Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Battle of Bear River or Bear River Massacre


The Battle of Bear River is an almost forgotten battle, except to the descendants of the Northern Shoshone whose way of life changed drastically as a result. The battle took place January 29, 1863.   For more detailed information please refer to the Wikipedia link above.

There had been conflict between the Mormon settlers and the Shoshone people for some time.  There had been minor skirmishes, and some thievery.  In Smithfield an Indian had been hung as he was accused of stealing a horse.

Colonel Patrick Connor finally decided it was time to teach the Shoshone a lesson.  Colonel Connor commanded a force out of Fort Douglas.  These were made up mostly of Stockton Volunteers.  Stockton is in California.  The volunteers weren't all from Stockton, but enlisted there.  Many of them were disgruntled, having been stationed far away from the Civil War fighting taking place at the same time.  Their petition to be moved East had been denied.

Colonel Connor sent a smaller force of infantry, taking traditional routes North to where the Shoshone were camped, near present day Preston, Idaho in Northern Cache Valley.  He took a larger force of Calvary over trails in the tops of the mountains, thus keeping their journey North more secret from local residents, and the Shoshone.

The Shoshone had heard of their coming, and had made some preparations, cutting trails through the snow, and trenches from which they could fire.    When the U.S. forces first came to the Bear River Valley opposite the camp, the Shoshone sent an envoy to them, thinking they could still negotiate a peace.  However they soon discovered that Colonel Patrick Connor had already moved past this stage and they were fired upon. 

The initial frontal assault by the U.s. forces failed, and they sustained significant casualties.  However they regrouped, and flanked the Indian forces, who were soon routed.  It was then that the affair turned into a massacre.  The U.S. forces were taking no prisoners among the some 300 warriors involved in this affair.  A few escaped; some by swimming into the Bear River, where there was a warm spring which kept them from freezing.  Man of the women and children were also killed.  Some of the troops lost control and many of the women were raped. 

The official casualty accounts of the Shoshone vary, ranging from 160 to almost 500 .  Colonel Connor indicating 224 warriors killed and 160 woman and children taken prisoner.  Hans Jasperson, Danish Mormon immigrant indicated he walked the field and counted 493 Shoshone dead.

On the other hand, their were 14 soldiers killed and 49 wounded, seven fatally.  Residents of Franklin, Idaho opened their homes to the soldiers, taking the wounded in and provided blankets to protect them from the cold.

Bear River, or Bear River Massacre has been almost lost to history.  It represents one of the most tragic Indian massacres in our history.  However events taking place in the East kept the focus of our nation.  The month before this massacre had been the Battle of Fredricksburg in which the Union lost 13,000 casualties.   A few weeks before the action in the Bear River Valley was the infamous "Mud March" in which Burnsides efforts bogged down after several days of rain.  He was replaced as commander in chief Jan. 25, 1863.

No comments:

Post a Comment