According to recent news reports, archeologists from the state of Idaho and Utah State University have pinpointed the site of the 1863 massacre at Bear River. Which is not really big news, as the site has always been known, if not down to the square inch, by Shoshoni descendants and historians.
But farming, floods, railroad and road building, and a shifting river course have altered the terrain beyond recognition of its appearance in 1863. A map by a soldier—whose account also cemented the fact that it was a massacre rather than a battle as official army accounts claimed—helped in locating the Shoshoni village site, along with “modern technology.”
The massacre at Bear River was the first massacre of Indians by the military in the Old West, as well as the worst, with a body count surpassing Wounded Knee and Sand Creek and other better-known tragedies. While 400 to 500 Shoshoni deaths are often reported nowadays, those numbers are inflated and based on accounts with little credibility. Still, the more realistic number of 250 to 350 Shoshoni deaths at soldiers’ hands remains unsurpassed in Old West history.
Still, it is largely forgotten. Few people—even historians—know much, if anything, about the massacre. And that’s unfortunate. You can learn more about it in a chapter of my book The Lost Frontier: Momentous Moments in the Old West You May Have Missed, and in greater detail in my book Massacre at Bear River: First, Worst, Forgotten.