For many, Jacob Hamblin is an obscure figure in history who is best known for a sturdy log home built in a shady cove near the bend in a road outside St. George, Utah.
Some have a faint recollection from childhood of hearing how he helped establish peace between the early Mormon settlers and the various tribes of Indians in southern Utah and eastern Arizona.
His legacy is that he accepted a difficult task from a prophet and made a lasting difference by his sacrifice and determination to see the purpose through.
Jacob Hamblin was a tall, thin, angular man, with a voice so low that to hear him one had to stand very close and listen closely.
He was known for a "plucky spirit, uncomplaining nature in meeting daily challenges, indomitable stamina, woodsmanship, leadership, manliness, frontier know-how, horsemanship, duty and valor in meeting all rigors of the frontier and living up to his convictions," wrote Hartt Wixom, a recognized LDS historian and writer, in a biography titled Jacob Hamblin.
With the passing of time, the width and breadth of his accomplishments have become more clear. "He spent some 30 years almost constantly on the move, working to bridge the gap between his many white and Indian friends." He did not offer beads and trinkets to win their friendship, but shared his love of the gospel. "His was no casual labor of love, but an all-consuming endeavor," wrote Brother Wixom.
Brigham Young called Jacob Hamblin to preside over the Southwest Indian Mission in 1857. "No better choice than Jacob Hamblin could have been made for the director of the Lamanite Mission," wrote one historian. "He was without doubt the most influential and successful Mormon missionary to the Indians while Brigham Young was at the helm. So great was his power with the natives, so highly was he esteemed, that he has aptly been called the 'Apostle to the Lamanites.' "
When Hamblin arrived in southern Utah, he was well aware that Mormon settlers were squatting on Indian lands. He realized that they were newcomers to terrain that had been hunted and inhabited for centuries by the Piutes, Navajos and others.
Jacob set out to win the confidence of the Indian tribes with love. "While with [the Indians], I spared no labor in learning their language and getting an insight into their character. … The white men have settled on their lands, and his cattle have destroyed much of their scanty living," he wrote in a journal.
In a report to Brigham Young, Hamblin wrote: "I have spent the last 19 years of my life mostly attending to Indian matters; have spent more nights under cedar and pine boughs than in a house; though I do not regret it. … I have noticed that the natives in southern Utah live mostly on seeds and roots. When the whiteman settled the country, it is where the Indian and his forefathers have subsisted for generations unnumbered. The white man's cattle crops the vegetation that produced the seed … year after year [it] causes less to grow. The game also disappears. Grievances are talked over at the campfire. … Necessity drives the Indian to steal, the whiteman wants to bring the Indian to his standard of civilization, they are both driven to desperation, and all for the want of a little understanding."
Jacob developed a special kinship with the Indians. An experience years earlier in the mountains above Tooele, Utah, when guns would not fire and arrows could not hit him, left him with a distinct impression that the Indians were deeply loved by the Lord and there was a purpose for them. He concluded that while he was serving them, he could not be injured.
From then on, he sought to understand them and gain a greater influence for their benefit, as well as the settlers.
On one occasion, Hamblin listened to a Piute chief ask why he had promised them a bounteous harvest and now the creek had dried up and there was no snow in the mountain.
"What will I do for food next winter?" the chief asked.
Hamblin walked off to be alone and prayed for rain. "It was a clear, cloudless morning. While still on [my] knees, rain began to fall. … I think more corn and squash were grown that year by us than I ever saw before or since. … The Indians gathered and stored up a large amount of corn, beans and dried squash."
"Seeking to solve the white man's problems," wrote Brother Wixom, "Jacob seemed every bit as concerned to solve the Indians' problems. And in finding justice for the Indian, he found peace for the white man. Quite possibly, Hamblin has no peer on the American frontier in effort expended to learn the Indian mind and heart."