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The Bear River Massacre was the first and worst of the Indian massacres, but it was all but forgotten for one central reason: It was in nobody's interest to remember, says Rod Miller, the author of a new book about the bloody 1863 affair.

Miller, a cowboy poet, novelist and copywriter with a Salt Lake City advertising company, makes that argument in Massacre at Bear River: First, Worst, Forgotten. It was published this summer by Caxton Press in Caldwell, Idaho.

The book is not based on new research, but, as Miller, a Sandy resident, says, "To the people I'm writing for, this is all new."

Unlike previous writings on the massacre - a Utah event that happened in what turned out to be Idaho - Miller's book probes the relationships among the three central players: the Shoshones, the military and the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who settled the region.

And it delves into the way history has treated - or, as some believe, ignored - the massacre.

Miller agrees, in part, with Brigham Madsen, the retired University of Utah historian whose ground-breaking work 25 years ago first gave credence to Shoshone claims it was a massacre and not a battle.

Madsen contended the engagement was lost to history because the nation at the time was more interested in Civil War battles than in fights with American Indians in a remote corner of the West.

But Miller argues there is a further explanation as to why a massacre of at least 250 Shoshones fell into obscurity.

It was not in the interest of key players - the military and the Mormons - to remember, and the decimated Northwestern Bands of the Shoshone had no voice in the nation that came to surround them.

The battle, as it was initially regarded, was at first celebrated in Salt Lake City, especially by the military. What little records there are indicate between 250 and 350 Shoshones died, although some suggest nearly 500 perished.

California newspapers and the Deseret News carried accounts of the winter attack by the California Volunteers on the Shoshone camp along the banks of the Bear River near what is now Preston, Idaho. The New York Times even had a front page story a month after the engagement.

For several years on the Jan. 29 anniversary, the military at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City commemorated the "heroic feat" by Col. Patrick Connor and the volunteer army. Those celebrations faded as Civil War battles in the East captured the attention of the military and as later, lesser massacres were decried as butchery.

The indirectly involved Mormons, some of them sickened by the slaughter and others regarding the soldiers' success as divine intervention, didn't want to be associated with a massacre.

"Nobody was interested in advertising it very much," says Miller.

And so in the later half of the 19th century and for most of the 20th century, the military, Utah and Idaho historians and writers largely ignored the massacre.

Miller, a lifelong Mormon, writes that Mormon histories tend to mention the massacre only briefly and at arm's length, casting it as "an affair between the hated California Volunteers and barely tolerated Indians."

"While pageants and re-enactments and parades commemorate the heroic overcoming of hardships, the desert blossoming as a rose through hard work, and the very survival of Zion on numerous occasions owing to miraculous occurrences, the slaughter of more than 250 Shoshoni on a frozen battlefield near the northern frontier merits small note and little recognition in Mormon history," he writes.

Paul Hutton, a historian of the Indian Wars at the University of New Mexico, said he had never heard of the Bear River Massacre when he got his first teaching job at Utah State University in 1977. He left USU in 1985.

Though he has not yet read Miller's book, Hutton is happy the massacre is getting more attention. "That is such an underreported period of Western history."

Though historical research may not turn up new discoveries, books like Miller's may inspire good storytellers - novelists or writers of popular history, he said.

"I wouldn't be surprised if the Bear River Massacre gets rediscovered," Hutton said.

That is Miller's hope.

"I'm just hoping it creates an awareness. I hope some historian will say 'I can do better than that.' "