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The Conflict at Bear River: Primary Sources

historical photo

This monument at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City honors the soldiers who attacked the Shoshone village.

Attack at Bear River – The basic story

On January 29, 1863, U.S. troops from Fort Douglas attacked a group of Shoshone Indians camped along the Bear River near Franklin, Idaho, across today’s Utah-Idaho border.  At the end of the attack, more than 250 Shoshone had been killed – many of them women and children.  Eighteen soldiers had been killed or wounded.

Finding answers in primary sources

Why did the attack happen? Who was involved?  What did the participants say and remember about the attack?

Historians use primary sources to try to answer questions like this. Primary sources can include letters, diaries, and newspaper articles, written at the time an event happened, by people who saw, heard about, or experienced that event.  Because different people describe the same event in different ways, for different reasons, historians read many kinds of primary sources to learn about the past.

historical photo

Members of Shoshone leader Pocatello's band.

Battle or massacre? 

Some people call the conflict at Bear River a battle—a fight between two armies or opposing forces.

Some people call the conflict a massacre—an act of killing a large number of humans indiscriminately and cruelly.

Which was it?

Primary sources can help answer all these questions. As you read these sources, think about what these accounts tell us.

Sources about conditions before the event.

Sources about the event.