Mae Timbimboo Parry's account of Jan. 23, 1863, isn't the same as that recorded on a monument a few miles from Franklin, Idaho, bearing the words "Battle of Bear River" and describing a valiant military engagement.
Instead, Parry, a Shoshone Indian, recalls the stories told by her grandfather, who survived the incident, of the unprovoked massacre of 250 of her people by 110 soldiers from Salt Lake's Fort Douglas.And now Parry is fighting her own battle from her Clearfield home to stop a proposal before the National Park Service to create the Battle of Bear River National Monument, thus, she says, perpetuating a tragic historical error.
"I would like to see history corrected," she said.
The incident on the Bear River 10 miles northwest of Preston, Idaho, historically has been known as a battle. History books retell the engagement as arising from Indian interference with mail and harassment of white settlers.
Col. Patrick Edward Connor, having heard of Indian attacks on settlers, left Fort Douglas in late January for the Shoshone camp just across the Utah-Idaho border, traveling at night with more than 100 California volunteers.
Connor attacked the village of 600 Shoshones on the morning of Jan. 23 across the frozen Bear River. The Indians fought back with initial success but were outflanked and overwhelmed in four hours.
Shoshone men, women and children died in the incident. "Kill everything," Connor reportedly said. "Nits make lice." (Nits are louse eggs.)
Utah's History, compiled by editor Richard D. Poll, described the confrontation as a "policing function." The incident, the book said, discouraged "futher disruptions of the overland mail service from that source."
And monuments erected at or near the site the century since the incident recount a history of "Indian trouble" in the area and declare that Indian violence was put to a stop by the "Battle of Bear River."
But to Parry, the event was hardly a battle. "When you attack a sleeping village of Indian men, women and children, you can't call that a battle," she said.
Her grandfather, Yeager Timbim-boo, survived the carnage at Bear River and took the young Parry and other Shoshone children aside often as they were growing up to tell them what he witnessed.
"He told us the story over and over until we memorized it," she said.
The reports of Indian attacks were not entirely false, Parry remembers her grandfather saying. Miners were killed by Indians in the Cache Valley. But she said the murderers were not associated with the victims of Connor's Bear River attack.
In a history compiled from her grandfather's stories of the massacre, Parry wrote that Connor attacked at daylight while the village was still sleeping. Chief Sagwitch awoke the camp and armed them with arrows and a few rifles.
"They knew they were not all guilty, but they had no choice but to fight for their lives if attacked," Parry wrote.
Resistance was to little avail. "What was an arrow compared to the muskets of the Army?" Parry said. Before the morning was over, some 250 Shoshones were killed. Never did the conflict assume the aura of a battle, she said.
Nevertheless, the term "battle," as in the Battle of Bear Creek, survives after repetition of the story from a single point of view.
This year, for example, the Utah Legislature passed a resolution in support of establishing a national monument at the site of the "Battle of Bear River."
Parry is not opposed to the monument, only to naming it after a "battle." Fighting for properly naming the proposed monument is one way of promoting a better relationship between Indians and non-Indians, she said.
"What I'm trying to do is bring about better understanding," she said.
An Idaho group known as the Bear River-Battle Creek Monument Association is neutral on naming the monument but sympathetic to Parry's concerns.
"It wouldn't hurt our feelings in the slightest bit if it were called a massacre," said Allie Hansen, a member of the association.