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The Shoshone

Shoshone life

man sitting beside a tipi

The Shoshone leader Washakie, in 1870. Photo by William Henry Jackson.

Before “white” people showed up, the Shoshone lived and traveled in bands with their extended families: aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents, and more.

How would you like to live close to all your relatives like this?

During the historic period, the Shoshone often:

The children:

The Shoshone ranged through northern Utah and into Idaho and Wyoming, hunting animals, fishing, and gathering many different kinds of seeds, roots, berries, and other foods.

As the women gathered seeds using willow baskets and hitting sticks, they talked and sang. Hunters might drive deer or antelope into sagebrush corrals or drive large animals like bison over cliffs to kill them. They also killed small animals like squirrels and birds like ducks and grouse.

Settlers and change

But when settlers came to Utah, their cattle, farming, and irrigation changed the land. Also, wagon trains on their way to Oregon drove livestock across Shoshone lands. Soon, the traditional Shoshone food sources had become scarce.

young men posing

Members of Chief Pocatello's band of the Northwestern Shoshone. Notice that they are posing inside a photography studio, with a painted backdrop.

Although at first the settlers and native people got along all right, it wasn’t long before they began to clash over scarce resources.

Some Shoshone started to attack wagon trains and steal cattle from settlers. Others tried to live peacefully and even converted to the Mormon religion.

If you were a Shoshone leader, and 1) game was getting scarce

because

2)the Anglo people's cattle were eating so much of the grass,

and

3) your people didn't have enough food,

What would you do?

Which strategy worked out best?

The Bear River Massacre

The conflicts got worse until, in January 1863, soldiers from Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City attacked a band of mostly peaceful Shoshones camped on Battle Creek, near Franklin, Idaho (just over the border from Utah). When the soldiers surprised the sleeping camp, the Shoshones tried to fight back. But they couldn't fight against so many soldiers, and the battle quickly became a massacre. The soldiers butchered more than 250 men, women, and children. This tragedy was a horrifying and shameful event in the history of the West.

Read a longer account of this event.

Read some primary sources on this event.

Farmers

Despite the conflicts, many Shoshones converted to Mormonism and learned to farm.

Some of them began farming in the area around Corinne. But the whites of the area turned a covetous eye on their farms and the irrigation ditches they had dug. These whites convinced the military to kick the Shoshone people out.

a woman, man, and two children

A Shoshone family from Washakie in Logan, May 1909. USU Special Collections photo.

The LDS (Mormon) church lent the Shoshone land for a large farm in Idaho. They called it Washakie, after a revered Shoshone leader. For 80 years the settlement prospered with irrigation canals, fields, sawmills and wood product production, a brick kiln, and sheep.

Children went to a school where they learned from Anglo teachers.

End of Washakie

After World War II, many--but not all--people moved out of Washakie. The LDS church decided to sell the land, but did not communicate very well with the owners of the houses. When crews began to burn houses down, the owners often didn't know about it.  People lost personal possessions as well as their homes. And they lost their sense of trust. They felt a promise had been broken.

The church sold the land to a rancher, but donated 184 nearby acres to the people who had lost their homes.

three children on a front porch

Children at Washakie in 1939.

In 1968, the U.S. government ruled that the Shoshone deserved restitution for the lands that the government had taken. Members of the tribe received payments.

A few hundred members of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone now live in Idaho and Utah. Unlike the other Utah tribes, they have no reservation, although they own some land. Headquarters for the band is in Brigham City, Utah.

Want to know more?

Read "The Northwestern Shoshone," by Mae Parry. Visit the Shoshone page on the Utah American Indian Digital Archives site. Learn how the Shoshone governed themselves. See more photos of the Shoshone.