FRANKLIN COUNTY — When Darren Parry was a child, his grandmother took him him to the site of the Bear River Massacre. He didn’t quite understand why she always had a tear in her eye she when pointed out where the lodges used to be.

As he has grown older and taken on leadership roles in the Northwestern Band of The Shoshone Nation, he now understands how important it is to honor a request she made before passing away five years ago.

“She said, ‘One day you’re going to have to tell the story,’” Parry said.

Parry, the chairman of the Northwestern Band, spends much of his time doing exactly that. He gave 21 presentations in November to various groups and elementary school classrooms. When he recently received a request from a little old lady to speak to a local women’s organization, he said, “Absolutely.”

“I never turn down a chance; I’ll go speak wherever asked. I don’t charge because I want people to know the story,” Parry said. “I think we can all learn from it.”

But talking about what happened Jan. 29, 1863, and the lasting effects that day had on his tribe can only do so much.

About a year ago, Parry began talking and negotiating with a family that owns approximately 460 acres of land surrounding the site of the massacre. He said it wasn’t an easy process. They didn’t want to sell at first, but Parry said they were “softened” over the past couple of months.

“It might sound stupid, but I feel like there was a bunch of people on the other side pushing for this to happen,” Parry said.

“I think there are a lot of people that are happy today, not just within our tribe and those living, but I think those that have gone on will be really happy.”

On Oct. 1, the Northwestern Band signed the purchase of 460 acres located about three-and-a-half miles northwest of Preston. Parry said the tribe paid $1.8 million, which came mostly from the profits from two tribe-owned businesses, including Tope Technologies, an IT services company

“To be able to purchase, not only a piece of land, but a piece of land where 350 to 500 of our people were massacred and they were not buried — so it’s a sacred killing field to us because those remains are still there — and so it’s really important that we can acquire it and then we can have a say on what happens on it,” Parry said.

The Northwestern Band has a vision of restoring the land to how it looked back in 1863, when the Shoshone people used the small valley near Preston as their winter encampment.

After news reports surfaced of the land sale and restoration effort, Parry said he got a call from the dean of the College of Natural Resources at Utah State University.

“He said, ‘We have this expertise that you might be able to take advantage of,’” Mark Brunson, a College of Natural Resources professor, said.

Brunson, after consulting with Parry and visiting the site, has been preparing a description of what that restoration might look like. One of the main challenges will be removing the invasive Russian olive trees, which Utah classifies as noxious weeds.

Then, Parry and Brunson hope to plant native grasses, shrubs and trees. Part of the process is gathering information on what the land used to look like and what plants are indigenous to that area. During his research, Brunson said he came across a map drawn by a soldier led by Col. Patrick Connor that included several willow thickets around the Bear River.

Willows are no longer found in that area, which Brunson said could be due to the river shifting and cattle grazing. Parry said willows were vital to the Shoshone people.

“They used the willows as protection from the weather, and they made things out of it,” he said.

The willows were just one aspect that made that valley an ideal winter camp. Parry said the largest natural spring in the county is nearby, and there are several natural hot springs around the river.

On Wednesday, a beer can and water bottle were seen in the hot springs as well as a mangled, rusty, metal frame.

“Right now, I can imagine it would be difficult for people to think about why would someone want to have come to this location,” Brunson said.

In restoring historic sites with the National Park Service, Brunson said he’s learned that people better understand history when the surrounding environment matches the conditions at that time. An old fort surrounded by big fancy houses with golf-course type lawns, for example, elicits a much different response than the actual landscape when the fort was in use.

Restoring the site of the Bear River Massacre is an emotional task for Brunson. When he moved from Oregon to Cache Valley in 1992, he said he was totally unaware of the massacre. When he learned about it and eventually traveled to the site, he was struck by the existing historical monument.

“The information that was available was almost entirely told from the perspective of the Mormon settlers,” he said.

In 1932, the citizens of Franklin County, with the help of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, erected a plaque that describes the “Battle of Bear River.” According to the plaque, Col. Connor and 300 California volunteers from Camp Douglas, Utah, fought against “Indians guilty of hostile attacks on emigrants and settlers.”

Another monument erected in 1953 reads: “Attacks by the Indians on the peaceful inhabitants in this vicinity led to the final battle here.”

Since then, the state of Idaho has helped the Shoshone tribe install a series of informational signs on a bluff overlooking the valley to share their perspective. But for Brunson, helping the tribe bring the land back to its original state is the next step in sharing the Shoshone perspective.

“It’s just a wonderful story, a wonderful opportunity, and if I can be of service to them to be able to help them achieve it — it’s something that’s always had an emotional connection to me as soon as I heard about the massacre,” he said.

In addition to restoring landscape, Parry has a vision of building an interpretive welcome center just above the field where his ancestors spent the winter months. He said the interpretive center and restoration process could cost between $5 million to $8 million over several years.

But Parry is optimistic. The National Park Service has already awarded the Northwestern Band with a $72,000 grant for planning and development. He said there are other grants available, and he’s not too concerned about raising the money. Once people hear the story, it’s hard not to care.

Though the land sale will be finalized Jan. 10, 19 days before the anniversary of the Bear River Massacre, Parry said the annual remembrance ceremony to be held in two months will still probably take place on the side of the highway next to the plaques that essentially blame the Native Americans for the massacre. But come January 2019, Parry hopes the ceremony will be something special.

He said the Shoshone people will likely celebrate around teepees and fires on their own land where the bones of their ancestors still rest. And Parry said he hopes to perform the warm dance, to usher in spring, which hasn’t been held since the year of the massacre.

It’s going to be a long process, but with the sacred land under tribal control, Parry said passing on the culture to his children and his tribe, as well as educating the public, will be easier.

sdolan@hjnews.com Twitter: @RealSeanDolan

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