On the anniversary of 1863 massacre, Great Basin tribes call for Bahsahwahbee national monument

By: - May 8, 2024 6:31 am

Landscape view of Bahsahwahbee from Rose Guano Mountain. (Photo: Monte Sanford)

Monday marked the anniversary of a violent massacre in Nevada’s Spring Valley by federal soldiers, who in 1863 targeted Native men, women, and children gathered for a religious ceremony in a sacred stand of Rocky Mountain junipers.

For decades, tribal members have fought to protect the unique grove of Rocky Mountain junipers growing on the valley floor, where hundreds of Native people were massacred in the 1800s by settlers and the federal government to pave the way for western expansion.

The region known to tribal members in Nevada as Bahsahwahbee — Shoshoni for “Sacred Water Valley” — is where the spirits of their ancestors killed during those massacres live on in the trees that grew in their place.

The Ely Shoshone, Duckwater Shoshone, and the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation — a coalition representing about 1,500 enrolled tribal members — commemorated the anniversary of the May 6, 1863 massacre by calling on the Biden administration to designate Bahsahwahbee, locally known as the Swamp Cedars, as a National Monument within the National Park System.

“Bahsahwabee links our past to our future, and it’s time for the federal government and officials to center our tribes and get our proposal across the finish line,” said Alvin Marques, chairman of the Ely Shoshone Tribe. “This monument in the National Park System gives us the comfort that our culture will be preserved, for our slain ancestors, our elders, and the generations to come.”

Currently, about 3,200 acres of Bahsahwahbee are designated as an area of critical environmental concern under the Bureau of Land Management, but those protections are limited and only apply to a portion of the much larger cultural area. 

Most of the Swamp Cedars 14,175 acres remain largely unprotected against threats from climate change, drought, and over-pumping of groundwater. If Bahsahwahbee became a monument, the land would transfer to the National Park Service, where it could be managed in cooperation with the tribes.

There are two ways national monuments can be designated: either by Congress through legislation, or by the president through the Antiquities Act of 1906. A large portion of Bahsahwahbee is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the proposal to designate the site as a national monument enjoys broad support throughout Nevada.

In 2021, the Nevada Legislature passed a resolution urging Congress to designate Bahsahwahbee as a national monument. A year later, lawmakers in White Pine County — home of the future monument — approved a final letter of support for the designation.

Democratic U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen said they plan to introduce a bill in Congress that would designate the 25,000 acre sacred site as a national monument within the National Park System. Last year, both senators also began lobbying Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in support of the Bahsahwahbee National Monument.

That support has only grown in recent months, including from regional conservation groups, energy companies, and even Patagonia — a popular clothes retailer. 

“That so many organizations across Nevada and the Nation are supporting our Tribes’ effort to designate Bahsahwahbee as a National Monument within the National Park System means a great deal to us as Native Americans. Too often, Tribes are isolated in our work to heal our traumas from the past, to tell our stories, and to move forward in a good and inclusive way on such a monumentally significant initiative like this monument effort,” said Amos Murphy, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, on Monday.

“We could not do this without their help. And for that, we are incredibly grateful.”

For tribes, the area serves as a living memorial of three separate massacres between 1850 and 1900, one of them a military attack in 1859 that killed an estimated 500 to 700 Native people in one of the largest massacres of Native people in U.S. history. The site still remains a place of healing and mourning for Indigenous Peoples across the Great Basin, who continue to visit the site to connect with their ancestors, offer prayers, and hold healing ceremonies.

“Bahasahwahbee has been the Tribes’ ceremonial gathering area for millennia,” said Monte Sanford, the tribes’ National Monument Campaign Director. “We hope this year will be a turning point for the Tribes, after more than 161 years, to finally have a voice in the future of Bahsahwahbee.”

Last month, representatives for the Ely Shoshone, Duckwater Shoshone, and the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation met with senior White House officials and top personnel within the Department of Interior to discuss the Bahsahwahbee National Monument. Monte said supporters of the monument came away from the meeting optimistic about the monument’s future.

“We feel good that President Biden will see Bahsahwahbee National Monument within the National Park System as important and good for the nation, and will designate it sometime this year,” Monte said. 

If successful, Bahsahwahbee would also join Avi Kwa Ame — a biologically significant landscape in southern Nevada — as the fifth national monument in Nevada. Nevada’s Avi Kwa Ame was one of five national monuments President Joe Biden created in 2023, using his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

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Jeniffer Solis
Jeniffer Solis

Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies.

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