Conflict & Survival
By Frank W. Porter III

When Europeans first reached the North American continent, they found hundreds of tribes occupying a vast and rich country. The newcomers quickly recognized the wealth of natural resources. They were not, however, so quick or willing to recognize the spiritual, cultural, and intellectual riches of the people they called Indians.

The Europeans believed they had 'discovered' a 'New World,' but their religious bigotry, cultural bias, and materialistic world view kept them from appreciating and understanding the people who lived in it. All too often they attempted to change the way of life of the indigenous people. The Spanish conquistadors wanted the Indians as a source of labor. The Christian missionaries, many of whom were English, viewed them as potential converts. French traders and trappers used the Indians as a means to obtain pelts. As Francis Parkman, the 19th-century historian, stated, "Spanish civilization crushed the Indian; English civilization scorned and neglected them; French civilization embraced and cherished them."

Nearly 500 years later, many people think of the American Indians as curious vestiges of a distant past, waging a futile war to survive in a Space Age society. Even today, ones understanding of the history and culture of American Indians is too often derived from unsympathetic, culturally biased, and inaccurate reports. The American Indian, described and portrayed in thousands of movies, television programs, books, articles, and government studies, has either been raised to the status of the 'noble savage' or disparaged as the 'wild Indian' who resisted the westward expansion of the American frontier.

Where in this popular view are the real Indians, the human beings and communities whose ancestors can be traced back to ice-age hunters? Where are the creative and indomitable people whose sophisticated technologies used the natural resources to ensure their survival, whose military skill might even have prevented European settlement of North America if not for devastating epidemics and the disruption of the ecology? Where are the men and women who are today diligently struggling to assert their legal rights and express once again the value of their heritage?


The Shoshone
From the book: "The Shoshone" by Kim Dramer
© 1997 Chelsea House Publishers

It was Coyote, say the Shoshone, who brought them to the lands of the Great Basin. Coyote was given a basket by two native women, a basket coated with the pitch of pine trees to make it watertight. Coyote was to carry this basket on his journey across the Great Basin - but, the women warned him, he was not to open the lid. Coyote was an inquisitive creature, however, and he could not suppress his curiosity about the contents of the basket.

During his journey across the Great Basin, Coyote opened the basket many times to peek inside. And each time he opened the lid, some of the beings inside jumped out. This, say the Shoshone, was how their ancestors came to live in the Great Basin.

The Shoshone call themselves Niwi or Newe, however, a term also used for "Person," with the plural form Niwini or Neweni meaning "The People."

• Newe Sogobia Map
• Ruby Valley Treaty
• Nevada's Native American Timelines
• Nevada Territory History

Shoshone Tribes On Line
• Te-Moke Shoshone
• Timbisha Shoshone Tribe
• Western Shoshone - Nevada
• Shoshone Bannock - Fort Hall
• Fallon Piute-Shoshone
• Montana-Wyoming Shoshone
• Four Directions Shoshoni
• Shoshoni Longhouse
• Shoshone Links I
• Shoshone Links II
• Shoshone Links III


The Shoshone people saw the Wolf as a creator God and they respected him greatly. Long ago, Wolf, and many other animals, walked and talked like man. Coyote could talk, too, but the Shoshone people kept far away from him because he was a Trickster, somebody who is always up to no good and out to double-cross you.

Coyote resented Wolf because he was respected by the Shoshone. Being a devious Trickster, Coyote decided it was time to teach Wolf a lesson. He would make the Shoshone people dislike Wolf, and he had the perfect plan. Or so he thought.

One day, Wolf and Coyote were discussing the people of the land. Wolf claimed that if somebody were to die, he could bring them back to life by shooting an arrow under them. Coyote had heard this boast before and decided to put his plan into action.

Wearing his most innocent smile he told Wolf that if he brought everyone back to life, there would soon be no room left on Earth. Once people die, said Coyote, they should remain dead. If Wolf takes my advice, thought Coyote, then the Shoshone people would hate Wolf, once and for all.

Wolf was getting tired of Coyote constantly questioning his wisdom and knew he was up to no good, but he didn't say anything. He just nodded wisely and decided it was time to teach Coyote a lesson.

A few days after their conversation, Coyote came running to Wolf. Coyote's fur was ruffled and his eyes were wide with panic.

Wolf already knew what was wrong: Coyote's son had been bitten by Rattlesnake and no animal can survive the snake's powerful venom.

Coyote pleaded with Wolf to bring his son back to life by shooting an arrow under him, as he claimed he could do.

Wolf reminded Coyote of his own remark that people should remain dead. He was no longer going to bring people back to life, as Coyote had suggested.

The Shoshone people say that was the day Death came to the land and that, as a punishment for his mischievous ways, Coyote's son was the first to die.

No one else was ever raised from the dead by Wolf again, and the people came to know sadness when someone dies. Despite Coyote's efforts, however, the Shoshone didn't hate Wolf. Instead, they admired his strength, wisdom and power, and they still do today.

Western Shoshoni in Nevada

by Danny L. Noss
Excerpt from his works:

With the coming of the first white men, the Shoshoni Indians had no idea that their freedom to roam the countryside and the way of life as they knew it would soon disappear. The Shoshoni Indians signed a treaty on August 7, 1855 in good faith, but the US Government refused to ratify the treaty because it was felt that Garland Hunt, who was the Indian Agent overstepped his authority in offering the Shoshoni Indians the treaty. It did not take the Shoshoni Indians long to realize that words on a treaty document did not have any meaning to the white man.

They also realized that they might win a battle, but they would never win the war because there were too many white men and they could not defeat them all. The next treaty was signed in 1863. The main content of this treaty encompassed the right of the white man to cross over Shoshoni Indian land without being attacked or losing any of their property to theft. The Shoshoni Indians, as almost all Indians tribes, signed these treaties with all intentions of abiding by them. The white man on the other hand, broke most treaties before the ink had dried.

It did not take long after the Treaty of 1863 was signed for the white man to start settling on the Shoshoni Indianís land. The authorities refused to enforce the treaty which only made thing worse for the Indians. When Nevada became a state, things only got worse for the Shoshoni Indians. Compared to the area of land that the Shoshoni Indians used to roam across, the amount of land that they were allowed after Nevada became a state was a travesty.

A Brief History of the Western Shoshone

There was some very helpful information in the book:
The Road On Which We Came, a History of the Western Shoshone by Stephen J. Crum

Stephen is a Western Shoshone and had permission and assistance from
several of the Shoshone tribes to publish this history and agree on its authenticity.

Some of the history was taken from another tribal history publication produced in the 1970s called Newe: A Western Shoshone History published by the Inter- Tribal Council of Nevada. Most of the newer tribal history focuses on the 20th century and tribal life on the reservations after the 1880s. But there was some valuable insights into how the Shoshone were effected by early emigrant groups and gold seekers in 1849 and later. There is a fair amount of the tribal history that focuses on the extended family lifestyles of the Newe, seasonal food gathering, songs, stories, dances and other rituals or leisure activities. This information would be very helpful in assisting visitors to the center and some trail sites understand the Shoshones' complex and well established culture and how it was affected by early trappers, explorers, and the stream of emigrants through the middle of Shoshone territory. The following are some major points brought out in the book. Perhaps some of these with concurrence of the tribe could be incorporated into exhibit planning.

The Newe
The origin of the word "Shoshone" is a mystery to the Newe. Newe is the Shoshone word for "The People." The label "Shoshone" was likely coined by Euro-American trappers or traders who encountered the Shoshone in the 1830s or early 1840s. The name stuck however and many modern Newe refer to themselves as Shoshone.

The Western Shoshone occupied a large area from southern Idaho into Utah, across eastern and central Nevada and south to Death Valley California.

The Newe were placed in their Homeland by the Creator, Pia Sokopia (Earth Mother). Coyote was responsible for carrying the Newe across the Great Basin in a basket, periodically opening the basket out of curiosity which is when the beings jumped out and peopled the area in small groups.

The Newe lived in extended family groups which included first cousins and grandparents. These small bands or groups were separated into valleys or areas large enough to sustain themselves with mostly local food sources but readily traded or shared resources with other bands. Their harvest and hunting areas often overlapped. The bands would gather together at certain times of the year like the pine nut harvest to sing, dance and celebrate the harvest or event, however they did not have a central organization and had no need for one.

Family groups had different names for themselves usually named for a local food resource or a geographic place. Various types of game were hunted to supplement their diet of pine nuts, berries, edible roots, and other collected food. The Newe had a healthy diet, and moved around inside the boundaries of their valley or area to be closer to food resources, in such, they didn't occupy permanent houses but used temporary structures and more durable winter structures.

The Newe were and are very spiritual people, guided by medicine men and women. These medicine people led healing ceremonies and provided spiritual guidance for their harvests, prayers, and other activities. Newe medicine people had extensive knowledge of pharmaceutical plants and healing concoctions.

The Newe did not have a written language but relied on oral tradition to pass along stories, histories, and other tribal culture and tradition. Newe tradition was passed down during winter storytelling. Stories included real events, humor, entertainment, and taught proper behavior to children. The Newe had an extensive collection of stories, songs, and other cultural/societal tradition. The Newe were basket makers. They used baskets (instead of pots) for all kinds of receptacles.

The Newe kept cordial relations with neighboring tribes, e.g., the Northern Piutes.

The affects of Euro-Americans on the Newe

Although Spain and later Mexico claimed the Great Basin, there was little if any effect or contact with the Newe until trappers and traders entered the Great Basin in the 1820s. Neither the Spanish or Mexican people tried to settle this area. Jedediah Smith was the first known Anglo to enter the territory and encounter the Newe. His account of the Newe digging for roots and living very simply may have given root to the perception of the Newe as "diggers" described as "most miserable." Smith's contact had apparently little effect on the Newe.

Peter Skene Ogden's expedition in 1828-29 certainly had some impact on the Newe. Ogden's trappers competing with the British settled into the area to trap out the beaver. The Newe depended on the beaver for winter clothing, and Ogden's horses and stock depleted some of the scarce forage in the area.

Ogden's impact on the Newe was apparent from the record of the Walker expedition in 1833. Joseph Reddeford Walker entered the area and found it devoid of beaver. Some of Walker's men killed about 1/2 dozen or more Newe, which led to deep dislike and suspicion of these white intruders.

The 1841 Bidwell-Bartleson Party was one of the earliest emigrant groups to pass through the Newe territory. These emigrants were passing through and purchased some food from the Newe, who were friendly to these first groups of emigrants as they were not perceived as a threat.

By the mid to late 1840s, emigrant groups were having a great impact on the Newe as their stock had severely depleted the forage and vegetation along the Humboldt River. The Newe had to go farther in search of food and subsist on food sources not sought after or impacted by the emigrants. By this time there were major cultural changes to the Newe way of life as some of the Newe acquired horses, secured guns, and other items foreign to their culture. The life ways and culture of the Newe were changing drastically. The Newe adapted the best they could to these changes.

The mass hysteria of the gold rush in 1849 brought a different type of emigrant.

Fewer families and mostly men, some that were quite rowdy and hostile to the native people they encountered began to move in. Violent encounters increased and some robbers and villains posed as Native Americans to rob emigrants. The Newe began defending their homeland by the early 1850s as conflicts increased.

In the late 1850s and early 1860s, Mormon and non-Mormon settlers began the first small settlements in Nevada Territory further impacting the Newe.

A treaty with the Newe was proposed in 1855 but not approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. However, Indian agents tried to coerce the Newe into reservations and teach them to farm, a venture that was mostly unsuccessful at first but later changed the way of life for the Newe from primarily gatherers to farmers.

By the early 1860s, encounters between Native Americans and settlers had led to the construction of a Fort (Fort Halleck) in Ruby Valley and more attempts at defining reservations as the pressure of white settlers and land claims further ate away at traditional Newe lands.

Although the affects of emigration and settlement along the California Trail for three decades had severe and permanent impacts, the Newe continued many of their traditional lifestyles, ceremonies, and cultural/spiritual beliefs.

Aboriginal Period Affiliation

The term aboriginal is used here to refer to those people who are recognized by the U.S. government as having possession of land at the time it was lost to the United States. For many Native American groups this transfer involved a treaty negotiated between their people and the government of the United States. For many other Native American people, however, they simply were moved away from their aboriginal lands without formal transference of title. These two unique processes of land loss produced two types of aboriginal period cultural affiliations for Native Americans, which are termed here (1) treaty-tribes and (2) land-claim tribes.

Tribe is used here to refer to the aboriginal inhabitants of territory lost to the U.S. Federal government. The term tribe is commonly used as a gloss for a variety of Native American social structures that existed aboriginally. Actually, few aboriginal Native American peoples were organized as a tribe, if the technical meaning of this term is used. Most cultural anthropologists would call aboriginal Native American people an ethnic group. In the following discussion the term tribe is viewed as meaning something like an ethnic group. It is important to make this distinction because not all of the people from any particular Native American ethnic group participated in the tribalization process. Representatives of the U.S. government often organized Native American ethnic groups by region. This process often occurred without the full participation of the people. Normally some ethnic group members were left without any tribal membership. Today, there are many Native people who do not belong to a formally recognized tribe or Native organization. These people are usually referred to as not Federally acknowledged peoples; nonetheless, they remain Native peoples. Some of these Native people are seeking Federal acknowledgement and others are not. The cultural concerns of not Federally acknowledged people need to be considered during most types of Native American consultation.

Native Americans who lost control over some or all of the lands they occupied at the beginning of the historic period to the U.S. government are called here treaty-tribes. The term is a useful distinction for DoD installations seeking to understand cultural affiliation because there are a variety of primary references listing U.S. Federal treaties, specifying the lands considered under the treaty, and identifying the Native American group involved in the treaty. While it is relatively easy to identify treaty lands and tribes, most aboriginal lands were not transferred to the United States by treaty.

Land-Claims Tribes
Most Native American people can be classified as Land-Claims tribes, because they lost control over their lands to EuroAmericans, but no treaty was ever signed. In most cases, these Native Americans simply were moved off aboriginal lands by force and the lands were occupied by non-Indian settlers (Sutton 1985). The U.S. Federal government created the Indian Claims Commission (ICC) in 1946 (60 Stat. 1049) charging it with adjudicating the claims of Native Americans for lands lost. After three decades of legal action, a map was prepared that listed the lands considered and the associated Native American people. The ICC produced a multicolored fold-out map entitled "Indian Land Area Judicially Established" as part of its final report (ICC 1978, Sutton 1985:12-13). This ICC map is a useful (but not definitive) tool for identifying the cultural affiliation for most Native Americans to aboriginal lands.

To summarize, both treaty and ICC documents can be used to begin to determine which Native American ethnic groups occupied certain lands when these were lost to EuroAmerican society through encroachment or the Federal government through treaty. It must be remembered, however, that both treaties and ICC processes only establish which Native American group lived on a segment of land at the time it was lost to non-Indian peoples, and neither identifies pre-existing Native groups who lived on the land. Furthermore, few land areas were covered by treaty and few treaty lands were surveyed to make reference maps geographically accurate. The ICC process also did not address lands jointly used or claimed by more than one Indian ethnic group, so that many lands were not designated as belonging to any Indian ethnic group (Sutton 1985:112). Finally, treaties and ICC claims rarely specified the contemporary Native American group or tribe who would be culturally affiliated with the land in question. Given these limitations, the process of establishing cultural affiliation should include a search of treaties and ICC documents, but it should not be limited to Native ethnic groups found in these documents.

Brigham D. Madsen
Utah History Encyclopedia

At the time of major white penetration of the Great Basin and the Snake River areas in the 1840s, there were seven distinct Shoshoni groups. The Eastern Shoshoni, numbering about 2,000 under their famous Chief Washakie, occupied the region from the Wind River Mountains to Fort Bridger and astride the Oregon Trail. Their descendants today live on the Wind River Reservation. Two other divisions having similar cultures were the Goshute Shoshoni and the Western Shoshoni. The former, about 900 in number, lived in the valleys and mountains west and southwest of Great Salt Lake, with the remnants of their bands located in and around the small settlement of Ibapah, Utah, today. A much more numerous people, perhaps 8,000 strong, (these numbers have been disputed on several occasions where claims have been made that the Western Shoshoni population once totaled upward to 80,000), the Western Shoshoni occupied what is today northern and western Nevada. There were as many as eleven major bands distributed from the present Utah-Nevada border to Winnemucca on the west. Their descendants today live on the Duck Valley Reservation or scattered around the towns of northern Nevada from Wells to Winnemucca. (Refer to the Newe Sogobia map for further and more accurate details of the Western Shoshoni territories).

The four remaining groups of Shoshoni are usually listed under the general name of the "Northern Shoshoni." One of these groups, the Fort Hall Shoshoni of about 1,000 people, lived together with a band of about 800 Northern Paiute known in history as the Bannock at the confluence of the Portneuf and Snake rivers. A second division, the Lemhi, numbering some 1,800 people, ranged from the Beaverhead country in southwestern Montana westward to the Salmon River area, which was their main homeland. In western Idaho, along the Boise and Bruneau rivers, a third section of about 600 Shoshoni followed a life centered around salmon as their basic food. Finally, the fourth and final division of 1,500 people, the Northwestern Shoshoni, resided in the valleys of northern Utah?especially Weber Valley and Cache Valley?and along the eastern and northern shores of Great Salt Lake.

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.

See: Brigham D. Madsen, The Northern Shoshoni (1980), The Shoshoni Frontier and the Bear River Massacre (1985), and Chief Pocatello: The White Plume (1986).

Shoshone History ~ Page Two

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