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United States V. Don Pedro Leon Lujan et al.: 1851-52

Traders Brought To Trial

In December, prosecutor Seth Blair filed a libel action and a declaration of debt against the property confiscated by the authorities in Manti. He also filed a petition in debt for a $500 fine for violation of the Trade and Intercourse Act, for which all the traders' confiscated merchandise and property would be forfeit. On December 30, 1851, the prosecution began presenting its case. Its principal witnesses were Brigham Young and an Indian slave trader named Arapeen. Josiah Slayton, assistant counsel for the defense, objected to Arapeen's testimony since he was a party to the transaction. Slayton felt that Arapeen had told an extremely self-serving version of events and that the prosecution had coached him. But the court overruled his objection.

Prosecutor Blair argued that there was prima facie evidence of a crime because the traders had Indian captives in their possession. Naturally Lujan's attorneys asserted the legality of Lujan's New Mexico license; they also argued that regardless of its validity, the Indians had forced the New Mexicans into trading. The court scotched the first argument, finding that the New Mexico license was invalid in Utah. The court instructed the jury that if it determined that the defendants had brought horses and mules into the "usual hunting ranges" of the Indians without a valid license with the intent to trade with them, they were guilty, but if the defendants had the intention of obtaining a license first and then trading, or if the trading was coerced by the Indians, they were not guilty. The jury chose to believe that Lujan's story was "a device to evade the law," finding the defendants guilty of illegal trading with the Indians, and thus indebted to the United States.

Two weeks later, at a separate trial of the cases of libel and indebtedness, the defense attorneys filed motions to recover some of their clients' property citing irregularities in procedure and technicalities of the law. They also filed two motions for retrial on the basis of new information and irregularities in the first proceeding, and they filed a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of the Indian captives. Prosecutor Blair wanted to sell the Indians, along with the traders' other possessions, to help defray the court costs. But Judge Snow decided that Utah had never passed a law allowing Indian slavery, and he ordered the release of the captives. In fact the children were placed in Mormon homes, causing Lujan to complain of Mormon hypocrisy, observing that the captives had been "sold to the Mormons as servants, by the Mormon authorities." But within a month the Utah territorial legislature outlawed Indian, but not Negro, slavery, and laid out a procedure for purchasing Indian children as indentured servants for a period not to exceed 20 years. It was a longer period of servitude than tradition demanded for Indians sold in New Mexico.

Carol Willcox Melton

Suggestions for Further Reading

Bancroft, Hubert Howe. History of Utah. San Francisco: History Co., 1890.

Jones, Sondra. The Trial of Don Pedro Leon Lujan: the Attack against Indian Slavery and illexiran Tiaders in Utah. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2000.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882United States V. Don Pedro Leon Lujan et al.: 1851-52 - A Well-established Slave Trade, Lujan Ordered Not To Trade With Indians, Traders Brought To Trial