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.
GT: 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?
Don’t miss our other conversations with Darren!