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Amelia Earhart Elementary School

Last modified: October 18, 2021

Shoshone Indians



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SHOSHONI INDIANS Brigham D. Madsen Utah History Encyclopedia

There were three major bands of Northwestern Shoshoni at the time the first Mormon pioneers began settling northern Utah. Chief Little Soldier headed the misnamed “Weber Ute” group of about 400, who occupied Weber Valley down to its entry into the Great Salt Lake. Chief Pocatello commanded a similar number of Shoshoni, who ranged from Grouse Creek in northwestern Utah eastward along the northern shore of Great Salt Lake to the Bear River. The third division of about 450 people, under Chief Bear Hunter, resided in Cache Valley and along the lower reaches of the Bear River. Bear Hunter was regarded as the principal leader of the Northwestern Shoshoni, being designated by Mormon settlers as the war chief who held equal status with Washakie when the Eastern and Northwestern groups met in their annual get-together each summer in Round Valley, just north of Bear Lake.

By the 1840s, the Northwestern Shoshoni had adopted most of the Plains Culture, using the horse for mobility and the hunting of game. Chief Pocatello especially led his band on numerous hunts for buffalo in the Wyoming area. Pocatello also gained notoriety as a reckless and fearless marauder along the Oregon and California trails. The Wasatch Mountains provided small game for the Northwestern bands, but of even greater importance were the grass seeds and plant roots which grew in abundance in the valleys and along the hillsides of northern Utah before the cattle and sheep of the white man denuded these rich areas and left many of the Shoshoni tribes in a starving condition and to suffer under the ignominy of being called “Digger Indians.” Before white penetration, the Great Basin and Snake River Shoshoni had been among the most ecologically efficient and well-adapted Indians of the American West.

The tragic transformation for the Northwestern Shoshoni to a life of privation and want came with the occupation by Mormon farmers of their traditional homeland. The white pioneers slowly moved northward along the eastern shores of Great Salt Lake until by 1862 they had taken over Cache Valley, home of Bear Hunter’s band. In addition, California-bound emigrants had wasted Indian food supplies as the travelers followed the Salt Lake Road around the lake and across the salt desert to Pilot Peak. The discovery of gold in Montana in 1862 further added to the traffic along the route. The young men of Bear Hunter’s tribe began to strike back in late 1862, raiding Mormon cattle herds and attacking mining parties traveling to and from Montana.

The Indian aggression came to an end on 29 January 1863. On the morning of that day, Colonel Patrick Edward Connor and about 200 California Volunteers from Camp Douglas in Salt Lake City assaulted the winter camp of Bear Hunter’s Northwestern group of 450 men, women, and children on Beaver Creek at its confluence with the Bear River, some twelve miles west of the Mormon village of Franklin in Cache Valley. As a result of the four-hour carnage that ensued, twenty-three soldiers lost their lives and at least 250 Shoshoni were slaughtered by the troops, including ninety women and children in what is now called the Bear River Massacre. Bear Hunter was killed, and the remnants of his tribe under Sagwitch and the chiefs of nine other Northwestern bands signed the Treaty of Box Elder at Brigham City, Utah, on 30 July 1863, bringing peace to this Shoshoni region.

After the signing of the Box Elder agreement, government officials attempted to get all of the Northwestern Shoshoni to move to the newly founded Fort Hall Indian Reservation in Idaho. After several years of receiving their government annuities at Corinne, Utah, near the mouth of the Bear River, the Indians bands finally gave up their homelands in Utah and settled at Fort Hall, where their descendants live today. As a result of their move to Idaho, the Northwestern Shoshoni have been lost to Utah history although for centuries they had lived in northern Utah. It is time for Utah historians to make the Shoshoni a prominent part of the state’s history along with the Navajo, Paiute, and Ute tribes.

THE SHOSHONE OF NORTHERN UTAH Kristen Rogers Beehive History, 26

Fifteen years after the Mormon settlers arrived in Utah, their livestock had so overgrazed the native grasses and seeds that the Indians were starving, noted Jacob Hamblin, one of those settlers. The Great Basin was hardly lush to begin with, but indigenous peoples had survived there for centuries. How did they live on the land? And why was the Euro-American way of living so devastating to the native tribes?

Each group of Native Americans survived by adapting to the resources of its own area. Consider the group now called the Shoshone. Earlier, they called themselves kammitakka, “jackrabbit-eaters,” and lived in northern Utah and southern Idaho. They lived in small and fluid family groups, hunting and gathering scarce resources throughout the spring, summer and fall. During the winter, the small groups gathered together into larger camps in areas that provided cover, timber, and food sources to supplement the foodstuffs they had gathered and stored. Often they wintered near hot springs at Battle Creek near Franklin, Idaho or at Promontory Point or Crystal Springs in Utah, erecting brush or tipi homes.

They fished Bear Lake and the Bear, Weber, and Snake rivers, using spears, gill nets, and basket traps. They snared or shot waterfowl, grouse, coots, and owls, and they snared small animals like wood rats, muskrats, and squirrels. To cook these, they singed the fur off then roasted the animals whole or stuffed.

Large game required other hunting techniques. Working as a group, hunters might drive deer into brush corrals in narrow canyons. They also hunted mountain sheep, stalking or ambushing them or beating on logs to simulate the rams’ rutting battles.

Men often joined forces to hunt pronghorn antelope. A person who was thought to have spiritual power directed the communal hunts. This shaman would visit the herd, sing to the animals, sleep with them, and help drive them to a brush corral, where they could be shot. Large hunts such as this were only held every five or ten years, however, as it took the antelope population that long to recover.

Other animals used by the Shoshone included beaver, elk, porcupines, mountain lions (rarely), bobcats, hares and rabbits, otters, badgers, marmots, and bears. The hunters often took care to avoid killing female animals, birds and fish during times when the animals would be bearing or caring for their young.

Plants were also critical to survival. The Shoshone ate such diverse plants as thistle stems, sagebrush seeds, the leaves and roots of arrowleaf balsamroot, buffalo berries, limber pine seeds, sego lilies, wild rye seeds, Indian ricegrass, cattails, and much more

Of all the plant foods, pinyon nuts were the most important. The band usually went to Grouse Creek, in northwestern Utah, to gather the nuts in the fall. After they harvested the green cones, they would roast the cones to release the seeds. They would then parch the shells to make them brittle, crack them with a metate, and winnow the nuts with a fan tray. The parched nuts could be eaten whole or ground to make a warm or cold mush.

The Pinyon Harvest was a time of religious ceremonies, and the people regarded the pinyon-gathering areas as sacred. But the Shoshone apparently approached all of their relationships with the land spiritually. Animals killed were often treated ritually, with their heads placed to the east or their organs set out in the brush or trees; the dead animals were addressed with special respect. Plants were harvested with prayers and offering. When digging a root, for instance, a Shoshone might leave a small stone or bead in the hole.

According to anthropologists, Great Basin peoples regarded animals and plants as powerful agents that could help or hurt the people. Certain plants sagebrush, for instance were used ritually. It was crucially important to the Shoshone to maintain a harmonious relationship between the natural and human worlds. Prayers of petition and thanks, then, were part of everyday life.

These attitudes still persist among many. In 1980 a fieldworker interviewing Western Shoshones for and MX missile environmental impact study wrote that the people had a high attachment to and reverence for the land. The interviewees described the sacred sited on the land but would not identify them. Fearing that the sites would be disturbed. They also spoke against the impacts of the MX missile system, saying that “When the is sick, the people are sick.” In the Shoshone view, wrote the fieldworker, the land, water, fish, and fisherman are all holy.

In the past, there was no ownership of land among the Shoshonean people; all Shoshones had a right to its resources and all had a stake in keeping well. But the end of this way of life, with its seasonal migrations and small-group cooperation, began when Mormon settlers moved onto the traditional Northwestern Shoshone lands. Also, emigrants hunting and grazing their livestock along the Oregon Trail decimated food sources and polluted streams


The Shoshone people belong to the Numic branch of the larger Uto-Aztecan language family. During the past two centuries the Shoshone people have been identified in print as “Snake Indians,” “Shoshone,” and “Shoshoni,” but older members of the tribe refer to themselves in writing as “Soshonies.” The spelling of the singular form of the name throughout this entry will be Shoshone, but the word itself should be pronounced sho-SHO-nee.

The most striking cultural difference between the Bannocks and the Northern and Western Shoshones was their adoption of the plains culture. The basis of the Shoshone and Bannock religion was a belief in dreams, visions, and a Creator. Shoshone religious belief fostered individual self-reliance, courage, and the wisdom to meet life’s problems in a difficult environment.  Today the Sun Dance, a very important event, is held each summer.

The Shoshone tribe was also beset by epidemics of small-pox, which decimated the tribe and also diminished its power. .

Larry G. Murray


Native North Americans whose language belongs to the Shoshonean group of the Uto-Aztecan branch of the Aztec-Tanoan linguistic stock (see Native American languages). In the early 19th cent. the Shoshone occupied SE California, NW Utah, SW Montana, W Wyoming, S Idaho, and NE Nevada. The Shoshone were traditionally divided into four groups: the Comanche of W Texas, a historically recent subdivision of the Wind River Shoshone of Wyoming; the Northern Shoshone of Idaho and Utah, who had horses and ranged across the Great Plains in search of buffalo; the western Shoshone, who did not use horses and subsisted mainly on nuts and other wild vegetation; and the Wind River Shoshone of Wyoming. Today the Shoshone live on reservations in California, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. In 1990 there were some 9,500 Shoshone in the United States.   1See V. C. Trenholm and M. Carley

The Shoshone (also spelled Shoshoni) are Native Americans of the Great Basin region, and south and east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Shoshoneans are distributed widely–from Southern California, Death Valley and Mono Lake, through Utah to Western Colorado. Sacajawea, the woman who guided the Lewis and Clark expedition, was a Utah Shoshone.

While the beliefs of other Shoshonean tribes are fairly well documented, there is little published information about the mythology of the Great Basin Shoshone per se. This collection reveals that the Western Shoshone, who lived in central Nevada, were very similar to the Northern Californians in this regard. Their myths are inhabited by the lusty trickster Coyote, and other primordial zoomorphic demigods. (book on-line for more details)

Their language belongs to the Numic group of the Uto-Aztecan family. The Shoshone are usually divided into four groups: Western (unmounted) Shoshone, centred in eastern Nevada; Northern (mounted) Shoshone of northwestern Utah and southern Idaho; The Western Shoshone subsisted through hunting and gathering. The Shoshone number about 10,000.

Shoshone«shoh SHOH nee», Indians, also spelled Shoshoni, once lived in the desert area of what is now eastern Nevada, southern Idaho, and western Utah. The first white settlers in this region, known as the Great Basin, sometimes called the Shoshone “Snake” Indians. Sacagawea, a Shoshone woman, became famous for her role as an interpreter with the Lewis and Clark Expedition (see Sacagawea).

The Shoshone lived on some of the most barren land in the United States. They formed small, isolated family groups. These groups constantly moved from place to place in search of seeds, roots, fish, birds, and small animals such as rabbits. The Shoshone planned their journeys so that they could collect each type of plant as it ripened and visit each animal’s favorite haunt. They returned to the same areas once each year. One group referred to another according to the main food of a region. There were Seed Eaters, Rabbit Eaters, and so on. If people had an abundance of food, families gathered together where the winter was mild to form a village. They spent much of the time singing, dancing, and telling stories.

The Shoshone acquired horses from the Spaniards, and became buffalo hunters like the Plains tribes. Well-known leaders of these Shoshone included the chieftains Pocatello and Washakie (see Washakie). During the 1800’s, the Shoshone moved to Indian reservations. According to the 2000 U.S. census, there are about 7,700 Shoshone. Many Shoshone now live as ranchers and farmers in Wyoming, Nevada, Idaho, and Utah.

The Shoshones – 1) nomads 2) used horses – hunting, carry loads and hunting 3) buffalo – meat, tepees, blankets and clothes 4) lived in tepees.

(Summary from S.S. Text)

Sacagawea«sah KAH guh WEE uh»(1787?-1812), was a Shoshone Indian woman who accompanied the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805 and 1806. The expedition, an early exploration of the Northwestern United States, was led by U.S. Army officers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Sacagawea has often been depicted in art and literature as the expedition’s heroic guide. But in reality, her contributions, though important, were much more limited. Sacagawea’s name means Bird Woman. It is also spelled Sacajawea «SAK uh juh WEE uh» or Sakakawea «sah KAH kah WEE uh».

Sacagawea joined the expedition in what is now North Dakota, after Lewis and Clark had hired her husband as an interpreter during the winter of 1804-1805. Sacagawea’s husband was a French-Canadian trader named Toussaint Charbonneau. Lewis and Clark thought Sacagawea might be helpful when the expedition reached Shoshone territory in the Rocky Mountains.

In the Rockies in August 1805, the explorers met a band of Shoshone Indians whose chief was Sacagawea’s brother. Sacagawea aided in communication between the Shoshone and the explorers. She also helped secure horses from the tribe for the explorers. Sacagawea died on Dec. 20, 1812. A number of geographic landmarks, monuments, and memorials have been named for her. In addition, a U.S. dollar coin commemorating Sacagawea went into circulation in early 2000.

A Gallery of Shoshone-Bannock Childrens’ Dolls, Toys & Games

Toys and games have long been used in most cultures to teach children, the future generation, the values and traditions of the culture.  The same has been true for Shoshone and Bannock children reared on the Lemhi, Fort Hall and Wind River reservations.  While most toys have not survived their use, there are still examples of dolls, toy cradleboards, and miniature hide teepees that demonstrate the creativeness of Shoshone and Bannock elders and parents.  These items were used to teach young girls the arts of beadwork and sewing as well as to bring them pleasure.  Young boys had child-sized bows and arrows, although none have been documented in the collections.

Western Shoshone Winnowing-Tray Game

Lesson Goal: Students will understand that at certain times of the year, the Western Shoshone engaged in recreational activities.

Lesson Objective: Students will play a winnowing-tray game, known as We-soy, which was a women’s game.


*           Winnowing Tray or a substitute tray (So. Paiute Unit.)

*           12 game sticks (popsicle sticks) with one side red.

*           25 markers per player.


1.           Ask the students what games they play for fun.

2.           Explain how the Western Shoshone played different games:

a.           Shinny – similar to a stickball game.

b.           Men’s Ball Race – similar to soccer but run around a course.

c.           Hoop and Pole Game – in which they tried to spear through the middle of the hoop with a pole.

d.           Team Hand-game – a guessing game using an unmarked stick.

e.           We-soy – a winnowing-tray game played by women.

3.           Explain about We-soy:

We-soy had 2-inch mahogany sticks, painted red on one side. The player shook the 12 pieces in a winnowing-tray, threw them in the air, & caught them on the tray as they fell. If the one, two, or five sticks landed red side up, the player scored points for each of them and threw the sticks again. If any other number of pieces landed on the red side, the player lost her turn. The first player to reach 25 points won the game. (This game was only played during the day, since anyone playing it at night risked losing a loved one.) Points were usually kept by standing a small willow stick in a hole made on a larger willow containing 25 holes.

4.           Have the students make their own sticks and counting willow boards (using a real or substitute winnowing-tray.)

5.           Play the game.