A Tale of Two Massacres


Apr 08

The online Oxford Dictionary defines massacre as: An indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people.

Our first massacre occurred on March 5, 1770, on King Street in Boston. It started out as a simple quarrel between two people, turned into a fight between an American colonist and a British soldier, and then quickly escalated into what we know today as the Boston Massacre.

Though many of us old farts don’t remember much beyond the name, this event has been taught in our schools as long as anyone can remember, and even longer than that. The Boston Massacre is just one of the events that led up to the revolution.

Allow me to sum up what took place.

Tensions were running high in those days, and in a city of 16,000 colonists, the king had stationed more than 2,000 British soldiers. The colonists were fed up with taxes and those British laws such as the Townshend Acts and the Stamp Acts, and the cry (every student in this country remembers) rang out, “taxation without representation is tyranny!”

Arguments and fist fights were everyday occurrences between the colonists, some loyal to the King and the others we now call patriots. Oftentimes the British troops would step in to break up these fights. Troops were posted in the streets to stop the vandalism as “patriots” went after the stores and merchants selling British goods.

On February 22, a mob of patriots gathered outside the store of loyalist Ebenezer Richardson. They pelted the store with rocks and then attacked Richardson’s home nearby with a volley of rocks, injuring the Missus. Richardson took up a gun and fired into the crowd, mortally wounding an 11 year old boy named Christopher Seider.

Further enraged, the patriots went looking for a fight and just couple of days after the boy’s funeral, they found one with some British soldiers, which luckily ended without bloodshed.

But then came the snowy, frigid evening of March 5. The only soldier guarding the King’s money stored inside the Custom House on King Street was Private Hugh White. White, standing there all alone with a Brown Bess, a one shot musket with a bayonet on the end, was an easy target for anyone with one too many beers in him and slowly a noisy lot began to gather around him hurling insults and threats.

The colonists threw snowballs at him, then ice, then stones, and White finally fought back stabbing one with his bayonet. Then the bells started ringing throughout the town, and since they were used to warn people of a fire, all the town males came running, and finally, Private White, on the ground screamed out for help.

Captain Thomas Preston heard the screams and showed up with a handful of troops to guard the Custom House.

The riled up crowed yelled at the captain and his troops, daring them to shoot, while others begged and pleaded with him to hold his fire. And though nobody really remembers what happened as the violence escalated and colonists smacked the soldiers with clubs and sticks, someone (nobody knows who) yelled out “Fire!” and a rifle went off. Then another, and another and another.

When the smoke cleared, five colonists lay dead or dying, and six wounded would live to fight another day.

It’s here that history teachers point out that one of the dead was Crispus Adducks, an African American. I’m not sure why this is pointed out since African Americans didn’t get the right to vote until after the Civil War . . . if you don’t count all the Jim Crow laws that kept them from voting until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 . . . with voter suppression continuing on even while I write these words. But yes, one of the first to die in our Revolutionary War was a black man.

I want to thank biography.com and history.com and the Encyclopaedia Britannica for helping me to remember everything I’ve forgotten since my time in elementary school.

The second massacre is one you’ve most likely never heard of, and you’ll soon see why.

You see, history is a bit messy, and while the human animal is out doing inhuman butchery to fellow humans, the perception of what is taking place varies from person to person and it’s really hard to get a firm grasp on all that takes place in the middle of a “balagan.” Even the number of dead can only be gauged from numerous divergent accounts.

I’ve used the Hebrew/Russian term balagon only because seems the most fitting term. It means mess; rowdy, chaotic, disarrayed, turmoil. Balagon.

When this massacre ended, there was, by all estimates, around 250 dead men, women, and children, and just about 21 dead and 42 wounded US soldiers.

Wanna know just how horrifyingly dirty it was?

It was decided after an hour of the battle that to save on ammunition that instead of shooting babies and children … dismount … grab them by their ankles and … swing them around and bash their heads out, their brains out on the rocks.

Survivor’s stories shared through oral histories.

We don’t learn about this massacre for a reason. It’s a very simple and obvious reason that “reasonable” people try to ignore.

Our country was founded on a principle of White Supremacy. And if you are not white, you are less than human. And anything less than human can be enslaved, beaten, and/or murdered. It is the victors who write history and it is white privilege to write the history textbooks used to teach our children. Pretty simple, eh?

Thus the Boston Massacre in which six died is taught and the Bear River Massacre in which over 250 men, women, children, and babies were slaughtered is not taught.

So why don’t you sit back and hear the story of the Bear River Massacre that has been passed down for generations from the stories of the survivors.

And try to keep in mind that Native Historians don’t like to use the word genocide because they were not wiped out, they are still alive, and they are bringing their cultures and histories back to the light.

Click to enlarge.

The Cache Valley is protected from harsh winds, and its rivers are lined with hot-springs. For eons, it was the homeland of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone. the grasslands were rich with deer, elk, moose and bison. Edible plants like wild potatoes and chokeberry, cattail bulbs, sego lily, elderberry and wild current, also grew prolifically in the area.

The land was sacred for Parry’s ancestors, he said, and the perfect spot for a winter camp.

All Things Considered

As the Mormons encroached upon this area, they soon discovered that the local natives did not believe in private property, and that their horses and cattle went missing. Mix in the westward movement of emigrants to California and up the west coast to what would become Washington State, and you’ve got added pressure on the Shoshone as their food and clothing (hides) supply dwindled.

Settlers started taking the wild game in the area and herds began to shrink.

The settlers wrote letters to Brigham Young complaining about the conflicts with the Shoshone, but the Shoshone had no one to write to and complain about being starved in their own settlements that for eons kept them clothed and fed. As the natives got hungrier and hungrier, more and more skirmishes between immigrants and natives broke out. And after the son of a local Shoshone chief was tried and hanged for stealing a horse (there was no evidence he stole a horse, and his only defense was “pugweenee” which means, “I was just fishing”).

Today, Pugweenee is the way the young man’s name is inscribed in history.

The Shoshone retaliated by killing two young men who were gathering wood.

History records bunches of skirmishes, but as to who perpetrated what, we’re not given many facts. They were often thought to be Shoshone who were attacking westward settlers. There was the Massacre near Fort Hall, where five settlers died, their bodies horribly mangled, and later the Battle of Providence in which migrants on the Oregon trail met up with Natives, presumably Bannock and Boise Shoshone, with just a handful of settlers surviving that. So, yes, as more and more settlers took the food out of the Natives’ mouths, there was bound to be some blowback.

Nearby at Camp Douglas were US Army troops stationed to guard the Oregon Trail and protect the telegraph lines. They had another job, and that was to keep an eye on those unamerican Mormons.

U.S. Army Col. Patrick E. Conner

The troops who had signed up to kill Confederates, found themselves way out west guarding a trail and some wires on poles, and baby sitting a group of religious wackos. The morale was low, igniting a minor mutiny, and given the troops had already had its share of discipline problems, it’s easy to imagine that they were “itchin for a fight.”

When they heard that there might be an Indian uprising, that got their attention. Killing Indians was much more fun than killing Confederates because Indians weren’t human. They were savages. There were no rules of conduct when killing Indians.

Did people build this or did Indians?

A tourist’s question in Mesa Verde National Park

Historians tell us that both sides knew the clashes and violence were going to come to a head. The Shoshone built some defensive positions, camouflaging areas and digging “rifle pits.” Colonel Conner did all he could to keep secret their plans. He broke up the outfit sending them here and there to meet up somewhere else. There had been an arrest warrant issued for Chief Sagwitch, but he was north in Salt Lake City attempting to negotiate a peace treaty between the Mormons and his Northwestern Shoshone.

They all knew it would come to a head.

On the morning of January 29, 1863, Major McGarry and his cavalry units arrived first, followed Colonel Patrick Conner and his troops, all of them atop 200 steaming horses and lined up on the rim of the Cache Valley.

Look like there is something up on the ridge up there. Look like a cloud. Maybe it is a steam come from a horse. Maybe that’s them soldiers they were talking about.

Chief Sagwitch

The frontal assault didn’t work and the cavalry had to retreat because of heavy gunfire. Conner then broke up his troops into smaller groups and initiated some flanking maneuvers, while sending a line of infantry out to block any attempt by the Shoshone to flee.

The battle raged for two hours till the Shoshone ran out of ammunition.

Reports by soldiers and by the citizenry differed greatly in the numbers, but what we do know is that some Shoshone survived to pass stories onto their children. To continue to survive, some natives allied with the Mormons and were baptized. With sponsorships by the LDS Church, some built farms and homesteads. Others who didn’t want to settle in with the Mormons wound up on reservations.

Today where the village once stood is a rock pillar and a prayer tree where Natives gather each year to mark the anniversary of this tragedy. For years the National Park Service put up signs that read: The Battle of Bear River.” It was only after descendants of the survivors petitioned the government to change the name is it now known more appropriately as the sight of the “Bear River Massacre.”

To read more, you can do what I did and google the massacre. No, I did not know any of this when I first heard of it just days ago. So, GOOGLE.

Chief Sagwitch Timbimboo and his second wife, Bewochbe, the widow of Chief Bear Hunter who died in the massacre along with Sagwitch’s wife.

Further Reading

A great book that I’ve just ordered from Abe Books was written by the great, great, great grandson Chief Sagwitch Timbimboo, Daren Parry.

Darren Parry (2019). The Bear River Massacre: A Shoshone History (family history by chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation)