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Small Town Spotlight: Bear River Massacre interpretive center in works for site near Preston

Small Town Spotlight

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PRESTON — Less than five miles north of downtown Preston is a chunk of land that holds incredible historic and cultural significance.

The site of the 1863 Bear River Massacre was dedicated as a National Historic Landmark in 1990. Now, Darren Parry, the former chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, is leading a charge to develop the site of the massacre into an interpretive center, where locals and tourists alike can learn about the Shoshone people, their way of life and how many of them died.

“It was always my goal to build an interpretive center on the site of the massacre, to tell the story of the people,” Parry told EastIdahoNews.com. “It’ll be a place of healing, where the community can come together and kind of reflect and learn some things.”

Bear River Massacre Interpretive Center rendering
Bear River Massacre Interpretive Center rendering | Courtesy boaogoi.org

Aside from being a member of the Shoshone Nation, Parry is especially qualified to lead this endeavor.

Parry’s great-great-great grandfather, Sagwitch Timbimboo, was Shoshone chief at the time of the massacre. Sagwitch and his son, Da Boo Zee Timbimboo, who later joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and changed his name to Yaeger, were among the few survivors.

Yaeger would make regular trips to the site of the massacre with his granddaughter Mae Timbimboo Parry, telling her stories of their people. And Mae would make those same trips with her grandson, Darren, telling him those same stories.

Those trips, those stories, gave Darren a picture of his people’s past painted by someone removed just once from firsthand involvement in it. That is the picture Darren hopes to share.

“We’ve been chosen to forgive, but that doesn’t mean that we need to forget. This building will be a memorial to the people who lived then, but also a living memorial for people who who are alive today, and are still thriving and trying to live up to the expectations of our past elders,” he said. “It’s really important we tell our story in our way, and we think that building (this interpretive center) will do that.”

Bear River Massacre, Preston
A map shows points of historic interest throughout southeastern Idaho (left) and nearby marker commemorates the site’s position as a historic landmark. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

The land, a 550-acre parcel in Franklin County, has already been purchased. Plans for the center are completed, and permits have been acquired. All that is left is completing the fundraising efforts.

According to Darren, the entire development will cost around $10 million.

In addition to a memorial site and learning center, the plans for the 8,000-square foot facility include a 600-person amphitheater. Around the facility will be walking trails, where visitors can learn about the native plants and their purposes, both as food and medicine.

That, Darren explained, calls for a mass removal of invasive plant life, and replanting of indigenous plant life, something Utah State University has assisted with in what he called an “awesome” collaborated effort. That process, he added, is already underway.

“We’re transforming the land, healing the land to what it would have looked like in 1863,”

Fundraising for the endeavor began in 2018, when the land was purchased. According to Darren, about half of the target has been acquired, through grants, corporate sponsorship, private donors and a $750,000 appropriation from the Utah State Legislature. The latter, Darren joked, was his greatest accomplishment throughout this process — getting a state government to invest in a development in another state.

But, as Darren explained, the Shoshone Nation is rooted in land now within the Utah state territory, and this interpretive center would be built just 11 miles form the Utah-Idaho border.

When completed, Darren is hopeful that the center will teach people about the Shoshone Nation, both past and present, while forcing conversations about the most deadly massacre of indigenous people in U.S. history — in which around 400 members of the Shoshone Nation were killed, many of whom remains in a sacred burial ground nearby. Those history lessons, in some cases “hard history” lessons, will come as a form of healing, not as a tool of division.

“We’re still here. We may look different but we dress like you — we’re not horse-riding, buffalo-chasing people. We had a distinct way of living, hunting and gathering, for hundreds of years, and our descendants are still here and we want to tell our story, and tell it in a way that brings people together, he said. “It’ll just be a really cool facility that people can come to and see some amazing things and hear the story of how we lived and how we died.”

Bear River Massacre, Preston
One of many educational plaques at the Bear River Massacre site. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

While much of the funding for the interpretive center has come from grants, Darren insists that private donations have and will continue to be incredibly helpful as efforts continue to reach the $10 million mark. Anyone interested in donating to those efforts can do so at boaogoi.org.

Small Town Spotlight wants to shine a light on all the good going on in small-town Idaho. If you know of someone or something in one of Idaho’s many small towns that deserve to be featured on Small Town Spotlight, email Kalama@EastIdahoNews.com and include “spotlight” in the subject line.

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