Penthouse Retrospective

by Jon Stewart and Peter Wiley Originally Published: June, 1981

Mormon Roots | 40 Years Ago This Month

The Ute’s most significant gas leases were negotiated by Boyden with Mountain Fuel and Gas Supply, the largest gas supplier in Utah. Not surprising, it is also a firm in which the Mormon church has extensive interests and interlocks. The church’s first president, Nathan Eldon Tanner, the church’s leading business adviser and a former energy entrepreneur in his own right, sits on Mountain Fuel’s board of directors, as does church official and former CIA man Neal Maxwell. Maxwell, who is regarded as one of the most important figures in the next generation of church leadership, is also a member of Mountain Fuel’s executive committee. Mountain Fuel chairman B. Z. Kastler, in turn, reciprocates the favor by sitting on the boards of two church-owned corporations. According to our research among state legal documents held by the Utah Insurance Board, the five Mormon church-owned insurance companies alone control $1.5 million worth of Mountain Fuel. It is impossible to calculate how much more extensive the church’s financial stake in the company might be, since control of stock can be disguised in many perfectly legal ways and the church itself never reveals an iota of financial information.

Ute council chairwoman Ruby Black (one of the few women ever to head an Indian tribe) was guarded on the subject of their attorney, as were virtually all the tribal leaders with whom we spoke on the record. “There were times when they tended to do things their way,” she says. “We told the Boyden firm not to go out and do things on their own. We said, ‘You sit back and take orders from the tribe now.’” Steve Boyden, she says, was “very loyal” to the tribe, despite tremendous pressure from Uinta Basin Mormon ranchers who called him everything from a “traitor to the faith” to a “Communist,” particularly since the tribe forced Boyden to press its claim for jurisdiction over all Ute in the Uinta Basin.

Our own retracing of the Wilkinson-Boyden trail lead us not only through the valleys of the Utah Ute, the Shoshoni, the Gosiute, and the Paiute but also south to the high red-rock mesas of northern Arizona, to the very heartland of ancient America.

There, among the gentle Hopi, the direct descendants of the cliff-dwelling Anasazi (the Ancient Ones), we found the Mormon-Lamanite struggle written in high relief. The Hopi, befitting a tribe that has lived centuries on this continent, have a way of speaking of the distant past as though it were the immediate prelude to the present. Nothing is forgotten. Everything is interconnected. Add to this characteristic their intense religiosity, and it is not surprising that their relations with the Mormons past and present should so consume reservation life today.

“To the Hopi these sacred mountains were set up as a village plaza,” says Thomas Banyacya, pointing out the rock houses perched precariously on the razor edge of the mesa above us. The village Is Old Oraibi, which, with nearby Shungopavy, is considered the oldest continuously occupied community in North America. Banyacya’s forefathers lived in this place as long as 1100 A.D. and perhaps 500 years before that.

As an official interpreter of the traditional Hopi leaders, known as the village kikmongwis, since 1948, Banyacya has come to know every detail of the long struggle waged by the Hopi. The last person he tried to tell his story to was President Carter, but the president had more pressing business, and Banyacya delivered to a Carter aide a detailed report on the Hopi problem commissioned by the traditional leaders.

The report he left was a remarkable 200-page history of the Hopi’s efforts to survive in the midst of an alien society that imposes its own rules and then breaks them with impunity, a history of struggles against government officials and Mormon attorneys who are determined to turn them into rich, law-abiding Americans, even if it kills them. The background of this struggle is a long history of governmental and white-settler encroachment on Hopi land. A prominent Mormon missionary, Jacob Hamlin, led a Mormon expedition to Hopi mesa tops more than 100 years ago, and the descendants of Mormon settlers still farm on surrounding lands that the Hopi claim as their own. In all, the Hopi have “lost” some 4 million acres of their ancestral lands.

By the late 1940s the BIA was very anxious to finally “extinguish” the Hopi land claims by paying out a monetary settlement so that the energy companies could get on with the work of mineral exploration. But before this could be done, the Hopi had to be made to elect a legal tribal council as well as hire a BIA-approved attorney. Previous efforts to establish a tribal council among the Hopi had met with repeated defeat, thanks to the traditional Hopi leaders, who clung to the nonelected theocratic form of government that had served the tribe well for more than 1,000 years.

Without a “representative” council nothing could happen. “It does not appear that leases acceptable to oil companies may be made under existing law unless the Hopi Indians will organize a tribal council…” lamented one Interior Department official at the time.

Enter John Boyden. By 1950 Boyden was well connected, to say the least, among the Indian bureaucrats. As a U.S. attorney in Utah, he had handled Indian cases for more than ten years. With the FBI before that he had written a new criminal law code for the Navaho Reservation and had even sought the job of Indian commissioner. With this background, Boyden would have no difficulty in getting the government to sanction him as the Hopi’s claims attorney; all he had to do was get the Hopi to go along.

Since there was no tribal council to appoint him, the BIA decided that Boyden should go meet with the people of each of the Hopi villages, explain to them the meaning of the lands claim, and then conduct an election in each village. If a majority wanted him, he would be legally recognized as a Hopi attorney and would file the claim.

Boyden found only five “progressive” villages that would give him a hearing. Five other villages, populated by the “traditionals,” who opposed any monetary settlement, refused even to meet with him. Despite abysmally low voter turnouts even in the progressive villages that would admit him, the BIA concluded that “the people from the villages who favor the resolution represent the majority of the Hopi people.” John Boyden had won the election to tribal-claims attorney.

All religions have roots in concurrent uplifting and occasionally horrific experience. The Mormon church followed Western settlers in general.