Bear River Massacre Victims Laid to Rest
More than 150 years after their murder, the remains of two Northwestern Shoshone were finally laid to rest May 25 near Tremonton, Utah.
On January 29, 1863, an all-volunteer regiment of 200 white soldiers, led by Colonel Patrick Edward Connor, executed the massacre. By the end of the carnage, an estimated 300 Northwestern Shoshone men, women and children were dead.
History remembers the event as the Bear River Massacre. (Related story: "Remembering the Bear River Massacre on the 150th Anniversary")
“[After] 150 years, these people are now able to rest,” said Patty Timbimboo-Madsen, cultural and natural resource manager with the Northwestern Band of Shoshone.
Timbimboo-Madsen said the tribe buried the remains of their relatives—three crania and one full skeleton—in a single grave at the Washakie Indian Cemetery.
Two of the skulls were ascertained to be victims of the Bear River Massacre; the full skeleton was discovered in the 1930s during a dig in Utah’s Weber County and was determined to be the remains of a Northwestern Shoshone who had most likely died sometime around the year 1350.
The third skull also did not belong to a victim of the massacre, Timbimboo-Madsen said. That cranium was in the possession of the state of Utah and was determined to belong to a male, aged 30 to 40, who died sometime between 1650 and 1880.
The skull came into the state’s possession after it was confiscated during a criminal investigation 50 years ago near Bear Lake.
Prior to the burial, the skulls from the massacre as well as the skeleton had been in the possession of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. since 1898.
R. Eric Hollinger, supervisory archaeologist at the Smithsonian Institution in D.C., said the remains had never been placed on display.
According to Hollinger, initial speculation was that the two Northwestern Shoshone skulls in their possession were those of chiefs Bear Hunter and Lehi—both victims of the massacre.
After further evaluation, it was concluded that one cranium belonged to a male who was most likely in his teens and the other belonged to a female, possibly in her 20s.
Prior to the burial, a tribal elder spoke prayers in Shoshone, according to Timbimboo-Madsen.
Each of the remains were wrapped in fur before they were interred in the earth, she added.
“Instead of going in a box, they went in rabbit skin blankets,” Timbimboo-Madsen said.
“I believe that [the remains], having not been in a vault, and now being able to be in a place that becomes sacred because of those prayers, and making sure that they’re laid to rest, [their spirits are] able to make their journey,” Timbimboo-Madsen said.
Timbimboo-Madsen struggled with the emotional turbulence of arranging such a unique burial.
“How do you prepare for something you’ve never had to do before?” she asked.
Currently, there are four stones marking the gravesite.
“I’m trying to figure out what would be the best way to mark them,” she said. “Do we keep them unmarked? I think [future] generations should know where they are.”
Each stone is meant to “identify [a] particular individual,” she added, but as of today, none of the stones have any identifiable markings.