PRESTON, Idaho — Every time Darren Parry walks the hallowed grounds of the Bear River Massacre site in southeastern Idaho, he feels the presence of his Shoshone ancestors.
"There's a sacred feeling here," Parry said as he stood on the banks of the Bear River under a cool, blue sky.
"My grandmother brought me here often. … She would say that if you're here at just the right time in the evening sometimes you can hear the cries of the little ones for their mothers. She instilled in me a love for my people."
As the chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation observed the calm water flowing near his feet, he noted that people often forget historical facts and figures, but they never forget how they feel when they hear a story.
After acquiring more than 600 acres and developing plans for a new facility to honor his heritage, Parry anticipates many will soon learn and appreciate Shoshone history the way he does.
"Have you ever had a memory sneak out of your eye and roll down your cheek? I do all the time when I come here because it's sacred land," Parry said. "I want the world to be able to see it the way I see it. And not only see it, but feel it. … I'm on a mission."
Last January, two days before Parry and the Shoshone Nation commemorated the 155th anniversary of the Bear River Massacre, the tribe purchased 550 acres of the massacre site for $1.75 million. The land, a few miles north of Preston off U.S. 91, is where federal troops led by Col. Patrick Connor attacked and killed between 250 and 500 Shoshone men, women and children on Jan. 29, 1863.
"Purchasing the land was a milestone," Parry said. "Prior to, we owned a 35-acre parcel for 10 years. Now I’m just trying to buy all these other little parcels that are hooked onto it. There's no resistance at all. Everybody’s on board. I haven’t had any pushback. I think people are excited to have a little growth come to their community."
Parry and other tribal council members then began working with GSBS Architects in Utah to develop plans for the "Boa Ogoi" ("Big River") Cultural Interpretive Center, a structure designed to offer a glimpse of Shoshone life and honor the victims and survivors of the massacre.
"What better way than to build an interpretive center, a place of learning where all groups can come together, look at history and learn from it," Parry said. "I tell people we have forgiven but we will never forget."
When Baylee Lambourne, an architect with GSBS, asked Parry what he had in mind for the building's design, he said he didn't want to drive off the bluff and see a big building in the middle of a pasture.
Lambourne, who collaborated with GSBS principal David Garce and others on the project, responded with several options, but one "humble" design stood out. The rendering most liked by Parry and other tribal council members shows the center built into the earth, featuring natural lighting, a large outdoor plaza, walking trails and a teepee village.
"We call the concept 'reverence,'" said Lambourne, who called the Cultural Interpretive Center a dream project. "The idea is for it to hide in the landscape and let the space and the land remain the highlight because it is such an important site."
Michael Gross, a tribal councilman and Parry's cousin, said incorporating the landscape into the design was key. It will help to foster education and understand his people's story.
"Everything they did was based off the land. That's how they survived. The land was of great importance for a lot of reasons," Gross said. "The design encapsulates everything we're about."
After the tribe selected the design, Gross dreamed his grandmother came to him and gave him a big hug. He knew it was her way of saying she approved, he said.
Garce, a member of the Western Band of the Catawba Indian Nation, borrowed an idea from Arlington National Cemetery to place 500 small boulders randomly around the site to represent each life lost in the massacre.
"It's important to see a representation of the people whose lives were lost there," said Garce, who worked with a group of Native American designers on the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
The GSBS firm's work on the project is mostly pro bono, Garce said.
The Shoshone Nation is also working with the Utah State University College of Natural Resources to clean up the site and return the land to what it looked like in 1863, with more willows and other natural vegetation.
In May, the Northwest Band of the Shoshone Nation launched a fundraising campaign to raise the $5 million needed to build the Cultural Interpretive Center. So far they've collected $15,000, mostly through social media. They are only getting started, Parry said.
People can donate to the Cultural Intepretive Center project at boaogoi.org.
A short distance from the proposed center is a monument, just off U.S. 91, erected by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers in 1932.
"It gives a warped sense of what took place here," Parry said. "Forever it's all we've had."
About 10 years ago, the state of Idaho built a series of kiosks on a hill overlooking the massacre site that tell a more fair and balanced history of events, Parry said.
Last January while commemorating the anniversary of the massacre, Parry was speaking to a small gathering that included Utah's Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, when gun shots rang out. They were coming from a nearby firing range.14 comments on this story
While distracting, the gunfire also seemed strangely appropriate. Parry paused for a moment before asking those in attendance to imagine what it might have been like for the Shoshone Indians camping there on a cold winter's morning 155 years ago to hear the same sounds.
"That's why we're here," Parry said. "My big quest is to meet the masses and tell our story to as many people as we can. … I think what I'm trying to do is so important to those who went before that I feel their presence all the time.
"They are opening doors for me that frankly people told me would never be opened."