Free lecture will give the Shoshone perspective of the Bear River Massacre
“Voices from the Dust: A Shoshone Perspective on the Bear River Massacre” 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 16. The Park City Museum’s Education and Collections Center, 2079 Sidewinder Drive Free parkcityhistory.org
Almost a month after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, 200 Army volunteers led by Col. Patrick Edward Connor attacked a Northwestern Shoshone village along the Bear River at Beaver Creek, just north of the Utah-Idaho border.
Jan. 29, 1863 became known as the day of the Bear River Massacre, where 400 to 450 Shoshone – men, women, children and infants – were killed, said Darren Parry, chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation.
“It’s known as the largest massacre of Native Americans in the history of the United States, but it’s something that many people know nothing about,” Parry said. “So it’s important to me that I get out and share the Shoshone perspective.”
Parry will give a presentation titled “Voices from the Dust: The Bear River Massacre from a Shoshone Perspective” at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 16, at the Park City Museum’s Education and Collections Center, 2079 Sidewinder Dr. The event, which will also include a Q and A, is free and open to the public.
During the lecture, Parry, whose father, Bruce Parry, led the Utah Division of Indian Affairs for two decades, will give his view on why the Bear River Massacre isn’t a well-known event in American history.
“When it happened, this area was the Wild Wild West, and the Civil War was raging back East,” he said. “The war was what was in the press of the day.”
The second reason Parry thinks the Bear River Massacre isn’t known is because of white Americans’ racist views toward Native Americans.
“We weren’t, for the lack of a better way to say it, looked at as people,” he said. “Although our tribe was indigenous to northern Utah, it was the era of colonization and manifest destiny where the settlers believed they were blessed by the hand of God to take the land.”
In the spring of 1860, when Mormon pioneers began to settle the Shoshone’s homeland, which ran from southern Idaho to the Salt Lake Valley, the two groups at first tried to get along, Parry said.
“But the resources wouldn’t sustain two populations of people who led two different lifestyles,” he explained. “And I think, at the end of the day, the Mormons wanted the Indian problem to go away.”
After three years of deadly, escalating conflict between the groups, Utah territorial officials asked the Army to intervene, leading to the Bear River Massacre, Parry said.
“They were screaming for the Army to come and take care of it, but when the California volunteers went up there and massacred to what we believe was 400 to 450 of our people, the Mormons were horrified,” he said. “I learned after reading some of the journals from the local pioneers, that, maybe for guilt reasons, they were instructed not to talk about the massacre.”
Parry’s interpretation of the texts was confirmed a few years ago when he gave a presentation on the massacre in Logan, he said. An elderly woman told him she was told never to talk about the massacre.
“I think when they saw the carnage and the women, children and babies that had been butchered, it was not what they envisioned,” he said. “This was the era when some of the reservation systems had been started and the Natives were being moved around the country. But I don’t know how it would have ended differently by sending for the Army.”
Parry’s lecture will focus on the massacre and events that led up to it, and he’ll also talk about how it changed the Shoshone Nation forever.
“Out of the eight tribes in Utah, we are the only one that doesn’t have reservation land,” he said. “Because of that, we have also assimilated into the Anglo culture.”
There is still a tradeoff between the intact community and culture present on reservations and the social ills endemic to them, like poverty and substance abuse, said Parry.“The Shoshone Nation doesn’t have that, but we haven’t been educated in our traditions, so we are losing our language and culture at a high rate. Out of a tribe of 556 people, we have only 14 who fully speak the language. And that’s a problem.”
Parry, who has been giving his lecture for more than a decade, said the lecture isn’t to disparage the settlers. He feels a responsibility to tell his people’s story.
“As good as the Mormon culture is celebrated in this state, it came with a cost of another group of people who lived peaceful lives for hundreds of years,” he said. “I’m not looking to have things made right, but I feel those people who gave their lives in the massacre have a God-given right to have their stories be heard.”
He also believes children of all background need to hear both sides of the story.
“They need to have the chance to critically think about what happened, and not just take it a face value because part of it is written in history books,” Parry said. “It all became clear to me after I read a statement by Winston Churchill that said, ‘History is written by the victors.’ So I think in order to get true learning and true historical perspective, you need all sides, not just a part of the story. We also need to find out what we can learn from the whole story, and what can we do today to prevent past atrocities from happening in the present or future.”
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