Saturday, April 2, 2016

Native American Biography: Shoshone and the Bear River Massacre: Bear Hunter, Pocatello, Sagwitch

The three were above were all chiefs of the Northern Shoshone.  Two were directly involved in the conflict that took place just north of current day Preston, Idaho close to the Bear River.  This conflict became known as the Bear River Battle or Bear River massacre.  The Northern Shoshone claimed Cache Valley as their hunting grounds, and lived in southern Idaho.  As the Mormons entered the valley, it put a greater and greater strain on the resources available to the Indians.  There were several altercations.  In Cache Valley an Indian boy was hung having been accused of stealing a horse.
Chief Pocatello
When a group of Oregon Trail immigrants were attacked, and several killed and some boys kidnapped, their uncle tracked them to Utah.  He called out the military, who found a group of Shoshone in Cache Valley.  They were forced up Providence Canyon, were they took a defensible position, and a gun battle ensued for a couple hours.  Finally the Shoshone relented, and they were questioned about the boy.  The boy had been sent on, and Bear Hunter and four others were kept hostage until the boy was returned.  The Shoshone claimed this was not the same boy, but the uncle claimed the boy and that  was that.  In 1862 Colonol Patrick Connors sent McGarry to Cache Valley to intervene in the theft of some livestock.  He captured four Shoshone, who did not appear to be related to the theft.  He held them hostage and threatened execution if the livestock was not return.  When the livestock wasn't returned, he had them shot.
After this attacks by the Shoshone became common place.  There were several other attacks against miners and others on the Montana and Oregon Trails.  Finally Connors from Fort Douglas in Salt Lake decided to intervene.  He traveled with his forces from Salt Lake.  The Shoshone had some prewarning.  As a result, Pocatello and his men took to the North.  Bear Hunter had a camp just above the Bear River, which seemed a defensible place.  They also made some breastworks and rifle pits.  Sagwitch was also there.  Sagwitch generally tried a peaceful approach.  However the Bluecoats were not in the mood to offer of peace.  San Pitch had been in the Salt Lake area and it was he that reported to the group of Indians living just north of the Bear River that the military was coming.
Connor had orders to arrest or kill Chief Black Bear, Sagwitch, San Pitch and Pocatello.
Connor and his men had two cannon, but they were left behind in a snow bank.  When Connor was able to get his men deployed he started with a frontal assault, which was not successful, and several of his men dyed in the attempt.  He then tried flanking moves, which eventually overwhelmed the defenders.  The defenders also ran out of ammunition.  At that point the attack became a slaughter.  Connor's troops were known to have taken children by the feet and smashed their heads against rocks, women were raped, and killed if they resisted.  Bear Hunter was killed.  Sagwitch was shot through the hand twice.  His horse was shot from under him.  However he was able to escape in the river, and avoided freezing thankfully to a warm spring.  He was able to come back and help the wounded and make some sense of the destruction.  As noted Pocatello was not there.  San Pitch was there, but he too escaped.  They took advantage of hot springs in the Bear RIver to be able to hide in the river.  Connor reported that he and his men had killed all four chiefs.
Connor estimated of the native American dead at about 224 of 300 warriors.  He also said he captured about 160 women and children.  Some of those in the Indian camp were able to get away.  A Danish immigrant who came the next day estimated the total number of corpses as 493 which many fewer women and children having escaped.  Sagwitch's son estimated the deaths at less than 200 with about half of the Shoshone getting away.  There were 14 federal deaths, and 49 wounded, seven fatally.
Most of those who escaped moved to the Fort Hall reservation.   Pocatello also moved there.  Sagwitch and several with him, eventually converted to Mormonism, and created a town called Washakie, named after the Western Shoshone chief.  Conditions were such that Pocatello left the reservation with a group of people, hoping to get better treatment from the Mormons.  Many were baptized, but the Mormons were not in a position to help them.  They were returned to the reservation.  When the railroad traveled north, they negotiated with Pocatello for passage across the reservation.  This resulted in the naming of Pocatello, a new railroad town.

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