"Returning from the Battle of Bear River: A painting glorifying the Anglo victory over the Shoshone. Orrin Porter Rockwell is the man waving his hat.
In early morning January 1863, 200 U.S. soldiers attacked a group of Shoshone camped for the winter on the Bear River (just north of today’s Utah/Idaho state line. In all, they killed at least 250 men, women, and children.
The Bear River Massacre, like the Walker War and so many other tragic conflicts, resulted from tensions between new settlers and the original occupants of the land they settled on.
The Mormons had begun moving into Cache Valley in 1860. But the Northwestern Shoshone had used that valley for generations, gathering and hunting food there. In a very short time, the settlers’ farming and livestock crowded out the traditional Shoshone food sources.
Desperate and nearly starving, some individuals begged for food. Others raided the new farms and stole cattle. Some attacked emigrants on the Oregon Trail. In return, white settlers killed some Shoshone.
After several incidents of violence, Colonel Patrick Edward Connor was called in to resolve the situation, along with 200 California Volunteers. They chose to attack the Shoshone winter quarters, located at the junction of Bear River and Beaver.
The Shoshone were ready for them, and had posted men around the camp to defend it. After an initial attempt to charge the camp straight on resulted in casualties for Connor’s men, they surrounded the village and began shooting.
Two hours after the fight started, the Shoshone had run out of ammunition for their guns. Connor and his men continued shooting until they had killed most of the men. Afterwards, soldiers went through the camp, raping and killing the women that survived as well as the children. They burned the homes, took wheat and horses, and left.
The number of Shoshone killed is uncertain. It was probably at least 250—more than any other of the Indian massacres in the American West.