A Loss Written on the Land

The Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation moves closer to permanently memorializing historic injury in Idaho.

By Brian Fryer


For centuries, it was tradition each January for several thousand members of the nomadic Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation to gather at a bend in the Bear River near the borders of Idaho and Utah. Tribal leader Darren Parry says the Shoshone called the place Boa Ogoi. Bands of the tribe would share stories, use the natural hot springs, and perform the “warm dance” to hasten the coming of spring.

In the mid-1800s, as more settlers came to the area now known as Cache Valley, there were intermittent conflicts with the Indigenous people there. On January 29, 1863, a detachment of the U.S. Army Cavalry attacked a group of Shoshone that had remained at Boa Ogoi after the annual gathering, killing nearly 400 men, women, and children in one of the largest mass murders of Native Americans in the United States.

In recent years, Parry has been leading an effort to buy the land where the event took place and build a memorial and interpretive center that would tell the story of the Shoshone and the massacre. After years of planning and fund-raising, work has begun on a permanent memorial, which will include interpretive trails crisscrossing roughly 550 acres of land purchased by the tribe. Efforts are now under way to restore the land to a condition similar to that of the time of the 1863 attack.

“We will have the interpretive center here that tells the story of our people. But it’s important for the land to tell the story, too, about why we came here,” Parry says. “If someone happened to come and the interpretive center was closed, I want them to be able to walk the grounds and trails and know this land like our ancestors knew it.”

To design the site, the tribe has partnered with an interdisciplinary group of students and professors from Utah State University’s Quinney College of Natural Resources and the university’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning. The goal is to reclaim the site and restore native and culturally significant flora and fauna that have been displaced by invasive plant species or affected by the by-products of modern agriculture.

The ecology of the site of the massacre has been altered by decades of farming and ranching. Photo courtesy GSBS Architects.

“There used to be beaver in this river, and their dams create unique ecosystems. We’re looking at ways to reintroduce beaver or create structures that can help restore those natural riparian areas and improve the overall watershed,” explains William Munger, a natural resources graduate student, who has been leading and coordinating much of the research and restoration work.

David Garce, ASLA, a principal with the Salt Lake City-based GSBS Architects, has been working with tribal leaders intermittently since the late 1990s, when the idea for a memorial was first proposed. “From the start, we’ve approached this with reverence for the land and designing forms that reflect cultural significance,” says Garce, a descendant of the Western Band of the Catawba Indian Nation.

Image courtesy GSBS Architects.

The design team has created an eight-phase plan for the site, with the first phase, the construction of an amphitheater, slated to begin next month. Garce has also designed a sculptural memorial for the site of the massacre. Locally quarried blocks of granite roughly three feet wide and deep and six feet long will be placed randomly in the field. “This is not like a traditional or military cemetery,” Garce says. “When you view it from one of the trails, it should give you an idea of what hundreds of people on the site would have looked like.”

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