November 29, 2018
Writer: Bryanna Willis

The single largest killing of Native Americans happened right here in Idaho, yet few people know about it. One man hopes to change that through building a new interpretive center.

Darren Parry is the chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation which is part of the greater Shoshone nation. Parry said it was easier to sustain life as a small group so their ancestors broke into smaller groups.

The Northwestern Band Meets Latter-day Saints

The Northwestern Band calls Northern Utah and Southern Idaho home, mainly in Cache Valley. Parry’s third great-grandfather was the chief at the time Brigham Young and the pioneers came to the Salt Lake Valley.

“Even with those rough beginnings, I think both groups tried to get along until Brigham Young started sending out scouts,” Parry said. “They discovered the Cache Valley, which we had lived in for hundreds and hundreds of years, but that was kind of the death knell when the saint’s started moving to the Cache Valley.”

Parry said the competition for resources made life difficult for the Natives because they both needed the same resources.

“It forced Sagwitch and his people into a situation where they were either going to have to beg for food, starve or steal, and I am sure they did all three.”

Parry said the Saints found it hard to deal with the tribe and started to write letters to Salt Lake and Brigham Young, whose mantra, Parry says, was that it is easier to feed the Indians than to fight them.

“But I think that the Saints that were out in the outer frontier of the country dealing with the natives every day that was a hard, hard thing,” Parry said. “So the letters found their way to a federal judge in salt Lake who issued arrest warrants for Chiefs Pocatello, Sagwitch and Bear Hunter.”

The Massacre

The warrants then went to Camp Douglas which was an army stationed to keep an eye on the LDS people. Parry says the camp was itching for a fight when they received the warrants.

“On January 29th those troops made their way north, just north of Preston, Idaho, and commenced the work of death,” Parry said. “And we believe over 400 of our people were massacred in what is now known as the Bear River Massacre.”

The massacre on Jan. 29, 1863 decimated their tribe and left them with only around 150 members, including Chief Sagwitch.

Conversion

Parry said that ten years after the massacre, Sagwitch had a dream where three men appeared to him and told him that there was God in the Mormon Religion.

Five months after that Brigham Young sent a missionary named George Washington Hill to teach Sagwitch and his people. Soon after finding the tribe – just a day later - 102 members of the tribe were baptized in the same river where they had been massacred.

“I tell people I am a sixth generation Shoshone Latter-day Saint and that is significant,” Parry said.

It was around that time the government wanted to put the Northern Tribe on a reservation, but Brigham Young said they were members of the Church and they would be taught how to farm and live among the white people.

“That’s a blessing, if you really think about it,” Parry said. “The down side is that you lose your culture and your language quicker.”

Regaining Sacred Land

They have now been able to raise enough money to purchase all of the sacred land the Bear River Massacre occurred on.

“Now we control that land. It is sacred land,” Parry said.

Parry went on to explain that because temperatures were below zero when so many were killed, no one had been buried, so most bodies lay just beneath the surface.

The massacre itself is not something people know about. It is not in history books and they don’t talk about it in class.

“It’s not like we want to have things made right, but I feel like those who sacrificed their all have the right to be heard,” Parry said.

The Boaogoi Center

Parry now has the goal of building an interpretive center on the site, to tell the story of what happened from the Shoshone perspective.

“It will be a place people can learn all of those things and learn how to forgive,” Parry said.

He also hopes to start a Shoshone language program. With 550 members there are only 14 full speakers of the language and all are over 60 years old.

Working with the University of Utah they have been able to create a written language and a program to teach the language.

“It is significant, it will change us,” Parry said.

The Interpretive Center will be placed in a mound, nestled in the land and called the Boaogoi Center. It will take about $5 million to build. You can donate to the cause by visiting https://boaogoi.org/.

Boaogoi means “Big River” which is what the Bear River was called by the natives.

The Tribe Today

Today, members of the Northwestern Band are mostly active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Parry says they have embraced the concept of embracing culture and change.

“We have a lot of people who would like to go back to the old ways, but that ship has sailed long ago,” Parry said. “To me it is how can we be the most effective today in the world we live in and the card we have been dealt.”

The solution to that is education. Parry said they have assimilated and live mostly around Utah and are just your neighbors. They actively participate in their communities.

“We chose to make a difference and write our own history and our own stories,” Parry said. “So that is who we are today.”