Preston Off The Beaten Path
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On a cold morning January 29, 1863 a significant slaughter of a winter gathering of Shoshone Indians took place in this quiet corner of northern Cache Valley. Should the projected estimates of the number of natives killed be accurate then it is the worst massacre of Indians in the US, conspicuously outnumbering deaths at the better known Wounded Knee.
The reason no one knows about it is that few natives survived, there were no photographers, the only parties who even knew it occurred were the cavalry, the natives and the sparse white settlers in the surrounding towns - and they all kept quiet.
In 1860 Mormon settlers moving north from Logan arrived in the area and settled in a town they named Franklin. It is said to be the first white settlement in Idaho. The conflict between the white settlers and the American Natives was as unintentional as it was inevitable.
In 1861 a group of Californians wanted to volunteer to fight in the Civil War. They were organized and placed under the command of Col Patrick E Conner. Conner was born in Ireland and had seen battle in the Mexican War and in California. Instead of heading to the battlefields of the east as they had hoped they were assigned to protect the overland mail route and keep an eye on things in the west. During the summer of 1862 while McClellan was waging the Peninsular Campaign in the East, the California Volunteers marched to Salt Lake City and established Fort Douglas on the east bench of the Salt Lake Valley. Hearing of some disturbances with the Indians in the north perhaps Col. Conner felt there might be a battle for them yet. 220 Cavalry soldiers marched north from Salt Lake to the settlements of Cache Valley.
A few bands of Shoshone Indians had gathered at a traditional winter spot in the lee of a small valley near hot springs on the banks of the Bear River to perform their annual winter "Warm Dance" to encourage the spring to return. In late January many of the visiting tribes left, leaving only about 75 lodges of the Northwestern band under Chief Bear Hunter. On the morning of 29 January with little warning the soldiers came down the bluffs and began firing on the Indians. None were spared. Estimates range from 200-400 killed including old men, women and children. Some drowned trying to escape down the Bear River. The dead were left to the animals.
While later other tribes of Shoshone signed treaties and were assigned to reservations, the Northwestern Band never did.
Today a visitor can see two monuments. The oldest is in a small turnoff on the remote highway across the road from the battlefield. A Daughters of the Utah Pioneer Monument is placed there with a plaque praising the women of Franklin for caring for the wounded soldiers after the battle. Nearby is a tree holding native offerings- dream catchers and other tokens placed to remember the dead. A canal road following the hills takes you closer to the open field now owned by descendants of the survivors.
Further north along the highway another newer monument placed in 2006 with explanations and views of the valley to tell the Shoshone position.
We visited on a cold day in March. The area is little settled, and off the main roads. Close by is the small town of Preston, but mostly it is a rural area with little to indicate the intense clash between two cultures.Related to:
- Historical Travel