Chief Pocatello – The Indian Chief for whom Pocatello was named

Pocatello.net Chief Pocatello

In the early 1800’s the Shoshone Indians lived and roamed in what is now known as northern Utah and southeast Idaho. Bands of Indians would move throughout the region with the season finding food and shelter suitable for the time of year. A band of the Shoshone tribe was led by one who later became known as Chief Pocatello. Some say his actual name was Tonaioza (meaning buffalo robe.) Born in 1815 he grew up in the area now known as northern Utah. Details of his life vary, but what stands out today is that his leadership was vital to the survival of his tribe during a tumultuous time in U.S. history.

Chief Pocatello indian encampment

In the early 1800’s the way of life of the Shoshone Indians was interrupted by settlers from the Midwest going west for various reasons. These settlers traveled the Oregon and California Trails which cut through the heart of the area the Indians relied on for food and sustenance. The seeming limitless resources the Indians survived on were being absorbed and destroyed by non-native settlers and pioneers passing through.

According to one authority:

“Pocatello and his people felt the pressure as travelers and settlers encroached on their homeland, destroyed game and native plant communities and killed their tribesmen. And, the chief and his warriors were known for their swift retaliation.”

 

Looking out for his people

As the westward expansion continued so did the frequency of conflicts between natives and non-natives. In 1858 the federal government ordered the U.S. Army into the Utah Territory, resulting in full-scale conflict between the U.S. and the Shoshone.

In retaliation, in August 1862, Chief Pocatello led an attack against the settlers. The attack occurred on the Snake River, now known as Massacre Rocks State Park. Several members of the wagon train were killed. In January 1863 Colonel Patrick Edward Connor led the U.S. Army troops in an attack on the Shoshone settlement in the Bear River area of southeastern Idaho killing more than 400 Shoshone, including women and children.

Warned of Connor’s advance, Pocatello led his people out of harm’s way in January of 1863 to Malad Valley.  To quote an historian

“To make that decision to leave in the dead of winter says a lot about his insight.”

Another chief and his band were largely destroyed.

Seeing the power of U.S. forces, Pocatello agreed to relocate his people. In 1868 Pocatello moved his people to a newly established reservation along the Snake River, the Fort Hall Indian Reservation.

Living on the reservation, Chief Pocatello endured broken promises and treaty agreements from the federal government. The chief withdrew from participation in reservation affairs and lived his remaining years in discontent. In October 1884 the chief died. According to his instructions, his body, along with his clothing, guns, knives, and hunting equipment were bound together and tossed into a deep spring in southern Idaho. Eighteen horses were also slaughtered and rolled into the spring on top of the chief.

The coming of the railroads

In 1881 the Oregon Short Line Railroad was organized and subsequently joined up with the Utah & Northern railroad at a spot in the heart of the Fort Hall Indian Reservation.  Chief Pocatello granted a right of way which allowed the railroad to cross the reservation. The railroad developed a settlement and built the Pacific hotel and station.  Although there was no land open for settlement, there quickly grew up a typical frontier town where excitement ran high. Vice was rampant and saloons and gambling knew no hours. The U.S. government purchased two thousand acres of reservation land from the Indians to be used as a town-site.

Railroad officials suggested  the name Shoshone for the settlement but after a dispute as to relevancy, the name Pocatello was appropriately selected.

Founded in 1889, Pocatello was so named in honor of Chief Pocatello.