I’m excited to have my first congressional candidate on the show, Darren Parry. We’ll talk about Darren’s unsuccessful bid to become congressman in Utah’s 1st Congressional District, but more importantly we’ll talk about his book, “The Bear River Massacre: a Shoshone History.” Darren is the great-great-great grandson of Chief Sagwitch, one of the few people who survived the Bear River Massacre in southern Idaho in 1863. January 29 marks 158 years since the massacre. We’ll get more acquainted with Darren.
Darren: My name is Darren Parry. I’m the former chairman of the Northwestern Band of Shoshone Nation. I’m former because I stepped down as Chairman to run for Congress, a failed attempt. A Democrat in the First District isn’t such a good thing. It was a good experience. I won’t do it again, but it was a good experience.
GT: Let’s talk a little bit about your campaign. It’s probably a painful thing.
Darren: No, it’s not at all, actually. I’m a realist. I realized a long time ago that if I was going to run for Congress as a Democrat, there was a great chance, I’m not going to win. But it was important to me to meet people, and give people a choice, a good choice and talk about issues that are important to me and, I think, important to a lot of people that live in the First District, probably not the majority. I felt like we moved the needle a little bit on what’s important. So, in that respect, I ran a really clean campaign. Everything was issue-based. I felt really good about it at the end. That’s why I thought, “Man, I met some great people, too,” that I think will be able to help me with the Interpretive Center and other places that I probably wouldn’t have met, had I not run. So it’s all good.
Darren: This book [The Bear River Massacre: A Shoshone History] really came about because of my grandmother. She was our tribal historian. She was a keeper of our sacred records. It was always important to her that she shared her culture with people. I know she wanted to write a book. She got Parkinson’s disease towards the end and she just ran out of time. But she did one thing that really saved our tribe and our culture. She started writing down all of the stories that she’d heard from her grandfather Yaeger. She was a product of the boarding schools. She went to boarding school in California. She used that as an opportunity, though, to get educated and learn the white man way of learning. She came home, went to Bear River High School, and then on to LDS Business College where she got a degree in English, which helped her to write. Even though she didn’t get to really publish a book like this, she had all these notes and handwritten notes and typed notes. Back then, it was a typewriter. You’re banging out keys, making the carriage go back. She had just volumes of these notebooks that she wrote about our people and the culture and the stories. I found some stories the other day that I haven’t seen for a long time about how the bald eagle became bald, and how the porcupine got its quills. It’s like, wow! I mean, it was just more information that she’d worked on and she knew her whole life, but she wanted to make sure that when she passed away that it was available for everybody.
Darren: When I talk and speak to groups, I always make this comment. “When an old Indian dies, a library burns.” When you’re talking about oral history, and oral culture and knowledge that is in our elders’ heads, when that elder dies, if they haven’t written it down, or if they haven’t videotaped themselves, that knowledge is lost to the world. So, the fact that my grandmother had the ability to see what writing down these stories would do, is really remarkable. So, when she died, as I got older, I just got thinking about it, and it was probably her on the other side, prodding me along. But I just felt like I needed to finish her project. So, it’s a book about our people, how they lived, what the coming of the pioneers did to them, and how they tried to get along and how things led to the massacre of Bear River. Not only that, she made a point that she wrote quite a bit about the conversion of the Shoshones to the Mormon religion. All of that serves as a backdrop of what’s in my book, is a lot of her writings, and a lot of my thoughts on the massacre and the conversion of our people and letting people know that we’re still here. We’re still a tribe, and we’re still alive, and we have a culture that’s rich. We have a language that’s still strong. The story isn’t a really bad massacre of our people. The story is about resiliency. The story is about how we are still adapting today to the world that we live in. We’re still here, and we’re going to be here for a long time.
The Shoshone Tribe numbered just a few hundred when thousands of Mormon pioneers started to settle in what is now southern Idaho and northern Utah. Darren Parry is the former chairman of the Shoshone Tribe and shares what his grandmother taught him about Native American life.
Darren: Her home was a classroom. Out back there would be 10 to 20 deer skins in various forms of brain tanning, that she, herself, would do. [She would] scrape the hide from all the hair and sinew and brain tan these animals so she could have the leather to work with. That’s how I grew up. I thought every grandmother’s home was that way. She had a small garden. In there, the most favorite thing for me was the rhubarb. She grew rhubarb and she would always cook it down and put a lot of sugar in it so you could actually eat it. But I liked it off the stock. I talk about that in the book. Man, it makes my mouth just pucker now, thinking about taking a bite. It looks like purple celery, but it doesn’t taste like it. But just growing up in that culture and hearing the stories about how the coyote stole fire. We actually published a book that’s on the shelf over here, a few years ago as a tribe about how the coyote stole fire. All of these books have animals and characters that speak and that’s how we disseminate knowledge to the children. It’s almost always immersed with the coyote, and the stinkbug and a porcupine. They’re in every story you could imagine. So they tell the story.
Darren: They tell stories about being honest, and just ideals that you’d want your children to know and learn. But they were told in such a way that they were told by animals. Because the animal kingdom is just part of life. It was as much a part of life as being human was. She really instilled in me a desire to just want to learn everything I could about our culture, how we live differently. I remember the pot of stew and I tell this story in my book. There was always a pot of stew on the stove, every day that I was there, with homemade hot bread. I asked her one day, “Why do you always have the same pot of stew on the stove?” She said, “Because in our culture, you never have anyone in your home without feeding them.” As I gotten older, I didn’t think about it then, that made no sense to me then.
Darren: But it made sense to me now. She lived and her parents and grandparents and great-grandfather lived in a time and place where they were probably hungry more times than they were ever full. So, that was an important thing, when a visitor came to your home or lodge or teepee that you fed them. If you had anything to feed them, you fed them because they needed it, first of all. But it was just a lesson on how to take care of one another. So, let me tell you. My grandmother, being the historian she was, she had visitors every day. So now I know why the pot of stew was there. Guys like Brigham Madsen, these great historians that ended up writing about the Bear River Massacre, would visit her home because she was the subject expert. She was the primary source, with a culture that doesn’t have primary sources. People ask me all the time, “Well, where’s the primary source of that?” Well, when you have oral history, that’s the primary source.
Shoshone Indians didn’t have fences. They shared everything. Imagine what it was like when Mormon pioneers started shooting deer and buffalo that Native Americans used for survival. Indians didn’t understand the concept of private property and ignored fences to keep cattle contained. Darren Parry, the author of Bear River Massacre describes how Mormon pioneers changed life for Native Americans.
Darren: The massacre happened on January 29, in 1863. All those years from Peter Maughan getting here in 55, those eight years saw thousands of pioneers come to the valley and saw the pioneers relocate all of their cattle herd to the Cache valley. I think they had more than 4000 head of cattle here at one point in those early years, because of the grass and the water. There was so much natural feed for the animals that they were brought here. Well, that put a damper on a hunting/gathering lifestyle. You needed wild seeds and grasses, you needed the fish that were in the streams and you needed the deer and elk and buffalo that may have been here. I’m speaking about the bison now. But there were deer and elk and other things that were here that the Shoshones had lived on and had no problems ever finding a food source because it was such a rich environment. But now you have thousands of pioneers that are looking for the same food source. The difference is the pioneers had an agricultural lifestyle. They knew how to plant crops. They knew how to do that.
Darren: The Shoshones had no idea how to plant crops. They only knew how to hunt and gather. The depletion of those resources really was the big cause of the massacre, that and now you introduce gold in California and Oregon. People from back East were coming. The California and Oregon trails cut through the very heart of the Shoshone land. Now you’re starting to have depredations and a few other things. But that’s really the environment towards the Civil War– towards 1863. I think the pioneers that were living here–and look, Brigham Young always had the mantra, it’s easier to feed the Indians than to fight them. He said that many times from the pulpit. But he lived in the confines of Salt Lake. There aren’t any bad things going to happen to him and his family in Salt Lake.
Darren: But you take a family out here that’s out in the middle of Mendon, perhaps, and there’s not another pioneer family within a mile, and you have a cow or two, and you’re trying to make it as a small family. Now the natives are taking your cattle or stealing or begging for food at your doorstep. That’s a different thing. So to ask them [to follow] it’s easier to feed them than to fight them–for the most part, they had a hard time feeding themselves and their families. So it’s not lost on me why the Saints that were here had a problem with the natives. They were out in the middle of nowhere, and they had a hard time living themselves. So I’ll cut them a little bit of slack, because I’d want to take care of my family, too. I just don’t think they had enough to take care of everybody. But that starts generating letters from Saints here in the Cache Valley, that ended up to Salt Lake and then ended up to a federal judge, that, “Look, the Indians are causing problems. We’re having a hard time feeding our own families, we can’t feed them anymore. You got to come take care of the Indian problem”.
Were you aware of how Mormon pioneers encroached on Indian lands? What are your thoughts on the inevitable conflict over resources?
Darren, thank you for running. We need more people like you who are willing to hold politicians accountable in Utah’s one-party system. I was disgusted that Stewart ran unopposed and didn’t have to do one bit of campaigning.
And thank you for this work – I look forward to reading more. But I thought Elder Cook said the Saints and Native Americans got along marvelously ;-).
Utah State Magazine also has a great article on how they are trying to restore the land and bring more awareness to this history. https://utahstatemagazine.usu.edu/environment/a-healing-ground/