Sunday, July 30, 2017

Chief Pocatello Signs "Box Elder" Peace Treaty [otd 07/30]

On July 30, 1863, Shoshone Chief Pocatello signed the Treaty of Box Elder. In return for promises of food and other compensation for the game and land preempted by whites, the Chief agreed to cease his attacks on Oregon Trail travelers and southeast Idaho settlers.

Chief Pocatello sculpture*.
[Portneuf] Valley Pride project.
The man whom whites called "Pocatello" was born in 1815-1825 somewhere in the Grouse Creek area of Utah, 35-40 miles south of Oakley, Idaho. He grew up to become a strong-minded, decisive chief.

The tribe migrated seasonally through Idaho and Utah: north to the Snake, east to the Portneuf and Blackfoot rivers, and then south along the Bear River. Sometimes, they wintered near the Great Salt Lake. They encountered no serous difficulties with the mountain men who shared their territory after about 1825.

Osborne Russell, for example, lived with the local Indians during the winter of 1840-1841. They passed the time in conversation in which “The principal topic which was discussed was the political affairs of the Rocky Mountains: The state of governments among the different tribes, the personal characters of the most distinguished warriors Chiefs etc.”

But then the California gold rush brought hordes of travelers through the region. Also, Mormons began to settle there, pushing the Indians off the land. What started the trouble is impossible to say, and matters little: counter-attack followed attack, atrocity matched atrocity.

By around 1860, the chief had a reputation as a "bad" Indian, and whites blamed him for many attacks he had nothing to do with. Then, on January 29, 1863, Volunteer troops under Colonel Patrick Connor slaughtered several hundred Shoshones at the Battle of Bear River (also called the "Bear River Massacre").

Shoshone Leaders. Utah State Historical Society.
Pocatello's band had no involvement in the Battle. Still, the heavy losses shocked every Shoshone and the pressure that followed forced the chief to sign the Box Elder treaty. Five years later, the Bridger Treaty of 1868 pushed the Shoshones onto the Fort Hall Indian Reservation [blog, June 14].

Indifference, and probably some corruption in the Indian Agency, basically nullified the promises made in those treaties. In 1878, all the broken promises, and other grievances, finally sparked the Bannock War [blog, June 8]. Although some Shoshones fought in that conflict, Pocatello took no part. By then, deeply weary and discouraged, the chief had withdrawn from an active leadership role. He died in 1884.

A final word about the name, which lives on as the city in southeast Idaho. It's origin is completely lost in time. We do know it's not Shoshone-Bannock: Neither language has an "L" sound. Pocatello's daughter asserted that the name had no meaning, implying it was just a nonsense term.

Yet white's called him that even before 1860, and neither trappers nor emigrants were much given to overt creativity. We do know newcomers frequently learned tribal and individual names from outsiders first, and often from enemies. That suggests possible word corruptions from Spanish, French, Nez Perce, Paiute, Piegan, or any of the other language-speakers the Shoshones regularly met. We'll probably never know for sure.

* Sculptor JD Adcox
References: Brigham D. Madsen, Chief Pocatello: The "White Plume," University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City (1986).
Brigham D. Madsen, The Northern Shoshoni, The Caxton Printers, CaIdwell, Idaho (1980)..
“The Name Pocatello,” Reference Series No. 37, Idaho State Historical Society (May 1966).
“Pocatello’s [Shoshoni] Band,” Reference Series No. 818, Idaho State Historical Society (184).
Osborne Russell, Aubrey L. Haines (ed.), Journal of a Trapper, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1965).


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