Standing on the banks of the Bear River in 2012 felt like stepping back into history. Gathered were artists and a group of Shoshone posing for a painting that would go into the Brigham City Temple. Yet, upstream was Preston, Idaho, where the almost complete annihilation of their nation had taken place during the Bear River Massacre in 1863.
Listening to the sounds of people and reflecting on both occasions, I placed a cradleboard and doll into the hollow of a tree. I thought of a little baby 150 years ago in the real cradleboard who was allowed to live.
Twelve-year-old Yeager played dead to survive. The soldier finding him alive pointed his gun, pulled back, pointed again and then a third time finally pulled his gun away.
"Even in tragedy you see humanity," said Rios Pacheco, the Shoshone descendant of a massacre survivor. "There is always someone who will not carry out the order; they will go beyond the command and do what is right."
A decade after the massacre, in the same Bear River, Mormon missionaries baptized a total of 1,188 Indians. They represented 10 different bands and tribes. Yeager, his life spared, was part of the group. His son, Moroni Timbimboo, became the first American Indian bishop in 1939.
On April 17, 2012, I stood at the Bear River with a group of models. These descendants of the original LDS converts gathered to re-enact the confirmation of the Northwestern Shoshone at the river's edge. The spring air was filled with warmth. The mountains, still touched with recent snow, reminded me of chilly spring water used to immerse the first converts in May 1873.
Aged and peaceful, 83-year-old Helen Timbimboo, a daughter in-law to Moroni, stood proud. At the edge of her life, she was a connection to the past and the future. Just one month later, she passed away. But her image that day remains, captured in the temple painting.
"It is our gift to the world to have an American Indian painting in the temple," Tom Pacheco said of the confirmation painting,Comment on this story
Rios Pacheco, who was the model depicted as being confirmed in the painting, put our day into perspective: "Remember, you will be in their baptismal font."
The conversion story of a generation standing on the edge of change has gone from the river to the temple. The painting tells the story of humility, repentance, forgiveness and covenants. The Bear River, their baptismal font, did bring new life to the Shoshone with blessings that only the gospel of Jesus Christ and its healing waters can bring.
The same Great Spirit that their ancestors worshipped can heal hearts and make wrong things right.
Cheryl S. Betenson is a friend of the Shoshone and an aspiring artist and writer.