As a child sitting at the feet of his grandmother, Darren Parry was taught the stories of his ancestors and was groomed for the role he now shoulders as a first-time author.
Parry is known by many people for his position as chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation. He’s remembered by so many more for his captivating storytelling. He travels the state of Utah sharing the stories of those who came before him, in particular the story of the Bear River Massacre.
“She just ran out of time to write this story, the story of our people,” Parry said about his grandmother. “So I just thought, I need to do this for her.”
The massacre and the journey of the Shoshone Nation is the focus of Parry’s new book. “The Bear River Massacre: A Shoshone History” will be released on Nov. 29 from nonprofit publisher By Common Consent Press.
In January of 1863, Parry’s great-great-grandfather was just 12 years old when he played dead to save his own life. On that winter day, hundreds of Shoshone men, women and children were killed by a detachment of United States soldiers.
“His life was spared so the true story of the massacre could be written,” Parry said.
Tribal elders pass down information through storytelling. It is learned, memorized word for word and passed down to the next generation. Parry said that is the pattern of his ancestors and the way he first heard these stories. Even then he knew he had to do something to preserve and share the history.
“When an old Indian dies, a library burns,” Parry said, quoting an old saying that has stuck with him and made him determined to make sure the knowledge of his people is not lost forever.
“It is hard,” Parry said. “I thought I would just write a few things down and send it to a publisher, but it is crazy the amount of work, effort and editing that goes into it.”
He has written his book using the same cadence as it was told to him, as it was told to his grandmother and as it was told to her parents before her.
“It is a history book of how it sounds like to me,” Parry said.
Parry’s efforts to share this story have also led to the purchasing of 700 acres at the massacre’s site, including the land that still holds the bones of his ancestors. Construction on an interpretive center relaying the history of the massacre is planned to begin in the summer.
“I have felt the influence of my ancestors push me along in this project,” Parry said. “They want their story told so it is my responsibility to make sure their story is told.”