Shoshones of the Great Basin

Sacajawea, Shoshone

‘The Valley People’, they called themselves Newe.  Also referred to as ‘Snake Indians’ because of their location. They are relatives to the Timbisha, Comanches, and Bannocks. Not reaching more than 8000 peoples, they were divided into four large divisions: Shoshone in Wyoming. (They were the buffalo eaters.) Northern Shoshone in Idaho. (Also found in California and Oregon.) Western Shoshone in Nevada & northern Utah. And Gosiute found in western Utah and eastern Nevada.

Primarily non-horse oriented, they specialized in beadwork, art and painting on tanned hides, and basket weaving. Their baskets were so delicately woven, that the smallest of seeds would not fall through them. They were hunters, gatherers/diggers, fishers and seed gatherers. After the horses were introduced into the nation, the culture readjusted, and they came to be known as outstanding buffalo hunters. They also hunted antelope, marmot, beaver, deer, elk, and fox preserving their winter supply of meat by drying. They used digging sticks to dig roots and therefore were also referred to by the United States government as ‘Digger Indians.’ Berries and nuts were also a crucial part of the diet.

Their language is part of the Numic language which is a branch of the Uto-Azetcan language family. Today, they have only about 100 speakers of the 12,000+ tribal members. The majority of the native speakers (including children) are found on the Duck Valley Reservation which is located near the border of Nevada and Idaho. The other key area for the keeping of the ancient language is on the Goshute Reservation located in Utah. (Idaho State University is assisting the language revitalization movement with offering Shoshoni language classes.)

Some of the Shoshones are a federally recognized tribal Nation with their own sovereignty. They live in their traditional area along with the Northern Paiute Nation on this United States owned land. Their ancient land was in the present-day Idaho/Wyoming area, but by the 1500s they crossed the Rocky Mountains into the Great Plains.

By the 1750s wars with the Blackfoot, Crow, Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapho nations, the Eastern Shoshone were pushed south and west of the Plains, even to joining the Comaches in the Texas area. The Northern Shoshone remained in their ancient area known today by the chief’s name – Pocatello. The Southern Shoshone resisted the invading EuroAmericans with farm and ranch raids.

1782 – Small-pox epidemic struck the tribe.

1803-06 – Lewis & Clark Expedition occurred with Sacajawea, the Shoshone

1825 – First reservation was set up in the Rocky Mountains: Green River, Wyoming.

1841-69 – Oregon and California Trails for moving west and gold was established right through the Shoshone lands. (1849 Gold found in California.)

1855 – Treaty of WallaWalla.

1857 – Silver discovered in Nevada.

1862 – Colonel Patrick Connor founded Fort Douglas at Salt Lake City.

1863 – The Bear River Massacre occurred as the United States military under Colonel Patrick Conner and 200 of his men ambushed the NW Shoshone winter camp. Unprepared for the attack, over 410 people were slaughtered including a large number of women and children. This episode was the largest loss of the Shoshone people in one incident by the hands of the United States government.

WyoHistory.org states that the situation that lead up to the massacre as this: In 1851, under pressure from the plains tribes to compensate them for the enormous damage to their lands brought by all the new traffic, the U.S. government negotiated a treaty at Horse Creek, a treaty at Horse Creek near Fort Laramie with the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho and Crow tribes, as well as the tribes of the upper Missouri—Hidatsa, Mandan, Arikara and Assiniboine. The treaty identified separate areas of the northern plains for each of these tribes, where, in exchange for annual payments from the government, they agreed to mostly live and hunt while allowing free passage to whites.

A delegation of about 80 Shoshone men and their families, led by a rising leader named Washakie and accompanied by Bridger, was also present. But for a bureaucratic reason the Shoshones were not invited to sign: Their lands were part of the areas administered by an office of the U.S. Indian Bureau out of Salt Lake City. The Fort Laramie Treaty negotiations were run by the bureau’s St. Louis office. Washakie and the Eastern Shoshone returned home knowing that the new treaty left their interests unprotected.

Relations between white travelers and the western Shoshone bands, meanwhile, went from bad to worse. Casual murders of Indians by white people traveling the trails were not unknown. In retaliation, young Shoshone men began raiding emigrants and even stagecoaches and stage stations on the trails.

In 1862 most U.S. troops were drawn east from garrisons at Fort Bridger and Fort Laramie to fight in the Civil War thus leaving the California and Oregon trails unpatrolled. Eastern Shoshone raiders burned the all the stage stations between the North Platte and Bear rivers, running off all the horses and mules and leaving stagecoaches standing in the road. They killed a stage-station attendant at Split Rock. Raids increased on the trails and stage route to the west. So, the decision to bring these Indians within government control culminated in the justification for the Bear Creek Massacre.

1863 – July 2 – Fort Bridger Treaty with the Eastern Shoshone. The treaty’s specified borders for the Eastern Shoshone homeland was around 44 million acres, which sprawled on both sides of the Continental Divide.

1863 – July 30 – Box Elder NW Bands of Shoshone Treaty.

1863 – Oct 1 – Ruby Valley with Western Shoshone Treaty.

1863 – Oct 12 – Tuilla Valley Treaty with the Goship Shoshone.

1860s -1870s – Shoshones moved to reservations.

1864 – The Shoshone allied with the Bannocks and fought the U.S. military at the Snake River.

1868 – Fort Bridge Treaty with the East Shoshone & Bannock Nations. This treaty shrank the reservation down to around 3.2 million acres, with its heart in the Wind River Valley.

1870s – Low rations at Fort Hall and repercussions.

1874 – Lemhi Valley Shoshone Reservation was ordered to be established by Ulysses S. Grant. 100 square miles.

1878 – Bannock Wars, and Sheepeaters uprising at Salmon Reservation in the mountains of Idaho.

1896 – Shoshoe and Arapho tribes agreed to sign an agreement at Owl Creek/Big Horn Hot Springs. (Senate Doc. #247.)

1938 – With more land cessions and court cases further reduced the reservation to its present size of around 2.3 million acres. (It is now home to two tribes, the Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Arapaho, and since the 1930s has been called the Wind River Reservation.)

1982 – West Shoshone are U.S. federally recognized after the Shoshone declared themselves a sovereign nation. Nations recognized by the U.S. government include only Shoshone Wind River, Paiute & Shoshone, and Fort Hall.

The Shoshone people refer to the Great Spirit as Tam Apo – Our Father.

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