Chief Pocatello (1815-1884)

Chief Pocatello was born about 1815 in the Grouse Creek Valley of western Utah. He was part of the Northwestern Shoshones, who ranged from the Nevada/Utah border east to the Bear Lake Valley and north to the Snake River. His given name was Tonaioza, which meant Buffalo Robe. Pocatello is likely a name bestowed on him by white man, though by who and when is not known.

He grew up during the fur trapping days of the 1820s and 1830s. The Shoshone were frequent traders with the white mountain men. As an adult, Pocatello's status grew among his people. He was frequently consulted for advice on everyday tasks. While his reputation grew, so did the numbers of white men crossing Shoshone territory. In the southern part of their range in the Salt Lake Valley, the Mormons had settled. Pocatello and his people were very concerned about all these people who grazed all the grass and chased away the game.

Pocatello and his people began to confront the wagon trains and the Mormons, demanding food to replace what the white people had used or chased away. The Mormons gave them what they wanted, figuring it was better to concede than go to war. The wagon trains did not feel the same way. They threatened war to the Indians if they continued to harass them. Soon Pocatello was being blamed for every Indian atrocity in that part of the country. In 1859, two Indians were killed by white men. Pocatello retaliated by sending a war party, which killed six white travelers. During this scuffle, Pocatello was captured by Lieutenant Ebenezer Gay. He was later released when they found Pocatello had not been part of the skirmish.

In August of 1862, Pocatello led a charge against a wagon train traveling through the City of Rocks, in south central Idaho. A few days later, they attacked two other wagon trains near the Snake River. In the two attacks, ten white men were killed. That fall, Colonel Patrick Connor and the Third California Infantry arrived to bring the hostilities to an end. They were stationed at Camp Douglas near Salt Lake City. Connor did not like being kept out of the real action back east, which was engulfed in the Civil War. So instead, he took out his aggression on the Indians.

That winter, Connor led his men against a Shoshone camp on the Bear River. On January 29, 1863, the army attacked the Indians. He lost 22 of his own men, but killed over 350 Indians. It is considered one of the greatest losses in an Indian war. In the spring, Connor roamed the entire Bear River country, looking to kill or capture the rest of the Shoshone, especially Pocatello. He had already accomplished part of his mission though. Those who had survived the Bear River massacre signed a peace treaty. This treaty applied only to the eastern Shoshones.

Soon Pocatello decided it was better to give up then have all his people killed. On July 30, 1863, Pocatello and eight other chiefs signed the Treaty of Box Elder. Pocatello had to forfeit two-thirds of the traditional hunting grounds of the Shoshone. Their new territory would encompass only that between the Raft River and the Portneuf Mountains. They also had to agree not to harass any white travelers passing through their territory. In return the government would give them $5,000 each year for food and blankets.

As with almost every other treaty, the government's stipend was totally inadequate and perpetually late. There was not enough to go around. To compensate Pocatello led raids on the stagecoach stations and stole food. Connor temporarily threw Pocatello in jail for this, but he was set free to avoid possible war with the Indians.

The Indians were reduced to begging at Mormon farms in Utah. The Mormons generally gave what they could as they were sympathetic. However, this did not endear them to other non-Mormons in the area. They were afraid that the Mormons would somehow get the Indians to raid the non-Mormon farms. There is no evidence that this happened however.

In the 1860s the Shoshones and Bannocks were pressured to move to the Fort Hall Reservation. Many did go there because of the government promise of more food. However, there was still not enough to go around. The Indians returned to begging. Some of them even converted to the Mormon religion in exchange for more food, and Pocatello was one of them. The non-Mormons grew concerned about this situation too and convinced the army to get the Indians out of Utah. When the army threatened hostilities, Pocatello and the others returned to Fort Hall.

By then Pocatello was in his sixties. He stayed on the reservation near Bannock Creek. He stayed away from the reservation headquarters and didn't associate much with the other chiefs. When the Bannock War broke out in 1878, he stayed on the reservation and did not participate. In September of 1881 Pocatello and other chiefs sold some of the Fort Hall land. After that his health declined. In October 1884, he died. At his request his family buried his body in a spring that emptied into the Snake River. He was buried with 18 of his horses.