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How a Battle Changed to a Massacre (Part 4 of 9)

The first monument to what happened on January 29, 1863 appeared in 1932 in southern Idaho.  Author Darren Parry of the Shoshone Tribe describes how the Daughter of Utah Pioneers agreed to change the monument from commemorating a battle to what is now known as a massacre of Shoshone Indians.

GT:  We’re close to the site of the Bear River massacre.  In 1932, the pioneers that lived in this area and the local Mormon settlers, decided they wanted a way that they could really remember the events that took place here. It was a community event. The lady that organized it thought she would do a rock collecting exercise and all she asked of the citizens was, “We want your families to bring one rock and submit a written history. It doesn’t necessarily have to do anything with the rock, but we want a written history of your family. This rock collecting campaign started. Some of these rocks are from the Nauvoo temple site.

GT:  Wow.

Darren:  There’s rocks from all over from when the pioneers came west. These rocks had a significant historical reference to the family that submitted them. From that, this monument was developed. The first plaque that you’re looking at today, right now, was erected in 1932. It was the Battle of Bear River. It pretty just factually laid out things the way they thought it happened. Troops attacked an Indian village, 18 military died, 230 Shoshone died.  It talks about the women and children combatants in this, to justify why they could kill so many women and children, I suppose. But this was how the Saints wanted this place to be remembered, by this plaque. Twenty years later, in 1952, they erected another plaque that’s on the other side. It was almost like the pioneers probably thought, “Well, that doesn’t really reflect our role and how our pioneer women took care of the soldiers.” So on the other side of the–we can walk around here, but on the other side, in 1952, the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers put this second plaque in honor of the Pioneer women. It just said attacks by the Indians on the peaceful inhabitants in this vicinity led to the final battle here.  It’s still called a battle. “On January 29th, conflict occurred in deep snow and bitter cold. Scores of wounded soldiers were taken from the battlefield to the Latter-day Saint community of Franklin. Here pioneer women trained through trials and necessities of frontier living, nursed back the wounded until they could be removed to Camp Douglas, Utah.” They go on to say two women and their children found alive after the encounter, were given homes in Franklin. So the locals, the Saints that grew up in this area, this is how they wanted what happened here to be memorialized. My grandmother, Mae Timbamboo Parry was very instrumental in going back to Washington, DC, more than 10 times, with journals from soldiers and other historical writings that she’d found over the years that really described it more as a massacre. Because of Mae Timbamboo Parry, the National Park Service, ended up putting the plaque here on the site and calling it what it is. It’s really the Bear River Massacre. So, for years, the Park Service referred to this as the Battle of Bear River. But because of my grandmother’s doggedness, and trying to change the way [it was described], in 1990, the Park Service reversed course, and quit calling it the Battle of Bear River and started calling it the Bear River Massacre.

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Darren Parry tells how the Bear River Battle change to the Bear River Massacre.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Darren!

482: How Mormon Pioneers Changed Native Life

481: Native Life Before Pioneers

480: Darren Parry for Congress

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How Mormon Pioneers Changed Native Life (Part 3 of 9)

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?

Mormon pioneers & Indians competed for resources in Cache Valley, leading to inevitable conflict.

Don’t miss our other conversations with Darren!

481: Native Life Before Pioneers

480: Darren Parry for Congress

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Native Life Before Pioneers (Part 2 of 9)

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.

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Darren Parry’s grandmother taught his about Native American life before Mormon Pioneers came.

Don’t miss our previous conversation with Darren!

480: Darren Parry for Congress