This year’s Bear River Massacre memorial starts at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29, at the site of the Bear River Massacre, about 2.5 miles northwest of Preston, Idaho, on U.S. 91. The ceremony is open to the public.
This year’s ceremony takes on added meaning with the return of the remains of two members of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone killed in the massacre, and a reading of victims’ names.
The remains were in the Smithsonian Institution from 1898 until Jan. 9 of this year — that’s when Darren Parry, vice-chairman of the tribe, went to Washington, D.C., to bring them home.
“Friday (Jan. 11), I was driving to Brigham City in the snow, going really slow, with the remains on the back seat of my car,” said Parry.
That’s when he received a call from Scott Christensen, an archivist at the LDS Church History Library in Salt Lake City. He told Parry that a service missionary had put together a list of about 50 people who died as a result of the massacre.
“We didn’t know any names,” said Parry. “Indians didn’t write things down.”
The list — not complete, but more than was known before — came from an old ledger of the Washakie Ward.
“Sagwitch’s people joined the LDS church in 1873, 10 years after the massacre, and became fully engaged in Mormonism,” said Christensen, author of the book “Sagwitch: Shoshone Chieftan, Mormon Elder, 1882-1887” (Utah State University Press, 1999).
After joining the church, they lived in Washakie in Box Elder County and helped build the Logan Temple.
“When they entered the temple, they were there to do work on behalf of their deceased ancestors,” Christensen explained.
A written record of the temple work, from 1885, includes names of tribe members who died in 1863 — the year of the massacre. A column in the ledger lists relationships, showing that survivors of the massacre were vicariously baptized for parents, siblings and other relatives who perished.
“When he called me, and said this is what we just found, the hair on my neck stood up,” said Parry. “I wondered if these people on my back seat had their temple work done, and we know their names.”
The list of names will be read by an elder of the tribe during the memorial ceremony.
“Finally, we have real names of real people, so they can be acknowledged — perhaps more personally than we’ve ever been able to honor them before,” said Christensen.
The remains will be buried in the spring, in the old Washakie cemetery.
Overview of the Bear River Massacre Memorial service:
• Welcome by Darren Parry, vice chairman of the Northerwestern Band of the Shoshone
• Flag/honor song by the Spring Creek Singers, from Fort Hall
• Opening prayer by Larry Neaman, councilman
• Recognition of visitors
• History presentation by Scott Christensen, author of “Sagwitch: Shoshone Chieftan, Mormon Elder, 1882-1887”
• Musical number by “Bird,” flute player from Pocatello, Idaho
• Tribal Members Voice, Jason Walker, chairman
• Closing prayer by Jeff Parry, councilman
• Smudge (cleansing with smoke from a fire)