For several years now, I have been obsessed with the Massacre at Bear River. I can’t say for sure when this obsession took hold, but I do remember why.
The history of the American West has always been of interest to me, and that interest has always included our growing nation’s history of eliminating any competition for the land and its resources. In other words, the systematic exclusion and eradication of the native tribes that occupied the land.
At some point in my education, after years of study, I learned about the Massacre at Bear River where, on 29 January 1863, the United States Army launched a dawn attack on a Shoshoni village and killed some 250 to 350 men, women, children, and babies. Most of the dead were noncombatants. And the annihilation included rape and torture, as well as the destruction of food, clothing, lodges, and the theft of the horse herds on which the people relied. It was the deadliest massacre of American Indians by the Army in all of Western history.
I was astounded—dumbfounded—that such a pivotal event had largely escaped notice in American history. Little had been written about it, and most of what had been published was incomplete at best, and inaccurate at worst.
Thus began my obsession. The result, to date, is represented above. I have written a lot about the Massacre at Bear River. Most recently, a novel. Before that, in no particular order, a nonfiction book and shorter pieces of nonfiction included in a book and for a magazine. Short fiction for an anthology, and published in my own collection of short stories. Poems in an anthology and a chapbook. And a poem that became a song.
There may well be more to come, as the Massacre at Bear River continues to haunt me.
When January 29 rolls around again, as it will in a few weeks, I hope to be at the site of the Massacre at Bear River to once again join the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation in honoring their departed ancestors, who have yet to claim their proper place in history.