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Bear River Massacre commemoration draws crowds despite winter weather

Two people stand at an outdoor podium in front of a crowd seated in folding chairs. It is sunny, but snow covers the ground and members of the crowd are wearing heavy winter clothing.
Aimee Van Tatenhove
Members of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation speak to a crowd gathered at the Bear River Massacre site.

On January 29, the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation commemorated the 160th anniversary of the Bear River Massacre, one of the largest slaughters of Native Americans in U.S. history. The site of the massacre lies along the Bear River just north of the Utah border, near Preston, Idaho. The event drew over one hundred people, even in the bitter winter cold.

In attendance were representatives from local and federal agencies, tribal members, and local students. While not present in-person, Idaho Governor Brad Little, offered his support by proclaiming the day as a day of remembrance.

Darren Parry, former chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, shared the events that transpired the morning of the massacre.

“It was in this location that our people are spending the winter as they had done for centuries. nearby hot springs provided a welcome relief, the time to catch up with family and friends. A time of renewal and healing,” Parry recounted. “A half mile to the east, Patrick Connor and his 220 cavalry had the same bird's eye view on that cold January morning, probably much like today, as they made their way down from this bluff, just right up here towards a sleeping Indian village.”

The massacre site has remained a priority for the Shoshone, despite the tragedy that unfolded at the hands of the U.S. Army. Parry compared the tribe’s attention to the area to other historical sites tied to painful events.

“When something terrible happens at a place where human lives are lost, that place always seems to take on a new meaning. The 14.6 acres of the World Trade Centers, the beaches of Normandy, a homemade memorial at the side of the road where a fatal traffic accident occurred. Places that haunt and hurt for the wounds that they hold, but for some reason, they still compel us to go back for some unexplainable comfort,” Parry said.

Along with speeches were music performances, prayer and remembrance of tribal members who passed away recently and during the massacre.

Brad Parry, vice chairman of the Northwestern Shoshone, offered gratitude to those who have assisted in putting together future plans for the site.

“We’re grateful for all of you for stepping up and helping and that completes the sacred circle. We have to join together as human beings and recognize each other in that way. And that and completing this project we'll do that because we have so many people that are assisting us and volunteering and giving us funding to do these things,” Parry explained.

Aimee Van Tatenhove is a science reporter at UPR. She spends most of her time interviewing people doing interesting research in Utah and writing stories about wildlife, new technologies and local happenings. She is also a PhD student at Utah State University, studying white pelicans in the Great Salt Lake, so she thinks about birds a lot! She also loves fishing, skiing, baking, and gardening when she has a little free time.