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Fort Douglas ceremony is a time for healing

1863 massacre deeply affected tribe descendants

It wasn't the pomp and circumstance of the 3rd California Volunteers re-enactment group, the booming cannons echoing through the cold, October air or the impressive display of powerful military vehicles that touched the hearts of those participating in the 142nd anniversary celebration of Fort Douglas Saturday.

It was Patty Timbimboo-Madsen and her parents, descendants of a Shoshone tribe that was nearly annihilated during the Bear River Massacre in 1863 by the fort's founders, that brought tears to people's eyes.

"This is a big deal. They (the Shoshone) barely have spoken to anyone in a military uniform for 150 years," said Su Richards, a research archivist at the Fort Douglas Museum.

Timbimboo-Madsen spoke last during the dedication of building 55, the oldest building at the fort and the one from which the colonel of the army that brutally attacked her people departed. History books now call what happened the morning of Jan. 29, 1863, "The Massacre at Bear River."

According to the Utah History Encyclopedia, young members of the Shoshone tribe attacked white settlers in the area that had entered Shoshone land. That prompted Utah territory officials to send Col. Patrick Connors and about 200 volunteers to "punish" the tribe.

"Approximately 250 Shoshone were slain, including 90 women and children," the encyclopedia says. The troops burned down lodges, stole horses and food and left the Shoshone bodies for the animals. The volunteers suffered 23 casualties.

Timbimboo-Madsen and her mother and father, Helen Timbimboo and Leland Pubigee, expressed their feelings as they sat in what was once Connor's office. Both Helen and Leland remember hearing survivors tell them how they escaped death that day. Helen's grandfather, Yeagar Timbimboo, was 12 years old at that time. He and his grandmother lay among dead bodies in hopes soldiers would pass over them. One soldier discovered Yeagar and pointed his gun at him three different times to shoot him but could not do it. Other survivors hid below ice chunks in the freezing Bear River. Mothers left behind their young so they would not give their hiding spots away.

Recalling those incidents in the colonel's office was not easy.

"When I first walked in I looked at it being a house of that time period," Timbimboo-Madsen said. "But when I walked in this room, this is where it kind of took my breath away . . . because this is where, you know, the plans were made. It's a little tense knowing that this is where all the planning was taking place."

Helen Timbimboo said she had an eerie feeling when she entered the house.

"I felt a little anger standing right there in front of that fireplace," she said.

Pubigee said he could not say how he felt.

"I served in Korea. I've seen people die over there, you know. When a soldier serves he don't respect the people he gonna kill. That's his job to do. . . . It must have been a terrible thing to see," he said.

"I grew up with the idea our older people will tell us, 'Run! Run and hide! The white man's gonna get you, they're gonna kill you, they're gonna steal you.' What did the little people do? We ran all around our big log houses and looked at them from the corner. We were frightened. We were scared," Helen Timbimboo said.

Patrick Mahoney, a member of the 3rd Volunteers Re-enactment group, was instrumental in getting the Shoshone to attend.

"They are still hurting, but they're trying to heal . . . this is part of the healing process," he said. Timbimboo-Madsen said she thought it was important to preserve both sides of the story as history, even the parts that hurt.

"If you don't know where you came from, to me you're lost," she said.

Mahoney presented a broadcloth, ceremonial tobacco, sage and sweet grass to the Shoshone. The gifts are sacred symbols to the tribe.

The ceremony was a part of the Founders' Day celebration at Fort Douglas, organized by the Fort Douglas Museum.


E-mail: tpeterson@desnews.com