On September 9, 1860 Elijah Otter was leading migrants on the Oregon trail when they were attacked by a group of presumably Bannock and Boise Shoshone. In spite of settlers attempt to placate the Native Americans, the Indians killed nearly the entire migrant party and drove of their livestock. Alexis Van Ornum, his family, and about ten others hid in some nearby brush, only to be discovered by a company of U.S. Soldiers led by Captain F.T. Dent. Lieutenant Marcus A. Reno came across the mutilated bodies of six of the Van Ornums. Reports from survivors were that four Van Ornum children were taken captive by the attacking warriors.
As a direct result of this attack, the Army established a military fort near the present location of Boise, Idaho, along the migrant trail. Colonel George Wright requested $150,000 to establish a military post able to sustain five companies of troops.
Zachias Van Ornum, Alexis' brother, heard from a relative on the Oregon Trail that a small white boy of his missing nephew Reuben's age was being help by a group of Northwestern Shoshone, likely to be in the Cache Valley. Van Ornum gathered a small group of friends and traveled to Salt Lake City to get some help from the territorial government. There he visited Col. Connor at Fort Douglas and asked for help to regain his nephew. Col. Connor agreed and sent a detachment of cavalry under the comand of Major Edward McGarry to Cache Valley to rendezvous with Van Ornum near the town of Providence, Utah.
Van Ornum located a small group of Shoshone warriors being led by Chief Bear Hunter. He and McGarry's men followed the Shoshone as they retreated to nearby Providence Canyon. After the Indians opened fire, McGarry gave the order “to commence firing and to kill every Indian they could see.” A skirmish between the Shoshone and the U.S. Army lasted about two hours after the Shoshone established a defensive position in the canyon. Finally Chief Bear Hunter signaled surrender by climbing a foothill and waiving a flag of truce.
Together with about 20 of his people, Chief Bear Hunter was taken prisoner and transported to the soldier's camp near Providence. When asked about the young white boy, Bear Hunter said that the boy had been sent away a few days earlier. McGarry instructed Bear Hunter to send his people to bring back the white boy. He help Bear Hunter and four warriors hostage. By noon the next day, the Shoshone returned with a small boy who fit the description of Reuben Van Ornum. Zachias Van Ornum claimed the boy was his nephew and took custody, departing to return to Oregon.
The Shoshone protested, claiming that the boy was the son of a French fur trapper and the sister of Shoshone chief Washakie. The federal troops left with Van Ornum and the young boy, McGarry reported to Col. Connor of their rescue of the boy “without the lost or scratch of man or horse.” Bear Hunter complained to the settlers in Cache Valley, arguing that they should have helped him against the soldiers. After a confrontation between Bear Hunter, some warriors from his band, and nearly 70 members of the Cache Valley militia, the settlers donated two cows and some flour as the “ best and cheapest policy” as a kind of compensation.