Representatives of the Northwest Band of the Shoshone Nation hope to end an annual Wellsville tradition in which residents paint themselves red and, whooping and hollering on horseback, pretend to raid white settlers.
The so-called ”Sham Battle” has been part of the town’s annual Founders’ Day Parade since 1916 but recently gained widespread attention after a column from The Salt Lake Tribune’s Robert Gehrke.
Darren Parry, vice chairman of the Northwest Band of the Shoshone Nation, said he told Wellsville City Manager Scott Wells that after Gehrke’s column, there’s only one outcome that Parry is willing to accept.
”I could tell he was testing the waters, like, ’What would you like to see?’” Parry said. “And I said, ’It needs to go away.’”
Wellsville Mayor Thomas Bailey said Friday that he hopes for ”compromise, so that at least some form of the Sham Battle could continue.”
Although the narration of this year’s Sham Battle concludes with a mention of the 1863 ”Battle of Bear River” — now classified by authorities as a massacre — Bailey said it’s a misconception that the Sham Battle relates to the killing of as many as 500 Shoshones by the U.S. Army’s Third California Volunteers in nearby Preston, Idaho.
“This has absolutely nothing to do with the Bear River Massacre,” Bailey said. Rather, he said, Wellsville‘s early settlers annually drilled to protect themselves against raids, and ”on the third day, the last day of this drill, they would have a mock battle where some of the pioneers would be the Indians and some of them would be the cowboys.”
Parry said tribal leaders plan to give Wellsville officials ”the chance to do the right thing,” at a meeting tentatively planned for early next week.
”I think they’re good guys,” he said. “I think they mean well. But in today’s society, it’s not acceptable to do what’s going on up there.”
The alternative for Wellsville’s elected officials, Parry said, is ”the storm that’s going to be at the front door.”
The Ute Indian Tribe Political Action Committee is organizing a Sept. 20 protest at Wellsville city offices, which coincides with the next meeting of the City Council.
Director Robert Lucero said that when he saw Gehrke’s video, ”My jaw just dropped.”
He’s since heard the contention that the Sham Battle honors settlers’ emergency preparations, and not the Bear River Massacre, but said that doesn’t excuse such a racially and culturally insensitive portrayal of Native Americans.
Parry knew about the Sham Battle prior to Gehrke’s column. He heard a complaint at a council two years earlier, and even gave a speech at a Mormon Church stake center during 2016’s Founders’ Day events that was ”well-received,” he said.
But “a lot‘s changed in two years, politically speaking, and there’s just a lot more awareness today of being careful of everybody’s feelings,” he said.
”Enough’s enough today.”