A tribute to Brigham Madsen


Laverne Beech is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. She works for the tribes as the public affairs manager.

The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes are forever indebted to the Utah author and historian who once called Pocatello home and made the documentation of Shoshone-Bannock history his life’s work.

In his 96 years, Brigham D. Madsen wrote six exceptional history books about the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, including “The Northern Shoshoni,” “Chief Pocatello: the White Plume,” “The Bannock of Idaho,” and “The Shoshoni Frontier and the Bear River Massacre.”

Madsen wrote these books despite being told by a university professor that we would be wasting his time if he chose to research the Shoshone-Bannocks for his doctoral dissertation in college.

As a tribal member, I am grateful that Madsen ignored the professor and pursued his passion for documenting the tribes’ history anyway.

His life’s work is the reason why the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes now have authoritative resource materials about the history of the tribes during the early contact years.

His life’s work is the reason why Sho-Ban School students have a history book about the struggles of their ancestors, their great leaders and about what early life was like on the Fort Hall Reservation.

His life’s work is the reason why the Battle of Bear River near present-day Preston is now remembered more accurately as the Massacre at Bia Ogowaide (Big River) — where accounts say up to 500 Shoshone died on that bitter cold day of Jan. 29, 1863 — by far the largest Indian massacre in U.S. history.

This small but significant wording change goes beyond the history books and the National Historic Landmark marker placed at the Bear River site in 1990. Acknowledging what really happened at Bear River is as healing as the prayer ties and offerings hanging on a tree near the site in remembrance of those who died there.

The details of a people’s history can easily be forgotten without a written account that is backed up by detailed footnotes and appendixes
as in Madsen’s books.

His research on the Shoshone-Bannocks took him to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., the regional federal archives in Seattle, Wash.,
the Mormon archives in Salt Lake City, the state historical societies in Idaho, Montana and Utah and the local Indian affairs agency in Fort Hall
to gather documentation about the early contact days.

It would have been easy to say that documentation about the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes is too spread out to be worth one’s time and
effort to gather, yet he persisted. He sought out others interested in documenting and preserving the tribes’ history. He went the extra mile
to gain the tribes’ perspective on matters of the day.

He listened to the calling that the true story of Bear River needed to be told for the healing of the land and the healing of the people.

Thank you Mr. Madsen. You will always be remembered by the Shoshone-Bannock people for your tssan dann daiboo’ degaigwan’nna (good
written materials in English).