OPINION: Remember Bear River Massacre
Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 15:01
No moment of silence. No flags at half mass. No cry for justice by the people is likely to be made on this day. No, most of you, the readers, probably do not even know what I’m talking about. With solemn regard, I do. Some 150 years ago on this day, Jan. 29, the U.S. Cavalry under General Patrick O’Connor was being lead by Mormon scouts, principal among them Porter Rockwell, to a Shoshoni village.
It was a cold bitter day. At dawn, they attacked. The Shoshoni warriors under their chief, Bear Hunter, repulsed the charges time after time until their ammunition was spent. No, perhaps you have not heard of this day because of the ensuing slaughter.
Never in all my years has a subject been so hard but necessary to discuss. With their ammunition gone, the Shoshoni were swept down like dirt over a wood floor into the dust pan. Regardless of age and gender. Most were shot trying to escape. The women were raped, children and infants had their heads bashed against trees because “nits make lice” and so they could save bullets.
Chief Bear Hunter fought gallantly, bravely for his people. Always telling them to get to safety and urging the warriors to protect the women and children. Unfortunately, he too was caught. He was tortured, but he never screamed out in pain and that was no fun for the Mormon scouts and the cavalry, so, they heated up a bayonet and thrust it in between his ears. The number killed ranges from the Military’s report of 250 (that they could count) to more than 500, as is generally accepted by the Shoshoni. That makes this one of, if not the largest Indian massacre west of the Mississippi. Larger than even Wounded Knee.
After the massacre, the troops wore the body parts of the women and children as trophies and were celebrated as heroes throughout northern Utah, including Cache Valley. Maybe this is why you’ve never heard of it. The Mormon/White-Indian conflict was summed up in this event. With their resources constantly being depleted by the settlers and the thousands of people with their horses and cattle moving along the Oregon Trial, it became necessary for many of the Shoshoni to beg or starve or steal. For this, even though the settlers were on Shoshoni land without permission, they were deemed savages. The only land, to my knowledge, that was agreed upon for the Mormons to settle into was the Salt Lake Valley. Cache Valley was to be off limits. This valley once was very sacred to my people.
Who am I that I should write so boldly? I am Jason Brough, I am a descendent of Poe-pe-hop who was shot in the chest on that fateful day and carried the bullet with her till the day she died. I am a Shoshoni Indian from that very small parcel of land known as a Reservation out at Washakie, Utah, and I am tired. I am tired of whites telling me to get over it and that it is in the past. Have you ever seen a massacre? I have. Every time I write or talk about the Bear River Massacre such a scene is presented before my eyes it takes all I have not to weep for the fallen of my People.
Telling me to forget it and to get over it is like telling you, the American people, to get over 9/11, or World War II, or the Mormon exodus and persecution in Missouri. When you bury something in the past you are doomed to forget it, and in your forgetting you are doomed to repeat it. Forgiveness does not come by running from the problem. It comes by opening it to the eyes of all people and recognizing the tragedy and heartache that was felt on both sides. But do not believe my words. Find out for yourself whether what I have spoken is true. For most of you, I fear, will pass by this article as thing of naught and this will be like any other ordinary day. Remember, however, that while you sleep, my ancestors walk this land and will not leave it, because they love it and so do I.
Many have said, and still say, the American Indians were and are ruthless savages. I am a ruthless savage:
Ruthless, in defending The People and freedoms we once had and the few we still retain.
Savage in my words only because you do not understand them or have the ability to take them to heart.
Uncivilized in my thoughts and actions. For if civility means the utter desecration of Mother Earth and no respect for living and inanimate objects, then I am truly uncivilized.
Wild, because I choose real freedom over your illusions.
I am all of these things, and yet I am happy and at peace with the Master of Life, for I do what the Old Ones ask of me — despite the consequences and subsequent heartache that often follows for my fellow man.
I am Jason Brough and I have spoken. For all my relations. Ayondanamnamana. Aho.
– Jason Brough is president of the Native American Student Council at USU. Send comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.