Remembering the Bear River Massacre on the 150th Anniversary

The Northwestern Band of Shoshone will hold a number of events January 29 to mark the 150th anniversary of the Bear River Massacre.

Every January 29, the Northwestern Band of Shoshone hosts a memorial in remembrance of the estimated 300 men, women and children of their nation who were slain in 1863 by an all-volunteer regiment of roughly 200 white men from California.

Referred to today as the Bear River Massacre, this month marks the 150-year anniversary, and the Western Band of Shoshone are making certain that people remember the historical event.

The memorial has been named, “Never To Be Forgotten.”

Northwestern Band of Shoshone Chairman Jason Walker addresses the crowd during the Bear River Massacre memorial on January 29, 2011.

Chairman Jason Walker said, this year, the tribal council will host a number of events starting at 11 a.m., including music, prayers, three speakers, a history of the massacre as well as a visit by the lieutenant governor of Utah, Greg Bell.

“We’re honored that Lieutenant Governor Bell will be attending,” Walker said.

Though the massacre occurred in what is modern-day Franklin County, Idaho, the site of the massacre is only miles from the Utah-Idaho border, Walker said. The band has offices in both states. Walker said he sent invitations for the memorial to the governor’s office of Idaho, too, but never received a response.

Darren Parry, the band's vice chairman, said he still gets astonished at the amount of people who have never heard of the Bear River Massacre.

“It’s just crazy how many people just don’t know that it happened,” he said. “It’s pretty much still an unknown thing to the average man in Utah or the west. We’d like more people to be aware of it.”

According to Patty Timbimboo-Madsen, the band's cultural and natural resource manager, the massacre occurred as a result of settlers—mostly Mormons—who were vexed by the constant presence of Native Americans near their communities.

Timbimboo-Madsen said the United States sent Colonel Patrick Edward Connor to “deal with the Indians.”

Ricky Haysuse, a member of the Northwestern Band of Shoshone, prays during the Bear River Massacre memorial on January 29, 2012.

Regarding the Mormons who called upon the U.S. to solve their Indian problem, Timbimboo-Madsen believes the Mormons were taken aback by the massacre.

“I don’t think they realized what was going to happen,” she said.

Though the massacre, to Timbimboo-Madsen, is the country’s “dirty little secret,” she’s optimistic for the future, especially for the broader recognition of the massacre, which took place during the Civil War.

“[White people are] able to come to grips with the history,” she said. “They’re not closing the door; they’re leaving it open for us to step forward to tell our stories.”

A drum group participates in the Bear River Massacre memorial near the Utah-Idaho border in 2010.

Today, the population of the Northwestern Band of Shoshone is approximately 528, Walker said. The events of January 29, 1863, he said, all but decimated his people.

“It annihilated us,” he said. “There were only a handful of survivors from this massacre.”

Walker surmised that had it not been for white farmers in the area who took in the few survivors of the massacre, every Northwestern Shoshone would have died 150 years ago and the band would have been wiped out.

Walker said in the past, the memorial has drawn about 300 people. This year, he anticipates almost 500, weather permitting.

Parry said part of the memorial will recognize the remains of three Western Shoshones who were recently repatriated back to his people from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

The remains will be interred in the spring and are being held in a small vault for the time being.