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A History of Conflicts

During the 1850s and 60s there were many conflicts between Shoshone people and Anglo Americans--settlers in Cache Valley and emigrants traveling to Oregon and California.    

Look at the following primary sources. Why were the Shoshone threatened by settlers and travelers?  Why were the emigrants and settlers upset with the Shoshones?  How did these conflicts contribute to the battle/massacre?

Most of the sources included here are written by Anglo settlers.  Unfortunately, we have few Shoshone sources.  But as you read the sources, see how much you can understand about Shoshone conditions, as well as the settlers' point of view.

Early Cache Valley settler Walter Walters described conditions in the summer of 1859:

During the summer the first hostile Indians came upon us we thought it was the end   They Paraded around and danced and Sang  They were all painted ready for war  There were about fifty of them   of us there was not twenty five or thirty  We had not arms worth anything  They was well armed and it would be foly to fight for they could have killed us all without trouble…. They wanted Beef flower tea and sugar   Tea and Sugar was out of question and we had but little Flower  But every body divided what they had and Peter Maughan Sent a man after a Beef  So the Indians killed the Beef and took what flower they could get and finely went of.

(Source: Brigham Madsen, The Shoshone Frontier and the Bear River Massacre. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1985, pp. 99.)

Mary Ann Weston Maughan was the wife of Peter Maughan, leader of the settlement at Cache Valley. In her personal history she wrote:

On the 4th of July, 1860, an express reached Logan from Smithfield, stating the Indians had killed 2 of the Brethren, Ira Merrick and john Reed, and others were wounded; also the Indian Chief Pugwanee.  Bros. P. Maughan, J. Ricks, G.L. Ferrell and 25 Minute Men rode to Smithfield.  They found one Indian hid in the grass, and took him prisoner, and put him under guard in Logan. 

On the same day Bear Hunter and his Band made a rush on Logan, intending to release the prisoner and sweep everything before them, but to their surprise they were received in military order by having 100 rifles pointed at them.  This made them sue for peace, which lasted a while. 

In May we moved to Logan, Mr. Maughan having built 3 log rooms…. In June some 1,000 Indians entered this Valley and camped on the Church Farm.  The brethren were on guard day and night to protect themselves and stock.  The Indians, finding the people ready for them, gave it up, stole some horses, and went away…. October 1st.  Word was brought to Logan that the Bannock Indians were gathering at Soda Springs for a raid on Cache Valley.  25 men were sent to Franklin, but the Indians, finding the people ready for them, did not come.  But they were troublesome all summer.”

(Source: Kate B. Carter, ed. Our Pioneer Heritage, vol. 2. Salt Lake City, Utah: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1959, pp. 387-389.)

In a letter dated after the fighting at Bear River, Indian Agent James Doty wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs: 

historical photo

A Shoshone camp in the 1870s.

The scarcity of game in these territories, and the occupation of the most fertile portions thereof by our settlements, reduced these Indians to a state of extreme destitution, and for several years past they have been almost literally compelled to resort to plunder in order to obtain the necessaries of life.  It is not to be expected that wild and warlike people will tamely submit to the occupation of their country by another race, and to starvation as a consequence therof.

(Source: Brigham D. Madsen, “Shoshone-Bannock Marauders on the Oregon Trail, 1859-1863.” Utah Historical Quarterly, Vol. 35, number 1, pp. 3-30.)

In an Indian Affairs Report written in 1863, Chief Pocatello explained:

The hearts of his [Pocatello’s] people were very bad against the whites; that there were some things that he could not manage, and among them were the bad thoughts of his young men towards the whites, on account of the deeds of the whites towards his tribe.  Many of the relatives of his young men had been killed, and nothing but the death of a white man could atone for this.

(Source: Brigham D. Madsen, “Shoshone-Bannock Marauders on the Oregon Trail, 1859-1863," pp. 3-30.)

Mormon Apostle Wilfred Woodruff’s February 3, 1863, journal entry tells about events that led up to the massacre: 

Colonel [Patrick E.] Connor sent a part of his command to the Indians to get a white boy that was among them.  They got the boy but killed a number of Indians and then returned to Camp Douglas, near the city [Salt Lake City].  Thereupon, the Indians began killing more white men.  Col. Connor then sent against them sixty infantry and fifteen baggage wagons.  Later, he sent three hundred cavalry.  They found the Indians encamped near the Bear River, which they had to ford in order to get to them.

(Source: Kate B. Carter, ed. Our Pioneer Heritage vol. 7, p.3.)

Marry Ann Weston Maughan added further details in her history:

November 23rd 1862. Seventy Cavalrymen from Camp Douglas had a fight with Bear Hunter’s band, near Providence.  The soldiers were sent by Col. Connor to recover a white child that the Indians had stolen from Oregon.  They had painted its face, but its light hair and blue eyes told the white people that it was not a Indian.  They gave up the child.

(Source: Kate B. Carter, ed. Our Pioneer Heritage, vol. 2, pp. 387-389.)

Go to primary sources about the fight.