On the crisp fall morning of November 4, 2023, roughly 400 volunteers gathered at a site of atrocious bloodshed with a collective goal of healing.
The Northwest Band of Shoshone Nation, based in Ogden, Utah, hosted a volunteer day at Wuda Ogwa, the site for the infamous Bear River Massacre of 1863, just north of Preston, Idaho.
Brad Parry, the vice chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation and Natural Resources Program Manager explained, “On Jan. 29, 1863, soldiers from Fort Douglas came and massacred our people, about 500 at this site.”
The Band is working to heal the spirits of the land through restoration and recognition, having purchased 550 acres of this site to eventually construct an amphitheater, walking trails, and cultural interpretive center.
For thousands of years prior to the massacre, this site was a place their ancestors would gather, camp and perform the Warm Dance each year. It was an opportunity for tribal members to socialize, find spouses, play games and celebrate. Cultural artifacts found at the site date to at least 3,000 years ago.
“This was an exciting place, and by inviting you all out and doing this, we want to recapture that,” said Parry. “We want to make this a place to come again, while respecting its history.”
The restoration of this site began with the removal of Russian Olive Trees, an invasive species in this region. The focus of this event, however, was planting willows, cottonwoods, dogwoods, currants, and other native plants along Battle Creek and the Bear River.
“It’s really special to be able to work in this place and stand in this place. It was special before the massacre site...and it remains special today,” said Savanna Agardy, an archaeologist with the BLM Utah West Desert District. “It’s really important that we are more involved and just supportive of our tribal partners.”
The Band is working to restore the ecosystem at Wuda Ogwa, which will also improve the health of the Great Salt Lake downstream. Around 8,500 trees were planted during the volunteer day.
Aidan Klopfenstein, an Environmental Specialist with Bio-West, is part of the team helping the Band to rehabilitate the area.
“We want to turn these empty fields into a wetland area, like it originally was,” he explained. “Being able to have that habitat set aside, we’ll be able to add more acre-feet into the Great Salt Lake."
The restoration project began in 2013 and is expected to continue for several more years.
“This is 10,000 of what is going to be another 290,000 plants and trees,” said Parry. “This is the first [event] of many more to come.”