The Bear River - called Bia Ogio or Big River by the Shoshone people - runs west and south through this semiarid valley, eventually emptying into the Great Salt Lake. The river and its many tributaries create diverse natural habitats, from mountain forests to valley grasslands to wetlands, providing for a wide range of plant and animal species.

The site above was used by the Shoshone Indians as a winter home. It lies at the north end of Cache Valley, a fertile swath of land that runs south into Utah and is surrounded by 8,000-foot mountain ranges. Shoshone people called the area Mo-sa-da Kahni, "Home of the Lungs." The geothermal activity and numerous hot springs here provided physical and spiritual rejuvenation for Shoshone families who used this site. One of those hot springs is located just southwest of here.



Before dawn on the bitterly cold day of January 29, Shoshone leader Sagwitch rose early to survey the area. As he looked toward the bluffs to the south he observed what seemed to be a mist or fog crawling down the bluffs across the river from the camp. Suddenly a company of soldiers on horseback appeared. The alarm was raised in the camp and the Shoshone leaders gathered to parley with the soldiers. However, upon fording the river and seeing the mass of Shoshone, the cavalry opened fire and advanced on the camp. At first they were driven back and several soldiers were killed. Eventually, regrouping and reinforced by the infantry, the soldiers attacked the encampment, and what began as a battle quickly became a massacre. The creek bottom, where the Shoshone turned for protection, became instead a trap. Many who were not killed outright drowned while trying to escape in the river. The soldiers, better equipped with guns and ammunition, slaughtered the Indians in hand-to-hand combat. According to the Shoshone, Col. Connor never had any intention of negotiating with their people and arrived with the specific intention of attacking the Indians, leaving them no alternative but death and annihilation. 



After the massacre, the survivors, now under Chief Sagwitch, were aided by other bands as they escaped southward. Most of the bands and tribes made treaties soon thereafter and were moved to restricted reservations, but the Northwestern Band was never granted a reservation. One descendant commented, "I think it had a lot to do with the massacre. They couldn't quite trust the white people." Eventually, the surviving members of the Northwestern Band were taken under the wing of the Mormon Church, and many tribal members were baptizes into the faith. Mormon missionaries also taught the Shoshone American farming techniques and encouraged community assimilation. Efforts in the later were less than successful as tribal members were driven out of several settlements by non-Mormons. In 1880, the church established the farming community of Washakie in northern Utah, a few miles south of the Idaho border. Some band members dispersed to Shoshone reservation at Ft. Hall in Idaho, Wind River in Wyoming, Skull Valley in Utah, and Duck Valley in Nevada.

Today's tribal elders who grew up at Washakie remember the stories their elders told them of the massacre. "Those old people who come over and talk and talk and tell about...how they were saved and who was killed." Younger Shoshone, who did not have direct contact with survivors, now visit the site of the massacre and fel the pain of their ancestors. "You could just feel those lives," one said, "so i know it's a sacred place and it's something that needs to be preserved. Because they didn't have a chance to finish out their live. And I am an product of what they went through and what they suffered.

Most Shoshone people today do not want to dwell on the tragedy or inflame old animosities. They seek understanding and peace among all people. Nevertheless, they also feel an obligation to tell the story of their ancestors, to learn from the mistakes of the past, and to honor the dead. The even was originally named the Battle at Bear River, but was later changed to the Bear River Massacre to more accurately represent the true nature of the conflict. In 1990, the massacre site received National Historic Landmark designation.

In 2002, the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation was returned 26 acres of the massacre field and hopes to acquire more. Every January 29, on the anniversary of the attack, both Indians and non-Indians gather to bless the ground and pray for peace. It is their dream tat one day the Warm Dance, which has not happened since the massacre, will be celebrated again on this sacred ground. Today, the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation continues on in strength and hope.


The four-hour fight left the Shoshone band decimated and terrified. Lodges, food caches and belongings were burned and women and children murdered. Chief Bear Hunter was cruelly tortured to death. When the killing ceased, the massacre field was strewn with bodies, which were left unburied and at the mercy of scavenging animals and people. "The way they were destroyed is beyond any reasoning," says a contemporary tribal member living at Ft. Hall.

Stories told by the survivors of the massacre have been handed down through the years and still have the power to chill the blood with their vivid description of the horrors of that day. Hearth wrenching accounts describe mothers, whose crying babies threatened to give away the location of other hiding tribal members, jumping into the freezing river with children in arms and having the swift current carry them away. It is told that one of these mothers in later years comforted herself with the thought that "my baby is asleep in the river now and she's safe." As the soldiers went through the camp looking for survivors after the massacre, one young boy and his grandmother played dead to avoid being killed. The number of dead varies from the Army's official count of 240 to as many as 500. The best estimate by historians and tribal members is between 250 and 350, making the Bear River Massacre one of the largest mass killings of Indians in U.S. history.

#3 CHANGE AND CONFLICT: End of a Way of Life

The delicate balance in which the Shoshone managed food resources for thousands of years was drastically altered by colonization. By the mid-1800s, the Oregon and California Trails brought thousands of pioneers and gold-seeking miners through the center of Shoshone ancestral lands. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) were colonized north from the Salt Lake Valley and settled in the fertile Cache Valley on the Utah-Idaho border. In establishing their settlements, they plowed up the grasslands that provided precious seeds that were used a food sources by the Shoshone, and destroyed plants that fed buffalo, deer, and other game animals. The lack of understanding between these two cultures and the shortage of resources caused conflicts over land, water, food, and other issues. As a contemporary Shoshone man remarked, "The Shoshone welcomed the settlers and tried to be hospitable, but didn't realize what they had in mind. They retaliated when injustices were done to them, when their very survival was threatened, when their traditional way of life was made impossible."


Battle Creek Area


​Location:  1.2 miles north of the Bear River Massacre Monument at the top of the hill  (east) on Highway 91.

Location:  4.8 miles northwest of Preston on Highway 91


Very few Indians survived an attack here when the California volunteers trapped and wiped out the Cache Valley Shoshoni. Friction between the whites and these Indians, who had suffered from too many years of close contact with fur hunters, led P.E. Connor to set out from Salt Lake on a cold winter campaign. The Shoshoni had a strong position along Battle Creek Canyon just north of here. With a loss of about 400, they met the greatest Indian disaster in the entire West, January 29, 1863.

Location:  4.8 miles northwest of Preston on Highway 91

Three Plaques

BEAR RIVER MASSACRE SITE ​has been designated a National Historical Landmark. This site possesses national significance in commemorating the history of the United States Department of the Interior. 

THE BATTLE OF BEAR RIVER was fought in this vicinity January 29, 1863. Colonel P.E. Connor, leading 300 California Volunteers from Camp Douglas, Utah against Bannock and Shoshone guilty of hostile attacks on emigrants and settlers engaged about 500 Indians of whom 250 to 300 were killed or incapacitated, 90 combatant women and children, 14 soldiers were killed, 4 officers and 49 men wounded of whom 1 officer and 7 men later died; 79 were severely. Chiefs Bear Hunter, Sagwitch, and Lehi were reportedly killed. 175 horses and much stolen property were recovered. 70 lodges were burned. Franklin Count Chapter, Daughters of the Utah Pioneers; Cache Valley Council, Boy Scouts of America; and Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association. No. 186

Erected July, 1953


The Bear River or Battle Creek Massacre was fought in this vicinity on January 29, 1863. In the early morning hours, Colonel P.E. Connor and his California Volunteers from Camp Douglas, Utah, viciously attacked and all but annihilated the Northwestern Shoshone Tribe. The battle was the worst of the west in massacres with most of the action taking place among the frozen river banks and among the willows. Some 400 Indians, two-thirds of the number being women and children, and 22 soldiers were killed.

Additional Information:

Chief Sagwitch Timbimboo escaped the massacre. Chief Bear Hunter was badly beaten and tortured to death by the soldiers. Several other Indians escaped by hiding or by swimming down the river. Two Indian women, two small boys, and a three-year-old girl were taken to Franklin and cared for by the settlers there. The women later joined a group of Indians traveling to Bear Lake. The children were taken into Franklin homes and raised there.

Survivors, led by Chief Sagwitch, traveled to Promontory, Utah, where the remainder of the Northwestern Shoshones was wintering.

The stone marker, erected by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, is one-fourth mile east of where the battle took place. The stones came from all over the county and one was from the Salt Lake Temple. The marker was dedicated July 8, 1963 with Bishop Moroni Timbimboo and his father, Yeager, who had escaped the battle, unveiling the monument. The plaque was placed on the east side of the monument as the highway ran there at that time. Another plaque was placed on the west side when the highway was relocated to the west.

​                                                                                                                                                      -Daughters of Utah Pioneers

#1 THE SHOSHONE: Newe, The People

The Shoshone refer to themselves as Newe, the People. Their ancestral territory reached from the Wind River Range in western Wyoming to the middle of Nevada, and from the Salmon River in the northeastern Idaho to central Utah. The descendants of the band massacred here - the So-so-goi, or "People That Travel on Foot" - today are the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation and live in northeastern Utah and southeastern Idaho.

Traditionally the Shoshone people lived in extended family groups and moved with the seasons to hunt and gather plants and animals that were available at different times of year. In the warm months they would hunt buffalo in Wyoming, catch salmon in northern Idaho, gather pine nuts in northern Utah and Nevada, and collect plants and hunt deer and small animals wherever they camped. Winter was spent settled in the southern reaches of their territory or in sheltered areas such as the bend of the Bear River at the site below.


The tensions between the Shoshone and the settlers eventually led to a call from Utah territorial leaders for help from the Army, but the Civil War was on and military resources were stretched thin. In 1861, the Third California Volunteer Infantry had formed in Stockton under the command of Col. Patrick Edward Connor. To their dismay, the Volunteers were not assigned to serve in the war effort, but instead were called to protect the Overland Mail Route. In the summer of 1862, they marched from Stockton, California, to Salt Lake City in the Utah Territory and established Fort Douglas. After reports of horses stolen by the Shoshone and skirmishes between Indians and miners in early 1863, Col. Connor saw his chance for reprisal. A supply convoy left Salt Lake for the Bear River on January 21, followed three days later by 220 cavalry soldiers. A few days before, several bands of Shoshone had joined together here for a Warm Dance, a yearly time of prayer for renewal, fruitful growth, and the return of spring. One Shoshone medicine man had a vision of a great battle in which many of his people were killed, prompting the visiting bands to pack up and move to other winter campgrounds. So on January 29, only the 75 remaining lodges of the Northwestern Band, under chief Bear Hunter, were camped below near the bend of the Bear River.

Location:  4.8 miles northwest of Preston on Highway 91


Directly west of this highway, an old 1878 railway grade is still visible, although trains have not used it since 1890. 

Jay Gould - a nationally prominent financier and Union Pacific owner  - extended Utah Northern service north from Franklin to Montana by 1880. A narrow-gauge line until 1887, it helped build up Cache Valley and accounted for many new Idaho cities and towns farther north. But small, wood-burning locomotives had a hard time ascending this hill. After a more direct route four miles west of here was completed, service north of Preston was abandoned on this grade.

Bear River Massacre Monument Updated

The Preston Citizen, October 14, 2020
      The 1932 version that is currently on the memorial “was written by a leading citizen in Preston at a time when there was limited information about the event, especially from the Shoshone point of view.  Many details are inaccurate and no mention is made of the Indians’ side of the story,” said Alexis Beckstead, Company President of the DUP.  The plaque has the approval of the Northwestern Band of Shoshone Nation.

     The new plaque says the following:

     In memory of the estimated four hundred men, women and children of the Northwestern Shoshone Nation who were brutally massacred in this vicinity January 29, 1863, by the U.S. Army California volunteers from Fort Douglas, Utah, under the command of Colonel Patrick E. Connor.  The attack took place in the early morning hours against a group of people with limited defense and without peaceful means first being sought when a conflict arose.  Twenty-three soldiers died as a result of the encounter.  Chief Sagwitch and other survivors joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, established a thriving farming community known as Washakie, and many helped build the Logan Temple.