Since my long-ago college days I have had a more-than-passing interest in the history of American Indians. My shelves contain many books on the subject. But none has affected my research and writing more directly than The Shoshoni Frontier and the Bear River Massacre by Brigham D. Madsen.
The book covers the history of the Northern Shoshoni from early contact with whites around 1840, until the ratification of treaties with the United States government in 1864. Included in the story, of course, are some 40 pages treating the Bear River Massacre, during which US Army troops slaughtered somewhere between 250 and 350 Indians—the worst massacre of Indians by the army in the history of the West. Included in the book is Shoshoni historian Mae Parry’s account of the massacre.
That such a tragedy could be largely lost to history intrigued me. I set out to learn more about it, including the privilege of talking with the author, Brigham Madsen, on several occasions.
Reading The Shoshoni Frontier and the Bear River Massacre led to my writing Massacre at Bear River: First, Worst, Forgotten as well as a chapter on the subject in my book The Lost Frontier: Momentous Moments in the Old West You May Have Missed, a short story, a magazine article, several poems, and even the lyrics to a song, “And the River Ran Red.”
But it was not only the subject matter of the book that intrigued me. Besides being one of the West’s foremost historians and experts on American Indians, Madsen was a fine writer. This book, as well as the many others he wrote, is well worth reading.