Hundreds of Shoshone Indians were killed in January of 1863. Despite what happened, many of the survivors joined the LDS Church just a few short years after the Bear River Massacre, some being baptized in the river where their family perished. We continue our tour of an Idaho monument commemorating the Bear River Massacre, and author Darren Parry talks about how this can be a model for peace.
GT: I know, there was another story you told, which was horrible. It kind of goes back to that nit’s make lice comment. The soldiers are running out of ammunition. To save ammunition, what did they do?
Darren: Yeah, this is brutal. We found this in a U.S. soldier’s journal. The decision was made halfway through the massacre that they were worried about running out of ammunition, because that’s how much they had expired. So it was decided to kill the infants and the children, to grab them by their heels, and to swing them around and bash their heads out on rocks, or any hard surface that they could find. So part of that testimony was given in Washington, D.C. by my grandmother. The National Park Service always called this area, the Battle of Bear River, until she started testifying in front of Congress and showing these journals and telling the story about the atrocities. Because of her, the whole site was renamed to reflect what it was, the Bear River Massacre. But it was because of her finding journals like these, that she was able to change all of that.
GT: This was Jane Hull, or somebody else?
Darren: No, this was my grandmother finding these journals and testifying in Congress, about the atrocities that these soldiers committed, and actually wrote about in their journals.
GT: So, there’s another reason to believe that it was more than 250.
Darren: Yes, there was another reason. Killing the babies by bashing their heads out on rocks is– that’s hard for me to talk about. That’s horrific. It’s really hard to hear. But people can do anything, I suppose in the name of religion or sense of duty. I don’t know.
GT: Well, and I know that you said, these events are tragic, but it’s important that we move on and I’m amazed because you seem like you really have a forgiving heart.
Darren: I do. I think I’m wired a little bit more like Sagwitch would have been. Sagwitch had witnessed the entire destruction of his people, almost. But yet, 10 years later, he ends up joining the Church, of a group of people that probably caused it. So, I just, the older I get, the more I realize that we live in a world that’s not fair. We live in a world that things happen to people every day, bad things, at no fault of their own. It’s just important to me that I honor the story and I honor those people that died that day. I think they need a voice. They have a God-given right to be heard. Their story needs to be told. But I think I would not serve the story of them well, if I didn’t tell the rest of the story and that’s one of forgiveness.
Darren: That’s one of who I am today, how we can learn from tragic events and make this world a better place going forward. I could dwell on the negative part of this and be bitter and angry, and hold people accountable, and want that side of it. Or I can say, “Look, this is what happened. We need to recognize it and talk about it. But at the end of the day that shouldn’t define us, and that doesn’t define who we are today. We’ve moved on. We’ve moved past. We will always remember. We will always forgive, but it doesn’t mean we will need to forget.” So, that’s who we are. I think that story plays so much better, and especially in the world we live in today that’s so divided. I think there are lessons to be learned about how bad things can happen to people, but it shouldn’t define them, and how we can all move forward together to make the world a better place.
158 years ago, hundreds of Shoshone Indians were massacred on this site. Author Darren Parry takes us to the killing fields where many of his ancestors perished. Darren is fundraising to build a monument on this site to tell the story of the tragedy. We’ll tour the site and listen as Darren tells more about that awful, cold day of death.
Darren: Where we’re standing today is where the Interpretive Center building is going to be. Just behind us will be the building just off to my left here. This kind of gulley will be an amphitheater built into the side of that hill. And why here? Why here is because just straight out in front of us is the killing field. That’s where all the bodies lie, still today.
Darren: None of the bodies were buried in 1863, the ground was frozen solid. The bodies were left there to rot.
GT: Because it was below zero that day, so they will probably would have just frozen.
Darren: Yeah, and you couldn’t dig a grave. Some of the pioneers said they tried to throw a few of the bodies into the Bear River, which is right there. Later on in the day, it was flowing again, it wasn’t frozen. They said that that was too much of a big task because of the number of bodies that were there. Just straight down here in this big open field is where the lodges were, where almost all of the killing took place. So here on the Bear River, and if you can see down here, you can actually see a little steam coming up, but it’s warm enough now that you can’t see it very well. But right on that bend of that river, you can see where there’s a cutout in the side here. The hot springs come out of that and flow down into the river. So that little, tiny ravine right there at the apex of that circle is where the hot springs are located.
Darren: That whole geographical area. So the lodges were around it and everywhere close to it. They camped here because of the hills to the north, it protected them from the north winds in the wintertime. Then there were plenty of willows down there. The Russian Olives have taken over today, but there were plenty of willows used for baskets and winnowing and water jugs, and all types of things like that.
Darren: The initial assault that the troops came across the river and attacked the Shoshones straight on. That’s where almost all the soldiers died. They pulled back and then half the group went where the white home is there up around that way. The other half came around this way down to the river and pinched them on the river. So they can either jump into the river to try to escape, or turn and fight. Almost all of the bodies, the 400 bodies would have been down in that area.
Before this series of posts, were you familiar with the Bear River Massacre? Did you know more Indians were killed in this massacre than any other west of the Mississippi River? What role did Mormon pioneers play? How much blame to Mormons deserve, even though it was the army that carried out the massacre?
Before these posts I’d certainly heard of the Bear River Massacre. I probably saw it referenced in some piece discussing the Mountain Meadows Massacre with a footnote mentioning there were other massacres in 19th Century Western history as well. It’s interesting and haunting how some tragedies come to garner more and longer-lasting attention than others. Same for wars. But I appreciate this series of posts giving me a better awareness of the scale and context of this event. Darren provides some truly valuable perspective.
I hadn’t heard of this. What a tragedy and to have to carry out the massacre to children, the whole thing is so terrible.