[b]History of the Bear River Massacre [/b]
Four miles north of Preston, Idaho, the Bear River quietly ambles through green valleys and sagebrush covered mountains, the Northwest Band of Shoshone call this place “Boa Ogoi.” Something happened on this site that is little known in U.S. history. But it is seared forever into the memory of the NWB of Shoshone.
On January 29, 1863, the militia of the U.S. Army’s Third California Volunteers, under the command of Colonel Patrick E. Connor, rode down the frozen bluff and massacred some 490+ Northwestern Shoshone Indians – the largest slaughter of Native Americans in the history of the country. Estimates of the dead are nearly double those of Wounded Knee, S.D., and Sand Creek, Colo. -It was a clash of two diverse cultures trying to share the same land, and the NWB Shoshone lost.
The NWB of Shoshone, comprising several bands, had close contact with the white settlers moving in the ever-growing tide of westward expansion. They found themselves in the unenviable position of being precisely where immigrants would pass on their way to the Pacific; that, combined with the critical perception people had of Native Americans at the time, resulted in a recipe for disaster. The NWB Shoshone were a starving people that winter, and the occasional friendly offerings of food by nearby residents had dwindled as the Shoshone were blamed for skirmishes and the atrocities to other groups nearby.
Soon after the founding of Salt Lake, Peter Skene Ogden wrote, “What will be the reward of these poor wretches in the next world I cannot pretend to say, but surely they cannot be in a more wretched state than this.” It was a commonly held notion at the time. Native Americans were viewed as poor, starving beggars who didn’t understand the concept and benefits of a Manifest Destiny, or, as Col. [img]http://www.lemhi-shoshone.com/bear_river_memorial_idaho.png[/img]Patrick E. Connor believed, violent savages who needed to be destroyed at all costs. Skirmishes had broken out all along the Utah frontier leading to the Utah War, and the overland mail routes had been under attack. Individual murders had been taking place and the local constituencies were at their wits end. Utah Governor Frank Fuller and various other officials asked the Secretary of War to come in with a temporary regiment of mounted rangers.
It seems that the few people doing most of the talking did not understand the NWB Shoshone, and did not distinguish that particular band of the tribe from the others. There were troublemaking bands that took a few horses and cattle, were involved in an altercation with settlers (two Indians and two white settlers were killed), and ate the stolen cattle because of hunger. None of these bands, however, were of the Northwestern Shoshone, but all were tarred with the same brush. It was in this environment that Col. Connor and his California Volunteers rode toward the area of the Bear River. It was so cold that winter that merely exhaling caused men’s mustaches to freeze. Before setting out for Bear River in southern Idaho, nearly 75 of Connor’s 275 men were left behind in Utah’s Brigham City due to frozen feet before the remainder of the regiment made the hard ride north. Along the riverbanks on the icy morning of January 29, 1863, Chief Sagwitch rose early.
A white friend of the NWB Shoshone had come to tell them that Col. Connor was coming to the camp to “get the guilty parties.” Chief Sagwitch had expected a visit for just that purpose and on that January morning, as he realized the steam drifting from the mountains was getting lower, he realized too that the soldiers were at last there. As he called to the others who were still asleep, men tumbled from their tepees and grabbed their weapons. In the frenzy, Sagwitch yelled for the men not to be the first to shoot. As his granddaughter Mae Parry recounts in her story Massacre at Boa Ogoi, “He thought that perhaps this military man was a wise and just man. He thought the Colonel would ask for the guilty men, whom he would immediately have handed over.” The encounter did not happen the way that Chief Sagwitch thought it would. The Colonel asked no questions.
The regiment commenced firing, and the Indians were being “slaughtered like wild rabbits.” Seeing themselves vastly outnumbered, the NWB of Shoshone began jumping into the freezing river in an attempt to escape. No one was spared, men, women, and children were all killed. One survivor was Anzee Chee. She was chased by soldiers, but was able to hide under a bank that overhung the river. She suffered wounds in the shoulder and chest and the loss of her baby, who was tossed into the icy water to be drowned. Chief Bear Hunter was known as a leader by the soldiers. He was kicked and tortured, and finally, because he would not cry out, had a burning hot rifle bayonet run through his ears. It proved to be painfully true that arrows were no match for rifles. There were close to 450 men, women and children in the camp that day.
If Connor had arrived a few weeks earlier, during the NWB Shoshone’s Warm Dance, the death toll could have been higher. The traditional Warm Dance, to bring back warm weather and drive out the cold, brought many bands together to play games and to socialize. Colonel Connor, who prided himself on knowing the ways of the Indian, was unaware of the Shoshone Warm Dance tradition. Throughout the battle, the wounded urged their chief to escape. After surviving two of his horses in battle, Sagwitch finally escaped on a third. Another Shoshone escaped with him by grasping the horse’s tail as they rode across a frozen section of the river. One incident tells of Yeager Timbimboo (or Da boo zee, meaning cottontail rabbit), who was the son of Chief Sagwitch. Only twelve years old, Yeager was caught up in the bloodshed, looking for shelter as bullets whizzed past him. He spied a grass teepee so full of people that it was actually moving.
He entered the teepee and there he found his grandmother. She was afraid that soon the teepee would go up in flames, but she had a plan. She and the boy would go out among the dead and be very still, not making a sound or, as she instructed him, “not even open your eyes.” Surrounded by the dead, they remained still on the intensely cold ground all day until Yeager, whose curiosity got the best of him, raised his head and looked down the gun barrel of a soldier who saw that he was still alive. Yeager told later that the soldier raised his gun and lowered it two times while looking into his eyes. The soldier finally lowered the gun and, perhaps weary from the blood spilled there, walked away. Another of the chief’s sons escaped with a girlfriend. She rode behind him on his horse as they raced for the surrounding hills.
He made it, but she died from the bullets that found their mark. Tale after tale of that day’s intimate sorrow, rage and courage became the saddest chapters of the Northwestern Shoshone history. Scenes of desperation, the courage to survive, and the loss of the dream that they would find justice at the hands of their perpetrators also fell upon them that day. The Bear River Massacre was very important to southern Idaho and Utah. It marked the ending of some real conflict between whites and Shoshone in the territory. The decimation of the Indian population allowed the settlers and farmers to encroach further into traditional Shoshone territory without fear.
[b]Newly uncovered documents claim far higher number of Shoshones killed in Bear River Massacre [/b]
By Kristen Moulton The Salt Lake Tribune Article
[img]http://www.lemhi-shoshone.com/bear_river_preston.png[/img]08:50:17 AM MST – -BRIGHAM CITY — The autobiography of a Mormon pioneer written nearly a century ago and recently made public indicates the number of Shoshones killed in the 1863 Bear River Massacre could be much higher than previously believed. In his 1911 autobiography, Danish emigrant Hans Jasperson claims to have walked among the bodies, counting 493 dead (Northwest Band) Shoshones. “I turned around and counted them back and counted just the same,” Jasperson writes. He was just 19 at the time of the massacre. That is a far higher number than previous accounts of the Jan. 29, 1863, massacre when the U.S. Army’s Third California Volunteers – intent on punishing the region’s Indians for pestering mining supply wagons and pioneers in Cache Valley and along the California Trail – rode from Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City, surrounded the Shoshones on the banks of the Bear River near Preston, Idaho, and slaughtered most of four bands. Accounts at the time said 210 to 300 (Northwest Band) Shoshones were killed (17 soldiers died on the battlefield and several more died of their wounds later).
The highest previous number – nearly 400 (Northwest Band) Shoshones – was reported by three pioneers who rode horses through the battlefield the next day, says historian Scott Christensen, who wrote a biography of Sagwitch, a surviving chief. Even at the lower estimates,the Bear River Massacre stands as the worst in the western United States since the nation was founded. Christensen and another historian described Jasperson’s autobiography as “exciting” new information, although it will require much more research. “Assuming it’s true and accurate, it is very, very significant,” said Bob McPherson, who teaches history at College of Eastern Utah’s San Juan campus in Blanding. He specializes in military and American Indian history, and has led military group tours of the Bear River battleground. Family documentsMerrill Nelson is a retired accountant living in West Valley City who, realizing it could be significant, last year sent his great-grandfather’s autobiography to the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation.
But he doesn’t know how to check out the veracity of the account. He knows of no original journal, although one is mentioned in a separate biography written by his great-aunt. “We don’t really have any idea about it,” he says. All Nelson has are two documents, a typed copy of Jasperson’s 1911 autobiography — written in the first person, but labeled a biography and witnessed by a grandson — and a 1913 handwritten and signed letter in which Jasperson seeks compensation from the Utah Legislature for fighting Indians during the Indian Wars. Both were left behind by his mother, a family-history buff, who received them from her mother, Jasperson’s oldest daughter. In both, Jasperson writes that he saw 493 bodies. The 11-page autobiography touches on the massacre in just two matter-of-fact paragraphs. The rest details other exploits, like helping pioneers make the long trek to Utah, marrying and raising a family on a farm in Goshen near Payson. Jasperson, young but already experienced driving oxen teams, writes that he was hired to go to the Salmon River country (mining camps) and, as he was headed through northern Utah, came across Mormon frontiersman Lot Smith, who told him the Army was fighting the Indians up the river.
Jasperson writes that he went with “him,” implying Smith, to the battleground. His description of the battlefield – indeed most of the autobiography – rings true, said Christensen. The verbiage fits the era, and Jasperson does not seem to exaggerate. The topographical details he supplies are accurate. -Two aspects, however, trouble Christensen. Jasperson writes that Lot Smith told him the Indians had killed 60 soldiers and wounded 60 more, numbers far higher than the military casualties at Bear River. “It’s fairly compelling as history, but I can’t square that,” Christensen says, Jasperson also does not mention Shoshone bodies piled eight and five deep, as the three pioneers who rode through the battlefield described, Christensen notes. Christensen says he has not researched whether Lot Smith was at the Bear River, but it’s possible. Smith was a good friend of Porter Rockwell, according to a short biography in the University of Utah Marriott Library’s Special Collections, and it was Rockwell who led the soldiers to the Shoshones’ winter camp along the Bear River. ‘Better understanding’Christensen, a historian for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says he hopes the Jasperson autobiography will spur more research and analyis.
“Hopefully we can keep piecing it together and get a better understanding,” he says. Patty Timbimboo Madsen, the Northwestern Band’s natural-resources manager, says the few Shoshone survivors of the massacre did not speak much about how many men, women and children died. Her aunt, Mae T. Parry, however, listened to the stories of survivors and argued in her essay, “Massacre at Boa Ogoi,” that the military engaged in wholesale slaughter of her people. The tribe’s written history estimates 350 died that day. If the casualties were in fact higher, says Madsen, it will affirm Parry’s conclusion. “The only thing it does is tell me that the stories my Aunt Mae told were true stories, that it wasn’t a battle. It was a massacre.” Parry died last spring. Top – -Hard past, hopeful future By Devin Felix Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 2:09 AM CST PRESTON — “History can be prejudiced at times,” says Mark Dewey. Dewey, along with 20 students from the U.S. history classes he teaches at InTech High School, were among the nearly 100 people who gathered Tuesday just off U.S. Highway 91 to commemorate the 145th anniversary of the Bear River Massacre. Those gathered braced against low temperatures and constant winds to remember an event often overlooked by historians and schools. Though it is widely accepted as the worst Indian mass killing in U.S. history, the massacre — in which between 250 and 500 Shoshone men, women and children were killed by a U.S. volunteer militia — is largely unknown, Dewey said. That lack of attention comes partly because the massacre was overshadowed by the events of the Civil War, but also because the victims have long been an under-represented group.
“The victors write the history books,” he said. Tribal leaders of the Northwest Band of Shoshone spoke to those gathered and expressed hope and a solemn memory of their ancestors’ suffering 145 years ago. “To see your faces here today, I see a future for us,” said Patti Timbimboo-Madsen, the band’s cultural natural resources manager. She said her people have shown a great resilience over the years. Her own ancestors were among the few who survived the attack. Several young children were on hand, taken out of school for the day so they could learn about their people’s history. Nothing can be done about what happened, but the story needs to be told, Timbimboo-Madsen said. Skirmishes between Indians and white settlers came to a head on Jan. 29, 1863, when a militia led by U.S. Army Col. Patrick Connor attacked a large group of Shoshone gathered near the Bear River. The military reported 250 Indians were killed, but Mormon settlers in the area said 390, said Bruce Parry, chairman of the tribe. Other accounts say up to 500 were killed. Bryon Hardin, a tribe member who lives in Provo, described some of the gruesome details of the attack. Women were raped, pregnant women were cut open and many people drowned as they tried to escape in the freezing river, Hardin said. The tribe’s leader, Chief Bear Hunter, was brutally tortured, he said. Hardin said he believes the ultimate reason for the massacre was that the settlers wanted more land.
Different perspectives on the massacre can be seen on different signs at the site. A metal plaque on a monument erected in 1953 by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers says the massacre was provoked by an “attack by the Indians on the peaceful inhabitants” in the area and that the Indians were “guilty of hostile attacks on emigrants and settlers.” Nearby, another sign reads: “When Connor struck at daybreak on January 29, the Shoshone suffered a massacre unrivaled in western history.” Parry said the tribe is “not especially happy” with the 1953 monument and is buying the land where the massacre occurred piece by piece in hopes of building their own monument. Trees near the monument are adorned with beads, dream-catchers and other ornaments hung by passersby in memory of those who died. As the crowd dispersed at the end of the presentation, a single bald eagle soared overhead into the wind. “That’s a good sign. That’s a good sign,” a member of the crowd said. Top – - Bear River Massacre site returned to Northwestern Shoshone PRESTON (AP) — For the first time in 140 years, the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation owns its saddest graveyard. The Trust for Public Lands, a national nonprofit organization, this week turned over to the American Indian tribe 26 acres of sacred land in Idaho’s southeast corner that was the location of the Bear River Massacre. Some 250 members of the tribe gathered Monday at their newly owned site two miles northwest of Preston to bless the land where at least 250 members of the Shoshone were slaughtered by U.S. soldiers in 1863. Waving a brown feather, Ricky Hasuse blessed the land first in the tribe’s native language as many wiped away tears. He later asked in English for the “Great Creator’’ to bless the massacre victims.
Patty Timbimboo-Madsen, who visits the site several times a year to comfort the spirits, said now she is “able to freely stand on Indian land and tell them that we won’t forget and we’re sorry that they suffered but we’re grateful to them.’’ The Bear River Massacre was the bloodiest in western U.S. history, historian Brigham Madsen said. Estimates of the dead are nearly double those of Wounded Knee, S.D., and Sand Creek, Colo. The tribe, based in Brigham City, Utah, worked with the Trust for Public Lands and the America West Heritage Center of Wellsville, Utah, to raise money to buy the pasture land and adjacent hillside from farmers. Some historians say that what began as a battle between the Shoshone and U.S. soldiers who had been summoned by Mormon settlers in Jan. 29, 1863, turned into a massacre when the Indians’ ammunition ran out. “There was no contest because the Indians had no weapons and the soldiers had these pistols,’’ Madsen said. Col. Patrick Edward Connor and his soldiers killed elderly men, women and small children among the snow banks that morning. Historians have put casualty estimates at between 250 and 350. Yet there is little mention of the Bear River Massacre in the history books. Madsen blames the Civil War for that. “Who was going to pay attention to this little Indian massacre in Washington territory?’’ Madsen said. Now that the massacre site is blessed, tribal members said they feel they can finally put their ancestors to rest.
“When your spirit goes, it should be sent off properly or you wander. Sometimes when people go up there, they hear cries of children, of women. So they’re still suffering. They need to be let go,’’ said Timbimboo-Madsen, who is the cultural and natural resource manager for the tribe.
[b] Bear River Massacre Continues to Haunt Utah / Mormon History After 140 Years [/b]
By WILL BAGLEY THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
This Wednesday marks the 140th anniversary of the bloodiest day in Territorial Utah’s history when soldiers under Col. Patrick Edward Connor committed the worst massacre of Native Americans against the Northwest Band of Shoshones in the history of the American West. Before dawn on a bitterly cold Jan. 29, 1863, the California Volunteers attacked Boa Ogoi, the winter camp of the Northwestern Shoshone on Bear River near today’s Preston, Idaho. U.S. troops came to Utah the previous fall to protect America’s overland wagon roads fromIndians, specifically Shoshone raiders who had attacked travelers on the Oregon-California Trail. The bands at Bear River had little to do with these raids, but they had resisted the settlers who began moving into Cache Valley in 1860, appropriating their land and water during the next three years. “They rejected the way of life and salvation,” Mormon leader Peter Maughn told Brigham Young.
[img]http://www.lemhi-shoshone.com/bear_river_massacre_shoshoni.png[/img]The settlers wanted the tribe out of the way. There was no love lost between the Army and the Mormons, but Young’s bodyguard, Porter Rockwell, led the soldiers north to the Shoshone camp. Before leaving Salt Lake, Connor announced he would take no prisoners. Frostbite crippled almost a third of the soldiers before they reached Brigham City, and the approach of the Army was no secret to the Indians. Years later, William Hull recalled that three Indians from Bear Hunter’s band visited his father’s farm the evening before the attack. When he saw the approaching “toquashes,” or soldiers, Hull told them, “Maybe you will all be killed.” Maybe touquasho be killed, too,” one warrior reportedly responded. The Shoshone had fortified the 10-foot bank of Beaver Creek. When the freezing soldiers arrived, the warriors were ready for a fight. Hull remembered that Bear Hunter waved his buffalo robe and shouted, “Come on, you California sons of bitches! We’re ready for you!” Others believe it was Sylvanus Collett, a white man, who taunted the soldiers. The outraged troops launched a disastrous frontal assault before flanking the Shoshone position and cutting off their retreat. By 8 a.m., the Shoshone were out of ammunition. Soldiers shot down the survivors with their revolvers. Hull recalled Connor ordered, “Kill everything! Nits make lice.”
The battle quickly became a vicious slaughter of women and children with the undisciplined soldiers pausing only to rape and pillage. The next morning Hull counted nearly 400 dead, “two-thirds of the number being women and children.” The soldiers took their dead back to Camp Douglas and buried them in the post cemetery. They left the vanquished corpses for the wolves and crows. Local Mormons hailed the atrocity “as an intervention of the Almighty,” but Army surgeon John Lauderdale thought otherwise. This “hardest fought battle was instigated without a doubt by the Mormons. The latter being unfriendly to our army thought they would betray us into the hands of the Indians. They thought by so doing they would make a little speculation out of it themselves. They made the Indians believe they could capture us most easily & agreed to reward them finely if successful.” The sequel of the story, Lauderdale wrote, “proved the destruction of the Indians.” Despite its historic significance, only a few roadside signs identify the blood-stained ground at Boa Ogoi. “Only time will tell,” historian Kerry Brinkerhoff observed last year, “if Congress will make amends for this massacre, protect the site and put the slain to rest.” “The Shoshone,” said Brigham Madsen, the dean of Utah’s historians, “must keep this memorial alive as it is sacred holy ground.” Will Bagley’s mentor Brigham Madsen, who wrote The Shoshoni Frontier and the Bear River Massacre, considers changing the name of the Bear River bloodbath from “battle” to “massacre” his greatest achievement.