Chief Pocatello—Born in a Time of Change
It is hard to imagine the changes Pocatello saw during his lifetime, and the challenges to his people's way of life to which he was forced to respond.
Pocatello was born around 1815 in the Grouse Creek area of present-day northwestern Utah. By 1857, Pocatello was the leader of a group of approximately 400 Hukandeka
Shoshone, a group that later grew to approximately 1,000. Leadership among the Shoshone was earned, and was kept by common assent of the people. It was not inherited.
As a chief, Pocatello's concerns were those common to any leader: the security and well-being of his people.
A Complete Change in the Landscape
Mormon emigration into the Salt Lake Valley and into what is now southeast Idaho, and travel across his band's territory by tens of thousands along the
Oregon and California Trails, had a devastating impact upon Pocatello's people. Cattle and sheep denuded the land, making game and the native plants
the Shoshone depended upon scarce. The Hukandeka Shoshone's traditinal nomadic practice of following the seasonal availability of game and edible
native plants ran afoul of the European concept of "ownership." The people under Pocatello's care faced starvation.
Although traditional in Native American cultures, Pocatello's demand for tribute from emigrants on the Oregon and California Trails in return for safe passage
was misinterpreted to be begging. When Pocatello and his braves began to exact tribute by force—in part because of the desperate hunger his people were
experiencing—a chain of events was set inmotion that would see Pocatello's way of life come to an end forever.
The Bear River Massacre
In August of 1862, Pocatello and his braves attacked a wagon train at what is now Massacre Rocks State Park on teh Snake River, approximately 36 miles
west of Pocatello. 10 emigrants were killed.
In serponse to this and complaints of settlers in the region that livestock was being solten, Colonel Patrick Conner and the Third California Infantry were
dispatched from Fort Douglas, Utah to "punish" the area's Indians, especially Pocatello. On January 29, 1863, a frigidly cold day, Connor and the troops
under his command attacked a peaceful Shoshone winter camp on the Bear River, northwest of present-day Preston, Idaho. The result was the death
of approximately 400 Shoshone men, women and children, the largest documented Indian massacre in the history of the United State.
Pocatello had left the camp with his band about a day before the attack took place.
Under increasing military pressue, Pocatello and a number of other Shoshone chiefs signed the Box Elder Treaty. The treaty promised Pocatello
and his people $5,000 worth of food and supplies per year if they would remain on the Fort Hall Reservation. The promised food and supplies were
either late or never delivered at all. In responsed, Pocatello returned to stealing and plundering, trying to get what he saw as owed to his people.
Arrested several times, he remained defiant. Scheduled for execution, Pocatello was pardoned by President Lincoln.
The Final Years
In 1875, Pocatello and his band traveled to Utah and requested baptism into the Mormon Church, thinking this might be a way to end the ceaseless
trouble they were experiencing. They lived peacefully for a while on a church farm. However, non-Mormons in the area called upon the military to
enforce the Box Elder treaty and return Pocatello and his people to Fort Hall.
Chief Pocatello never again became involved in tribal affairs. He died on October 1884. Dressed in full war attire, his body was lowered into a
bottomless spring, along with his guns, knives and spears, and 18 of his finest horses. The burial site is now covered by the American Falls Reservoir.