Idaho gets grant to study Bear River Massacre site

BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho State Historical Society has received a $56,000 grant to study the Bear River Massacre site in southeastern Idaho where as many as 500 members of the Northwestern Shoshone were killed in a surprise attack by U.S. soldiers in 1863.

KTVB-TV reports that the money received earlier this month from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program will be used to study the site in the Cache Valley just north of the Utah-Idaho line.

State Archaeologist Ken Reid said researchers will try to determine the boundaries of the site and survey it using metal detectors and ground penetrating radar.

“What I want to find is the footprint of the 68 Shoshone winter lodges,” said Reid. “That’s where most of the fighting and most of the killing occurred.”

He also hopes to find musket balls and other metal artifacts.

On Jan. 29, 1863, Col. Patrick Edward Connor led about 200 California Volunteers in an attack on a friendly encampment of the Shoshone near the confluence of the Bear River and Beaver Creek.

“It started out as a battle, and it ended up as a massacre, essentially, is what happened,” said Reid.

Estimates of the number of dead range from 240 to 500, including many women and children. About 120 Shoshone survived.

“In terms of the documented number of people it’s the largest number in all the western Indian wars,” said Reid.

Shoshone tribal members will be a part of the project with main field work to start next summer at the site.

“It was huge for us because it basically annihilated our entire existence of our people,” said Jason Walker, Chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation.

It’s unclear what might still remain at the site after 150 years. Reid said the river channel has also meandered over the years.

“It’s been years and years of cattle grazing, horse grazing all through there,” said Walker. “So it will be interesting to see what they find.”

The site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990.

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