|| Relationship with the U.S.
Meriwether Lewis's journal quote
about the Shoshone pipe ceremony.
Sketch of bow, arrows, and quiver,
by LaVerne Harriet Fitzgerald. (Fitzgerald: 1933).
|Lemhi Pass > Culture > Since Time Immemorial
Migrating swans under a late February
Ken Furrow photograph.
Oral traditions include history, stories, and mythology, and each is
History is important to all peoples, and particular methods are developed
by all oral cultures to engage the collective memory. Oral history is often
told in a ceremonial way, with the history of the people being related through
songs, told in a particular sequence, reflecting their historical relationships.
The words of songs remain the same, even over centuries of change. By encoding
history in songs, the Ne'we (Shoshone) people remember their
history from generation to generation.
Stories are always tied to particular people, animals, events, and places.
When Shoshone people pass a particular place, they might be reminded of
stories of their family and tribe, of battles with enemies, or of any unusual
event that stands out. These stories are about events that actually happened,
but they are embellished and altered a little with each telling. In this
way, they are different from ceremonial stories of history.
Myths are another expression of a culture's stories. Although myths are
by definition fiction, they generally hold some core of fact important to
the people. Myths help to convey the essence of a people and their values,
if not the factual history.
The oral traditions of the Shoshone and Bannock peoples carry them back
to "time immemorial." How long is that? Both tribes have lived
in the Great Basin region for more than ten thousand years. The Bannocks
moved into the Upper Snake and Salmon River country, from their homeland
to the west, only after horses became part of their lives in the 18th century.
The antiquity of Shoshone-speakers in the area is much longer, perhaps
four thousand years. The boundaries of their territory changed through time,
depending on relationships with other tribes, available foods, and climatic
What the Five Brothers-in-Law Learned
This story, related by Ralph Dixey in 1953, (interviewed by Ella E. Clark)
may possibly have some connection with a tradition of the Northern Shoshonis
that their ancestors came from the south:
"Long ago a man from the north country wanted to go somewhere to
look for other kinds of people. He went south and found a tribe down there
somewhere. He married a woman of that tribe. Some years later, he decided
to return to the north. His young brothers-in-law, all five of them, wanted
to go with him. So he let them. They had never seen deer or rabbits or buffalo.
They had eaten almost nothing but fish, frogs, roots, seeds, and berries.
They did not have bows and arrows, but their brother-in-law made bows and
arrows for them and tried to teach the boys how to use them.
||"The men traveled north, up to this country. The man from the north
country killed a rabbit and cooked it for his supper. His brothers-in-law
were afraid of the rabbit and would not come near it. But while the man
was eating it one of them, a little braver than the others, said to him,
'Will you give me a taste of it?' The man gave him a taste and the young
brother-in-law liked it. "That is good!" he exclaimed. Then the
second brother-in-law tasted it. 'That is good!' he said. So they all had
a taste and all like it.
"The men traveled farther north. When the man from the north country
saw a deer, he killed it for food for all of them. 'Skin this deer,' he
said to the young brothers, 'and we will cook some of it for supper.' But
the men were afraid to touch the deer. So their brother-in-law skinned it,
cooked some of it, and ate. The young men stood around camp and watched
him eating. They smelled the meat, and it smelled good to all of them.'Will
you give me a little taste of it?' asked the boldest of the young men.
So the brother-in-law gave him a piece of deer meat. 'Oh, that tastes
good!' he exclaimed. Then the second brother tasted it, and the third brother,
and the fourth brother, and the fifth brother. 'That is good!' they each
exclaimed. 'You can use the skin of the deer also,' explained the man from
the north country. And he showed them how to make moccasins from the hide.
The young brothers-in-law had never worn anything on their feet before.
in the Snake River country
Photo courtesy Bureau of Land Management
|"Next morning they broke camp and traveled north again. Soon the
man from the north country saw a herd of buffalo standing on top of a hill.
'See the buffalo up there?' he asked his brothers-in-law. "I don't
see any buffalo," they answered. "I see only some cedars on top
of that hill."
image of Buffalo by Einsley.
From the Olin D. Wheeler Collection, AP3821 Courtesy of the Newberry Library,
|"'Those aren't cedars,' said their brother-in-law.
'Those are buffalo. Their meat is good to eat. You go around on the other
side of the hill and make them run toward me. I will kill one.' So the young
men went round the hill. When the buffalo started moving, the brothers-in-law
were scared and ran. The man from the north country aimed carefully with
his bow and arrow and shot a buffalo. But the other men would not help him
skin it, for they were afraid to get near the animal. 'He looks dangerous,'
they said. When the man had finished skinning the buffalo, he said to the
brothers, 'Cut some pieces from it and roast them for your supper.' But
again they would not touch the flesh until they were made hungry by the
odor of roasting meat.
"'Will you give me a piece of it?' the braver brother asked again.
And again he exclaimed, 'That tastes good!' Again the four brothers tasted
the meat, and each said as before, 'That is very good.' 'We will cut up
the rest of it and carry it with us,' the man from the north said next morning.
'We will carry the skin with us, too. It is good to sleep under when it
is dry. From buffalo hides my people make robes and tipis also.' But the
young men would not help him cut the meat. They were still afraid of the
"They left the camp and traveled farther north. In those days every
tribe was an enemy of every other tribe. Soon the brothers-in-law ran into
a band of Indians. 'Shoot them with your bows and arrows,' the man from
the north called to his brothers-in-law. 'Those people are dangerous. They
will kill us if we do not kill them.' But the young men would not use their
bows and arrows. Instead, they plunged into the band and fought with their
hands. They fought hand-to-hand battle and killed many warriors. So the
enemy ran away.
The men traveled north again until they came to the brother-in-law's
people. They gathered around the chief's place where the Indians were smoking
pipes. The brothers-in-law from the south had never seen people smoking
before. Their eyes smarted and tears ran down their cheeks. Finally, they
stood up and left the lodge. Then their brother-in-law told his people about
the young men. 'They do not know how to use bows and arrows,' he explained,
'but they can run faster than a rabbit. They fought the enemy with their
bare hands. The enemy shot bows and arrows at them but could not kill them.
It is good that they stay with us.'
"The five brothers-in-law stayed in the north country for many snows.
By the time they wanted to return to their people in the south, they could
shoot with bows and arrows; they could kill rabbits and deer and buffalo;
they knew how to cook the flesh of the animals. They had learned how to
tan deer hides and to make moccasins. How to make robes and tipis from the
buffalo hides. They taught their people in the south all those things. Every
year after that, the people traveled north to hunt deer and buffalo for
their meat and for many other things that they needed" (Clark: 1966).
Click on the map, then click on
individual images for information, or click on the highlighted figures below
to view same details.
Image courtesy Idaho State University Library, Special Collections Department,
Minnie Howard Papers, #MC001-23-03 Plate XIX.
One unusual petroglyph, according to John Rees, contains a certain element
of time (Fig.
1). "The Indian in his daily life noticed that the sun traveled
north in the summertime and south in the winter. When it returned to the
same place from which it started from it represented a unit or a year of
time and called by the Shoshonis "Tome", meaning "sky
motion". During its journey from the certain point back to that same
point the sun cast a shadow which traveled around a tree. In this figure
the petroglyph represents "3 years of time".
2 represents the "shaman". Early Canadians called every Indian
who dealt in any way or manner in matters which were sacred, holy, mysterious
or wonderful, a medicine man, because the French called a physician, "Medicine"
The reason for this was that most Indians who were doctors like wise practiced
all the cults and professions which would be represented in the performance
of any of the above acts. So that the words "medicine" and "medicine-man"
have come to mean almost anything. What is termed a doctor of medicine by
the white man was called by the Shoshonis "nat-soo-gant",
meaning one possessed of the knowledge of using healing and curative objects...
Then, there were persons who, through a swoon or delirious sickness,
saw and met departed persons and friends whom they knew had been dead sometime.
These were friendly spirits and through some of them thhe became endowed
with the power of controlling earthly spirits by making them go or travel
in certain ways. The power which this manner of person thus obtained was
called "pe-ha-gant", meaning one possessed of the knowledge
of celestial routes. Thinking that every object which surrounded them was
endowed with a spirit, the Indians concluded that their own welfare was
governed by these spirits and that they must gain their good-will by the
performance of certain acts and ceremonies. When they observed the stone
rolling down a hill or a leaf stirring in the breeze They did not attribute
the movement to the natural law of gravity or the wind, but to the spirits
within them. So, they feared to offend the spirit of the mountain, the woods,
the lakes, the sun-father, earth-mother, or the four winds. The shaman had
some knowledge of all three practices or "gant", meaning possessor
of, but usually practiced most, the last or "po-ho-gant".
The symbol for "mystery" is the ascending spiral which is converted
to a zig-zag motion when connected with a person or individual, as appears
in Fig. 2, where it is directed toward the earth denoting an appeal to (or)
supplication to mother-earth.
3 represents a woman who has been scalped.
The combined elements of Figure
4 mean "killed with a club".
A person is making the sign for "innocent"in Fig.
The petroglyph should then read something as follows: "three years
ago a woman was killed with a club and scalped" and the shaman accused
this man of that crime and invokes the powers of mother earth to make right
this terrible deed, but the Indian is holding up both hands saying, "see,
great spirit, there is no blood on my hands".
Background: Lemhi Pass, photo by
Elaine Mason. Courtesy of Beaverhead County, Montana