PRESTON – Hundreds of visitors joined the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation on Wednesday to memorialize those lost in the 1863 Bear River massacre.
The ceremony, commemorating the 157th anniversary of the massacre, was held at the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Historical Marker north of Preston.
The guest speaker was Larry Echo Hawk, who currently serves as Special Counsel for Indian Affairs for the Governor and Attorney General of the State of Utah. He is also an Emeritus General Authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Echo Hawk said he first became aware of the Bear River massacre in 1977 after he was hired by the Fort Hall Indian Reservation as a tribal attorney.
“I remember driving down this highway and seeing a historical marker and stopping to read the historic monument,” he said.
After years of research by a number of people, “the historical presentation moved from being a battle to what I believe it really is, a massacre of native people,” said Echo Hawk.
The Bear River massacre was the single greatest loss of Indian lives in American history. On the morning of January 29, 1863, Col. Patrick Edward Conner and about 200 California volunteers attacked the winter camp of the Northwest Shoshone in the area near Preston along the Bear River. Between 250 and 500 Shoshone men, women and children were killed, homes were burned, supplies and horses were stolen.
“It is fitting that we gather here annually to commemorate that sad day. It is a day of remembrance,” said Echo Hawk.
“It is vitally important that we retain that history, because we learn from history. It is vitally important also that we create a new history, different and better chapters of history,” he added. “It is important to remembers those sad days of the past so that we can do better.”
In an effort to continue to remember those who lost their lives, an interpretive center will be built overlooking the site.
“My hope is that we can tell our story as a Shoshone culture from the beginning until now with the Bear River massacre being a significant point,” explained project manager Bradley Parry.
Parry said architects are close to finishing a design for a building at the site and he hopes to begin construction this summer.
The project will cost over $6 million and Parry said they have raised half of the money, so far.
“We are going to do a total restoration of the actual land as though it would have looked in 1863, so that’s going to cost a few more dollars,” he said. “We hope people will come and learn about our culture and about the community here.”
Tribal Chairman Darren Parry spoke during the ceremony and encouraged those in attendance to be leaders in their communities, serve others and exercise compassion.
“I can’t change history,” he said. “I don’t want to change history, but I can change the future and so can you.”
Parry continued, “Some of the greatest crimes in history were not caused by hatred, but indifference. I believe it is now time for good people to stand up and make a difference.”