The Bear River Massacre commemoration was not always the production it is today. Allen Swainston believes his mother, Genial, was one of the first to recognize the significance of the event.
She would take scouts to what was the Battle of Bear River site marked by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers rock marker along U.S. Highway 91 when he was just a boy in the 1960s.
She would tell scouts the story of General Patrick Edward Connor leading a detachment of well-armed California Volunteers to attack a band of about 500 Northwest Band of Shoshone along the Bear River bottoms, northwest of Preston. The DUP memorial was built in 1932, almost 70 years after the January 29, 1863 event.
Swainston said, eventually, his mother made up a slide show. He narrated it and she had a local musician, Carolyn Bennett Crawford, record a song for the presentation. Genial found and copied pictures of Native Americans for the show.
“At the time, there was not much sympathy for the Shoshone,” Swainston said. “The script was more inclined to show our perspective. We felt like Colonel Conner was upset he was sent to babysit the Mormons. He wanted to be known as an Indian fighter.”
“It took a lot of time to get things going,” Swainston said. “We did slide tape presentations throughout 1974 and 1975. She would go to schools, churches or wherever someone showed some interest.”
It was easier to take her slides and show them than take people to the site. After a while, she formed the Battle of Bear River Association, with other interested people, to help draw attention to the massacre.
Mae Timbimboo Parry, who was the secretary to the Tribal Council at the time, became a member of the group mostly as an advisor. Mae’s paternal great-grandfather, Yeager Timbimboo, was one of the few survivors of the massacre at Bear River.
Allie Hansen got involved in about 1984, she saw something in the newspaper and knew something of the Northwest Band of Shoshone which sparked her interest. Devon Warrick and Elaine Johnson also joined Genial in her efforts.
“The more we got involved, the more there was to do,” Hansen said. “We even went around and spoke to civic groups in the surrounding counties.”
The group decided to push for recognition of the site as a national landmark, and change the name to the Bear River Massacre Site.
“When they started to travel, it was more than they could afford; they approached the county and began to seek help,” she said. “Hansen and her husband, Clair, traveled to California to speak to the National Park Advisory Board.”
Elliott Larsen, the Franklin County Clerk at the time, said the county supported them with a little money.
“It was just enough to keep them going,” Larsen said.
The group was successful in getting the name changed and having it designated as a national landmark in 1990, the same year Geniel Swainston died of cancer.
After 12 years of putting all of her efforts into the cause, Hansen decided to she couldn’t do it anymore. Her health was starting to become a factor. She had to stop 1996.
Patti Timbimboo Madsen, the cultural arts chairman for the Northwest Band of Shoshone, said they acquired 26 acres of the massacre site in 2003 to protect it as a sacred burial ground. That’s when they started having the memorial services.
Since then, they have continued to buy property used by ancestors for generations to gather during the cold of winter.
“Last January we bought another 550 acres, then another 27 acres,” said Northwest Band of Shoshone Chairman Darren Parry. “We recently closed on another 100 acres.”
The Native American group intends to erect an interpretive center, costing over $5 million, to memorialize the victims of the massacre. They have received a donation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Utah’s Attorney General Sean Reyes said he was trying to get some money from the Utah State Legislature.