Northern Shoshone and Bannock
Traditional Culture
  Since Time Immemorial
Who's Who
Homelands
All My Relations
Pipe Ceremony and Peacemaking
Great Circle
Intertribal Relations
"How the Indian Averted Famine"
Naming Ceremonies
Agaidika Perspective on Sacajawea
Horses, Trade, & Travel
References Cited

  Contemporary Culture
  Sovereignty & Tribal Government
Arts & Artists
Annual Festival Dances
Language
Education
Recommended Websites

  Relationship with the U.S.
  Early Contact
Fur Trade
Naturalists in Shoshone Country
Missionaries and Emigrants
Making Treaties
Lemhi In Limbo
Lemhi Reservation and  Loss
Shrinking Reservation
References Cited

 
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"American Falls"
on the Snake River, with the Three Buttes in background, from Report of Fremont's Exploring Expedition 1843-'44.
Courtesy University of Montana's Mansfield Library, K. Ross Toole Archives.
 
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Buffalo Plains near Madison River, in Montana.
(Taken from Madison Buffalo Jump State Park). K. Lugthart photo.

 
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Lemhi Valley,
from the slopes of the Beaverhead Range, Lemhi Range in the distance.
Copyright © Ralph Maughan, used with permission.

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Rusty Houtz sketch illustrates women “branching" salmon into fishtraps.
Courtesy Rusty Houtz and the Sho-Ban Museum in Fort Hall, Idaho.
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Mountain bighorn sheep
Ann Telling photo.

View sketches and text of Sheepeater's hunting methods in the Absaroka Mountains.


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R. Maughan photo

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Glovers silk moth.
Ann Telling photo.
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Crane
Courtesy BLM Idaho.

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Bitterroot, Lewisia rediviva.
Courtesy of Montana Native Plant Society

 

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Spawning salmon 1913-14; west channel at lower end of island.
Courtesy Lemhi County Historical Society
 
 
 
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Buffalo in Yellostone National Park
Ken Furrow photograph
 
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Clarks nutcracker in limber pine.
Courtesy National Park Service.

 
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Jack rabbit.
Ann Telling photo.
 
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Whitetail deer
Ann Telling photo.
 
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Porcupine in winter
Ann Telling photo.
 
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Elk
Ann Telling photo.
 
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Coyote
Ann Telling photo.
 
 

Lemhi Pass > Culture > Great Circle
image
Seasonal Round of the Northern Shoshone - Bannock
Adapted from image appearing in North American Indian Jewelry and Adornment
by Lois Sherr Dubin. © Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

In the days when buffalo still roamed the land and salmon still returned to the upper reaches of the Snake and Salmon rivers, the native inhabitants moved through their homeland in a patterned way. Their travels reflected the location of important foods in different seasons. To an observer, the changes in camp locations through the year may appear random, but they were far from that. The people knew the places where their food staples were ready and this sequence of ripening and ready foods dictated the pattern of their travels. Their travels took them from the Snake River bottoms to the high mountains of the Continental Divide, and on to the buffalo plains of Wyoming and Montana. Year after year, the people returned to these locations. The Bannocks called this the Great Circle.


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Robert Red Perry talks about The Great Circle

 

 
Early Spring
 
When the ice broke apart on the rivers, making room for migrating ducks to land, people of the upper Snake and Salmon River country readied themselves for the first salmon run and the first greens of the season. Spring was welcomed for the fresh foods available after a long winter.

People readied themselves to take advantage of the various foods available as the sun returned northward, waking up all the sleeping seeds and animals. Fish camps were established at mouths of tributaries and at rapids where weirs could be erected.

"When winter ended, the Lemhi population did not move far afield in search of subsistence, but hunted and awaited the spring salmon run in April. The Indians fished with harpoons, set basketry traps, and made fish weirs. Most fishing was done in the Lemhi River, but some families fished in the Pahsimeroi River, an affluent of the Salmon River which flowed west of and parallel to the Lemhi. Some fishing took place on the main stream of the Salmon River below its confluence with the Lemhi, but only harpooning was effective owing to the depth of the water. The weirs were put in the water each spring and dismantled in the fall and stored" (Murphy 1986:331). image
Rusty Houtz sketch illustrates salmon fishing with harpoons.
Courtesy Rusty Houtz and the Sho-Ban Museum in Fort Hall, Idaho.

 

While women and girls gathered the tender young root stalks and shoots of various plants, and enjoyed the greens of watercress and clover, men and boys not engaged in fishing would hunt sage grouse, ducks, and other small game. Shoshones were very adept at the use of corrals to harvest their quarry. Portable corrals, made of woven nets, were used on sage grouse, rabbits, antelope, and mountain sheep. image
Sage grouse
Ken Furrow photograph

"The Grass Dance (or wolf dance) was traditionally a religious dance, a prayer, in the form of poems, for growth and rain. It was performed in the spring of the year, or at the beginning of hunting or salmon season, by male dancers" (Merkley 1994:33).
 
Late Spring — Early Summer
 
As the spring progressed and the early salmon runs ended, extended families headed out for their favorite food gathering areas, especially where the bitterroot and camas were ready. Some went to Big Camas Prairie and others to Horse Prairie to dig this important food staple.
image
Blooming camas.
Kim Lugthart photo.
image
Expansive Camas Prairie,
from the foothills of the Soldier Mountains. (Mt. Bennett Hills in the distance) © Ralph Maughan late June 1997, used with permission

"Those of the Lemhi group who ventured to Camas Prairie in the spring traveled in small parties of five to ten families - or even in individual family groups" (Madsen 1979:28).

Read about camas preparation

While the women dug roots, the men would go out in small groups to hunt deer in the nearby hills.

"The old Indians are the only ones left who head for the mountains about the first week in May, when the bitterroot plant first comes up and before it blooms, to search for the plants. They would come to Salmon from the reservation… up into the foothills where the bitterroots grew. They used to use an elk antler to lift the roots out of the ground. They called the implement a 'burrow', which means, root in the ground. In later years they used tire irons to dig with. They put the roots in a bag. When they got through digging for the day, they would take them back to the camp and slip the bark from the roots with their fingers, and lay the roots out to dry in the sun. These would keep indefinitely, and be used in stews, and even as medicine for diabetes. The bitterroot is well named. It is extremely bitter, and the younger Indians don't care for them" (Wilson 1992:61).
image
Digging Stick
ISU Museum of Natural History.
 
Late Summer — Early Fall
 
After about a month at the root grounds, the Lemhi people returned to the rivers for the late summer salmon run.
"Early inhabitants of the Lemhi country enjoyed fishing during the summer; on that account they were referred to as Agaideka (salmon eaters) until they had to shift to another seasonal food" (Madsen 1979:24).

Captain William Clark and his men, passing through Big Hole Valley on their return from the Pacific, noted the Shoshone were "in the great plain where Shoshonees gather Quawmash and cows etc." (Moulton 1993 Vol. 8: 167).

When Lewis and Clark encountered the Shoshone on their westward journey in mid-August, 1805, they reported that "natives were fishing at the time, and their camps were found scattered along the stream." They observed one camp of seven families, another of only one family and another of 25 lodges.

In late summer and fall, a wide variety of berries ripen. Berries, eaten fresh and dried for winter, provide an important source of vitamin C. "Besides being an ingredient in puddings (gotsap) and pemmican (da'o'oo), chokecherries (don'na'mbe), elderberries (dupongo'bmi), currants (o'hapogo'mbi), juniper berries, and serviceberries were mashed and dried into cakes for winter use" (Merkley et al.,1994:19).

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Chokecherries
B. A. Saidel photo
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Serviceberry
(amelanchier alnifolia)
Larry Huffer photo
Courtesy of Nutrition and Food Management, Oregon State University
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Elderberry
on the Salmon River,

late August. K. Lugthart photo.

In days past, women pounded chokecherries with a stone hammer, grinding the seeds to a pulp. The pulp was shaped into patties, dried in the sun, and stored for times when fresh foods were unavailable.

When the salmon run was over at the end of August,

"preparations were made for the trip to the buffalo country. At least three horses were required for the buffalo hunt: one for the hunter, another for his wife, and a third for packing purposes. Even this number was inadequate, since children also needed mounts and one pack horse was not enough to transport a good take of meat and hides. Also, the hunter should preferably have a specially trained buffalo horse, which he would ride only while the buffalo herd was being chased. While the Lemhi were richer in horses than were most Shoshone, some people were forced to stay at home. These hunted game in the mountains of the Lemhi region and adjoining areas on the Montana side of the Divide and depended to some extent on the largesse of the returning buffalo party" (Murphy 1986:331).

"The Lemhi Shoshone were preparing to leave for buffalo hunt on August 23, 1805. The salmon run was dwindling at the time of the explorers' visit, for Clark noted that the Indians were living largely on berries and roots and were quite hungry" (L&C 2:367 cited in Murphy 1986:330).

 
Fall
 
When the leaves began to turn to golds and reds of autumn, those who did not go to hunt bison, focused on resources available closer to home. In the high country, the last of the berries were available and limber pine nuts were ready to be harvested. Women struck at willows and berry bushes with seed beaters to remove the loose food from its source. This approach was much faster and effective than picking.

 

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Limber pine cones.
USGS photo.
To collect the pine nuts, women used poles to knock the cones to the ground. These nuts provided an important protein source, which was especially important during years that hunters were not successful. The nuts were cached for winter use.
While women and girls collected these important plant foods, men and boys hunted. Rabbits were driven by a circle of men into a smaller and smaller area where they were clubbed to death.
image
Idaho Dept. of Education.

"Rabbits were skinned and cleaned as soon as possible so the hides could be cut into continuous strips. A strip was stretched between two trees or on frames made of willows and allowed to dry and curl upon itself to form a rope. Rabbit furs were joined to make blankets or robes" (Merkley, et al. 1994:16).

People enjoyed this last gathering of people before winter. It was a time to catch up on stories of the summer, and for young people to flirt and play. Everyone enjoyed the abundance of a good harvest.

image
Snake Indian Camp
A watercolor by Alfred Jacob Miller
Courtesy of The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.
 
Winter
 

When the sun set early, far to the south, and snow blanketed the hills, the Shoshone and Bannock people of the upper Snake and Salmon River country settled into their winter camps in protected valleys.

Winter camps were

"generally located in river valleys, where wood, water, and protection from storms could be found, but in the vicinity of the high mountains inhabited by the game" (Murphy 1986:332-3).
image
Winter along the upper Salmon River.
Courtesy Lemhi County Historical Society.

 

The Lemhi Shoshone usually spent winter

  "in the valley of the Lemhi River in the area between the modern town of Salmon and the old Mormon post of Fort Lemhi. One informant said that the population was distributed in villages of about a dozen buffalo-hide tipis, each village having a leader. During the winter the population subsisted upon dried stores of berries, roots, and the meat of buffalo and other game.

 

The Lemhi Valley was secure from enemy attack in the winter, for the Blackfoot concentrated their attention on the Bannock encampments on the Snake River. Other Shoshones were said to have wintered occasionally on the Beaverhead River in Montana" (Murphy 1986:331).

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Beaverhead River
Tracy Rebish photo, courtesy Beaverhead County.

Around the time of the winter solstice, the Warm Dance is held.

"The dance takes the form of a line proceeding at a slow pace in a circle. It is performed for all living things, who have difficulty surviving the winter. It is a prayer for good health and food, a prayer that the melting snow might produce plants for the coming year" (Merkley et al., 1994:32-33).

The quiet days of winter allowed people to repair tools and clothing, and to replace worn out items.

Winter was the time for storytelling, with families gathered around the hearth. Warmed by fire and rabbit skin blankets, stories of ancestors and relatives filled the tipis. Stories are the glue that holds the culture together.

 
Background: Camas Prairie,from the foothills of the Soldier Mountains.
(Mt. Bennett Hills in the distance) © Ralph Maughan late June 1997, used with permission