Opinion: Chief Pocatello forced to live on reservation in Idaho

A statue of Chief Pocatello in Pocatello, Idaho. Photo from ChiefPocatello.com

Writer Syd Albright reflects on the life of Chief Pocatello, a Shoshone leader who signed the Fort Bridger Treaty of 1868 that created a reservation for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in Idaho:
Chief Pocatello was leader of the Lemhi Shoshone Indians that roamed Idaho's Salmon River Mountains and surrounding areas. They were part of a larger Shoshone Nation which some called "fierce and bloodthirsty." The Shoshone did indeed attack and kill white settlers and white travelers heading west mostly along the Oregon and California trails.

Indian tribes who lived traditionally on lands that were being invaded by whites resented the loss of their lands and sources of food. Though the Shoshones attacked a relatively small number of the immigrants for encroaching on their lands, retaliation was massive and lethal.

Pocatello's band was just one of many Native American tribes that witnessed a seismic wave of competing cultures sweeping across the nation.

To combat violence in the Great Basin during the early 1860s, the U.S. Government sent Col. Patrick Edward Conner and his California Volunteers to "chastise the Indians" and monitor the Mormons who were at odds with the government mainly over polygamy and theocratic governance of Utah Territory. He also brought more violence with him.

On Oct. 31, 1860, he executed 14 or 15 Indians for attacking a wagon train. Additional Indians were taken hostage and killed when they refused to produce those involved in the attack. Another Indian in Brigham City, Utah, was executed in a dispute over a payment.

Then in 1863, Conner's "chastise" policy resulted in the worst massacre of Indians in American history at Bear River in the Cache Valley in southern Idaho, killing some 250 Shoshones - including women, children and babies. Bear Hunter, their chief was tortured before he was killed.

Chief Pocatello and his band of some 150 warriors escaped Bear River, having left the day before after getting wind of Conner's coming assault.

Get the Story:
History Corner by Syd Albright: Chief Pocatello caught in clash of competing cultures (The Coeur d'Alene Press 8/10)

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