Today is a historical anniversary of a sad day in the United States. I’ll bet you’ve never heard of it. I’d wager very few people have.
Last month my dad told me that when he was a little boy growing up in a small southern Idaho town, he’d occasionally find himself in the local post office staring at a large painting over a doorway. He told me he’d study that painting and wonder. It drew his attention like nothing else he’d seen.
I’d been in that post office last summer and didn’t notice the painting. To be honest, I’d never heard about it, and I was focused on buying stamps. I should have paid attention to the cool architecture of the old structure, the classic lines, the pillars, the traditional windows for each clerk to stand behind. The old formica square tiles caught my eye that day, but not much else.
This town looks like hundreds of others throughout the west, with one main street of businesses, lots of modest homes radiating out from the central part of town, and newer houses encroaching on farm and ranch land. Not much to set it apart from all those others. Although a small film made it semi-famous among teens for a while. You may have heard of “Napoleon Dynamite.” Or, if you didn’t have teenagers at the time you may not have heard of this little comedic gem.
Preston, Idaho has another little known but infamous event tied to it.
Just before Christmas I spent a week with my parents. In spite of the snowy weather we ended up doing some scenic drives. It’s one of Dad’s favorite things to do. He tells me about different places as we drive past, points out curiosities, shares funny stories and sad tales. He grew up in that part of the country and knows the history well, played and fished and worked in the area until his late teens. One story in particular caught his attention in grade school but he could find little information about it beyond the brief mention of it once.
Driving north out of town he pointed out a little cove off in the distance and casually said, “That’s where the largest massacre of Indians in the United States took place.”
I was sure he couldn’t be correct.
But he knew details and he told me about the painting in the post office and his fascination with it.
Last night, I couldn’t sleep. For some reason that story and that painting were on my mind. So I opened my computer and typed in a few search words and found out that Dad did know what he was talking about. In fact, in an odd coincidence, the anniversary of this sad and senseless event took place on January 29, that’s today.
I found out that just after dawn 153 years ago today, in 1863, the Bear River Massacre of the Northwest Band of Shoshone Indians took place. Over 500 men, women and children died at the hands of the U.S. Army that day. That’s more than double those who lost their lives at Wounded Knee.
Why would this be on my mind last night? I’ve never seen the memorial plaque, which is pictured in the link above, along with copious amounts of research and details that will surprise and haunt you. Besides driving past the site and dad’s brief telling of it, and the painting, which I paid serious attention to in December, this hasn’t crossed my mind.
Like my Dad, it caught at my heart and has obviously been tugging away this past month at my subconscious.
Maybe this painting, and the story will tug at your heart and mind as well. I hope so. Such a thing ought not be so quietly dismissed or forgotten.
“In Shoshone, there’s a saying. It’s a long one, and it doesn’t have an English equivalent, so bear with me. Sutummu tukummuinna. It means, I don’t speak your language, and you don’t speak mine. But I still understand you. I don’t need to walk in your footsteps if I can see the footprints you left behind.” ~ Rose Christo, Why the Star Stands Still