lines and they were to be so governed hereafter. They thought it hard to give up their annual buffalo hunt down on the Platte River and tributaries, but promised to keep off other lands as much as possible, except by consent of other tribes.158
In evaluating Eph's experiences with the Plains Indians during these years, Kimball writes:
From 1856 to 1863 much of his time was spent among the hostile Indians of the plains in the interest of `Mormon' emigration. He visited first one tribe and then another, and in this way, by intelligent diplomacy, he saved the lives of many people. All this work he did without renumeration for his love of God's children, which knew no bounds.159
Again, in the spring of 1857, Eph accompanied Brigham Young and others on another peace mission to the Indians, this time traveling to the northern outpost of Fort Limhi for a visit with the Bannock tribe with whom they smoked the peace pipe and exchanged gifts.160
When the destructive Black Hawk War broke out in 1865, Eph was living in Parleys Park. After moving his family to Salt Lake City for safety, he rode south to help contain Chief Black Hawk and a number of sub chiefs who during the ensuing three year struggle uprooted twenty seven settlements and killed seventy five settlers. About the same number of Indians also died in the war.161
It would appear that during these unsettled years that Eph's time was spent either negotiating or fighting with the Indians. An article appearing in an 1869 edition of the Deseret Evening News reveals that Eph "participated in every Indian campaign," and that his influence among the Indians was "unique and beneficent."162
Frontiersmen like Eph, who knew the Indians so intimately, were prepared to meet them on their own terms either in peace talks or, if necessary, in battle. Eph told his traveling companions on one trip after visiting several tribes of Indians "he had always been kind to the redmen of the plains and that they were a class of people who never overlooked a kind act."163 Men like Eph Hanks spoke the language the Indians understood best.