Northwestern Shoshone Nation Marks Anniversary of Bear River Massacre
A few weeks ago this year many Native people gathered at the burial grounds of Bear River in Idaho, near the city of Preston, to remember and honor their ancestors who were murdered by Amerikan soldiers. 147 years ago, on January 29 1863 the Amerikan military massacred hundreds of indigenous peoples in Bear River, Idaho. A great many of them were women and children. This massacre was one of the bloodiest massacres of indigenous peoples in Amerikan history, yet it is little remembered as it happened during the Civil War, and Amerika is not too concerned with examining its sordid history.
Other massacres of indigenous peoples were Wounded Knee in South Dakota, where some 146 Lakotah were shot dead in 1890, and Sand Creek here in Colorado which 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho were murdered in 1864.
The number of dead at Bear River is disputed. The commanding Army officer stated 220 to 270 dead, the tribe estimates 400 were killed, white settlers who moved into their land estimated up to 500 dead, a figure cited by the National Park Service. There was never an official count of the victims, as their bones were often left scattered in the surrounding hills.
On this fateful day the Northern Shoshone were encamped along the Bia Ogoi, or Bear River for the Warm Dance, a yearly ritual in winter to drive away the cold.
A collection of sources, including Army reports, historical tracts, and oral histories from the tribe, describe what happened. Col Patrick Conner and 200 soldiers from the 3rd California Infantry attack at daybreak the encampment. There was rising tensions between the Natives and white settlers, with attacks and deaths on both sides leading up to the day of the massacre. The Shoshone were blamed for thefts of horses and cattle, and the deaths of three settlers, although other tribes were likely at fault.
What followed was a day of savagery on the part of the Amerikans, with soldiers smashing infants’ skulls, raping dying women, and ending the lives of the wounded with bullets, clubs and axes. The federal government designated the Bear River Massacre site as a National Historic Landmark in 1990, having admitted many of the victims were women and children.
The effect of the massacre has had long-lasting effects on the Northwestern Shoshone. The killings virtually wiped out the tribe, which today numbers around 500. Many of the survivors in the years after the massacre were taken up by the Morman church, and others dispersed into other Shoshone reservations in the area. The small number of Northwestern Shoshone prevented them from obtaining a reservation of their own.
The policy of Amerikan expansion was one of extermination and genocide of the indigenous peoples. What smallpox and other diseases did not complete, the US military attempted to finish. Many nations were wiped out of existence altogether, and those remaining were subject to brutal national oppression. Yet many indigenous nations survived and continue to fight for their existence.
The fact that it is up to the ancestors of the surviving tribes to continue the memory of these atrocities shows how Amerika is a nation of Holocaust deniers. Its professed values of freedom and democracy are nothing but shallow doctrines to mask a nation founded by murder and genocide. History lessons are not enough to correct these injustices. The ultimate correction for this history of oppression is the return of land and resources to those it was taken from, in the United Snakes and the rest of the world.
Bonner, Jessie L. “Tribe marks massacre with burial ground gathering.” Associated Press, linked at