Abraham Lincoln was worried the new state of California would be cut off from the United States as it was bordered by Utah Territory, and the loyalty of the Mormon militia there was doubtful. Therefore he ordered several regiments of California troops to be raised to defend the area. One of these was the 3rd California Volunteer Infantry, which moved to the Salt Lake City area to keep the peace. The 3rd California was commanded by Patrick Conner, an Irishman who immigrated to America and joined the army, fighting in the Mexican and Indian wars.
There were several incidents of violence between the settlers and the Shoshone Indians in the preceding years. In early December, 1862, Col. Connor sent Major Edward McGarry on an expedition into the Cache Valley to recover some livestock thought to have been stolen by the Shoshone. The Indians fled at the soldiers' approach and all made their escape, except for four warriors. Although they did not seem to be the thieves, McGarry said that if the livestock was not returned by the next day, the Indians were to be executed. It was not, and so the four men were executed by firing squad.
Conner was in position on January 28th, and he had his men moving for a surprise attack at 3:00 am on the morning of January 29th, 150 years ago today. It was the dead of winter and even colder than usual, the temperature that morning may well have been around -20° F. The first American units arrived at the camp at around 6:00 am. The Indians were unprepared for the attack. They thought that the United States would try to negotiate, instead of resorting to an attack. However, when Conner's men attacked, their advance was halted by the Shoshone fire. Conner sent McGarry around to flank the village, and positioned a line of troops to block any attempt to escape.
|Site of the massacre|
Some Shoshone had escaped. Chief Sagwitch was shot in the hand, and escaped on horseback. His horse was killed, and he survived by floating in a hot spring, hidden under some brush. Estimates of Shoshone casualties vary. Connnor reported killing 224 of 300 braves and capturing 160 women and children. Many years later a settler reported counting 493 Indians killed, and the son of the chief said that half of the Indians escaped, and 156 were killed. Whatever the death toll, the Shoshone tribe was destroyed. Chief Sagwitch and the survivors of the tribe joined the Mormon church.