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*Bear River Massacre (Part 9 of 9)

The Mountain Meadows Massacre killed around 100 immigrants from Arkansas in the Utah Territory.  But did you know that a massacre of 2-3 times more Native Americans from the Shoshone Tribe were killed by the U.S. Army just 6 years later?  Historian Will Bagley tells the disturbing details.

Will:  Brig[ham Madsen] said that the greatest achievement of his long career as a historian was to get the references to the Battle of Bear River changed to the Bear River massacre, which is still a controversial question. But it definitely was a massacre.

GT:  Okay, can you give us a thumbnail sketch of the Bear River Massacre?

Will:  Well, it’s another example of the Whites Want Everything. The Shoshones had used Cache Valley, which is absolutely gorgeous, as a refuge for generations.  About 1860, the Mormons start moving into Cache Valley in force. Some of the angrier Shoshones begin stealing cattle and committing a few acts of random violence. But it’s not nearly enough to provoke what happens. The initiating event is that Shoshone raiders attack and kill a bunch of miners on their way to Utah.

Will:  A federal judge swears out a warrant and the commander at Camp Douglas decides to execute it in the middle of winter in late January, and P. Edward Connor, as he called himself, was a Colonel in the California militia. He leads a force of, I think about 150 men north to Bear River, where the Shoshone have a winter camp near several hot springs.  He tries to launch a surprise attack early in the morning. It takes too long. There’s no surprise and it does start as a battle because the Shoshones are entrenched, and they fight back with all their might. Now whether they really expected to be attacked is an open question, because the camp was still full of women. There’s one document where it speculates that the Bear River massacre was staged to get the army out of Utah. If you think of it from Brigham Young’s standpoint, it was a win-win situation. If the Army won, he got rid of the Shoshones, and if the Shoshones won, he got rid of the Army.

Will:  But the Army were professional soldiers, and they did turn the tide of the battle, and they then rioted, and they began slaughtering Indians and women and children. That’s controversial too, but the Shoshone memories of this are devastating and extremely powerful.

GT:  Do we know how many people died in that? I don’t.

Will:  The Army reported 235, and there are Mormon sources that put the number at 500 or 450 or something. But the thing is, the Army had no motivation to underreport the number of Indians they killed, and Connor got promoted to general based on his great victory. So if they’d actually killed 500 people, they probably would have been happy to report that.

GT:  That’s terrible.

Will: It is.

GT:  What year did this occur approximately?

Will:  Early 1863.

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Will Bagley says at least 230 and perhaps up to 500 Shoshone Indians were killed in Bear River Massacre.

Don’t miss our other conversations with Will!

451: Kingdom of the West

450: Trials of Lee/Forgery

449: MMM Cover Up

448: John D. Lee’s Role in Massacre

447: Bagley Critiques Turley

446: Buchanan & George Smith’s Role in MMM

445: Handcart Disasters & Mormon Reformation

444: Will Bagley on Juanita Brooks

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Kingdom of the West (Part 8 of 9)

Historian Will Bagley has contributed to several volumes of western History called Kingdom of the West.  He’ll introduce us to the set.

Will:  Let me introduce the series first. This is the Kingdom in the West series[1]. It began in 1997 with publication of the original journal, The official journal of the Brigham Young company, which had sat in LDS archives for 150 years, until I asked to edit it. Much to my surprise, they let me do it. It sold quite well and Bob Clark, who ran the Arthur H. Clark company at the time, knew how to promote books and did a bang-up job. The first 10 volumes of the series were published in Spokane, Washington, and they had a promo that Bob was so brilliant at writing and he can always predict, to about a copy of how many books he can sell.

GT:  Wow.

Will:  Then in 2007 or so, when we had eight or nine volumes already completed, Bob sold the company to the University of Oklahoma Press. The series essentially lost its bearings. But I don’t claim to be a marketing manager, but it was probably that I had taken too long and I had wasted too much time. But I did get, eventually, over 22 years, all of the 16 volumes, I hope, not all of them, but a lot of them. I’d always hoped to end the series with a book on Utah’s Indians.

[1] The first 12 volumes can be purchased at https://amzn.to/3cX6UkN

And we will learn more about Native Americans in Utah.  Will also thinks he helped open up Church Archives to research.  He also gives a surprising quote that Mormons shouldn’t be afraid of Church history.

Will: This is Washakie, the great leader of the Shoshones, who lived almost 50 years longer, and it’s the youngest picture we have of Wakara, no…

GT:  Washakie.

Will:  It’s the earliest picture we have of Washakie, and since Washakie lived into the 1890s, we have a lot of pictures of Washakie.

Will:  This character is named Parishort. You’ll notice he’s clutching a piece of paper in his hand, because Indians all wanted to figure out how to make paper talk which is how they referred to writing. Then we have a buffalo robe with pictures of a fight between Indians and soldiers. But one thing I wanted to do with this book, was give Utah’s Indians voices. I was amazed at how eloquent those voices turned out to be. I had several advantages in compiling this selection from Mormon archives. Ardis Parshall, who’s quite a talented journalist and historian, did a transcription of several hundred letters for Floyd O’Neil, who collaborated on the book and I was able to search those.

Will:  But then Church archives had been quite tightly locked up for most of the time I was working on Kingdom in the West. I think I can credit Kingdom in the West, at least partly, getting the LDS Church to open up its archives, because history is not a threat to Mormons. Mormons are Mormons for many, many reasons. But history, I don’t think is one of them. Now, the trouble for me when they open up the archives, and this was done, largely I think, at the insistence of Rick Turley and Marlin Jensen–it was both liberating and time consuming. Because I now had to go back and compare the transcripts I’d done and the partial type scripts to what I could see on the PDF files. So that took years and years and years. The main treasure I found was way, way back probably 25 years ago. It’s where I got this magnificent title, “The Whites Want Everything.”

Check out our conversation…

Will Bagley has written several volumes of the “Kingdom of the West” series.
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Trials of Lee/Forgery

John D. Lee was convicted in the second trial for his role in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  Will describes what he believes was a deal between prosecutors and the LDS Church.

Will:  Anyway, Sumner Howard, or a member of his team, his assistant goes before Judge Borman, and says, “Judge, I have eaten dirt, and I have rolled around in the dirt, but I’m going to get the job done.” Borman is, of course, a little puzzled by this. But the job at this time is to convict John D. Lee. Howard, in his letter following Lee’s execution, explains “I knew that the only way I would be able to get a conviction was to come to a deal with the Mormons.”  That’s exactly what happens. Essentially, the first thing Borman does is drop the indictment against William Dame. The Church/Brigham Young has put his own attorneys on the defense of William Dame. So, once Dame is essentially turned out of jail, the focus shifts to the next likely candidate who is John D. Lee.

Do you think there was a deal to convict John D. Lee?  We’ll also talk about a forgery connected to the Massacre and why Bagley included it in his book, Blood of the Prophets.

GT  1:42:58  All right, so I want to ask you one more question, and then we can move on to your other book The Whites Want Everything, if we can talk about that, if that’s okay. I was a little bit surprised. I’ve talked with George Throckmorton and Steve Mayfield. George is a big forensic expert. In the appendix to your book, “Blood of the Prophets,” you have included what people have referred to as the Dead Lee Scroll.

Will:  I invented that.

GT:  (Chuckling)  That’s right. I forgot about that. So, there was a plate of lead with like a confession from John D. Lee found in Lee’s Ferry, I believe. You can give us more information on that. George says it’s a forgery, and I was surprised that you had put it in the appendix to your book.  Why did you do that?

Will:  Because it was breaking news. It had just happened. They actually found that Dead Lee Scroll as the Olympics were coming up, also as “Blood of the Prophets” was about to be released. You couldn’t have planned any promo campaign for a book any better than that. At first I thought, “Well, this got to be a forgery.”  Then when I read the text I thought, “It matches up. It’s what Lee feels like.”  He is sick at that time, according to his journal. So I put it in the book. Now, Rick Turley and I went to Page, Arizona, and we went into a National Park Service museum, or maybe, it was either a park service or a BLM Museum.  Rick Turley and I go, along with all the Utah Westerners, we go into the museum at Page, Arizona, that has the Dead Lee Scroll. I’d never seen it. I think Rick had already seen it. But they pull it out, and on the spot, Rick and I have a debate over whether this is an authentic document, wherever it came from, or a forgery. Rick is really on. He’s convinced this is a forgery.

We’ve got some photos of Lee’s Ferry and the Dead Lee Scroll in the video, so be sure to check out our conversation on Youtube….

Will Bagley discusses the Trials of John D. Lee, and the Dead Lee Scroll.

Don’t miss our other conversations with Will!

449: MMM Cover Up (Bagley)

448: John D. Lee’s Role in Massacre

447: Bagley Critiques Turley

446: Buchanan & George Smith’s Role in MMM

445: Handcart Disasters & Mormon Reformation

444: Will Bagleyon Juanita Brooks