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Native American

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What are the Key Events in Shoshone History?

By Steve R.
Updated: May 17, 2024

The Shoshone Nation was a relatively small Native American tribe that once lived in a territory that is now Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, and California. At the peak of Shoshone history, the tribe’s population numbered around 8,000. The tribe mostly was settled in what is now Idaho’s Snake River region. Throughout Shoshone history, the tribe tried to keep peace when the settlers came. Even though the tribe kept its end of peace treaties, Shoshone history is filled with slaughter and strife.

One of the worst events in Shoshone history was the Bear River Massacre, which occurred on 29 January 1863. Three years earlier, Mormon farmers took land from some Shoshone tribespeople along what is now the border between Utah and Idaho. After some young Native American men retaliated, Col. Patrick Henry Connor gathered up 200 army volunteers from a Salt Lake City camp.

Connor and his forces surrounded the camp of the Shoshone, who soon ran out of ammunition. The Shoshone were no match for the armed forces that killed more than 250 of the Shoshone, which included women and children. Forces burned down the Shosone dwellings and also took their crops and horses. The Bear River event produced the largest number of Native American victims in one battle.

Chief Washakie, the final and most notable leader of the Shoshone, preserved his culture's way of life by negotiating the Fort Bridger Treaty of 1868. The treaty established the Wind River Reservation, which makes up more than 2.2 million acres (about 8,903 square miles) in the Wind River Basin of Wyoming.

The Wind River Reservation is culturally significant, as it the lone reservation in America where displaced Native Americans were actually allowed to choose the site of their permanent home. Under Chief Washakie, the Shoshone decided to live in the Wind River Valley, which is noted for its mild winters and plentiful wildlife. The reservation is one of the largest in the United States.

One of Chief Washakie's last major acts was to cede a portion of land in the northeast region to the United States government. The land, known as Hot Springs, has natural hot springs on the territory. In selling the land, Chief Washakie negotiated that all people would be able to visit the spring.

The Shoshone lost their leader in 1900 when Chief Washakie died of illness. His funeral featured a funeral train that stretched for miles, and the leader was laid to rest with full military honors. After the death of Chief Washakie, the Shoshone decided to do away with appointing a chief and opted to be governed by an elected Joint Business Council.

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Discussion Comments
By Feryll — On Mar 19, 2014

Until reading this article, I was ignorant regarding the Bear River Massacre. I don't know whether this battle receives less space in our history books, or whether I just overlooked this segment of history. I have read much more about Little Bighorn and Wounded Knee, so I was surprised to learn that this was the most destructive battle in terms of Indians being killed and injured.

By Sporkasia — On Mar 18, 2014

@Drentel - The Shoshone name relates to grass. The name is derived from a Native American word that means grass. Thus the Shoshone are people who live in grass houses. Grass houses were the preferred structures for the Shoshone people for much of history.

By Drentel — On Mar 17, 2014

Much of what I know about American Indian tribes I learned from watching western movies. The Shoshones were not usually the tribe depicted in the movies I saw, so I don't know a lot about them. I am curious as to where the name came from.

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