PRESTON, Idaho — The Northwestern band of the Shoshone Nation now owns a major piece of the land where hundreds of their own were massacred. That purchase brought some added emotion to a remembrance ceremony Monday for the Bear River Massacre.
“There are lessons that we can learn from that tragedy and lessons that need to be learned,” said Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox. “This is a story that needs to be told.”
In response to friction between American Indians and white travelers, Col. Patrick Edward Connor and about 200 California volunteers attacked the winter camp of the Northwestern Shoshone in an area near where Preston, Idaho, sits today. The incident occurred before dawn on a bitterly cold Jan. 29, 1863. With inferior weapons and large numbers of mothers, children and aged adults, the Shoshone were overmatched.
The soldiers brutally killed children, defiled women, burned the Indians’ homes, stole their supplies and walked away with their horses, according to historians. When it was over, more than 400 had perished, making the Bear River Massacre the single greatest loss of Indian lives in American history.
But even among those somber moments, there was a bit of celebration.
“We were able to sign documents to purchase 550 acres of the massacre site," said Darren Parry, chairman of the Northwestern band of the Shoshone Nation. “How ironic that we had to purchase land that had been ours for centuries.”
The known names of those lost were read in a ceremony at the visitors center that Parry said had by far the largest crowd ever, allowing more people to hear the story. But how they do that in future years will soon change thanks to their new ownership of the land.
“We’ll be able to tell the story from our perspective while being sensitive to other perspectives that are out there,” Parry said.
The plan is to have future ceremonies closer to where the actual massacre occurred in order to better tell the story from the Native American perspective. But it’s about more than just telling a story, it’s about respect, he said.
“Respect for the people that died here, that maybe they can rest in peace knowing that people aren’t digging around,” added Patty Timbimboo-Madsen, cultural natural resource manager for the Shoshone Nation.
It will help better honor those who were lost.
“Now you can stand on land that’s yours and feel at home without someone saying, ‘You’ve got to move on,'” Timbimboo-Madsen said.
Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc