Massacre at Bear River: First, Worst, Forgotten

by Rod Miller, Caxton Press, Caldwell, Idaho, 2008, $18.95.

On January 29, 1863, near present-day Preston, Idaho, an Army detail led by Patrick Edward Connor attacked a Shoshone Indian encampment and perpetrated one of the largest massacres in the annals of Western history. The slaughter carried out by Connor’s California Volunteers at Bear River (the Shoshones called it Boa Ogoi, or Big River) was deadlier than similar, later events at Sand Creek, the Washita and Wounded Knee. But it has been given the “short shrift by historians,” says Rod Miller, who does his part to correct that neglect in this needed book.

Using a steady hand, Miller guides the reader through the events leading up to the confrontation, detailing the relationships between a triangle of participants: Latter Day Saints settlers, American military and the Shoshones. His account of the attack is shattering and graphic, with reports of rape and the murder of infants. The dead were everywhere. “I counted eight deep in one place,” recalled William Hull, who had been sent with two other men to search for Shoshone survivors, “and in several places they were three to five deep.” Connor reported 224 Indians killed, compared with 27 dead soldiers. Other accounts ran as high as 368 dead. Many of those killed were women and children, and although the Northwestern Shoshones endured, Bear River faded away. Miller says that needs to change.

 

Originally published in the February 2009 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here