This monument at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City honors the soldiers who attacked the Shoshone village.
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.
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.
Members of Shoshone leader Pocatello's band.
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.