Idaho Indian Battles


Pierres Hole, Idaho

Pierres Hole, Idaho

Battle of Pierre’s Hole, Idaho (1832) – Taking place after the 1832 trapper’s rendezvous, much of the hostilities seem to have been initiated by Antoine Godin and Baptiste Dorian, trappers who had attended the rendezvous. See full article HERE.

Ward Massacre (1854) – On August 20, 1854, a large but dispersed wagon train on the Oregon Trail was attacked just east of present-day Caldwell, Idaho. For whatever reasons, the larger train had split up into three sections, all of which were headed to Fort Boise. When Alexander Ward’s five-wagon train from Johnson County, Missouri was passing through Canyon County a war party of Shoshone and Snake Indians came upon the group of 20 emigrants. When one of the Indians tried to take a horse by force, one of the travelers shot the warrior down. The Indians immediately retaliated in an extremely brutal manner, killing all except two of the Ward children.

Wagon Train

Wagon Train

Afterward, the U.S. Army retaliated against the Indians, which so enraged the local tribes that both Fort Boise and Fort Hall were soon abandoned, making the Oregon Trail unsafe without military escort until the 1862 gold rush.

Today, the Ward Memorial Park is dedicated to the victims of the massacre, and the monuments and informational markers in this park serve to pay tribute to the dangers emigrants faced while traveling the Oregon Trail.

Attack on Fort Lemhi (1858) – During the short period of 1855-1858, President Brigham Young sent a small number of men to establish a settlement some 400 miles north of Salt Lake City near present-day Baker, Idaho. The post was named after a king in the Book of Mormon. Quickly, the community grew to over 200 people who earned their livings by irrigated farming and stock raising. Though the Mormons had established good relations among the Shoshone and Bannock in the Lemhi Valley, the Indians were becoming unhappy about the growth of Mormon settlements and began to rebel. At the same time,

Site of Fort Lemhi today

Site of Fort Lemhi today

Thomas S. Smith, the presiding elder at the mission, was becoming unhappy with the Indians, complaining to Brigham Young about how impudent and unmanageable they had become.

On February 25, 1858, about 250 Bannock and Shoshone warriors descended on Fort Lemhi, where they killed two herders, wounded five other men, and drove off 255 cattle and horses. Afterward, the fort was abandoned.

Utter-Van Ornum Massacre – In 1860 one of the worst massacres along the Oregon Trail took place in Idaho. The Van Ornum party assembled in Southern Wisconsin and departed in May 1860, most headed for Oregon’s Willamette Valley. No other Oregon Trail wagon train suffered greater losses than the Utter-Van Ornum wagon train of 1860. See Full Article HERE.

Bear River Massacre (1863) – Also called the Battle of Bear River or Massacre at Boa Ogoi, this attack of a Shoshone encampment by the United States Army occurred near present-day Preston, Idaho on January 29, 1863.

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

Shoshone camp

Shoshone camp

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 for burial, the Indians’ bodies were left on the field for the wolves and crows.

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 which today deserves greater attention.

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


Compiled by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated April 2018.


The Clio

Idaho Indian Encounters

Mormon Historic Sites

Utah History to Go

Also See:

Indian War Timeline

Indian Wars, Battles & Massacres

Military Campaigns of the Indian Wars

Three Indian Campaigns

Indian Wars of the Frontier West by Emerson Hough

Winning The West: The Army In The Indian Wars

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