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Utah archaeologists help to restore the land of the Bear River Massacre

by Mike Anderson, KSL-TV

PRESTON, Idaho — Some archaeologists from the University of Utah are helping prepare the site of the 1863 Bear River Massacre to be restored to what it once was.

Located just north of Preston, a piece of land known for a massive tragedy is beginning to have its greater history uncovered — something important to people like Brad Parry.

"Largely, this story has gone untold, you know: one of the largest, if not the largest, massacre in the United States history," Parry said.

Parry is vice chair of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone nation. He said the work archaeologists are doing this week is helping change that.

"The first two-thirds of my life, it was always really sad to come here. We didn't own it," he explained. "We take a lot of pride in making sure that we keep these grounds sacred."

Archaeologists like Brian Codding are slowly combing the land. Graduate and post-doctorates are helping, too, all from the University of Utah.

"For me personally, it's an extreme honor to be a part of this project. And if I'm representing the University of Utah archaeological center, it's exactly the type of work that we want to be doing," Codding said.

It can be some slow and methodical work.

It's hard to see what's underneath all the grass, which is why the archaeological team will be back to make multiple passes.

The tribe is using additional tools, like lidar and radar, to see what's under the soil.

And they already found a few things.

"An arrowhead projectile made out of what they call Elko flint," said Parry, showing some of the findings of the team. "This would have dated a couple of thousand years ago."

It's the evidence that Parry's ancestors were coming to this winter home for the tribe long before any pioneers.

"Very significant, a very important place for us here in this spot," he expressed.

Much more than the site of a massacre that took upwards of 400 Shoshone lives.

The land is a small piece of a sprawling history that will be shown as the tribe works to restore the river and vegetation to what it once was before settlers by removing hundreds of invasive Russian olive trees in the process.

"It helps it feel more like home. It's helping to heal, kind of, those hard feelings that you know something horrible happened here," Parry said.

As both teams start healing the land and restoring pieces of rich history, Parry is hopeful the land will be restored.

"And the peace that's coming back out on the land is really something that we enjoy," he said.


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