Northern Shoshone and Bannock
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Shoshone Braves
Marilyn "Angel" Wynn photo

Lemhi Pass > Culture > Intertribal Relations
Shoshone Braves
Marilyn "Angel" Wynn photo
Allies & Enemies

"From early accounts it is clear that the only constant allies of the Snakes were the Datci'ba, a subdivision of the Flathead, who joined their fishing-parties and accompanied them on their hunting excursions into the Plains. The Bannock, though never hostile, do not seem to have afforded their contenders any protection against their eastern foes in the early days.

"Largely on account of their comparative lack of firearms, perhaps partly on account of their natural timidity, the Shoshone were warred upon and despoiled of their possessions by the majority of Plains tribes. Thus, in the summer of 1805, the Atsina had deprived them of their skin-lodges and stolen many of their horses. On their westward trip Lewis and Clark met a number of tribes which were in the habit of harassing the Snakes. The Mandans were preparing an expedition against them, the Hidatsa had captured Shoshone women, the Arikara professed to have learned the bead-making industry from Shoshone prisoners, the Blackfoot and Crows were dreaded enemies, though the former were occasionally repelled by both Bannock and Shoshone. The Wyoming Shoshone had to suffer from the depredations of the Cheyenne and Arapaho. In the south, the Shoshone had to contend against the Ute until a treaty of peace was concluded under the influence of Brigham Young. Practically all the Columbian tribes, such as the Nez Perce, Cayuse and Walla Walla, were hostile; but against some of these the Shoshone seem to have held their own. Some of the western bands were at war with the Klamath.

"Of course, practically none of these statements as to tribal relations applies rigorously to all the local Shoshone groups, or to any one group at all periods. In some cases friendship and hostility alternated irregularly. Thus, the Crow in 1806 were temporarily at peace with the Snakes, ousted them from the upper Missouri region in 1822, were allies in 1842 against the Gros Ventres, Ogallala and Cheyenne, and in still later time formed a confederation with Snakes, Bannock and Nez Perce against the Blackfoot, Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho. Similarly, the Ute, who in 1834 were reported as at war with the Shoshone, were found at other times at peaceable rendezvous on Green River with Shoshone, Nez Perce, and Flathead Indians" (Lowie: 1909).

In 1843 John C. Fremont recorded this interesting event which describes a colorful misunderstanding. He and some of his exploring party were in the Bear River Valley, southeast of Fort Hall, when...

"we met several Shoshonee Indians, who informed us that they belonged to a large village which had just come into the valley from the mountain to the westward, where they had been hunting antelope and gathering service berries. Glad at the opportunity of seeing one of their villages, and in the hope of purchasing from them a few horses, I turned immediately off into the plain towards their encampment, which was situated on a small stream near the river.

"We had approached within something more than a mile of the village, when suddenly a single horseman emerged from it at full speed, followed by another, and another, in rapid succession; and then party after party poured into the plain, until, when the foremost rider reached us, all the whole intervening plain was occupied by a mass of horsemen, which came charging down upon us with guns and naked swords, lances, and bows and arrows — Indians entirely naked, and warriors fully dressed for war, with the long red streamers of their war bonnets reaching nearly to the ground — all mingled together in the bravery of savage warfare. They had been thrown into a sudden tumult by the appearance of our flag, which, among these people, is regarded as an emblem for hostility; it being usually borne by the Sioux, and the neighboring mountain Indians, when they come here to war; and we had accordingly been mistaken for a body of their enemies" (Fremont: 1845).

An Interesting Tale by Shoshone Chief Gros Pied
Fur trader, Warren Ferris, in 1831 was told, by a man he reported as Flathead, about how the Blackfeet had driven his people into the recesses of the mountains, and away from the buffalo plains. The story appears to be about the Shoshone, rather than the Flatheads. It is unclear whether Ferris mistakenly identified the man's tribe or whether the man lived with the Shoshone. Regardless, the story places these people on a little river on the west side of the Continental Divide, where they had lived for "several snows" when they were visited by strangers unlike any people they had seen before.

"Many anecdotes of Messrs. Lewis and Clark, who were the first white men they ever saw, are related by the Flatheads, and some of the old men in the village now with us were, present at their first interview. An intelligent Flathead, known to the hunters by the name of "Faro," related to me many curious incidents in their history, and among others an account of this first interview with the whites, which, though obtained two years later in point of time, may not be uninteresting in this connexion. I give it nearly in his own language.

"A great many snows past," said he, "when I was a child, our people were in continual fear of the Blackfeet, who were already in possession of firearms of which we knew nothing, save by their murderous effects. During our excursions for buffalo, we were frequently attacked by them, and many of our bravest warriors fell victims to the thunder and lightening they wielded, which we conjectured had been given them by the Great Spirit to punish us for our sins. In our numerous conflicts, they never came in reach of our arrows, but remained at such a distance that they could deal death to us without endangering themselves. Sometimes indeed their young warriors closed in with us, and were as often vanquished; but they never failed to repay us fourfold from a safe distance. For several moons we saw our best warriors almost daily falling around us, without our being able to avenge their deaths. Goaded by thirst for revenge we often rushed forth upon our enemies, but they receded like the rainbow in proportion as we advanced, and ever remained at the same distance, whence they destroyed us by their deadly bolts, while we were utterly powerless to oppose them. At length, 'Big Foot', the great chief of our tribe, assembled his warriors in council, and made a speech to them, in which he set forth the necessity [of] leaving our country. 'My heart tells me,' said he, 'that the Great Spirit has forsaken us; he has furnished our enemies with his thunder to destroy us, yet something whispers to me, that we may fly to the mountains and avoid a fate, which, if we remain here is inevitable. The lips of our women are white with dread, there are no smiles on the lips of our children. Our joyous sports are no more, glad tales are gone from the evening fires of our lodges. I see no face but is sad, silent, and thoughtful; nothing meets my ears but wild lamentations for departed heroes. Arise, let us fly to the mountains, let us seek their deepest recesses where unknown to our destroyers, we may hunt deer and the bighorn, and bring gladness back to the hearts of our wives and our children!'

"The sun arose on the following morning to shine upon a deserted camp, for the little band of Flatheads were already leaving the beautiful plains of the Jefferson. During one whole moon we pursued our course southwestward, through devious paths and unexplored defiles, until at last, heartsore and weary, we reached the margin of salmon river. Here we pitched our camp, and whilst the women were employed in gathering fruits and berries, our hunters explored the surrounding mountains, which they found stored with abundance of game, as the stooping trees and bushes that grew around our lodges, told us on our return; we like wise made the joyful discovery that the river was alive with salmon, great numbers of which were taken and preserved against future necessity. The Great Spirit seemed again to look kindly upon us. We were no longer disturbed by our enemies, and joy and gladness came back to our bosoms. Smiles like little birds came and lit upon the lips of our children, their merry laughter was a constant song, like the song of birds. The eyes of our maidens were again like the twinkling stars, and their voices soft as the voice of a vanishing echo. There was plenty in every lodge, there was content in every heart. Our former pastimes were renewed, our former fears were forgotten. Pleasant tales again wooed the twilight, and the moon was the only watch that we kept upon our slumbers. Our hunters went out in safety, there was no blood upon the path. They came back loaded with game, there was no one to frighten away the deer. Peace hovered around our council fires, we smoked the calumet in peace.

"After several moons, however this state of tranquil happiness was interrupted by the unexpected arrival of two strangers. They were unlike any people we had hitherto seen, fairer that ourselves, and clothed with skins unknown to us. They seemed to be descended from the regions of the great "Edle-a-ma-hum." They gave us things like solid water, which were sometimes brilliant as the sun, and which sometimes showed us our own faces. Nothing could equal our wonder and delight. We thought them the children of the Great Spirit. But we were destined to be again overwhelmed with fear, for we soon discovered that they were in possession of the identical thunder and lightning that had proved in the hands of our foes so fatal to our happiness. We also understood that they had come by the way of Beaver-head River, and that a part of beings like themselves were but a day's march behind them.

"Many of our people were now exceedingly terrified, making no doubt but that they were leagued with our enemies the Blackfeet, and coming jointly to destroy us. This opinion was strengthened by the request they made for us to go and meet their friends. At first this was denied, but a speech from our beloved chief, who convinced us that it was best to conciliate if possible the favor of the a people so terribly armed, and who might protect us, especially since our retreat was discovered, induced most of our warriors to follow him and accompany the strangers to their camp. As they disappeared over a hill in the neighborhood of our village, the women set up a doleful yell, which was equivalent to bidding them farewell forever, and which did any thing but elevate their drooping spirits.

"After such dismal forebodings imagine how agreeably they were disappointed, when, upon arriving at the strangers encampment, they found, instead of overwhelming force of their enemies, a few strangers like the two already with them, who treated them with great kindness, and gave them many things that had not existed before even in their dreams or imaginations. Our eagle-eyed chief discovered from the carelessness of the strangers with regard to their things, that they were unacquainted with theft, which induced him to caution his followers against pilfering any article whatever. His instructions were strictly obeyed, mutual confidence was thus established. The strangers accompanied him back to the village, and there was peace and joy in the lodges of our people. They remained with us several days, and the Flatheads have been ever since the friends of the white men" (Ferris 1983: 163).

Background: Shoshone Braves, Marilyn "Angel" Wynn photo