From Buffalo to Bread

Darren Parry is a member of the Northwestern Shoshone Nation and currently serves as the Chairman. Darren also serves on the Board of Directors for the American West Heritage Center, in Wellsville, Utah. He attended the University of Utah and Weber State University and received his Bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education, with an emphasis on History. Darren wants to make sure that those who have gone before him are not forgotten. We’re honored that he agreed to share this with us during Native American Heritage Month.

I loved to sit at the feet of my loving Grandmother, Mae Timbimboo Parry. She would sit for hours and tell me Shoshone stories about how the Coyote Stole Fire, or how the Sun got its name. As I attended school I developed a great love for history, and then one day I suddenly realized something. None of the stories my grandmother told me were in our history books. From our history books one can conclude that historical events are an absolute and have only one conclusion. But over the years I have come to realize that history is about perspective. Whose perspective?

For our people, history was just another battle ground. We are often portrayed as uneducated, primitive and cruel. Good for nothing except to teach the white people how to grow corn. The Mormon people of the Cache Valley often described my people as thieves and beggars. The irony in this is that the Mormon people themselves suffered hatred and injustices. It is hard to believe that they could be found guilty of doing the same. Peter Maughan, the Area Authority in Cache Valley, just prior to the massacre at Bear River said, “With extraordinary good luck, the volunteers will “wipe them out.” We wish this community rid of all such parties, and if Colonel Conner can be successful in reaching that Bastard class of humans, who play with the lives of the peaceable and the law abiding citizens in this way, we shall be pleased to acknowledge our obligations.”

The events that took place on that cold January morning in 1863 have long been forgotten by most. Maybe guilt or remorse has silenced all of those who one day may have wanted to know the truth. I hope this new generation of people will have a desire to listen and to learn. Not because we are looking to have things made right, but because those who sacrificed so much have a God given right to be heard. Their voices cry from the ground. Their stories need to be told.

If you are here at just the right time in the evening you can sit and hear the cries of our little ones calling to their mothers. Your senses tell you that you are among the spirits of more than 400 children of Damma Appa, that Great Spirit who created us all. You don’t have to see things as they were, to know that a terrible injustice had taken place. You can feel it!!!

For Sagwitch and Bear Hunter and their small bands of Shoshone people, the reality of the situation became very real. After Bear Hunters torture and murder, Sagwitch was left alone to witness almost the entire destruction of his people. No one would have blamed him for having feelings of hatred or resentment towards the Mormon settlers. But he chose a different path. One that not only saved his life, but that of generations to come. Ten years removed from the largest massacre of Native Americans in the history of the United States, Chief Sagwitrch and the remaining survivors were baptized into the Mormon Church.

This massacre at Bear River does not define us. We have forgiven but we will never forget. There is a saying that we instill in our youth at an early age that says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Our tribal members know how to fish. We have more than 540 members today. The vast majority of us live along the Wasatch Front. We are your neighbors. We are active members in your communities. We have Healthcare, Housing and Education programs for our members. We have 18 of our children attending major universities around the country this semester. We realize that education gives our youth many options and opportunities. We have set up a trust account for the purchase of this massacre site. We currently own 30 acres and would love to have more.

Every Saturday morning we have cultural activities for our youth so that our heritage is not forgotten. We pride ourselves on being members of a society that makes a contribution.

Long ago our people worked hard every day just to make a living and survive. Every tribal member played a significant role in the wellbeing of their society. For the past 150 years the Federal government has turned being a Native American into an entitlement program. We have chosen a different path and we have chosen to make our own destiny.

The most successful Native Americans today are those who can best balance Culture and Change. We honor our culture and honor our elders. Those who have gone before are important to us. We honor them and their traditions, but we realize that we live in an ever changing world and we are preparing ourselves to change and succeed with it.

Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing

  2. Amazing perspective. I read your final 2 paragraphs and I pray that our culture (LDS) will learn the same lesson. That we will raise souls who can follow your path.

  3. How can we give money to the trust? I would love to support this with my donations on Giving Tuesday.

  4. Dirk Elzinga says:

    Aho, Brother Darren.

  5. This is so cool, thank you Darren (and BCC). Y

  6. Eric Facer says:

    The better part of my legal career has been spent representing Indian nations in the Northeastern United States. That work has given me a far greater appreciation for the history of, and contributions made by, Native Americans to this country. A leader of one of the tribal governments I have represented—echoing your words about the importance of balancing culture and change—once told a U.S. government official that one of the biggest challenges his people confront is retaining their 17th-century values in a 21st-century world. It is, indeed, a constant challenge.

    Also, it is worth noting that accurate and scholarly accounts of the Native American experience are beginning to appear. For starters, I recommend Russell Shorto’s new book about America’s War for Independence, “Revolution Song,” which chronicles through the eyes of the Seneca leader and warrior known as Cornplanter the devastation suffered by the Iroquois nations as they found themselves caught between the British and American armies. His book also offers a compelling account of the Revolution from the perspective of others who are often ignored, such as slaves and those who were not part of the revolutionary elite.

    Thanks for sharing this, Darren. Your quiet determination and resilience, combined with your forgiving nature, are traits I have found in many native people over the years.

  7. Thank you for your example of intrinsic integrity that is a lesson to us all.

  8. When I visited the massacre site for the first time last summer (and this is after living in the nearby Bear River Valley for my growing up years only about an hour or so away so I’m unsure why it was the first) I felt like I was somehow imposing. And I angered at the monument, so imposing in it’s retelling of the facts, but then noticed the beautiful and strangely decorated trees nearby. I didn’t quite understand, but it potrayed the power of peace.

    Thank you for helping me learn even more.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for sharing.

  10. it's a series of tubes says:

    Darren, thank you for sharing this. My wife’s parents are from Preston, but I first learned about the massacre less than a year ago. It certainly wasn’t taught in the history courses I took as a student growing up in Utah.

  11. Thank you for sharing this story, another piece of history that has been repressed but should be known.

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