Summarized by Rosemary Pollock
Mormon-Urged 1863 Military Action Against Indians Turned to Massacre
Salt Lake Tribune 24Jan00 D6
By Christopher Smith: Salt Lake Tribune
A newly-found forgotten four-page manuscript has revealed an eyewitness
account of an 1863 military attack on a Shoshoni Indian camp. The
detailed account, of a here-to-fore unpublished map and firsthand account
of the attack at Bear River, was recovered by Utah historian and Salt
Lake Tribune reporter Harold Schindler shortly before his death.
This is the last article Schindler wrote before dying of a heart attack
in December, 1998. The full account is contained in the new issue of
the Utah Historical Quarterly magazine. The newly rediscovered evidence
is significant in many respects. It supports with first hand empirical
proof what historians have suspected and gradually come to accept: that
the Bear River "battle" was in fact a massacre, with soldiers killing
hundreds of defenseless Shoshoni men, women and children while they
attempted to surrender.
The new-found manuscript was written by Sgt. William L. Beach of Company
K, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, California Volunteers, under the command of
Col. Patrick Edward Connor. Beach penned the account sixteen days after
participating in the massacre and recovering from frostbitten feet. He
drew a detailed map showing troop movements, fortifications and the path
"With a deafening yell the infuriated Volenteers [sic] with one impulse
made a rush down the steep banks into their very midst when the work of
death commenced in real earnest," Beach wrote. "Midst the roar of guns
and sharp report of Pistols could be herd [sic] the cry for quarters but
their [sic] were no quarters that day."
It has been a painful process for residents of Utah and Southern Idaho
to realize that the Mormon-urged U.S. military operation turned into an
attempt to wipe out the entire Northwest Band of a Shoshoni Indian
tribe. Saturday will mark the 137th anniversary of the massacre by the
Friends of the Native Americans of Northern Utah. A gathering will be
held at the Franklin County Senior Citizens Center in Preston, Idaho.
We've cut three maple tree branches from up in the mountains we'll use
to make a tripod where people can hang flowers, feathers and
remembrances on at the massacre site, " said Kerry Brinkerhoff of
Tremonton. "We just want to let people see there are those who care
about what happened there and don't want the truth forgotten."
The story of what happened on the frosty morning of January 29, 1863 has
many different versions. Plaques on the four-sided stone monuments on
U.S. 91 displays carry three different casualty counts, with the fourth
side, offered to the Shoshoni tribe, remaining blank. Renowned
University of Utah emeritus professor of history, Brigham Madsen wrote a
definitive account in his book, The Shoshoni Frontier and the Bear River
Massacre. He maintained that the U.S. Army was attempting a genocide to
exterminate 250-400 Shoshoni under the command of a colonel who wanted
to make a name for himself.
Madsen, learning of the Beach manuscript in early 1997, found the
manuscript tucked it into an envelope at an estate sale. Jack Irvine
contacted Madsen after learning about his career. Madsen contacted
Schindler to get involved and, " it turned out to be the last thing Hal
wrote before he died," said Madsen. He wanted to ensure that Beach's
manuscript would become part of Utah history. "Sgt. William L. Beach
may have faded way as old soldiers do," Schindler wrote, "but his
recollections of that frigid and terrible day in 1863 at Bear River will
now live forever in Utah annals."
"The fight lasted four hours and appeared more like a frollick [sic]
than a fight," Beach wrote on Feb. l4, 1863. "The wounded cracking
jokes with the frozen, some frozen so bad that they could not load their
guns [and] used them as clubs. No distinctions was made between
Officers and Privates, each fought where he thought he was most needed."
Beach's account puts the number of Indian dead at 280, a higher count
than previously reported. "This is a holy, sacred place to the
descendants of the Indians who were killed there, and for that reason
alone the federal government should ensure the land is protected from
development," said Madsen. "Originally, the tribal members wanted the
land back as their own but they have come to accept that the Park
Service will do the best to protect it and tell the whole story about
what happened there."