The Death Of Chief Pocatello

Big Spring Burial


Chief Pocatello

The following article is about the burial of Chief Pocatello, as told by Judge Walter T. Oliver. Originally published in "Idaho Yesterday and Today", in 1934 by the Fort Hall Centennial. It was republished in the Pocatello Post on July 15, 1948. Originally edited and adapted for use here by retired Idaho State University history professor Jo Ann Ruckman.


"Remember the burial of Chief Pocatello? I should say I do. The chief and his family camped one night close to my ranch. Along in the evening I heard the women and children crying, so I went down to their camp to find out the cause. Arriving there, they told me that Chief Pocatello was dead. He had been very sick for some time, had been living most of the time back in the foothills of the mountains on Bannock Creek. His wife said the old man knew he was going to die soon, and asked that he be brought to the Snake River bottoms before he died.

He made all the preparations for his death, bringing along all his earthly possessions when they moved down and camped just a little way from my ranch house. I remember well that he had 18 head of horses, some mighty good ones, and a lot of hunting equipment. I am not positive, but I think it was about the middle of October 1884 that the old chief died. That was the damnedest burial I ever saw. The following afternoon after his death, myself and wife (for he had no white neighbors closer than 22 miles) were the only people except his women and children to attend the burial. One of the women told us that they were going to bury him in the big spring, which was about two miles from my house.

This big spring was known to every traveler, every cattle and horse thief and every Indian because of its immense size, and the belief was that it had no bottom. The water rolled out of the earth with a roar and the spring proper was about 20 feet in diameter, and flowed hundreds of barrels an hour. This spring was swallowed up and destroyed when the American Falls dam was built, and although it is some 10 miles from the dam and directly in the Snake River bed bottoms, it is now under about 15 feet of water, maybe more. Well, anyhow, there is where we planted the old boy right in the middle of that spring. The Indians seemed to have some sort of presumption that this spring was a sacred place and that its waters were sacred.

First we took the chief and wound all his clothing around him, then tied his guns, knives and all his hunting equipment and relics to the clothing with willow thongs and tossed him out into the middle of the spring, and he went to the bottom quickly. Then the Indians took his 18 head of horses, killed them one by one and rolled them into the spring on top of the old man, and they, too, were soon out of sight. As I remember Chief Pocatello, he was about 70 years old, about 5 feet 10 inches tall, straight as a sapling and a pretty good-looking old man. He was always pleasant and I have spent many hours talking with him, for he often came to see me and my wife, sort of liked us, sometimes he would stay three or four days and camp a few rods from my house."