Bear River Massacre and the Making of History, The
Publication Year: 2004
Published by: State University of New York Press
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On January 29, 1863, Union-affiliated California militiamen, with the silent consent of Abraham Lincoln, attacked a band of 450 Northwestern Shoshoni sleeping along the Bear River in southeastern Idaho, slaughtering about 280 men, women, and children. After the fighting, the troops interrupted their pillaging to rape native women, some of whom were dying from their wounds. ...
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This work would not exist without the kindly intervention of several forces and friends. I owe a debt to all of my teachers, but in this case am especially grateful to Hunter Gray (n
PART I: THE BEAR RIVER MASSACRE
1. WHAT (WE THINK) HAPPENED
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To begin with, the Cache Valley would become a geological and climactic phenomenon. It would be a valley to die for. Back in Triassic times, about 250 million years ago, North America moved west, bumping up against the floor of the Pacific Ocean. The continental plate crumbled along its western edge, and the oceanic crust began to slide down into the hot mantle of the earth. The compressed western edge of the continent crammed into the fractures we call thrust faults, while the oceanic floor, jammed underneath, served to raise a welt, to elevate the continent further. ...
PART II: THE MAKING OF HISTORY
2. HOW IT CAME TO ME
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...It’s a dark and stormy December night (really, it is) when I finally get in my pickup and head down to Preston, Idaho, for the second of four public hearings. It’s 1995. The hearings will gather the opinions of locals regarding the National Park Service proposal to build a National Historic Site at the location of the Bear River Massacre. I don’t feel like going. At Idaho State University, where I teach English, it’s the last week of classes. ...
3. THE TRUTH TOUR
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Dr. Spude’s comment at the hearing, about stories—too many stories—follows me for two and a half years. How are the stories being told, anyway? Because really, I’m not sure this whole notion of building a historic site in order to protect history—is a realistic thing. History seems like something that keeps changing. And place—place is so static. Sure. Let’s build a historic site to commemorate a mass murder, and refuse to commemorate the rape. ...
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...The first day of July. I’ve driven down from Pocatello to a pleasant neighborhood on the south side of Salt Lake City, to visit Professor Brigham Madsen in his small, impeccably neat apartment. I’m here to consult the definitive historian of the Bear River Massacre, and to ask about the origin of his interest in the Northwestern Shoshoni. ...
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...I’m early for my interview with Kathy Griffin, the resident who’s leading the landowners’ opposition to the National Park Service proposal. I haven’t been here in daylight before, so I take that right onto Hot Springs Road, nose around a bit, follow the dirt road out along what’s now known as Battle Creek. There’s no sign to indicate where I am. Just the road, the creek, the pastureland. Some cows grazing. ...
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By the time I visit Allie Hansen in her cottage near Preston’s downtown, the weather has settled into a stubborn heat wave. Local meteorologists have gone to great lengths to explain the bizarre weather. Unusual El Niño spring rains have fueled rainforest-thick vegetation and created honest-to-goodness, recordable humidity in the desert—dewpoints are actually hitting the 50s, even 60s. Temperatures are not falling off at night as desert dwellers are used to. ...
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The heat continues to build. It’s record-breaking hot, they say, and Pocatello has now completely sold out of fans, with no hope of getting more. On my way to see Mae Timbimboo Parry, I stop at a Kmart in Ogden and find tons of the things. All varieties: floor, ceiling, rotating, oscillating. They know how to do air-conditioning down here in the hole that is Salt Lake Valley. ...
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I visit Curtis Warner—who calls Mae Parry his “great-aunt” though in European American genealogical terms she’s a distant cousin—on yet another in this string of hot days, the day after the death of Tamise’s African violet, which, in the end, had proved unsalvageable in this odd heat. Extra water was too much water. Less water was not enough water. Nothing I tried was successful in reducing the distress the poor darkening leaves were suffering. ...
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So, after years of a highly unusual acceleration through procedures, the proposal to establish a National Historic Site on the Bear River Massacre field has crawled to a stop, stalled since February 1996 in the office of Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho). As of July 1998, Senator Craig’s office seems to be sending mixed signals, with the landowners feeling, as Kathy Griffin noted, that the proposal has been “put on a back burner” and unlikely to succeed “in our lifetimes”; while Allie Hansen’s Monument Committee has the impression that things are moving slowly, but still moving. ...
PART III: CONCLUSIONS WITHOUT ENDS
10. TEN DIGRESSIONS ON WHAT’S WRONG: A POSTSCRIPT
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Beginnings, middles, ends. The narrative impulse to “end” a historic tale has the effect of “ending” any responsibility concerning that event. This work is more about process than about ends. For instance, a writer writes for the same reason a reader reads: to learn. To change. To change her mind. It’s 2003 now. In 1999, Joe and I moved to Boulder County, Colorado, where he’s taken a tenure-track job teaching poetry at the university. I’m teaching adjunct: freshman courses in women’s literature and “ethnic” “American” literatures. ...
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As Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. recently put it (do we really need to know exactly where?), History is an argument without end—that’s why it’s so much fun. I learned this lesson from Mae Timbimboo Parry and Curtis Warner, who are distrustful of academia’s tendency to squabble over the trees, while willfully neglecting the forest. ...
WORKS CITED AND CONSULTED
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Page Count: 364
Illustrations: 2 b/w photographs
Publication Year: 2004