Who are the Shoshone Indians?

N. Freim

The Shoshone Indians are a Native American tribe found largely in the American west. The tribe was originally nomadic, roaming from Idaho and Montana down to California and Nevada. They carried few belongings and hunted for the majority of their food. Some of the best known Shoshone Indians are Chief Washakie, who served in the United States Army, and Sacajawea, who traveled with the Lewis and Clark expedition. The Shoshone today live on reservations across the southwestern United States and are still waiting for federal recognition.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The Shoshone, meaning “The Valley People,” were originally found across the western United States. Small groups could be found in California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Montana, and Oregon, and larger settlements were located in Idaho and Wyoming. The Shoshone Indians are loosely grouped in Northern, Western, and Eastern bands.

The tribe lived a nomadic life, moving often with the seasons. Since the Shoshone were frequently on the move, they carried few belongings and were not very concerned with material possessions as a sign of status. This roaming nature also meant that they rarely established crops. Instead the Shoshone were hunter-gathers, living on berries, nuts, and game ranging from rabbits to buffalo.

Chief Washakie was a prominent leader of the Eastern Shoshone Indians of Wyoming. The chief was known for offering aid to travelers crossing the west in the 1850s; he also served as a scout for the United States Army. In 1868 Chief Washakie signed a treaty to create a reservation in the Wind River Basin in Wyoming, an area long inhabited by the Shoshone Indians. Chief Washakie was respected by both his people and the American government. A military outpost was renamed Fort Washakie in his honor, and when he died in 1900, he was given a full military funeral.

The most famous Shoshone Indian was Sacajawea, a young woman who traveled with the Lewis and Clark expedition across the Northwest United States in the early 1800s. Her husband, Toussaint Charbonneau, was a French Canadian trapper hired by Lewis and Clark. Sacajawea accompanied her husband and served as an interpreter. She gave birth to a son while on the expedition. Her presence helped to reaffirm the peaceful nature of the group and smoothed the way with many native tribes. In 2000, The United States government issued a gold dollar commemorating Sacajawea and her son.

Today there are a number of Shoshone Indian reservations in California, Nevada, and Utah. The Wind River Reservation in Wyoming is the third largest reservation in the United States. Despite the number of reservations and renown of some of its people, the Shoshone are still waiting to be federally recognized as a tribe.

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