A memorial participant, from the event in 2009, adds to a prayer tree, festooned with gifts of remembrance made by Shoshone children. Mourners have decorated the tree for more than 20 years. (Photos courtesy Patty Timbimboo-Madsen)

Remembering the Bear River Massacre on the 150th Anniversary

Simon Moya-Smith


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.

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travis miranda's picture
travis miranda
Submitted by travis miranda on
my prayers go out to the utah shoshone trib.an also to be reminded about our native american history of the Bear River Massacre.

Daniel Ishi-Tehama's picture
Daniel Ishi-Tehama
Submitted by Daniel Ishi-Tehama on
I take exception to Patty Timbimboo-Madsen comment that the Mormons were taken aback by the massacre, “I don’t think they realized what was going to happen." She is quoted in the article saying, "the massacre occurred as a result of settlers—mostly Mormons—who were vexed by the constant presence of Native Americans near their communities." The Mormons at the time were willing participants in every aspect of the massacre, including the killing. I say to you Patty Timbimboo-Madsen, if you are going to represent your people, get your historical perspective and facts correct.

bwaikiki@hawaiiantel.net's picture
Submitted by bwaikiki@hawaii... on
Thanks for this information. I have read Indian history but wasn't familiar with this particular massacre - there were so many!

john pete moling's picture
john pete moling
Submitted by john pete moling on
there was a movie about this i believe jon voigh was in it my heart goes out to your people

john pete moling's picture
john pete moling
Submitted by john pete moling on
there was a movie about this i believe jon voigh was in it my heart goes out to your people

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
I'm so ashamed to say i have white blood running in my veins! Why thats all i keep saying!!!!!

Lisa D. Schmidt's picture
Lisa D. Schmidt
Submitted by Lisa D. Schmidt on
"Dirty little secrets" plague this country. We cannot go forward until we reckon with the past. Bit by dirty little bit.

Alyssa M's picture
Alyssa M
Submitted by Alyssa M on
I can't begin to count the number of times I have been taught about the "Boston Massacre" in which British soldiers killed five white Americans. Yet I have never heard of this massacre until today.We need to put the American Indian peoples back into American history.

stjoebear's picture
Submitted by stjoebear on
My heart is so heavy from the pain our government has caused and continuse to cause so many over greed.If you watch Oliver Stones documentary on America you will see the real faces of the government, and they are not pretty or handsome. I hope he or someone with his capability does one on the true no holds barred story of the attrocities committed during what was the taking of this land now called America.

See mo ten's picture
See mo ten
Submitted by See mo ten on
We Recognize that although, it was a MEMORIAL. The Victims and their relatives of the Bear River Massacre, will not forget. Although they are being told. By these Mormon PPL , and others like them to forget the facts the NW BAND were MASSACRED. Something is wrong with these WHITE PPL, who are still in denial. They were the driving force behind this MASSACRE. Now they tell the victims and family to forget the past of their murdered, raped, multilation, atrocities, FAMILY. Done to the NW BAND SHOSHONE. These murders and rapist from the sub human Calvary of O connor his murders, and rapist, called "his troops"did this with the Blessing from the MORMON PPL. We will not forget. Just as America will not forget 9/11. Rest in PEACE NW BAND SHOSHONE, RELATIVES. We will be IDLE NO MORE

Floyd Lott's picture
Floyd Lott
Submitted by Floyd Lott on
Keep their memories know for all generations so everyone can know that was not right. It is a shame that it happened.

Daniel Rosenthal's picture
Daniel Rosenthal
Submitted by Daniel Rosenthal on
Bear River was one of the biggest killings of Native people by U.S. troops; the other four were Sand Creek (1864)--about 200 Cheyennes and Arapahoes killed; Marias River (1870)--about 200 Blackfeet killed; Wounded Kee (1890)--about 200 Sioux killed; and, probably the least known, Whitestone Hill (1863)--about 200 Sioux killed. Other notable massacres of Native People were Ash Hollow (1855)--about 85 Sioux killed; Washita (1868)--about 40 Cheyennes killed; Darkwater Creek (1875)--27 Cheyennes Killed; Big Hole (1877)--about 90 Nimipu (Nez Perce) killed (but the soldiers were eventually driven away in a counterattack); and Fort Robinson (1878); about 64 Cheyennes killed.