Massacre at Bear River
—Remember, But Never Forget —
We cry for the loss and sacrifice of those who did not survive and we honor the strength of those who lived.
After the massacre, the survivors, now under Chief Sagwitch, were aided by other bands as they escaped southward. Most of the bands and tribes made treaties soon thereafter and were moved to restricted reservations, but the Northwestern Band was never granted a reservation. One descendent commented, "I think it had a lot to do with the massacre. They couldn't quite trust the white people." Eventually, the surviving members of the Northwestern Band were taken under the wing of the Mormon Church, and many tribal members were baptized into the faith. Mormon missionaries also taught the Shoshones American farming techniques and encouraged community assimilation. Efforts in the latter were less than successful as tribal members were driven out of several settlements by non-Mormons. In 1880, the church established the farming community of Washakie in northern Utah, a few miles south of the Idaho boarder. Some band members dispersed to Shoshone reservations at Ft. Hall in Idaho, Wind River in Wyoming, Skull Valley in Utah, and Duck Valley in Nevada.
Today's tribal elders who grew up at Washakie remember the stories their elders told them of the massacre. "Those old people would come over and talk and talk and tell about...how they were saved and who was killed." Younger Shoshone, who did not have direct contact with survivors, now visit the site of the massacre and feel the pain of their ancestors. "You could just feel those lives," one said, "so I known it's a sacred place and it's something that needs to be preserved, because they didn't have a chance to finish out their lives. And I am a product of what they went through as what they suffered."
Most Shoshone people today do not want to dwell on the tragedy or inflame old animosities. They seek understanding and peace among all people. Nevertheless, they also feel and obligation to tell the story of their ancestors, to learn from the mistakes of the past, and to honor the dead. The event was originally named the Battle of Bear River, but was later changes to the Bear River Massacre to more accurately represent the true nature of the conflict. In 1990 the massacre site received National Historic Landmark designation.
In 2002 the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation was returned 26 acres of the massacre field and hopes to acquire more. Every January 29, on the anniversary of the attack, both Indians and non-Indians gather to bless the ground and pray for peace. It is their dream that one day the Warm Dance, which has not happened since the massacre, will be celebrated again on this scared ground. Today, the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation continues on in strength and hope. (Marker Number 7