Bear River Essay Example
Bear River Essay Example

Bear River Essay Example

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  • Pages: 12 (3249 words)
  • Published: March 3, 2019
  • Type: Research Paper
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Patrick Edward Connor, a dissatisfied Irishman of 42, was discontent. He had participated in the Mexican War as part of a Texas regiment led by Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston, but he resigned from his position and joined the quest for gold in California before the war's conclusion. Failing to find gold, he pursued various roles such as a California ranger, a surveyor, and a businessman.

Still, his passion for the military never diminished. When the Civil War erupted, Connor was summoned back to service with 10 companies of troops. Of those companies, seven, including Connor himself, were dispatched to Utah. Eager to participate in the "actual war," Connor penned a letter to the secretary of war asking for a new assignment. Regrettably, his plea was rejected, compelling Connor to arrive in Utah with an intense deter


mination to accomplish anything possible in order to attain the military acknowledgment he believed he had been deprived of.

In 1862, Colonel Connor led a group of around 750 volunteer troops from California and Nevada to Utah Territory. He was disappointed when he did not get the desired reassignment to lead Union forces in Civil War battles. As a result, he decided to establish a permanent U.S. Army post at Camp Douglas, later called Fort Douglas. The location chosen by Connor was at the base of the Wasatch Range, overlooking Salt Lake City. This choice was made so that Connor could keep an eye on the Mormons as a way to appease his wounded pride. The main objective of Connor's troops was to relieve the Mormons from their duty of guarding the Western mail routes and telegraph lines, which President Abraham Lincoln

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had temporarily assigned them. While policing the Indians was seen as a legitimate secondary goal, it seems that Connor created his own task of monitoring the Mormons.

According to the recorded correspondence of Connor, he believed that ensuring loyalty among Mormons was just as important as preventing Indian raids on the mail and telegraph routes. Despite his respect for Brigham Young, Connor did not have much personal regard for him. Young, on the other hand, expressed his displeasure with the establishment of the camp above Salt Lake City and communicated his concerns to Connor. As one historian notes, this marked the beginning of a cold war between Connor and the Mormon authorities. In his reports to his superiors in Washington, Connor characterized the Mormons as a community of traitors, murderers, fanatics, and whores. This perspective seemed to persist throughout his life. Connor allied himself with non-Mormon businessmen and actively promoted extramilitary prospecting and mining in the region. He played a role in settling the non-Mormon settlement of Corinne, located west of Brigham City, which was temporarily named Connor City after him. Connor and his associates aimed to make Corinne the "Chicago of the West." However, when the railroad arrived and later departed, so too did Corinne's prospects for the future.

Connor, a soldier, displayed bravery, capability, and determination. He swiftly extinguished Indian uprisings and eagerly seized the opportunity to enhance his status as a distinguished military leader and secure a promotion when the Bear River conflict emerged. On January 19, 1863, William Bevins, a miner, provided a sworn statement declaring that he and seven companions, en route from the Grasshopper gold mines in Bannack (soon to be

Montana Territory) to Salt Lake City, had encountered hostile Indians two days prior to the affidavit. Tragically, one miner lost his life in the attack.

Bevins likewise mentioned that a different group of 10 miners heading to Salt Lake City had been killed by the identical Indians. There were reports of Shoshone and Bannock raiders active in the vicinity. Connor took Bevins' testimony at face value and did not undertake an investigation into the assaults. U.S. Marshal Isaac L. Gibbs received warrants for the apprehension of three Shoshone Indian chiefs - Bear Hunter, Sandpitch, and Sagwitch - and promptly referred the matter back to Colonel Connor.

Another miner from Bannack who was traveling to Salt Lake City had a conversation with the Cache Valley Shoshone. The Indians informed him that they did not have any issues with settlers, but they intended to continue seeking revenge on white travelers due to the mistreatment they had suffered from Major Edward McGarry's troops. McGarry was known for being frequently intoxicated and was Connor's right-hand man. He was a ruthless officer who held a strong hatred towards Indians. Connors had sent him, along with 100 cavalrymen, to the Bear River ferry located north of Brigham City. It was believed that a large Indian encampment there had stolen livestock from emigrants.

The Indians were somehow informed about the arrival of the troops. They cut the ferry rope and relocated their camp to the north in Cache Valley. McGarry angered the Indians by capturing four unsuspecting warriors, tying their hands to a ferry rope, and executing them with 51 shots. This malicious act was long remembered by the Indians. Connor communicated to Gibbs that

his expedition against the Indians in Cache Valley was ready and that his intention was not to take any prisoners. George A. Smith, a respected Mormon leader, noticed secretive military preparations taking place at Camp Douglas and heard of Connor's intention to "exterminate" the Indians. Maintaining secrecy about troop movements was crucial to prevent the Indians from moving before the troops arrived. Connor wanted his soldiers to have the opportunity for "a little Indian killing." The colonel believed that attacking an Indian village during winter was the most ideal time as the warriors would be settled with their wives and children. The first month of 1863 was extremely cold and harsh.

Ice covered the area and the conditions for marching were extremely poor. When the Indians learned about Connor's men planning to attack, they mocked the idea, stating that it was too cold for soldiers. Connor commanded his troops on January 19, 1863, to be prepared for immediate marching. On January 22, Captain Samuel W. Hoyt from K Company, 3rd Infantry Regiment, was instructed to begin mobilizing. The team consisted of 69 infantry volunteers, 15 wagons carrying enough supplies to last for 20 days, and two 12-pounder mountain howitzers equipped with 50 rounds of ammunition for each cannon.

When the troops left Camp Douglas in heavy snowfall, it was communicated that their task was to accompany wagon trains transporting grain from Cache Valley. The infantry soldiers marched carelessly, neglecting their uniforms and appearing as an unorganized group of fools on a leisurely adventure. It was expected that the Indians, either through allies or smoke signals, would understand that the soldiers were an incompetent group resembling women, and

thus the warriors simply had to be patient.

The men traveled 13 miles and camped at Sessions Settlement, present-day Bountiful, on the first day out. On the second day, they covered twenty-five miles and stopped at Brownsville on the Weber River. The detachment then moved on to Willow Creek the next day. Meanwhile, under Connor's command, the cavalry left Camp Douglas on the evening of January 24 and covered 68 miles during the night to arrive at Brigham City in the morning.

The sky was clear, but a cold wind was blowing, lowering the temperature so much that one observer noted, "the men could not speak due to the ice in their beards." Due to the deep snow and intense cold, about 75 out of the group of 275 officers and men became unable to serve because of frostbite and other cold-related issues. Those with severe frostbite were left in settlements along the way. On January 25, the infantry marched 29 miles to Empey's Ferry, also known as Hampton's Ford, north of Brigham City, where they set up camp for the night. The next day, they traveled another 25 miles, crossing into Cache Valley through the pass where the mountain at Wellsville diminishes into a small hill, and stopped in Mendon. Connor's cavalry had been resting in Brigham City and on the evening of the 26th, they embarked on another all-night ride, going up Box Elder Canyon, passing through Sardine Pass, and entering Mendon from the south on the morning of the 27th. In the meantime, the infantry had also been resting and getting ready.

Connor ordered them out at 11 p.m. to start an all-night march to

Franklin, a small community in present-day Idaho, 30 miles northeast of Mendon. On January 28, around 5 p.m., three Indians arrived in Franklin to collect the customary gift of wheat given by settlers for maintaining peace. The Indians loaded the wheat onto their horses and fled upon seeing the approaching infantry. It was assumed that the Indians were aware of the infantry's arrival but unaware of the cavalry, which reached Franklin around midnight, approximately 15 miles away from the Indian camp. At 1 a.m. on January 29, Connor ordered the infantry to proceed in order to reach the battle site simultaneously with the cavalry.

The infantry was delayed in their departure until 3 a.m. due to not finding a local guide. Connor and the cavalry left an hour later and passed the infantry about four miles from Bear River and the Indian village. By 6 a.m., they reached the bluffs that overlooked Bear River. From this vantage point, Connor could see smoke rising from cooking fires in the Indian village, which pleased him. He had been worried that the Indians might flee if they knew how strong his troops were.

Connor instructed McGarry to lead four companies in crossing the river, enclosing the camp and detaining the Indians until the arrival of the infantry, as a preventive measure against escape. However, crossing the river posed challenges as it was half frozen and turbulent, causing reluctance among the horses.

Two elderly men were thrown from their horses. Upon reaching the river ford, McGarry had already led a group of 20 soldiers to climb the bluffs and engage in battle. Eager to witness the fight, the rest of the infantrymen

crossed the river on foot, with two nearly drowning in the frigid water. In response, Connor sent the cavalry back with horses so the remaining infantrymen could ride across the river. The Native Americans had strategically established a fortified position that was extremely difficult for troops to access.

Located in a ravine that was 6 to 12 feet deep and 30 to 40 feet wide, the Indians cleverly constructed steps on the elevated ground to safely launch their attacks. Additionally, they created screens made of tightly woven willows, providing them the ability to fire without being seen. Engaging in battle near Bear Creek, the infantry initiated the combat, followed by the cavalry an hour later, surpassing the slower-moving infantry just south of the river. It was at this moment that Chief Bear Hunter boldly rode out in front of his forces and issued a challenge to the soldiers.

Some Indian braves openly taunted the soldiers by loudly singing, "Fours right, fours left, come on you California SOBs." Connor, angered by Bear Hunter's arrogance and the taunting, made the mistake of ordering his men to charge. The Indians, in their strong position, easily pushed back his troops. As Connor retreated, he came up with another plan. He divided his troops into three parts, with the infantry attacking from the front and the cavalry units striking from the flanks. "Being exposed on a level and open plain, while the Indians were under cover gave them the advantage, fighting with the ferocity of demons," explained Connor. "My men fell quickly around me, but after flanking them we gained the advantage and effectively used it. I commanded a flanking party to

advance down the ravine on each side. This allowed us to direct gunfire from both flanks and caused some of the Indians to surrender and run towards the mouth of the ravine."

"Our company stationed themselves and shot the Indians as they ran out during the battle. Some of them attempted to escape, but they persisted in fighting fiercely, often engaging in hand-to-hand combat with our troops," reported a witness. The fight endured for approximately four hours on a bitterly cold day, resulting in numerous casualties among the soldiers such as deaths, injuries, and cases of frostbite. Eventually, the Indian encampment was nearly completely destroyed. A reporter from the San Francisco Bulletin depicted the battle scene as horrifying: "The ravine presented a gruesome sight with warriors piled upon each other, injured horses in various states of harm, and scattered squaws and papooses who had been accidentally killed." Unfortunately, the arrival of howitzers that could have potentially shortened the battle did not occur. The smoothbore cannons capable of firing different types of shells were primarily explosives-filled steel balls but were too heavy to transport through the deep snow."

The infantry used the muzzle-loaded, percussion 58 caliber 1861 rifle, while the cavalry utilized a 44-caliber revolver and a saber. The Indians, on the other hand, relied on blackpowder rifles, knives, and bows and arrows. According to Connor's estimate, his force killed between 250 and 300 Indians, including Chiefs Bear Hunter and Lehi. Chiefs Sandpitch, Sagwitch, and Pocatello managed to escape along with around 50 warriors. As for the soldiers, there were 21 dead and 46 wounded casualties.

One soldier recounted the conditions on the night after the battle, saying, "I

will never forget the night of January 29th, 1863 (how could I?). We camped by the Bear River with our dead and wounded, who were freezing and dying in the snow. There was two feet of snow covering the ground, and we had nothing but green willows to burn for a fire, which burned about as well as snow. The groans of the frozen men still seem to echo in my ears, and some of them lost their toes or a part of their feet. I spent almost the entire night fetching water from the river to wet their clothes and thaw their frozen limbs."

Chief Sagwitch endured a terrible night and survived, while others did not. He was shot in both legs during the battle. Despite freezing temperatures, his blood congealed, saving him from bleeding to death. In the face of enemy fire, the chief crawled to Bear Creek, where he plunged into the water and swam nearly a quarter mile while mostly submerged. After reaching land, he dragged his frozen body to safety and traversed 20 miles across the snowy terrain to a welcoming lodge.

He stayed on the Fort Hall Reservation until he died, in a terrible state of physical impairment and extreme sadness. At the request of the Mormon bishop of Franklin, William Head, leader of the local militia, and two other individuals were dispatched to examine the battleground and determine if any Native Americans had survived. The group discovered numerous corpses scattered throughout the area, with some places having three to five bodies stacked on top of each other. They also found two Indian women who had suffered broken thighs due to

bullets, along with two young boys and a three-year-old girl. The little girl had sustained eight injuries to her body. The survivors were transported back to Franklin for medical treatment.

During the fight, a nephew of Chief Sagwitch was chased by soldiers as he ran towards the river. Upon reaching the river, he pretended to be dead and fell into the water. He then floated under the ice and created a small opening above water level to breathe. The soldiers noticed him and shot at him again, injuring his thumb. After the soldiers gave up their pursuit to kill him, the boy swam to a cluster of willow trees and hid there for several hours in the extreme cold. Eventually, he settled on the Washakie Reservation and lived to the age of 100.

Chief Sagwitch's son Yeagar Timbimboo, who was approximately 12 years old during the massacre, miraculously escaped death. Yeagar stumbled upon a small grass tepee that was so packed with people that it was physically moving on the ground. Among the crowd, Yeagar discovered his grandmother and she urged him to go outside and hide among the corpses before the soldiers could ignite the tepee. Towards the end of the battle, a volunteer soldier encountered the curious youngster who was observing the unfolding events while searching through the dead Native Americans.

The soldier aimed his gun at Yeagar, and both held each other's gaze. The soldier initially lowered the gun, only to raise it again before ultimately lowering it and departing. In his official report to the War Department, Connor proudly claimed to have seized 175 horses, firearms, and various provisions that the Mormons had supplied.

(The Mormons offered provisions and aid to all passing travelers.) However, Connor refrained from acknowledging any assistance from the Mormons. He further stated in his report, "I should mention here that during my march from this post, the Mormons did not offer any aid, as they seemed unwilling to disclose information about the Indians. Additionally, they charged exorbitant prices for any supplies provided to my unit." He neglected to recognize the food, clothing, and shelter that the Mormons had provided to his soldiers who were suffering or wounded in the northern Utah settlements of Logan, Wellsville, and Brigham City. Fortunately, he had the renowned Mormon scout Porter Rockwell as a guide, who approached the Mormons and acquired 18 sleds for transporting the deceased and injured back to Camp Douglas. Upon their return, the troops stayed overnight in Logan, where the citizens provided them with supper and breakfast.

The settlers in Cache Valley offered teams and sleighs to help transport the deceased, injured, and frozen individuals back to Camp Douglas. During the journey between Wellsville and Brigham City, the soldiers persevered and struggled throughout the entire day in the deep snow. Exhausted, they eventually returned to Wellsville. Bishop W.H. Maughan gathered the men and teams together the following day in that location and aided the troops in passing through the Salt Lake valley. Despite deploring the brutality of the battle, the settlers in Cache Valley witnessed some positive outcomes arising from the campaign.

One person stated that the settlers greatly benefited from the victory, as it ensured their safety and the safety of their possessions. However, Connor disagreed with Brigham Young's belief that it was better to provide

for the Indians instead of fighting them. Even The New York Times questioned whether reconciliation would have been a better option than resorting to violence. The newspaper described the killing of Indian men, women, and children as unjustified, unnecessary, cruel, and brutal. Despite receiving praise for his triumph in the Battle of Bear River (also known as the "Massacre of Bear River"), Connor also faced criticism for the loss of soldiers during the conflict.

Patrick Edward Connor's obsession with the Mormons persisted, as evidenced by his complaints about Brigham Young and his absolute control over temporal and civil affairs, which he included in his dispatches to the War Department. Although relieved of his command in 1866, Connor gained recognition as the father of mining in Utah for his successful efforts in opening the industry in the Utah Territory. His ultimate aim was to diminish the influence of Mormon leaders by increasing the non-Mormon population in the area. Regrettably, he was unsuccessful in achieving this goal and passed away among the Mormons in Salt Lake City on December 17, 1891.

Quig Nielsen, a retired newspaperman and author of Temple Square: the Crown Jewel of the Mormons, suggests several books for further reading. These include Brigham Madsen's The Shoshoni Frontier and the Bear River Massacre, Orson Whitney's History of Utah, and James Varley's Brigham and the Brigadier.

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