Amateur archeologist questions Bear River Massacre location
The findings of an amateur archeologist suggest that the actual site of the Bear River Massacre may lay a mile west of the traditionally accepted site.
Patrick Mahoney says he has has recovered dozens of military artifacts that can be dated to the time period of the conflict, items that would be unique to the battle site.
For example, he found spent shell casings complete with Union markings stamped on them. In 1863, when the massacre occurred, ammunition used by the California Volunteers against the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation would have been issued by the Union forces of the United States of America.
The California Volunteers were stationed in Utah to protect the mail route between Nevada and Wyoming, and their leader, Col. Patrick O’Connor, was hoping for a decisive victory to influence a station for him in the Civil War. It was not to be. Instead, he remained stationed in Utah until the end of his military career in 1866.
But the remains of his now-infamous legacy, said Mahoney, all lay where they were left on that bloody January morning 155 years ago.
Mahoney said he first began visiting the Bear River Massacre Memorial services Jan. 29, 1982.
At the time, he was an actor in a Civil War military fife and drum corps attached to the California Volunteers from Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City. He and his companions began attending the memorial in full Civil War military uniforms.
But as he continued to research about the volunteers, he started to realize that the military records of the event didn’t tell the whole story. He found himself deeply saddened at the loss of Native American life that frigid morning in 1863.
Mahoney continued to attend the memorial services, but not in uniform. He also continued to research. He studied a copy of a map drawn by a Sgt. Beach, a member of the Second Regiment of the Calvary, while he recovered from frozen feet received while fighting at the massacre. The map was published in the Utah Historical Quarterly and is in the possession of Jeff Schindler, whose father received it from a historian in California.
The map was dated Feb. 15, 1863, and contained a short narrative describing the massacre for a local historian.
Mahoney studied that map, as well as one drawn by James Martineau, a surveyor for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1800s who worked with another surveyor named Jesse Fox. That map is located in the church’s special collections department. At the time of the massacre, Fox was living in Franklin, where he surveyed the “South Fields” of Franklin for the town’s first settlers, states the Trail Blazer. Martineau lived in Richmond.
Mahoney noticed that neither map matched the terrain where he was told the massacre had happened — up the draw just west of State Highway 91 near the massacre site monument erected by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers in the 1930s.
A popular theory as to why the terrain didn’t match the draw near the DUP monument was that when the Winder Dam washed out in 1911, it changed the course of the Bear River.
When Google Earth became available, Mahoney said he started to look at the terrain surrounding the area and discovered another draw with landmarks that match Beach and Martineau’s maps, even today.
Mahoney was thrilled. In 2007, he visited the site, finding it in keeping with the landmarks on the satellite images and the historic maps.
Recognizing that the Shoshone who lost their lives there had never been buried, he took his findings to the Shoshone tribe and felt they were well received. He visited with Clair Bosen, who had found an 1850 foot-officer’s sword among the cedar trees where the California volunteers flanked the Native Americans fighting from behind reinforcements along Beaver Creek.
Mahoney says his research has also recovered additional primary accounts that verify the high loss of life that day. A journal entry, made by a Hans Jasperson, written in 1911, states that Jasperson was on the site just days after the massacre. His description of the site matches the maps and includes a count of 493 dead Native Americans.
Mahoney’s work has not been officially accepted by the leading archeologists on the site, Ken Cannon and Ken Reid. Cannon, who worked out of Utah State University, and Reid, from the Idaho State Historical Society, based their work on a map drawn by Franklin County Surveyor W.K. Aitken in 1925.
Reid said they based their work on the Aitken map because it was drawn after the first hydro project on the Bear River was completed, locking the river’s channel in place.
Darren Parry, chief of the Northwest Band of the Shoshone Nation, said his people believe that when their ancestors gathered for their annual celebration along the Bear River, upwards of 3,000 people camped in the valley. Lots of Indian artifacts have been gathered out of the traditionally accepted ravine over the last century.
Tracy Kofoed, who grew up in a house that once stood about a block west and north of the Bear River Massacre Monument, remembers finding many arrowheads up the ravine and watching re-enactments there as a youth.
“That’s why it is called Battle Creek,” he said.
But Mahoney says careful observation of the terrain shows that the original path of the creek moves to the west of the site and north of the canal, crossing the road just above where he says the actual conflict took place.
He also says the difference between artifacts found in the traditional area and the ones he finds is that his are from the military – and so define the location of the actual battle.
Some members of the tribal council of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation asked Mahoney to show them where he found the artifacts when he presented them to the council last month.
“It changes your perspective — they (members of the tribe in 1863) were really boxed in. They had nowhere to go,” said Gwen Timbimboo Davis, who records council meeting notes for the tribe.
Despite Mahoney’s discovery of items that confirm the Native accounts of the presence of US military, other current tribal elders are not interested in further mapping for additional artifacts.
“I understand that finding them is interesting, but it’s sacred ground,” said Michael Gross, a member of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation. He and another council member, Brad Parry, say they already knew where the final battle scene was, because they grew up with the oral history of their people. They trust it and don’t need artifacts for proof, they said.
Councilman Jeff Parry said he has been approached by several tribal elders pleading that the ground be left undisturbed.
Ironically, that is exactly what Mahoney hoped his discoveries would accomplish. Finding the artifacts, he feels, will help define an area that should remain undeveloped in the future, he said.