Native History: Shoshone Massacred, Then Signed Treaty That Helped Mormons

ChiefPocatello.com / This statue of Chief Pocatello, one of the signers of the Treaty of Box Elder, stands in Pocatello, Idaho.

This Date in Native History:

On July 30, 1863, Shoshone Chief Pocatello and eight other chiefs signed the Treaty of Box Elder, forfeiting two-thirds of the Shoshone’s traditional hunting grounds in an effort to bring peace between his people and the United States.

The signing came just a few months after the Bear River Massacre of January 29, 1863 when the army, led by Colonel Patrick Connor came to “deal with the Indians,” according to Patty Timbimboo-Madsen, the Northwestern Band of Shoshone’s cultural and resource manager. Being the 150th anniversary of the tragedy, she spoke earlier this year about it and about the Mormons who called upon the United States government to solve their Indian problem.

“I don’t think they realized what was going to happen,” she said about the massacre that left more than 300 men, women and children dead.

She even called it the country’s “dirty little secret.” And it’s true that when reading about the signing of the Treaty of Box Elder, you won’t find the Bear River Massacre as one of the reasons the chiefs signed the treaty on History.com. The massacre isn’t mentioned in connection with the treaty or mentioned as a massacre in most historical references. But it decimated the Northwestern Shoshone.

It’s ironic that the Mormons saw the Indians as a problem though. Pocatello—whose name was likely given to him by the whites, his given name was Tonaioza, which means “Buffalo Robe”—and his people were concerned about all the new people moving onto their land and chasing away the game. When they confronted wagon trains demanding food, it was to replace what the white people had taken or chased away.

The terms of the treaty left the Shoshone with territory between Raft River and the Portneuf Mountains and would offer them $5,000 a year for food and blankets. The money was not enough to feed his people, so Pocatello led raids.

In the 1860s, many of his people moved to the Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho because the government promised more food, but there was never enough to go around. Chief Pocatello walked on in October of 1884 and was buried with 18 of his horses.

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