Mojave River Valley Museum
Mojave Desert Indians -
At the time of major white penetration of the Great Basin and the Snake River areas in the 1840s, there were seven distinct
Shoshoni groups. The Eastern Shoshoni, numbering about 2,000 under their famous Chief Washakie, occupied the region from the
Wind River Mountains to Fort Bridger and astride the Oregon Trail. Their descendants today live on the Wind River Reservation. Two
other divisions having similar cultures were the Goshute Shoshoni and the Western Shoshoni. The former, about 900 in number,
lived in the valleys and mountains west and southwest of Great Salt Lake, with the remnants of their bands located in and around
the small settlement of Ibapah, Utah, today. A much more numerous people, perhaps 8,000 strong, the Western Shoshoni occupied what
is today northern and western Nevada. There were as many as eleven major bands distributed from the present Utah-Nevada border to
Winnemucca on the west. Their descendants today live on the Duck Valley Reservation or scattered around the towns of northern Nevada
from Wells to Winnemucca.
The four remaining groups of Shoshoni are usually listed under the general name of the "Northern Shoshoni." One of these groups,
the Fort Hall Shoshoni of about 1,000 people, lived together with a band of about 800 Northern Paiute known in history as the
Bannock at the confluence of the Portneuf and Snake rivers. A second division, the Lemhi, numbering some 1,800 people, ranged from the
Beaverhead country in southwestern Montana westward to the Salmon River area, which was their main homeland. In western Idaho, along
the Boise and Bruneau rivers, a third section of about 600 Shoshoni followed a life centered around salmon as their basic food. Finally,
the fourth and final division of 1,500 people, the Northwestern Shoshoni, resided in the valleys of northern Utah--especially Weber
Valley and Cache Valley--and along the eastern and northern shores of Great Salt Lake.
There were three major bands of Northwestern Shoshoni at the time the first Mormon pioneers began settling northern Utah. Chief Little
Soldier headed the misnamed "Weber Ute" group of about 400, who occupied Weber Valley down to its entry into the Great Salt Lake. Chief
Pocatello commanded a similar number of Shoshoni, who ranged from Grouse Creek in northwestern Utah eastward along the northern shore of
Great Salt Lake to the Bear River. The third division of about 450 people, under Chief Bear Hunter, resided in Cache Valley and along the
lower reaches of the Bear River. Bear Hunter was regarded as the principal leader of the Northwestern Shoshoni, being designated by Mormon
settlers as the war chief who held equal status with Washakie when the Eastern and Northwestern groups met in their annual get-together
each summer in Round Valley, just north of Bear Lake.
By the 1840s, the Northwestern Shoshoni had adopted most of the Plains Culture, using the horse for mobility and the hunting of game. Chief
Pocatello especially led his band on numerous hunts for buffalo in the Wyoming area. Pocatello also gained notoriety as a reckless and
fearless marauder along the Oregon and California trails. The Wasatch Mountains provided small game for the Northwestern bands, but of
even greater importance were the grass seeds and plant roots which grew in abundance in the valleys and along the hillsides of northern
Utah before the cattle and sheep of the white man denuded these rich areas and left many of the Shoshoni tribes in a starving condition and
to suffer under the ignominy of being called "Digger Indians." Before white penetration, the Great Basin and Snake River Shoshoni had been
among the most ecologically efficient and well-adapted Indians of the American West.
The tragic transformation for the Northwestern Shoshoni to a life of privation and want came with the occupation by Mormon
farmers of their traditional homeland. The white pioneers slowly moved northward along the eastern shores of Great Salt Lake
until by 1862 they had taken over Cache Valley, home of Bear Hunter's band. In addition, California-bound emigrants had wasted
Indian food supplies as the travelers followed the Salt Lake Road around the lake and across the salt desert to Pilot Peak. The
discovery of gold in Montana in 1862 further added to the traffic along the route. The young men of Bear Hunter's tribe began to
strike back in late 1862, raiding Mormon cattle herds and attacking mining parties traveling to and from Montana.
The Indian aggression came to an end on 29 January 1863. On the morning of that day, Colonel Patrick Edward Connor and about 200
California Volunteers from Camp Douglas in Salt Lake City assaulted the winter camp of Bear Hunter's Northwestern group of 450 men,
women, and children on Beaver Creek at its confluence with the Bear River, some twelve miles west of the Mormon village of Franklin
in Cache Valley. As a result of the four-hour carnage that ensued, twenty-three soldiers lost their lives and at least 250 Shoshoni
were slaughtered by the troops, including ninety women and children in what is now called the Bear River Massacre. Bear Hunter was
killed, and the remnants of his tribe under Sagwitch and the chiefs of nine other Northwestern bands signed the Treaty of Box Elder
at Brigham City, Utah, on 30 July 1863, bringing peace to this Shoshoni region.
After the signing of the Box Elder agreement, government officials attempted to get all of the Northwestern Shoshoni to move to the
newly founded Fort Hall Indian Reservation in Idaho. After several years of receiving their government annuities at Corinne, Utah,
near the mouth of the Bear River, the Indians bands finally gave up their homelands in Utah and settled at Fort Hall, where their
descendants live today. As a result of their move to Idaho, the Northwestern Shoshoni have been lost to Utah history although for
centuries they had lived in northern Utah. It is time for Utah historians to make the Shoshoni a prominent part of the state's
history along with the Navajo, Paiute, and Ute tribes.
Source - Brigham D. Madsen - Utah History Encyclopedia
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