The Shoshone-Bannock at Fort Hall


Fort Hall was a crucial station on the journey west, and a desirable place to go to now! this is often true not only due to its unique role in Oregon and California trail history but also due to the thriving culture of the Shoshone-Bannock reservation. to stress the unique aspects of the Fort Hall Shoshone-Bannocks is to acknowledge the achievement of A level of economic success that was historically not typical of reservations, and therefore the role of cultural values in moderating changes brought by market influences.

The Fort Hall Shoshones, referred to as the Pohogues (People of the Sage), had inhabited the southwest corner of the good Basin, perhaps as long as 4000 years ago, migrating up to the Snake drainage in ensuing centuries. Their first documented contact with whites was with Lewis and Clark in August of 1805 near this day reservation. The Corp desperately needed horses, but Lewis had despaired of ever encountering the Shoshones who fled when sighted. Finally the explorers surprised three Shoshone women who didn’t have time to escape . Lewis offered presents and persuaded them of his peaceful intentions when sixty mounted warriors galloped up, armed and prepared to fight.

A 1918 canvas by Montana’s Cowboy Artist Charles Russell memorializes the Corps of Discovery’s meeting with Cameahwait’s war party. Leaving his gun behind with two Corps members, Captain Lewis advanced with only the American flag . His ploy worked: “We were all carresed and besmeared with their grease and paint till i used to be heartily uninterested in the national hug,” he wrote.

Lewis dropped his gun, picked up an American flag , and approached alone. The bad news gained from the encounter was that the rivers were unnavigable. the great news was that the Indians had a herd of 4 hundred horses, a number of which they traded for mere trinkets. They also offered and old man, “Old Toby,” as a guide because he knew of the country to the northwest. A trapper named John Rees suggested that “Toby” could be a contraction of Tosa-tive koo-be which accurately translated from Shoshone means, “gave ‘brains,’ to the white-man.” Whatever his name he helped them through the Bitterroot Mountains. These were the immense ranges, partially covered with snow, which they encountered here. that they had hoped for a brief portage that might have taken them to a navigable tributary of the Columbia.

The Shoshone had always relied heavily on the ecosystem for his or her food, especially roots of the camas plant, and salmon when in season. it’s interesting that Lewis and Clark survived almost entirely on camas roots sometimes during their journey. The Shoshone also ate vine roots and sego roots. During the springtime, they might find wild onions, new cattail stems, wild asparagus, and wild carrots. During the summer, there have been wild strawberries, gooseberries, water lilies, and sunflower seeds. within the fall, the Shoshone picked currants, serviceberries, and buck berries. What did the Indians do with camas?

They could also get pine nuts from the Mexican nut pine trees during this point of the year. they might pick the nuts out of the pinecones, roast them, winnow, (or shell), them, and grind them into flour. At the replica of old Fort Hall in Pocatello, broadsheets tell about a number of the plants that Lewis and Clark discovered. in fact salmon was of major importance when in season and was the explanation for heated disputes over fishing rights at a later date. (For a delicious recipe for Zucchini Pinenut Tamales, see the Shoshoni Cookbook, by Faith Stone and AnnSaks.)

The Shoshones were also influential within the fur trade. The Rocky Mountain trappers were, for many of the year, a detached fragment of Euro-American society. They were isolated by five-hundred miles from the settled states. Only in mid-summer, when the rendezvous began and therefore the supply trains trekked across the good Plains, did they see other White race . Not only did the Indians supply furs, but this important event may are drawn from an Indian precedent, the Shoshoni trade fair, which was traditionally held within the summer season. it had been a fusion of both cultures’ trading rituals and was so successful because it combined the practicality of the market place with the frivolity and celebration of a affair .

Wine, women and song ensured emotional release for both the Indians and therefore the trappers, and although it had been extemporaneous, it became ingrained as an establishment by 1825. Neither trappers nor Indians were fairly rewarded for his or her efforts at securing beaver and other furs for the established companies. But the Indians weren’t slaves to the fur trade, but intelligent traders who could easily dispense with nearly all the articles of trade. actually consistent with Chittenden, American Fur Trade of the West, “The relation of the trader to the Indian was the foremost natural and congenial of any which the 2 races have ever sustained toward one another .”

Entrepreneurs, like Yankee born Nathaniel Wyeth, tried to challenge the established British companies and in so doing built Fort Hall. Wyeth’s men completed the development of the fort on August 4, 1834, and therefore the next day at sunrise, they unfurled the celebs and stripes. Wyeth and his men “drank a bale of liqueur” and named it “Fort Hall” in honor of his oldest partner, Henry Hall. Wyeth later sold Fort Hall to the Hudson Bay Company, when he was unable to compete with it and other companies, and it became the trade center of the hungry land. photo

The corn, beans, and squash and dried meat the Indians supplied at this point were invaluable to the posts and sometimes kept them from starvation. Coffee, sugar, tobacco, and alcohol were carried in from the East. At certain times lavish feasts were prepared by the traders. “A dinner was prepared including fresh bison meat, beef, poultry and mutton, Mandan corn, fresh butter, milk and cheese, light bread and a spread of fruits, all amid a fine selection of vintage wines and brandies.” However such occasions were very rare. The old Fort Hall Replica in Pocatello may be a major attraction when visiting this area. The displays cover the whole history of the fort and are very informative. Adjacent to the fort is that the Bannock County Historical Museum which has among its many displays, the Holladay Overland Stage Company stagecoach and Shoshoni and Bannock ethnographic photographs and objects.

By the time the forty-niners came west trying to find gold, they took the precaution of carrying guns, pistols and bowie-knives, but one pioneer nearing Fort Hall wrote, “as to danger from Indians, so far any of twenty foes, like fleas, whiskey, mules’ hind-legs, tornadoes, and cold river currents, are much more serious.” The Indians had become familiar with the steady stream of fortune seekers and tolerated the intruders although they often played tricks on them.

The forty-niners successively made fun of the Indians but tried to treat people who came into camp kindly and apparently even felt a touch guilty for invading their land in such large numbers. The book, Forty-Niners, by Archer Butler Hulbert, written in 1931, contains drawings of maps of eight successive parts of the paths west, music and words for a few of the songs they sang on the way, and cartoon illustrations from the period of time . consistent with the author, it had been gleaned from every available diary or journal which may shed light on the pioneer experience. Tongue in cheek advice is freely given like , “If you don’t have any salt for your buffalo steak, sprinkle it with gunpowder and it’ll taste both salted and peppered.”

After the Indians acquired horses, they expanded their economy to incorporate buffalo and a few processed foods received in trade. As a source of wealth, horses heightened the conflict among certain groups of Indians. The horse also was a pull factor for the Bannocks, a northern group who joined the Shoshones at Fort Hall. But by the mid 1860’s, non-Indians had infiltrated to almost every area of the Snake country. Depletion of Indian resources led to the good Snake War. Ultimately the Shoshones agreed to relocate at Fort Hall Reservation. It originally contained 1.8 million acres, an amount that was reduced to 1.2 million acres in 1872 as a results of a survey error. The reservation was further reduced to its present size through subsequent legislation and therefore the allotment process.

Survival under the new conditions became a serious problem. there have been many adversity when residents had to affect bad water, flooding, and dissatisfaction with the boarding schools and therefore the government. Food was often scarce, because the Indians still viewed the world in terms of their customary subsistence patterns and have become hooked in to the govt for survival. But the adaptability of those very subsistence patterns along side the loosely organized kinship system which stressed family ties, proved helpful in allowing the Indians to regulate to the new circumstances. the supply of water for irrigation eventually determined the extent of agricultural and economic development, and there was great potential compared to other reservations. Fort Hall was also well located on a serious trading route with roads and railroads browsing or nearby.

Later disagreements between the cattle owners and agriculturalists on the reservation also like the agency about allotment and land use resulted during a period of uncertainty. Agency bias on behalf of mixed-bloods also led to increased animosity and accusations of favoritism. The growing tensions had an impact on religious traditions like the ritual dancing and therefore the ritual dancing . The Indians turned to the ritual dancing due to the hardships of living on the reservation. Anyone having illness in his family could give the dance, with both men and ladies participating . It later figured during a messianic craze that swept the plains. The ritual dancing was prohibited for a time, but leaders protested and arranged the notorious ritual dancing of 1914 which was attended by nearly 1500 people and underscored its importance to Shoshone-Bannock identity.

Amid continuing land use concerns including leasing to non-Indians, and growing dominance of the govt over Indians after allotment, Ralph Dixey with the approval of a replacement agent, William Donner, organized the Fort Hall Indian Stockmen’s Association in 1921. The association supported innovation and therefore the Indian Reorganization Act at Fort Hall in 1934. Although controversial, many think the act has helped conserve communal tribal land bases.

Economies of scale gave the association a competitive edge against non-Indian cattle growers. When the cattlemen’s association threatened to become too powerful, it remarkably self -regulated within the interest of consensus. Although the Shoshone-Bannocks had welcomed the marketplace, they maintained a communal ethos and strived for political consensus keep with their tradition.

In the twentieth century, the leaders continued to undertake to reconcile entrepreneurial cattlemen and concern for community. The expansion of the eastern Idaho district fair to a state fair, in 1939, helped increase Shoshone-Bannock social stature in Idaho. The introduction of handicrafts purchasable , cabins, and cars contributed to modernization and influenced the economy. The ritual dancing became more entrepreneurial by charging admission and allowing concessions.

Now visitors can attend the Shoshone festival held in August which is exclusive due to the varied activities that are in conjunction with the event, which includes: softball tournaments, golf tournaments, rodeos, Indian relay racing , art shows, parades, traditional hand game tournaments, indigenous children’s games, community buffalo & salmon feast, fun-run, and far more.


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