Shoshoni Indians. The most northerly division of the Shoshonean family. They formerly occupied west Wyoming, meeting the Ute on the south, the entire central and southern parts of Idaho, except the territory taken by the Bannock, north east Nevada, and a small strip of Utah west of Great Salt lake. The Snake River country in Idaho is, perhaps, to be considered their stronghold. The northern bands were found by Lewis and Clark in 1805, on the headwaters of the Missouri in west Montana, but they had ranged previously farther east on the plains, whence they had been driven into the Rocky Mountains by the hostile Atsina and Siksika, who already possessed firearms. Nowhere had the Shoshoni established themselves on the Columbia, although they reached that river on their raiding excursions.
The origin of the term Shoshoni appears to be unknown. It apparently is not a Shoshoni word, and although the name is recognized by the Shoshoni as applying to themselves, it probably originated among some other tribe. The Cheyenne name for the Comanche, who speak the Shoshoni language, is Shǐshǐnoats-hitäneo, ‘snake people’; but they have a different name for the Shoshoni. The term Snake seems to have no etymological connection with the designation Shoshoni. It has been variously and frequently applied to the northern bands of the Shoshoni, especially those of Oregon. By recent official usage the term Snake has been restricted to the Yahuskin and Walpapi of Oregon. Hoffman was of the opinion that the name Snake comes from a misconception of the sign for Snake Indian, made by a serpentine motion of the hand with the index finger extended. This he thought really has reference to the weaving of the grass lodges of the Shoshoni, a reasonable assumption, since they are known as “grass-house people,” or by some similar name, among numerous tribes.
The more northerly and easterly Shoshoni were horse and buffalo Indians, and in character and in warlike prowess compared favorably with most western tribes. To the west in western Idaho along Snake River and to the south in Nevada the tribes represented a lower type. Much of this country was barren in the extreme and comparatively devoid of large game, and as the nature of the country differed, so did the inhabitants. They depended for food to a large extent on fish, which was supplemented by rabbits, roots, nuts, and seeds. These were the Indians most frequently called “Diggers.” They were also called Shoshokos, or “Walkers,” which simply means that the Indians so called were too poor to possess horses, though the term was by no means restricted to this section, being applied to horseless Shoshoni everywhere.
None of these Shoshoni were agriculturists. In general the style of habitations corresponded to the two types of Shoshoni. In the north and east they lived in tipis, but in the sagebrush country to the west they used brush shelters entirely, and Bonneville found the tribes of Snake River wintering in such shelters without roofs, being merely half circles of brush, behind which they obtained an imperfect protection from wind and snow. There were many dialects among the Shoshoni, corresponding to the greater or less degree of isolation of the several tribes. They presented, however, no essential differences and were all mutually intelligible.
In 1909 there were in Idaho 1,766 Shoshoni and Bannock under the Ft Hall school (of whom 474 had recently been transferred from the old Lemhi res.), and about 200 not under official supervision; in Nevada there were 243 under the Western Shoshoni school, and about 750 not under agency or school control; In Wyoming, under the Shoshoni school, there were 816, formerly known as Washaki’s band, from its chief. Deducting about 500 Bannock from these figures, the total Shoshoni population approximates 3,250.
The Shoshoni divisions, so far as known, were:
- Hohandika (‘earth eaters’)
A Shoshoni division inhabiting the region w. of Great Salt lake, Utah. They suffered a severe defeat in 1862 at the hands of California volunteers.