Bear River Massacre, Idaho


Shoshone Camp, about 1900.

Shoshone Camp, about 1900.

The Bear River Massacre, also called the Battle of Bear River or Massacre at Boa Ogoi, was an attack on a Shoshone encampment by the United States Army that occurred near present-day Preston, Idaho on January 29, 1863.

At that time, the Cache Valley was the traditional hunting ground for the Northwestern Shoshone. Here, the tribe gathered grain and grass seeds, as well as fished for trout and hunted small and large game

However, as more travelers and settlers came through the area, it reduced their food supply and changed their lifestyle.

After years of skirmishes and food raids on farms and ranches, Colonel Patrick Edward Connor and about 200 California Volunteers, with the help of Brigham Young’s Utah Militia attacked a Northwestern Shoshone winter village at the confluence of the Bear River and Beaver Creek in what was then southeastern Washington Territory.

“Look like there is something up on the ridge up there. Look like a cloud. Maybe it is steam come from a horse. Maybe that’s them soldiers they were talking about.”

— Chief Sagwitchm noting the approach of American soldiers

Approximately 250 Shoshone were slain, including 90 women and children. After the slaughter ended, some of the undisciplined soldiers went through the Indian village raping women and using axes to bash in the heads of women and children who were already dying of wounds. Chief Bear Hunter was killed along with sub-chief, Lehi. The troops burned the 75 Indian lodges, recovered 1,000 bushels of wheat and flour, and appropriated 175 horses. While the troops cared for their wounded and took their dead back to Camp Douglas in Salt Lake City for burial, the Indians’ bodies were left on the field for the wolves and crows.

Shoshone Chief Sagwitch

Shoshone Chief Sagwitch

Though the death toll was large, some Shoshone survived, including Chief Sagwitch who gathered survivors to keep his community alive. The remaining Shoshone then moved to a temporary encampment near Franklin, Idaho.

In the battle, the California Volunteers suffered 14 soldiers killed and 49 wounded, seven mortally.

The Bear River Massacre has been overlooked in the history of the American West chiefly because it occurred during the Civil War when a more important struggle was taking place in the East. Of the six major Indian massacres in the Far West, from Bear River in 1863 to Wounded Knee in 1890, the Bear River affair resulted in the most victims, an event that today deserves greater attention.

The site is located near the present-day city of Preston in Franklin County, Idaho.

By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated February 2020.

Also See:

Idaho Indian Battles

Indian War Timeline

Indian Wars, Battles & Massacres

Military Campaigns of the Indian Wars


Geneology Trails

2 thoughts on “Bear River Massacre, Idaho”

  1. Brigham Young never did send the Utah Militia to kill the Natives in the Bear River Massacre. The Church members were working with the Natives to convert them to the Church, and had a gave them food and tried to have peaceful relations. The Natives in Salt Lake City area and southward were NOT Shoshone and there was no problem with them ever.
    The volunteers you mention were soldiers sent from California under the direction of Colonel Patrick E Connor to make sure the members of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints behaved themselves. Even though Utah Territory didn’t became a state until 1896. The Pioneers of Utah would never be part of the military raid which was authorized by President James Buchanan in 1857. The Church members were forced out of the United States and they began colonizing Utah Territory to free themselves from all the murders and horrors which drove them to the Great Basin from their homes in Illinois, Missouri, and other places. President Buchanan wanted Brigham Young replaced by Alfred Cumming 3 February 1851. My great grandfather Alexander Cowan was one of the many pioneers who arrived in Salt Lake City in 1850 and moved to Payson, Utah in 1862, six weeks after my grandfather John Mitchell Cowan was born to Alex and Jane Mitchell Cowan. The massacre was solely invented by Colonel Patrick Conner. Bad man, Bad Idea. He was so proud of ridding Idaho of the “Indian Problem” by murdering 250 innocents in winter camp.

  2. Many despicable acts were done to numerous native American tribes during those years of westward expansion. As with the horrific treatment of blacks up until the 1960s, America has much to be ashamed of, however, as I say to those who would site these failures of human nature as reasons to be offended or to obtain financial advantage today, ‘You have not been enslaved and I have never owned any slaves or burned any homes.’ All Americans today have the same opportunities to thrive and prosper regardless of what the media wants to portray and some politicians spew from their overpaid mouths. Anyone who claims that they don’t are making excuses for their own personal failings.

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