Bear River Massacre – Early history and causes

Published on March 1, 2013 by Carol

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Bear River Massacre site, looking east for the Shoshone camp.
General Connor came down the slope

The Bear River Massacre, or the Battle of Bear River and the Massacre at Boa Ogoi, took place in present-day Idaho on January 29, 1863. The United States Army attacked Shoshone gathered at the confluence of the Bear River and Beaver Creek in what was then southeastern Washington Territory. The site is located near the present-day city of Preston in Franklin County, Idaho. Colonel Patrick Edward Connor led a detachment of California Volunteers as part of the Bear River Expedition against Shoshone Chief Bear Hunter.

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Cache Valley, originally called Seuhubeogoi (Shoshone for “Willow Valley”), was the traditional hunting ground for the Northwestern Shoshone. They gathered grain and grass seeds there, as well as hunting small game such as woodchuck and ground squirrel; large game animals including deer, elk, and buffalo; and fishing for trout from the rivers. This mountain valley had attracted fur trappers such as Jim Bridger and Jedediah Smith, who visited the region. Cache Valley was named for the trappers’ practice of leaving stores of furs and goods (i.e., a cache) in the valley as a base for hunting in the surrounding mountain ranges.

So impressed were the trappers by the region that they recommended to Brigham Young that he consider the valley as a location for his settlement of Mormon pioneers. Instead, Young chose Salt Lake Valley. In the long term, Mormon settlers eventually moved to Cache Valley as well. As early as July 31, 1847, a 20-man delegation of Shoshone met with the Mormons to discuss their land claims in northern Utah.

Immigrant pressures causing Shoshone starvation

The establishment of the California and Oregon trails, as well as the establishment of Salt Lake City in 1847 brought the Shoshone people into regular contact with white colonists moving westward. By 1856, European Americans had established their first permanent settlements and farms in Cache Valley, starting at Wellsville and gradually moving northward

Brigham Young made the policy that Mormon settlers should establish friendly relations with the surrounding American Indian tribes. He encouraged their helping to “feed them rather than fight them”. Despite the policy, the settlers were consuming significant food resources and taking over areas that pushed the Shoshone increasingly into areas of marginal food production. David II. Burr, Surveyor General of the Territory of Utah reported in 1856 that the local Shoshone Indians complained that the Mormons had so used the Cache Valley that the once abundant game no longer appeared. In addition, the foraging and hunting by settlers traveling on the western migration trails took additional resources away from the Shoshone. As early as 1859 Jacob Forney, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Territory of Utah, recognized the impact of migrants, writing, “The Indians…have become impoverished by the introduction of a white population”. He recommended that an Indian Reservation be established in Cache Valley to protect essential resources for the Shoshone. His superiors at the U.S. Dept. of Interior did not act on his proposal. Desperate and starving, the Shoshone attacked farms and cattle ranches for food, as a matter not just of revenge but survival.

In the early spring of 1862, Utah Territorial Superintendent of Indian Affairs, James Duane Doty, spent four days in Cache Valley and reported: “The Indians have been in great numbers, in a starving and destitute condition. No provisions having been made for them, either as to clothing or provisions by my predecessors…The Indians condition was such-with the prospect that they would rob mail stations to sustain life.” Doty purchased supplies of food and slowly doled it out. He suggested furnishing the Shoshone with livestock to enable them to become herdsmen instead of beggars.

On July 28, 1862, John White discovered gold on Grasshopper Creek in the mountains of southwestern Montana. Soon miners created a migration and supply trail right through the middle of Cache Valley between this mining camp and Salt Lake City. The latter was the nearest significant trading source of goods and food in the area

Source: Legendsofamerica

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