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Wellsville's Sham Battle Won't Include 'Offensive' Native American Dramatization Anymore

Robert Gehrke
Wellsville will find a new way to depict the way Mormon pioneers prepared for attack in future portrayals of the Sham Battle. A special City Council committee made the decision this week.

The town of Wellsville has decided to revamp its annual “Sham Battle,” a yearly tradition where residents paint themselves red to dramatize Native Americans attacking Mormon settlers.

The move comes after weeks of deliberation about the sensitivity of portraying Native Americans as marauders in a place where that just didn’t happen.

Darren Parry, chairman of Northwest Band of the Shoshone Nation, told the Wellsville City Council last month that the tradition was offensive.

“And I just said, ‘I don’t think you guys are racist,” he said Friday. “I said I think it’s pretty insensitive in the name of tradition. But I said sometimes you just need to look at things and see if something needs to be changed.”

The Sham Battle has been going on for 87 years as part of the end-of-summer Founders’ Day Celebration in Wellsville. But a column in The Salt Lake Tribune last month prompted soul searching in the Cache Valley community and beyond. Parry’s tribe and other Native American leaders say the mock battle has been misrepresenting local federal troops, tribes and their relationship, which has been positive historically.

It was federal troops behind the Bear River Massacre that left 500 Shoshone dead back in 1863.

Parry was on hand this week when a special committee recommended reworking the Sham Battle — without Native Americans. He praised all sides for working together.

“If you can sit down knee-to-knee and talk about an issue and hopefully come to a resolution — how cool is that?” he said. “That hardly ever happens in today’s world.”

Community leaders have said federal troops or bandits might be part of the reenactment in the future. KUER News reached out to members of the City Council and others associated with Founders' Day, but the calls were not returned.

Video by the Herald Journal on YouTube:

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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