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Bear River Massacre's unexpected aftermath includes forgiveness and hope

Published: Thursday, Jan. 24 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

All the chiefs believed the dream was the will of the Great Spirit. They also found common ground with various aspects of the Latter-day Saint religion, such as healing by the laying on of hands. They went looking for George Washington Hill and found him in Ogden.

Hill had previously developed a trusted relationship with the Indians as a missionary. He spoke their language. They requested that Hill, whom they called “Inkapompy” — “Man with Red Hair” — come and preach to them.

Hill wanted to help them but first needed LDS Church President Brigham Young’s permission. A few days later, Hill was summoned to the prophet’s office, where he was called to be a missionary to the Indians. President Young also charged Hill with helping the people establish a place where they could learn to farm and be self-supporting.

On May 5, 1873, Hill boarded a train for Corinne and upon arrival continued walking the 12 miles to the Shoshone camp. Somehow Sagwitch knew Hill was coming and the people were prepared to receive him. Hill commenced teaching the gospel and by the end of the day, he had baptized and confirmed 102 individuals. The next day, Hill wrote to Brigham Young, “(I) never felt better in my life nor never spent a happier day.”

Less than a week after their baptisms, Sagwitch and three others met with President Young and were ordained as elders in the Melchizedek Priesthood. In 1875, Sagwitch and his wife received their temple endowments in the Salt Lake Endowment House and were sealed together by President Wilford Woodruff.

“In that era, you about had to be called to a bishopric or high council to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood,” Christensen said. “Clearly, they were seen as important converts and people who would grow into their church membership.”

After Sagwitch and his people joined the church, missionary work among the American Indians exploded.

Over the next four years, nearly 1,200 were baptized in the Bear River, including members of various bands and tribes throughout the Intermountain West. They buried their weapons of war and became peaceful, faithful members of the church. “‘We ask forgiveness for our sins and bad deeds,’ they said,” wrote the late Mae Timbimboo Parry, Sagwitch’s great-granddaughter and tribal historian. “ ‘We want to start a new way of life.’ This they did.”

A new life

Over the next few years, the Shoshones adapted to a new lifestyle. They attempted to establish farms and homes near Corinne and Tremonton before finally settling at Washakie in Northern Box Elder County. Hill was with them every step of the way as their teacher, advocate and protector, with additional support from the church and its members. Homesteading laws were utilized to allow the Shoshone to remain on their ancestral lands without being required to move to the reservation at Fort Hall, Idaho. The Indians were also allowed to hunt and gather food as long as it didn’t interfere with the harvest.

“The government tried to get us moved to Fort Hall, but Brigham Young said not on your life,” Parry said. “They are Mormons.”

Legacy of devotion

In 1880, an LDS ward was established in the Indian colony at Washakie.

“The only English had to be the sacrament prayers, but everything else on the Sabbath was in Shoshone,” Christensen said. “The white administrators had to learn the language or wonder what was going on.”

The members at Washakie proved to be among the most faithful in the church. They dedicated countless hours to the construction of the Logan Temple by learning to mix mortar and haul stones from the quarries using their ponies, among other jobs. After the temple was dedicated, the Indians were among the first to perform work for their kindred dead.

Through the years, the Indians also manifested their devotion through a high level of church attendance and generous payment of tithing and offerings.

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