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.
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.