Wakara’s Skull: Settler Religion, Settler Science, and the (Re-)creation of the American West
Mueller, Max Perry
In 1872, the skull of Wakara (c. 1815–1855), the infamous Ute horse thief and slave trader, was stolen from his gravesite in Utah’s Pahvant Mountains. I argue that what happened to Wakara’s skull reveals how settler religion and settler science combined to form the dominant creation story of the American West. I recount three, interrelated creation stories of America. I also tell a fourth story about Wakara, a founding father of the American West whom few scholars of the West have heard of. The theft of Wakara’s skull relates to why Wakara has been purposefully left out of the dominant creation story of the West. Yet Wakara’s story, and the stories of his lineal, tribal, and spiritual descendants, also reveal that, instead of the linear creation story of settler conquest and Indian removal, the West is being re-created constantly through cycles of displacement and diaspora as well as resistance, resilience, and return.
Rabbi Myer and Dorothy Kripke Center, Creighton University
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