Skip to main content

Davis Journal

The Northwestern Shoshone – the original inhabitants of Davis County

Jun 22, 2023 08:55AM ● By Braden Nelsen

DAVIS COUNTY—If one were to look out over Davis County today, there would be bustling cities and suburbs, amusement parks, public transit, restaurants, businesses, events and all sorts of activity. Of course, it wasn’t always this way and a long time ago, this area looked quite different.

Before 1847, when the first white settlers came to the area, before Jedediah S. Smith became one of the first explorers of European descent to travel through the area and even before Jim Bridger explored the Great Salt Lake, there was a robust and thriving civilization in the Great Basin and what would later become the Utah territory.

Michael Gross, a member and former Vice Chairman of the Tribal Council of the Northwestern Shoshone Nation was able to elaborate on the first inhabitants of this region and the Great Basin as a whole, explaining that before the arrival of European settlers, the disparate groups that many are familiar with today once existed as a much more cohesive group.

He explained that the Paiute, Goshute, Bannock, Ute and Shoshone were all closely related and that signs of a shared culture and lineage are still present today. The Shoshone in the area of Davis County were hunter/gatherers and very nomadic, but still called this area home for generations. However, with the arrival of European settlers from the East, this once cohesive group was separated into the different bands that many know them as today, sticking with closer family groups, but in different places.

This separation extended even with larger tribes and organizations, such as the Northwestern Shoshone, which, in the mid-to-late-1800s, were in three separate bands under Chief Little Soldier, primarily in Weber and Davis Counties, Chief Pocatello, or Tondzaosha in Northern Utah and Southern Idaho and Chiefs Bear Hunter and Sagwitch of Cache Valley (Seuhubeogoi) and Southern Idaho. 

As was the case with many Native inhabitants in the United States, increasing numbers of settlers began to create scarcity, pushing them out of traditional lands and further North. For a hunter/gatherer society, the shutting off of available land and the increased amount of people hunting game threatened the entire society with starvation. With that desperation, came the need to find food somewhere and sometimes, that meant raiding settlers.

Though these raids were few and far between, the settlers from the east grew concerned, with one group even asking the federal government to intervene. That intervention caused one of the largest massacres of Native Americans in history. Patrick Edward Connor led a fully-armed detachment from Fort Douglass in Salt Lake City, all the way to Franklin County, present-day Idaho and, after a short one-sided skirmish, ended up killing anywhere from 270-400 men, women and children, sparing few in what would come to be known as the Bear River Massacre. 

One such survivor, though not unscathed, was Chief Sagwitch Timbimboo, the ancestor of both outspoken Shoshone activist and Clearfield resident, Mae Timbimboo Parry and her grandson, Michael Gross. Though Parry has passed on, Gross and his relatives have dedicated themselves to preserving the history of the Shoshone people, those that were killed in the Bear River Massacre and those that survived. “We don’t want the memory of these people to be lost,” Gross said.

A group of Northwestern Shoshone women pose at a Relief Society gathering in 1918. Courtesy Photo.

 Gross described how following the massacre, the Northwestern Shoshone were homeless, searching for a safe place they could call their own. Many found that place with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Chief Sagwitch himself joining after the massacre, paving the way for hundreds more of his family to do the same. His grandson, Moroni Timbimboo became the first Native American called as a bishop in that church and was a longtime resident of Clearfield, where he and his wife are buried.

“We live in different places, but we’re all part of the same family,” said Gross, “We haven’t just survived, we’ve thrived.” In carrying forward the legacy of the Northwestern Shoshone, Gross hopes that residents of Davis County and elsewhere realize, “We’re still here.” Gross went on to explain that much of the Northwestern Shoshone Nation still lives in Weber and Davis counties and along the Wasatch Front into Southern Idaho. 

Though there is a small monument on the site, Michael Gross and others are part of an ongoing effort to put a cultural interpretive center on the site of the Bear River Massacre, called “Boa Ogoi,” or “Big River” in the Shoshone language. The center would serve to tell the Shoshone side of the story and will pay tribute to the men, women and children that lost their lives and also to those that carried on afterward. 

Though these wounds run deep, Gross says that it’s possible to move forward. “We need to do a better job of teaching history…having empathy.” He said, saying that this new project will go a long way to helping future generations understand the past and move toward the future together.

The Northwestern Shoshone Nation is still accepting donations to help build this center and interested parties can visit to learn more and to donate.