Religion on the Fort Hall Reservation, 1900 to 1934

During the nineteenth century, most government officials, missionaries, and social scientists had assumed that American Indians were a vanishing and vanquished people who would be gone by the twentieth century. It was assumed that reservations were to be temporary concentration camps to hold Indians as they either died off or fully assimilated into American culture. As a part of the assimilation efforts, the American government not only supported the activities of some Christian—primarily Protestant—missionary groups and actively worked to suppress Indian religions. At the beginning of the twentieth century, American Indian religions were illegal and those participating in Indian ceremonies could be jailed without the benefit of a trial.

The Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho, created in 1869 for various Shoshone and Bannock tribes, continued to attract Christian missionary groups in the early twentieth century. With regard to Native religions, the reservation’s Indian agents were concerned with suppressing the Sun Dance and other ceremonials, and the pan-Indian religious movement known as the Native American Church. Suppression of the Native American Church was, and still is, based on the assumption that peyote, a cactus used as a sacrament in Native American Church ceremonies, is somehow harmful to Indians.

The active suppression of American Indian religions by the federal government (i.e. the Indian Office or the Bureau of Indian Affairs) changed in 1934 when the new Commissioner of Indian Affairs, John Collier, declared that suppression of Native religions was wrong and ordered the suppression to stop.

Christian Missionaries:

In 1900, the Episcopal Church took over the property of the Connecticut Indian Association on the Shoshone and Bannock Fort Hall Reservation. The church requested and received 160 acres of land.

In 1901, the Presbyterian Church was granted 160 acres on the Fort Hall Reservation. A new church building and living quarters were constructed on the property.

In 1908, the Episcopal Church requested a patent in fee for 160 acres of land on the Fort Hall Reservation which had been granted to them provisionally by the Shoshone and Bannock. Brigham Madsen reports:

“The order was approved without getting the consent of the Indians who very much opposed the change.”

Healing Ceremonies:

In 1902, the Indian agent for the Fort Hall Reservation ordered the arrest of all Shoshone and Bannock medicine men who held healing ceremonies.

Sun Dance:

       For many of the Indian nations of the Great Plains, Plateau, and Great Basin culture areas, the Sun Dance had been the central ceremony and often served as a unifying force to bring together the various hunting bands. While the actual ceremony and the frequency with which it was traditionally conducted varied among the tribes, there are several basic themes that are associated with the Sun Dance: (1) seasonal renewal, growth, and replenishment, and (2) the acquisition of spiritual power. Much of the government effort in suppressing Native religions in the nineteenth and early twentieth century was focused on this ancient ceremony.

The medicine man Bear sponsored a Sun Dance among the Shoshone-Bannock on the Fort Hall Reservation in 1901. Bear had failed to cure a woman because his powers had not been adequate and subsequently dreamed that he was to sponsor this dance. Bear had attended Sun Dances on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.

In 1908, the Indian agent for the Fort Hall Reservation ordered the Shoshone and Bannock to stop their Sun Dance. He was concerned that it promoted immoral activities. Community leaders responded to the ban by sending a delegation to Washington, D.C. with a protest letter.

In 1913, the Shoshone and Bannock held a Sun Dance off the Fort Hall Reservation to avoid the Bureau of Indian Affair’s ban on the ceremony. However, the Indian agent for the Fort Hall Reservation sent in the Indian police to break up the dance. The Indians were angered over the incident as were the local Mormons who supported religious freedom.

In 1914, the Indian agent for the Fort Hall Reservation prohibited the Shoshone and Bannock from putting on their traditional Sun Dance as he felt that this was a backward influence on the community. Community leaders organized the Sun Dance in defiance of the ban and 1,500 Shoshone and Bannock attended.

In 1916, the Shoshone and Bannock once again attempted to hold a Sun Dance off the reservation. Indian police from the Fort Hall Reservation tore down the Sun Dance structure, cut up the poles, and confined seven of the ceremonial leaders to jail for ten days. There was, of course, no trial.

In 1926, the Shoshone and Bannock of the Fort Hall Reservation received permission to revive the Sun Dance. According to Brigham Madsen:

“It was true that some of the self-torture aspects had been eliminated, with the result being a kind of medicine dance, but it was held for the traditional three days.”

Native American Church

The Native American Church arose in the late nineteenth century as a pan-Indian religious movement. It incorporates many Christian elements as well as Indian elements. The difficulty that the church encounters is that it uses peyote as a sacrament. Since peyote is considered to be a hallucinogenic drug it is illegal under America’s war against drugs. Thus, those who attend the church services are sometimes subject to harassment by law enforcement as well as the possibility of arrest. The Native American Church is the only church in the United States whose membership is restricted by law to racial criteria.

In 1915, the Shoshone on the Fort Hall Reservation began to become involved with the Native American Church and the use of peyote as a sacrament. Sam Lone Bear (Sioux) was one of the proselytizers for the peyote religion.

In 1920, the peyote religion was brought to the Shoshone and Bannock of the Fort Hall Reservation by Shoshone spiritual leader Jack Edmo and by Sioux spiritual leader Cactus Pete. The new religion rapidly spread across the reservation and alarmed agency officials. Jack Edmo had first encountered peyote at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota during his summer travels. He soon began leading regular Saturday night peyote meetings. The Indian agent arrested Jack Edmo and others as he viewed peyote meetings as a form of immorality. He then contacted the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to see if he was authorized to try them for violating Indian Office Regulations against the practices of medicine men.

In 1921, the Indian agent for the Fort Hall Reservation, having been informed by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs that the use of peyote and peyote meetings were in violation of Indian Office Regulations, posted a notice informing the Shoshone and Bannock that the introduction, use, or possession of peyote was illegal.

In 1925, the Fort Hall Native American Church incorporated under state law. The language used in its statement of purpose was identical with that used by the Oklahoma Native American Church. The statement of purpose emphasizes that peyote was a sacrament and that the church stresses morality, sobriety, industry, charity, and right living.

Religion on the Fort Hall Reservation, 1867 to 1899

Following the American Civil War, the federal policy toward Indians was to confine them to reservations and to reduce the size of reservation to accommodate non-Indian agricultural, grazing, mining, and railroad interests. On the reservation, Indians were to become farmers, even if the reservation land was not suitable to farming; they were to become English-speaking and use of Native languages was often punished; and they were to become Christian and to accomplish this Native religious practices were suppressed, sometimes with force of arms.

From the viewpoint of many federal officials, Indians were Indians were Indians: in other words, they often failed to recognize that there were differences between tribes. In creating reservations, the United States often put tribes which had different cultures, languages, and religions on the same reservation assuming that all Indians were the same.

The Fort Hall Reservation

       When the first non-Indians from the Mormon settlements in Utah began to discover what is now southern Idaho, they found that it was occupied by two somewhat related tribes: the Shoshone (also spelled Shoshoni) and the Bannock. Culturally, the two tribes shared a common heritage and a similar worldview. They spoke closely related languages. Historian John Heaton, in his book The Shoshone-Bannocks: Culture and Commerce at Fort Hall, 1870-1940 writes:

“Shoshones spoke Central Numic, whereas Bannocks, who began to intermarry with Shoshones in Idaho in the early eighteenth century, spoke Western Numic.”

The Shoshone tribes were found throughout the Great Basin area. Those who lived in southern Idaho are generally grouped together as Northern Shoshone and included the Fort Hall Shoshone, the Lemhi Shoshone, the Mountain Shoshone, the Bruneau Shoshone, and the Boise Shoshone.

The Bannock, who call themselves Bana’kwut (“Water People”), were called Buffalo Eaters and Honey Eaters by other tribes. The Bannock had migrated into the southern Idaho area from the desert areas of southeastern Oregon.

In 1867, President Andrew Johnson issued an executive order creating the Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho for the Boise-Bruneau Shoshone. The executive order also set aside 1.8 million acres as a separate reservation for the Bannock. Two years later, the Fort Hall Reservation was formally opened for the Shoshone and Bannock. In their book An Introduction to the Shoshoni Language: Dammen Daigwape, Drusilla Gould and Christopheer Loether report:

“The opening of the reservation began a period of ethnic cleansing and hardship for the Shoshone-Bannock unlike anything they had ever experienced before. They were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to the reservation. On the reservation they found little food, no opportunities, and very little hope for the future.”

The Government and Christian Missionaries

In 1869, the Board of Indian Commissioners recommended that, with regard to Indians, it was the duty of government to:

“protect them, to educate them in industry, the arts of civilization, and the princi­ples of Christianity.”

The Board of Indian Commissioners also recommended that schools be established to introduce English to every tribe. According to the Board:

“The teachers employed should be nominated by some religious body having a mission nearest to the location of the school. The establishment of Christian missions should be encouraged, and their schools fostered.”

In 1870, President Ulysses Grant established his Peace Policy in which the administration of reservations was turned over to Christian missionary groups. According to James White in an article in Chronicles of Oklahoma:

“Under the terms of the Peace Policy, a single religious group had a franchise over the evangelizing efforts on each reservation.”

Under the Peace Policy, the Shoshone and Bannock of the Fort Hall Reservation were assigned to the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1871. The church, however, failed to send a missionary to the reservation. The Indian agent requested funds to build a mission and mission residence, but the federal government did not earmark any monies for this purpose. According to Brigham Madsen, in his book The Northern Shoshoni:

“When no funds were earmarked for these purposes, apparently the church again responded with dedicated apathy.”

In 1871, a Catholic priest visited the Shoshone and Bannock on the Fort Hall Reservation and requested that the reservation be re-assigned to the Catholic Church. The Department of the Interior responded by transferring it from the Methodists to the Catholics. The Catholic missionary, however, was on the reservation for only a few months and then left because there were no facilities for him.

In 1873, the Shoshone and Bannock of the Fort Hall Reservation were assigned to the Methodist Church. The new Indian agent preached sermons to the Indians, but one army officer charged that the agent was not promoting material progress on the reservation.

In 1875, an Indian teacher from the Methodist Episcopal Church was appointed to the Shoshone and Bannock of the Fort Hall Reservation. He organized a church society of six members, held church services every Sunday, and established a Sunday school.

In 1887, the Connecticut Indian Association, an auxiliary of the Women’s National Indian Association, contacted the Fort Hall Reservation. The Association was willing to send two missionaries to convert the Shoshone and Bannock if the government would build a cottage for them, provide them with 3-4 acres of land, and allow them to get supplies from the government store. As a result, two women missionaries arrived at the reservation.

Mormons

       Like American Indian religions, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly called the Mormons, was discouraged by the American government and many reservations were closed to Mormon missionaries. The Mormon missionaries often worked among off-reservation Indians.

Mormon missionaries under the leadership of George Washington Hill traveled to southern Idaho in 1873 where they baptized about 100 Shoshone and Bannock. Lawrence Coates, in an article in Idaho Yesterdays, writes:

“Relying upon his previous experiences with the Shoshoni, Hill used his ability to speak their language to tell them of the Book of Mormon, depicting its story by placing pictures on a scroll.”

The Indians were then settled on farmland near Brigham City, Utah. The Indians named the community Washakie, after a Shoshone Chief.

In 1877, in response to the establishment of a Mormon farm for the Shoshone, non-Indians again demanded that the Indians be forcibly returned to the Fort Hall Reservation. Rumors circulated that the Indians were well-armed and that their horses were in good condition. The district attorney reported that the Indians had become members of the Mormon church, that they were under Mormon control, and thus they were “disloyal.” He recommended that the Indians be returned to the reservation and that the missionary should be charged with “illegally tampering with the Indians.” While the district attorney argued that military force be used to move the Indians, the Indian agent noted that the Indians in question had never resided at Fort Hall but had always made the Bear River area their home.

The agent of the Fort Hall Reservation in 1883 estimated that 300 Bannock and Shoshone were now members of the Mormon Church and he asked the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for help in stopping the Mormons from instructing the Indians in polygamy and other vile doctrines.

The Ghost Dances

       During the last part of the nineteenth century there were several indigenous religious movements which arose in response to the religious oppression forced upon Indian people by the United States. Two of these movements, both commonly called the Ghost Dance, came from Paiute prophets in Nevada and impacted the Fort Hall reservation.

In 1870, a new indigenous religious movement, known as the Ghost Dance, was started by the Paiute prophet Wodziwob in Nevada. The Shoshone and Bannock from the Fort Hall Reservation became active proselytizers for the new religion and sponsored a number of Ghost Dances.

In 1889, a Paiute named Wovoka died during an eclipse. He then returned to life with a message and a dance for his people. The message called for peace and promised an exclusively Indian world. Thus, the Ghost Dance (not to be confused with the earlier Ghost Dance movement of Wodziwob) was born. Wovoka’s message was distinctly Indian, but influenced by Christianity. According to Meldan Tanrisal, in an article in the Journal of the West:

“Wovoka had been influenced by Presbyterians on whose ranch he worked, by Mormons, and by the Indian Shaker Church.”

The Shoshone and Bannock quickly took up the new Ghost Dance. The Bannock, whose language is Northern Paiute, easily understood Wovoka’s doctrine and passed it on to their Shoshone neighbors who in turn passed it on to the Shoshone at the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. Brigham Madsen reports:

“Fort Hall, therefore, became one of the distribution centers of the new religion to the Indians of the northern plains.”

The Sheepeater Indian War

It is not uncommon for Indian tribes to be named for the food they consume. One group of Bannocks and Shoshones living in the mountains between Idaho and Montana were called Sheepeaters because mountain sheep were the mainstay of their food supply. In 1879, the deaths of five Chinese miners were attributed to the Sheepeaters, even though the murders appeared to have been committed by a party of Americans disguised as Indians. This marked the beginning of a series of skirmishes known as Sheepeater War and has been called the last of Idaho’s Indian wars by some historians.

General O. O. Howard, popularly known as America’s Christian General for his efforts to suppress American Indian religions, was prompted to investigate these deaths. He had already been wanting to subdue what was said to be the last holdout of hostiles from the earlier Bannock War along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. This gave him the excuse he needed.

In the first battle of the war, the army destroyed an Indian camp which had been abandoned about two hours earlier. Then, ignoring the findings of its scouts, the army followed a trail down the creek into a steep canyon. About two dozen Sheepeater warriors under the leadership of War Jack were waiting and the army unit was ambushed. Two soldiers were wounded. In a disorganized and hasty way, the soldiers retreated. The victorious Indians made no immediate effort to press their advantage by pursuing the fleeing troops.

The following morning, the Indians set fire to the base of the mountain and the winds carried the flames uphill toward the army camp. With shifting winds and carefully set backfires, the army escaped the flames and when darkness set in they were able to sneak past the Indians. The army lost 21 pack animals and all of their supplies to the Sheepeaters.

In the second battle of the war, Umatilla scouts led the army to a Sheepeater camp which had been hastily abandoned. There was an exchange of gunfire, but no casualties. The Sheepeaters lost a large cache of supplies, including goods which they had captured in their earlier battle with the army.

Jerry Keenan, in his book Encyclopedia of American Indian Wars, reports:

“As the campaign dragged on, area newspapers expressed outrage that the Indians had not been caught.”

Several army companies spent four months battling a band of 51 people, which included only 15 warriors who had only 8 firearms: 4 carbines, 2 muzzle-loading rifles, 1 breech-loading rifle, and 1 double-barreled shotgun. In the end, the band surrendered after being pursued by the Army’s Umatilla and Cayuse scouts.

The Army made little distinction between different Indian groups and the band which surrendered were Weiser Shoshones who claimed that they hadn’t been involved in killing either Chinese miners or American prospectors. As far as General Howard was concerned, however, he had the guilty party and the war was officially declared over. The Weisers were sent as prisoners to Fort Vancouver, Washington and then relocated to the Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho.

The Idaho Indian Conflicts of 1866

Idaho became a territory during the Civil War: in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln signed the legislation creating Idaho out of portions of Washington and Dakota Territory. Following the Civil War, in 1866, there were a number of conflicts between the aboriginal inhabitants of the territory and the invading Americans. Some of these conflicts are briefly described below.

The Bruneau band of Shoshone signed a treaty in which they gave up their land south of the Snake River in exchange for a promise that the fourteen-mile-long Bruneau Valley would be reserved for them. Forty-one Shoshone leaders, including Always Ready, signed the agreement. However, the treaty was not ratified by the United States.

Gold was discovered about 17 miles west of present-day Salmon. Soon several hundred miners invaded Shoshone country to establish mining claims.

A bounty was placed on Indians. The scalp from a man was worth $100; from a woman $50; and from a child $25. Historian Hank Corless, in his book The Weiser Indians: Shoshoni Peacemakers, reports:

“The hapless Boise and Burneau Shoshoni, now peaceful, were at the mercy of white volunteers and scalp-hunting expeditions who saw every Indian as a threat.”

American troops under the leadership of Captain J.H. Walker attacked a friendly Shoshone camp, killing 18 Indians including six women and children. In response, a letter to the Idaho Statesman said:

“We long to see this vile race exterminated. Every man who kills an Indian is a public benefactor.”

The conflict between the Indians and non-Indians in Idaho escalated. In one instance, an army detachment killed seven Indians. In another confrontation, the Indians surrounded a group of non-Indians who managed to escape. In the Goose Creek Mountains, four Indians who were accused of stealing grain were killed. The Indians captured 300 head of cattle and killed an American. Brigham Madsen, in his book The Northern Shoshoni, writes:

“It was a bloody year, and it left the peaceful Indians afraid to leave camp for their usual hunts and food-gathering activities.”

The Idaho Territorial Legislature chartered the Oneida Wagon Road Company to establish a toll road over the Montana Trail. All travelers over this road paid a toll. With regard to the Shoshone and Bannock, Brigham Madsen reports:

“The Indians received no compensation for the portion of the route which went through their lands.”

The Bannock War

A casual reading of almost any book on American history—from popular accounts to textbooks to scholarly tomes—reveals that there have been a lot of conflicts or wars with American Indians since the creation of the United States. In 1907, the War Department officially enumerated 1,470 incidents of military action against American Indians between 1776 and 1907. This suggests that there was about one military action per month against Indians during the first 131 years of the nation’s existence. This count does not include a number incidents or wars involving state militias and volunteer groups, such as vigilantes. In some instances, the military action was a single battle, in others there were a series of battles.

According to the War Department, only two of these military actions have the formal status of “war” under U.S. Army terminology: the 1877 Nez Perce War and the 1878 Bannock Indian War. Of the two “official” wars delineated by the War Department in 1907, the 1878 Bannock War is probably the least known. The Bannock are a Great Basin tribe which migrated from the desert areas of southeastern Oregon to the more propitious and well-watered region found at the confluence of the Portneuf and Blackfoot streams with the Snake River in present-day Idaho. When the Bannock moved into the Snake and Lemhi River valleys and the Bridger Basin, they came into close contact with the Shoshone, a group which is linguistically and culturally related. The Bannock language belongs to a branch of the Uto-Aztecan family known as Western Numic while Shoshone is Central Numic. Bannock culture tended to emphasize war more than Shoshone culture.

The Bannock call themselves Bana’kwut (“Water People”), and they often were called Buffalo Eaters and Honey Eaters by other tribes.

The Bannock War was about camas:  Camassia quamash, a plant with a blue or purple flower which has a nutritious bulb about the size and shape of a tulip bulb. For many of the tribes in Idaho, Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon, and Western Montana, camas was a major food item. It was gathered in late spring or early fall. It was either eaten raw or steamed in a pit for immediate consumption. If the camas was to be preserved, the camas bulbs were pounded in a mortar to make a kind of dough. The dough was then shaped into loaves, wrapped in grass, and steamed again. After the second cooking, the loaves were made into smaller cakes and dried in the sun. Without stores of camas, people would be ill prepared for the cold months of the year.

In Idaho, one of the most important camas areas was known as Camas Prairie.

In 1867 the Bannock met in treaty council with the American government at Long Creek. The Americans wanted to confine the Bannock as well as the Shoshone to a reservation so that the land could be opened for American settlement. In the discussions about the reservation, Chief Taghee told the Americans:

“I want the right to camp and dig roots on Camas prairie, when coming to Boise to trade.”

At this time, popular opinion among non-Indians in Idaho called for the extermination of all Indians. An editorial in the Idaho Statesman advocated that the military continue to kill Indians. According to the editor:

“The idea that the Indians have any right to the soil is ridiculous…They have no more right to the soil of the Territories of the United States than wolves or coyotes.”

Another newspaper editorial suggested:

“This would be our plan of establishing friendship on an eternal basis with our Indians: Let all the hostile bands of Idaho Territory be called in (they will not be caught in any other manner) to attend a grand treaty; plenty of blankets and nice little trinkets distributed among them; plenty of grub on hand; have a jolly time with them; then just before the big feast put strychnine in their meat and poison to death the last mother’s son of them.”

The following year, the Bannock and the Shoshone met in treaty council with the Americans at Fort Bridger, Wyoming. Once again the Bannock insisted that Camas Prairie be included in their reservation and article 2 of the treaty expressed this desire. However, instead of saying “Camas” Prairie, the wording of the treaty indicated “Kansas” Prairie.

In 1870, the American government, instead of establishing a separate reservation for the Bannock, assigned them to the Fort Hall Reservation which they were to share with the Shoshone. In moving to Fort Hall, the Bannock were to give up all rights to areas outside of the reservation, including Camas Prairie. Under military escort, the Bannock were moved to the reservation. The soldiers expressed little sympathy or concern for the Indians they were herding and some Indians were killed for slowing the procession down.

Life on the Fort Hall Reservation during the 1870s was not good for the Bannock and Shoshone. While the American government had promised to provide the Indians with rations as they made the transition from a hunting and gathering way of life to a more settled agricultural lifestyle, the promised food supplies were meager. Hunger was a regular part of life. By 1877, the Shoshone and Bannock were starving. To alleviate the hunger, the Indians once again travelled to Camas Prairie were they harvested camas to prepare for the coming winter.

In 1877, the Americans were afraid that the Bannock and Shoshone might join with the non-treaty bands of Nez Perce in their war against the United States. After the camas harvest, the chiefs travelled to Boise to meet with the governor and express their peaceful intentions. Once again, the Bannock explained to the Americans the importance of camas. Bannock leader Major Jim asked that Camas Prairie be included in the Fort Hall Reservation. He complained that the Americans were driving their hogs and cattle onto Camas Prairie and destroying the camas. The Americans were grateful to hear that the Shoshone and Bannock did not intend to join the Nez Perce, but they did nothing about the Camas Prairie situation.

The food shortages at the Fort Hall Reservation did not improve, and by 1878 the Indian agent felt that he had no choice but to encourage the Indians to hunt outside the reservation. Bannock chief Buffalo Horn visited the territorial governor and obtained permission to buy $2 worth of ammunition for deer hunting. With Indians hunting off the reservation, fears and rumors about Indian wars spread throughout the non-Indian settlements.

Once again the Bannock went to Camas Prairie to obtain the food they needed. They found that American settlers had turned their cattle loose in the area and so the Bannock insisted that the Americans remove the cattle. The Americans belligerently refused, insisting that the Indians had no rights to the land.

The Shoshone and Bannock then met in council to discuss what to do next. Bannock chief Buffalo Horn and about 200 Bannock and Paiute warriors decided to go to war against the Americans. The Boise Shoshone under the leadership of Captain Jim and the Bannock under the leadership of Tendoy opted for peace and returned to their reservations.

Buffalo Horn and a war party of 60 warriors were attacked by American volunteer troops. While the Indians killed two volunteers and wounded several others, Buffalo Horn was badly wounded. After several days travel, he asked to be left behind to die.

After Buffalo Horn’s death the war party went to Oregon. At the Malheur Reservation, Paiute Chief Winnemucca refused to join the war against the Americans and was taken prisoner. Sarah Winnemucca, his daughter, snuck into the camp and helped the chief and about 75 others to escape.

In Oregon, Oytes and Egan assumed leadership of the rebel group. Egan was initially a reluctant leader, but he was persuaded to become the war chief. Oytes was a Dreamer Prophet and this created problems for the Americans. Part of the reason for the Nez Perce War a year earlier was to eradicate the Dreamers—followers of the Washat Religion of the prophet Smohalla.

At this time, the regular army entered the picture. The army was headed by General O.O. Howard—America’s Christian general. Howard had fought against the Nez Perce and was strongly opposed to Smohalla and his Dreamer movement. He saw himself as a Christian warrior fighting against the forces of evil. Howard and his army were soon in pursuit of the rebel Indians.

At Silver Creek in Oregon, the Americans caught up with the war party and carried out a daring daylight attack with the scouts and some of the troops charging through the camp. Egan led a countercharge, but was wounded first in the wrist and then was shot in the breast and the groin. He was carried off by his warriors and Oytes assumed command. Though badly wounded, Egan directed a retreat and the war party crossed over into the John Day Valley with the army in pursuit.

The war party headed for the Umatilla Reservation hoping to enlist them in the war. Near the reservation, they engaged the army in a day-long battle in which five warriors were killed. The Umatilla under the leadership of Chief Umapine watched the battle from a hilltop. The next day, the Umatilla held council with the Americans. The Umatilla agreed to capture or kill Egan and in exchange tribal members were to be pardoned for their role in the war.

Egan regrouped his warriors in Oregon’s Blue Mountains and waited for the Umatilla to join him. A large party of Umatilla under the leadership of Umapine, Five Crows, and Yettinewitz, came into the camp to talk with Egan. The Umatillas then opened fire, killing Egan and 13 of his warriors. The Umatilla retreated with Egan’s scalp before his followers could react.

Following the death of Egan, the Bannock and Paiute broke into a number of smaller groups which were pursued by the troops. At Birch Creek, the Umatilla under Umapine surprised part of the fleeing war party. They killed 17 warriors and captured 25 women and children. One of the fallen warriors was reported to be Eagle Eye, the leader of the Weiser Shoshone. Eagle Eye was, however, still very much alive and had not been involved in the fight with the Umatilla.

One of the small raiding parties decided to make a run for Canada to join Sitting Bull and the Sioux. They followed the Bannock trail through Yellowstone National Park where they encountered a survey team. The Bannock managed to capture the survey crew’s animals and supplies.

The army, under the command of Col. Nelson Miles, was actually in Yellowstone National Park. They were not on active duty, but were there as tourists. They surprised a Bannock camp near Heart Mountain, killing 11 and capturing 31.

Southwest of Yellowstone Lake, the army met some of the escapees from the Heart Mountain battle. After a brief fight, the Indians surrendered. While the army reported only one Indian killed, the captives reported that 28 were killed. One observer of the battle wrote:

“The Bannock decided to surrender to the troops, and they moved in a peaceful manner to do so. Nevertheless, volleys of gun-fire were poured into them and several of them were killed.”

The writer concluded:

“It seemed to me that killing these Indians when it was plainly evident they were trying to surrender was a violation of the humanities. They did not respond to the fire.”

Oytes and his followers elluded capture for another month.

In looking back at the causes of the Bannock War, the territorial governor explained that Camas Prairie was the Indians’ garden and it provided them with an abundant supply of vegetable foods. The governor further explained that the government had failed to follow through with the treaty stipulation to assign the prairie as part of the reservation for the Bannock. He recommended that immediate action be taken to assign it to the Fort Hall Reservation or to compensate the Indians in some other way.

In an interview with the Omaha Herald, General George Crook explained that the root cause of the Bannock War was hunger. He said:

“It cannot be expected that they will stay on reservations where there is no possible way to get food, and see their wives and children starve and die around them. We have taken their lands, deprived them of every means of living.”

Crook later wrote:

“Our Indian policy has resolved itself into a question of warpath or starvation; and, merely being human, many of them will choose the former alternative where death shall be at least glorious.”

The Idaho Statesman disagreed with General Crook, and the editor wrote:

“It was not the want of food which started them upon the warpath, but their savage thirst for blood, which had not been restrained and prevented by proper discipline and Governmental supervision.”

Ancient America: Idaho, 6000 BCE to 3000 BCE

The present-day state of Idaho is a totally arbitrary area defined by political concerns unrelated to American Indian history. With regard to American Indian cultures, Idaho straddles two distinct culture areas: (1) the Plateau in the north and (2) the Great Basin in the south. The climatic changes from 6000 BCE to 3000 BCE impacted the Indian people in these two areas differently. In the Plateau area, this period is called the Middle Period by archaeologists. Briefly described below are some of the archaeological sites which date to this era.

Owl Cave: by 6000 BCE, Indian people were using Owl Cave as a site for the systematic killing of buffalo. According to archaeologist B. Robert Butler in the Handbook of North American Indians:

“Apparently, each of the Owl Cave kills resulted from a well-planned and coordinated undertaking in which herds of 30 or more Bison antiquus were induced or driven into the cave, dispatched with spear thrust into the body cavities, and then systematically butchered.”

The now extinct Bison antiquus is generally considered to be the ancestor to the modern Bison bison bison. This extinct species was 15% to 25% larger than the modern bison.

Centennial Mountains: by 6000 BCE, Indian people were hunting and gathering in the Centennial Mountains where they left behind hundreds of camp sites.

Quarry Sites: by 5800 BCE, Indian people were using a number of quarry sites along the upper Salmon and Pahsimeroi rivers. These are located at an elevation of 7,800 feet. Since not all stone can be used for making stone tools, sites where good stone can be easily obtained were very important.

Bernard Creek Rockshelter: by 5250 BCE, Indian people occupied the Bernard Creek Rockshelter in Hells Canyon.

Birch Creek: by 5200 BCE, Indian people were now living in the Birch Creek area. The climate at this time was arid and the lakes in the area had been reduced to intermittent marshes.

Kirkwood bar site: by 5100 BCE, Indian people were now living at the Kirkwood bar site in Hells Canyon.

DeMoss site: by 5000 BCE, Indian people had established a cemetery at the DeMoss site in the south-central portion of the state.

Root Plants: by 4400 BCE, the Indian people in the eastern Plateau Area (this would include what is today northern Idaho) were using root plants. Earth ovens were being used in processing these plant foods. By 3500 BCE, camas was in regular use in this area.

Village: by 4050 BCE, the Nez Perce established a village site on the Clearwater River. Economic activities at this time included salmon fishing.

Little Salmon River: about 4015 BCE, 22 people were buried at an Indian graveyard near the Little Salmon River.

Island Park Reservoir: by 4000 BCE, Indian people began to live in the Island Park Reservoir area.

Weiser River: about 3840 BCE, two women, and four children were buried in a mass grave near the mouth of the Weiser River.

Challis: by 3380 BCE, near present-day Challis, Indian people began using a buffalo jump to kill buffalo.

Burials: by 3200 BCE, in southwest Idaho, Indian people were buried with elaborate grave goods, including red ochre, olivella shells, large biface points, dog skulls, pipes, hematite crystals, and tools.

Corn Creek: by 3000 BCE, Indian people began living in the Corn Creek area.

Ancient America: Idaho Prior to 6000 BCE

Archaeologists often refer to the era prior to 6000 BCE in North America as Paleo-Indian. This appears to have been a time when the people specialized in the hunting of big game. At this time, the Plateau area—roughly the area between the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Mountains, had emerged from the effects of glacial ice.

Writing about the Southern Plateau in the Handbook of North American Indians, Kenneth Ames, Don Dumond, Jerry Galm, and Rick Minor report:

“People appear to have moved frequently; there is no evidence of dwellings or structures of any kind during this period, as there is also no evidence of food storage. Hunter-gatherers under these conditions can be expected to have quite low population densities.”

In looking at the earliest history of American Indians in what is now the state of Idaho, there are two major cautions: (1) Idaho is a totally arbitrary area defined by much later political concerns unrelated to American Indian history, and (2) the archaeological record is far from complete. There are large temporal gaps in our understanding of this early time period. Briefly described below are some of the archaeological sites from this time period.

American Falls: about 28,000 BCE (Before Current Era), Indian people near the American Falls on the Snake River were killing bison. Note: this early date is controversial and not accepted by most archaeologists.

Wilson Butte Cave: by 13,000 BCE, Indian people began using the Wilson Butte Cave in southern Idaho as a shelter. They were using bifacially worked points and blades.

Intermountain Stemmed Point Tradition: by 11,500 BCE, a hunting camp was established by Indians using what archaeologists call the Intermountain Stemmed Point Tradition.

Hatwai: by about 10,900 BCE, Indian people were fishing with nets at the Hatwai site (10NP143).

Burial: about 10,600 BCE, a young woman (17-21 years of age) died near the Snake River in the south-central part of the state. She was buried with a large stemmed biface, an eyed needle, a badger baculum, and a bone artifact. She was 5’2” tall and had regularly faced hunger as she was growing up. Salmon had provided some of the protein (possibly 10%) in her diet. Her diet also included processed meat, such as pemmican.

Shoup Rockshelter: by 10,460 BCE, Indian people were occupying the Shoup Rockshelter near Salmon, Idaho.

Owl Cave: by 10,250 BCE, Indian people were occupying Owl Cave. By 8850 BCE, Indian people living at Owl Cave were butchering and eating mammoth.

By 6000, BCE, Indians were using Owl Cave as a site for the systematic killing of buffalo. According to archaeologist B. Robert Butler in the Handbook of North American Indians:

“Apparently, each of the Owl Cave kills resulted from a well-planned and coordinated undertaking in which herds of 30 or more Bison antiquus were induced or driven into the cave, dispatched with spear thrust into the body cavities, and then systematically butchered.”

Cooper’s Ferry Site: about 10,050 BCE, a group of hunting people left a cache of tools in a circular pit at one of their regular camp sites along the lower Salmon River Canyon. The site is located on a small alluvial terrace about ten meters above the confluence of Rock Creek and the lower Salmon River. The tools included stone points and scrapers. Some of the tools had been used and then reworked to renew their cutting surfaces. Caching of equipment for future use was relatively common among nomadic peoples. In an article in American Antiquity, Loren Davis, Alex Nyers, and Samuel Willis write:

“In this manner, equipment manufactured for tasks that are specific to a particular time and place are stored in a designed holding facility. Equipment caches might also play a role as insurance or backup systems, where additional stores of tools are placed at strategic locations in the landscape as a low-cost, embedded aspect of moving in a landscape.”

They also write:

“Overall, the creation and use of equipment caches is intended to help solve problems of logistical mobility and improve efficiency in resource exploitation.”

By 10,020 BCE, Indian people at the Cooper’s Ferry site were using a variety of stemmed points, including those which archaeologists classify as Lind Coulee, Windust, and Cascade.

By 9400 BCE, Indian people with a Western Stemmed Tradition technology occupied the Cooper’s Ferry Site. Many archaeologists feel that the people who used the Western Stemmed Tradition technology were different from those who used Clovis technology.

By 9000 BCE, Indians from the Cooper’s Ferry Site were hunting in the Beaverhead Mountains. They were using Lind Coulee type spear points. Roy Carlson, in the Indian Art Traditions of the Northwest Coast, writes:

“The Lind Coulee Tradition is characterized by large stemmed projectile points, chipped stone crescents, and large steep scrapers.”

Bison and Veratic Rockshelters: by 8390 BCE Indian people at the Bison Rockshelter and the Veratic Rockshelter were using stone points which are pressure-flaked and fluted.

We’eptes Pa’axat: by 8200 BCE, Indian people were occupying the We’eptes Pa’axat (Five Eagles) site near present-day Lenore, Idaho. The site was being used intermittently for hunting and processing deer and mountain sheep as well as for manufacturing stone tools.

Redfish Overhang: by 8150 BCE, Indian people began to occupy the Redfish Overhang near Stanley, Idaho.

Note: the information in parenthesis following the name of the site is the Smithsonian Designation System. In this system of recording archaeological sites, the first number refers to the state; this is followed by letters which refer to the county; and then a number indicating its order in being recorded. Thus 5LP 10, means that the site is in Colorado (5th state when the states are listed alphabetically), La Plata County (LP), and was the 10th site recorded in La Plata county in the State Archaeologist’s office.

Grizzly Bears

While Grizzly bears were once found throughout much of the American West, today there are two primary locations where Grizzly bears are abundant: Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Although at one time there were an estimated 50,000 Grizzly bears in North America, the current population is estimated at about 1,800. At the present time, federal wildlife officials are considering lifting protections for the Grizzly bears in the Yellowstone National Park area. This would allow trophy hunting of Grizzly bears outside of the Park. A number of American Indian tribes are protesting this possible decision, citing the spiritual importance of Grizzly bears to traditional Native religions. For many American Indians, the Grizzly bear is a sacred animal.

Indians and Bears:

In general, American Indian people have seen themselves as being in harmony with nature and animals, such as the bears, are spoken of not only as people, but as relatives. Some examples of the importance of bears to Native American spirituality are described below.

Among the Ute, the veneration of the bear is expressed ceremonially. Anthropologist Bertha Dutton, in her book The Ranchería, Ute, and Southern Paiute Peoples: Indians of the American Southwest, reports:

“The bear is regarded as the wisest of animals and the bravest of all except the mountain lion; he is thought to possess wonderful magic power. Feeling that the bears are fully aware of the relationship existing between themselves and the Ute, their ceremony of the bear dance assists in strengthening this friendship.”

The Bear Dance is a traditional Ute ceremony which is performed in the Spring. During the 10-day ceremony, a group of men play musical rasps (notched and un-notched sticks) to charm the dancers and propitiate bears. According to oral tradition, this dance was given to the Ute by a bear. The circular dance area represents a bear cave with an opening to the south or southeast. Traditionally, the dance area was enclosed with timbers and pine boughs to a height of about seven feet.

In the Ute Bear Dance, women choose male partners and the women lead in the dancing. Spiritual leader Eddie Box, quoted in Nancy Wood’s book When Buffalo Free the Mountains: The Survival of America’s Ute Indians. says:

“Bear Dance is a rebirth, an awakening of the spirit. It’s a time of awareness. You come to learn from the past in order to arrive at the present with an understanding of the harmony of things.”

Historian Richard Young, in his book The Ute Indians of Colorado in the Twentieth Century, describes the Bear Dance this way:

“Probably the oldest of the Ute Dances, the Bear Dance was a festive, social dance that had always been held in the spring before winter camps disbanded and family groups went their separate ways in search of food.”

The Utes are not the only tribe with a bear dance: the Shoshone, who are linguistically related to the Ute, also have a bear dance. This was originally a hunting dance, which had nothing to do with hunting bears. Men and women would face each other in two long lines and dance in a back-and-forth manner. In one form of the dance, a drum is used while in another form an upside-down basket is scraped by a rasp stick.

In the Dakotas, the Arikara, an agricultural nation with villages along the Missouri River, also had a bear ceremony. Among the Arikara, the bear-medicine men would put on a ceremony to gain the bear’s help in hunting. The ceremony was conducted in an earth lodge where seven elders would sing a number of songs. A young man would then be instructed to go out and get a certain kind of clay. From this clay, the bear-medicine men would make little figures of men, horses, and buffalo. They would then have the little men hunt and finally have them jump into the fire.

The bear also has important spiritual significance for many other Indians.

 Non-Indians and Bears:

When the English began their invasion of North America, they tended to view the Americas as a wilderness, a frightening concept with strong religious overtones. Edwin Churchill, the chief curator at the Maine Museum, writes in his chapter in American Beginnings: Exploration, Culture, and Cartography in the Land of Norumbega:

“They viewed the wilderness as a place where a person might lapse into disordered, confused, or ‘wild conditions’ and then succumb to the animal appetites latent in all men and restrained only by society.”

The English world-view tended to reflect the ethnocentric notion that they were divinely commanded to subdue the earth. According to Frank Waters, in his book Brave are My People: Indian Heroes Not Forgotten:

“They leveled whole forests under the axe, plowed under the grasslands, dammed and drained the rivers, gutted the mountains for gold and silver, and divided and sold the land itself. Accompanying all this destruction was the extermination of birds and beasts, not alone for profit or sport, but to indulge in a wanton lust for killing.”

For the English, taming the wilderness and claiming their dominion over the land involved the eradication of many predators, such as wolves, bears, and (in their minds) Indians. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Americans continued the policy of extermination. Even within national parks, government hunters sought to kill as many wolves and bears as possible.

With regard to Grizzly bears, the extermination policy was nearly successful. One display sign in the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana indicates:

“Although the Grizzly inspires fear and can pose real danger to people, human beings are powerful natural enemies of this bear. Through killing this animal and competing for the use of its habitat, humans have eliminated the Grizzly from most of its original range.”

The Current Situation:

Protections for Grizzly bears were imposed in 1975 and since that time the bear population has rebounded. According to one newspaper report:

U.S. wildlife officials and their state counterparts in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming contend the region’s 700 to 1,000 bears are biologically recovered. They’ve been pushing for almost a decade to revoke the animal’s threatened status, a step that was taken in 2007 only to be reversed by a federal judge two years later.

Removing federal protections for Grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region would mean that the animals would be under state management. This would allow the states—Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming—to allow hunting of them. Wildlife officials in these states have been advocating bear hunts as a way to deal with problem bears.

Grizzlies have killed six people in and around Yellowstone National Park since 2010. In addition, they have regularly mauled both domestic livestock and hunters outside of the Park. The ranching industry has lobbied for eliminating protections for the Grizzly bears.

Under the Endangered Species Act, decisions regarding the Grizzly bear should be guided by “best available science,” but federal officials have indicated that they will take tribal views into consideration. Consultation with the tribes is required by Presidential Executive Orders and, according to tribal officials, by treaty obligation. Federal officials report that they have consulted with five tribes and have discussions scheduled with two more. In addition, letters have been sent to more than 50 tribes inviting them to participate in the discussions.

Tribal leaders from several tribes have opposed the removal of Grizzly hunting restrictions. The Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho is the home of the Shoshone and Bannock Tribes. Tribal Vice-Chairman Lee Juan Tyler has stated:

“These are our treaty lands, our ancestral homelands. Too many times in our relationship with the federal government we have surprises. … We want the grizzly bear protected with those lands, and the grizzly bear returned to areas where we can co-manage them.”

Federal officials are expected to rule on lifting protections for the Grizzly bear sometime in the next several months. This decision would impact only the bears in the area around Yellowstone National Park. The area around Glacier National Park would not be impacted by this decision.

The Great Basin Tribes

The Great Basin includes the high desert regions between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. It is bounded on the north by the Columbia Plateau and on the south by the Colorado Plateau. It includes all of the present-day states of Nevada and Utah, and portions of Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, and California. This is an area which is characterized by low rainfall and extremes of temperature. The summers in this desert area can be hot, while the winters can be bitterly cold. While it is a physical region that does not seem hospitable to human habitation, Indian people have lived in the Great Basin for thousands of years.

The Great Basin was the last part of the United States to be explored and settled by the European-Americans. When the European-American invasion began in the nineteenth century, the invaders found that it was occupied by several different tribes, including the Bannock, Goshute, Mono, Northern Paiute, Panamint, Shoshone, Southern Paiute, Washo, and Ute.

Linguistically all of the Indian people of the Great Basin, with the exception of the Hokan-speaking Washo, spoke languages which belong to the Numic division of the Uto-Aztecan language family. The linguistic and archaeological data seem to suggest that the Numic-speaking people spread into the Great Basin from southeastern California. The homeland of the Numic-speaking groups in the Great Basin is generally seen as the Death Valley area.

The Numic languages appear to have divided into three sub-branches—Western, Central, and Southern—about 2,000 years ago. About a thousand years ago, the Numic-speaking people expanded northward and eastward.

The Ute:

 The Ute tribal territory included much of present-day Colorado and Utah. Much of this territory lies within the Colorado Plateau, a geological anomaly characterized by sedimentary rocks that have been lifted to an elevation of more than 6,000 feet. This is a semi-arid region.

 While the groups which are considered Ute shared a common language as well as other cultural features, they were never a single politically unified tribe. There was never a single tribal council or anything close to a supreme chief. Each of the groups, generally called “bands,” was politically autonomous. Membership in the bands was fluid and there was high mobility between the bands. The Ute bands include:

(1) the Weminuche (Weeminuche) or Ute Mountain Ute whose homeland is the San Juan drainage of the Colorado River.

(2) the Tabeguache (also known as Uncompahgre).

(3) the Grand River band.

(4) the Yampa whose homeland is in northwestern Colorado.

(5) the Uintah whose homeland ran from Utah Lake east through the Uinta Basin.

(6) the Muache (Moache) whose homeland ranged south along the Sangre de Cristos as far south as Taos, New Mexico.

(7) the Capote of the San Luis Valley and the upper Rio Grande.

(8) the Sheberetch in the area of present-day Moab, Utah.

(9) the Sanpits (San Pitch) in the Sanpete Valley in central Utah.

(10) the Timanogots near Utah Lake.

(11) Pahvant who lived in the deserts surrounding Sevier Lake, Utah.

(12) the White River (Parusanuch and Yamparika) in the White and Yampa River systems of Colorado.

After marriage, the couple would usually live with the wife’s band (matrilocal residence in anthropological terminology). This means that the bands were usually composed of several nuclear families which were related to each other through the female line.

The area occupied by the Ute was buffalo country and so buffalo, as well as mountain sheep, mule deer, whitetail deer, elk, antelope, moose, and rabbits, were utilized for their subsistence. The people also gathered a wide variety of different wild plants.

In hunting herd animals, the Ute often used drives in which the animals were driven into narrow areas where they could be more easily harvested. The Weminuche band hunted deer with poison arrows.

Shoshone:

The Shoshone (also spelled Shoshoni) take their name from the Shoshone word sosoni’ which refers to a type of high-growing grass. Some of the Plains tribes referred to the Shoshone as “Grass House People” which referred to the conically-shaped houses made from the native grasses. They were also referred to as the “Snakes” or “Snake People” by some Plains groups. This term comes from the sign which the people used for themselves in hand sign languages. The sign actually represents the salmon to the Shoshone, but among the Great Plains tribes, who were unfamiliar with the salmon, it was misinterpreted as meaning “snake.”

The Shoshone are often divided into four general groups:

(1) the Western Shoshone who lived in central Nevada, northeastern Nevada, and Utah. Some anthropologists have listed 43 different Western Shoshone groups.

(2) Northern Shoshone who lived in southern Idaho and adopted the horse culture after 1800.

(3) Eastern Shoshone of Wyoming who adopted many of the traits of Plains Indian culture.

(4) Southern Shoshone who live in the Death Valley area on the extreme southern edge of the Great Basin.

The Northern Shoshone groups include the Fort Hall Shoshone, the Lemhi Shoshone, the Mountain Shoshone, the Bruneau Shoshone, and the Boise Shoshone. The Lemhi Shoshone hunted buffalo in western Montana, but depended primarily upon salmon for their subsistence. The Bruneau Shoshone were not a horse people and depended largely on salmon and camas. The Boise Shoshone also used salmon and camas as primary foods and also hunted buffalo in Wyoming and Montana.

Shoshone bands, like other groups in the Great Basin and Plateau Culture Areas, were often named after their dominant food source. Thus mountain-dwelling Shoshone were known as Tukudika (“eaters of bighorn sheep” or sheep eaters). Other Shoshone groups include the Agaidika (salmon eaters), Padehiyadeka (elk eaters), Yahandeka (groundhog eaters), Pengwideka (fish eaters), Kamuduka (rabbit eaters), Tubaduka (pine-nut eaters), and Hukandeka (seed eaters), and the Kukundika (also spelled Kutsundeka; buffalo eaters).

Among the Western Shoshone, the most important game animals were antelope and bighorn. In hunting antelope, the animals would be driven along a V-shaped runway into a corral which had been constructed of brush, stones, and poles. A medicine person who had the power to capture antelopes’ souls through dreams, songs, and rituals, would aid the hunt by drawing the animals’ souls, and thus the animals themselves, into the corral.

Bannock:

The Bannock, who call themselves Bana’kwut (“Water People”), were called Buffalo Eaters and Honey Eaters by other tribes. The Shoshone referred to them with the term “pannaitti.” Brigham Madsen, in his book The Bannock of Idaho, reports that the Bannock

“migrated from the desert areas of southeastern Oregon to the more propitious and well-watered region found at the confluence of the Portneuf and Blackfoot streams with the Snake River.”

In the Snake and Lemhi River valleys and in the Bridger Basin, the Bannock came into close contact with the Shoshone and the two groups often intermarried. Today, the term “Sho-Ban” is often used to refer to the two tribes. Culturally, the two groups shared a common heritage and a similar worldview. They also spoke closely related languages. With intermarriage, many became bilingual.

Goshute (Gosiute):

The traditional homeland of the Goshute was south and west of Great Salt Lake. They lived in the Toole, Rush, and Skull valleys. There are many who feel that the Goshute are linguistically and culturally Shoshone. The Goshute bands include Cedar Valley, Deep Creek, Rush Valley, Skull Valley, Toole Valley, and Trout Creek.

Historically these people have been designated as Go-Sha-Utes, Goshee Utes, Goshoots, Go-shutes, Gosh Yuta, Go-ship Utes, and Goships. The term “Goshute” seems to come from the Shoshone term “kusippih” which has a meaning of “dry earth,” probably in reference to the marginal land which they inhabited.

Paiute:

There are fifteen Southern Paiute bands: Chemehuevi, Las Vegas, Moapa, Paranigat, Panaca, Shivwits, St. George, Gunlock, Cedar, Beaver, Panguitch, Uinkaret, Kaibab, Kaiparowits, and San Juan. In the northern part of the Great Basin, the bands tended to call themselves after a particular food source: “salmon eaters,” “mountain sheep eaters,” and so on. In the south, the band names tended to be geographical.

 

Indian Town Names on the Nez Perce Reservation

The Nez Perce Reservation in what is now the state of Idaho has its origins in the 1855 Treaty of Walla Walla. Governor Isaac had come to the treaty council with area tribes with the intent of establishing two reservations in the region: one in Nez Perce country for the Nez Perce, Cayuse, Walla Walla, Umatilla, and Spokan, and one in Yakama country for the Yakama, Palouse, Klikatat, Wenatchee, Okanagan, and Colville.

Upon arriving at the treaty council, the Nez Perce put on a show of horsemanship and dancing. Governor Stevens fails to recognize the significance of the Nez Perce entrance. According to the Nez Perce Tribe:

“Our Nez Perce ancestors were not only honoring him as an important person: they were also demonstrating that the Nez Perce are a strong and important people who expect to be treated as equals.”

The man chosen by the United States to be the supreme chief of the Nez Perce was Lawyer, who was regarded by the Nez Perce as a tobacco cutter (a sort of undersecretary for Looking Glass, Eagle of the Light, Joseph, and Red Owl). Duncan McDonald, Eagle of the Light’s nephew, put it this way:

“In other words, for certain considerations he was prevailed upon to sign away the rights of his brethren-rights over which he had not the slightest authority-and although he was a man of no influence with his tribe, the government, as if duty bound on account of his great services, conferred upon him the title and granted him the emoluments of head chief of the Nez Perces.”

Today, there are about 3,300 Nez Perce tribal members, two-thirds of whom live on or near the reservation.

Nez Perce Map photo nez-perce-reservation-map_zpseadab8a2.jpg

Kamiah:

Kamiah photo NPKamiah_Idaho_zps16334104.jpg

According to Nez Perce tradition, the people were created at Kamiah, on the Clearwater River. It was here that they had a winter village with a large longhouse. During the winter they would braid ropes from cannabis hemp and dogbane which would then be used in their basketry. Some sources feel that the name “Kamiah” means “tattered ends of hemp” while others feel it means “many rope litters.”

In 1805, the Nez Perce had their first recorded encounter with Americans when the Corps of Discovery under the leadership of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark came into their territory. The Americans had crossed over the Lolo Trail, a traditional route used by the Nez Perce in going to the buffalo country east of the Rocky Mountains. However, the season was late and the Americans floundered in snowstorms and almost starved. The Nez Perce found William Clark and six hunters from the Corps of Discovery sick with dysentery from gorging themselves on roots and fish. Nez Perce warriors considered killing the sick men for their rifles, but they were stopped by a Nez Perce woman, Watkuweis, who had been captured by the Blackfoot and sold to an American trader before returning home. She had been treated well by the trader, so she asked the warriors not to hurt the Americans.

On their way home in 1806, the Corps of Discovery camped with the Nez Perce at Kamiah.

Today, Kamiah has a population of about 1,300.

Lapwai:

The Nez Perce word “Lapwai” means “butterfly” and refers to the many butterflies that gather in the area. The community began as a Presbyterian mission established by Henry Spalding in 1836. Spalding gave the name Lapwai to the new community.

Fort Lapwai was established in 1863 by the U.S. Army for the purpose of keeping non-Indians off the reservation.  The fort was abandoned in 1884.

Today, Lapwai is the capital of the Nez Perce nation and has a population of about 1,144.

Ahsahka:

Ahsahka appears to come from the Nez Perce word that means “the spot where two rivers meet.” The community is located on the north fork of the Clearwater River. Presbyterian missionaries established a church here for the Nez Perce in 1884.

Kooskia:

The name “Kooskia” comes from the Nez Perce name for the Clearwater River: Kooskooskee. In actuality, Kooskooskee means “this is smaller” and probably comes from their attempts to explain to Lewis and Clark that there were two rivers: the Clearwater (the smaller one) and the Snake (the larger one). The Nez Perce word for Clearwater is “Kaih-kaih-koosh.”

Idaho’s Weiser Shoshone

In Idaho, an 1867 editorial in a Boise, Idaho newspaper stated:

“This would be our plan of establishing friendship on an eternal basis with our Indians: Let all the hostile bands of Idaho Territory be called in (they will not be caught in any other manner) to attend a grand treaty; plenty of blankets and nice little trinkets distributed among them; plenty of grub on hand; have a jolly time with them; then just before the big feast put strychnine in their meat and poison to death the last mother’s son of them.”

At this time, the Weiser Shoshone, a group of Sheepeater Northern Shoshone, were declared hostile by the Americans because of reports of alleged depredations. The Weiser Shoshone lived in an area about 100 miles north of Boise, near the present-day town of McCall. The army received order to-

“proceed to the Weiser river and destroy the band of hostile Indians now marauding on said river and in its vicinity.”

The army, however, found that the alleged depredations had not been committed by the Weiser Shoshone, but by other Indian groups who had crossed into the area to hunt.  

The army discovered a camp which the Weiser Shoshone under the leadership of Eagle Eye had recently abandoned. They determined that it had been occupied by 75-80 people. In the camp, the army found footprints that measured` 17.5 inches long and this begins a “Bigfoot” legend. According to oral tradition, the Weiser Shoshone had created this legend by using huge stuffed moccasins to make the menacing footprints. We don’t know exactly why they made the footprints: it may have been that they wanted to terrorize the local non-Indians and troops by perpetuating evidence of huge Indians; or it may have been simply a joke; or there may have been some other reason. Whatever their reason, however, the story of a giant Shoshone warrior soon spread throughout the region.

In 1868, the American army captured 41 Weiser Shoshone, including Chief Eagle Eye. While the band had been accused of raiding American settlers, the army found no evidence of plunder among their belongings. They did, however, find a pair of moccasins which were over 16 inches long and which were stuffed with rags and fur.

Eagle Eye was interrogated by the military and the territorial governor about his people’s attitude toward the Americans. The band was then released and they returned to the mountains. Those who talked with Eagle Eye were convinced that his intentions toward the Americans were friendly and that he did not want conflict.

In 1869, a group of Americans visited the Weiser Shoshone camp of Chief Eagle Eye. For over two hours the visitors sat and smoked a peace pipe with the Shoshone. There was no conversation and when the visitors reached the point when they could no longer stand the silence-Indians are more comfortable with silence than are non-Indians-they opened a dialogue. Eagle Eye told the Americans that his people were friendly and that they had no objection to having Americans live in their valley as long as they did not interfere with the Shoshone fishing rights. Eagle Eye also made it clear that they had no intention of being relocated to the Fort Hall Reservation. When the Americans returned to Boise, they reported that the Weiser Shoshone numbered about 70 and that they were well supplied with guns and horses.

For the next five years, the Weiser Shoshone lived in peace in their homeland. However, in 1874 the American government ordered the Weiser Shoshone under the leadership of Chief Eagle Eye to report to the Fort Hall Reservation. Eagle Eye refused this demand and ignored the order.

Two years later, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs was urged by powerful non-Indians in Idaho to have the Weiser Shoshone removed to the Fort Hall Reservation. They urged that troops be dispatched to force the peaceful Shoshone to relocate. The following year, Eagle Eye’s band of Shoshone were removed from their homelands in Idaho and forced to relocate to the Malheur Reservation in Oregon.

The Weiser Shoshone did not like their new life and in 1878 they left the Malheur Reservation in Oregon and returned to their home in Idaho. They found, however, that American settlers had already taken over their old meeting grounds in the Council Valley and that there was no longer a place for them in their old homeland.

At this time, the United States was involved with a war against the Bannock and many people had assumed that Eagle Eye and his people had joined with the Bannock. The Boise newspapers reported that Eagle Eye, the chief of the Weiser Shoshone, was surely killed at Birch Creek in the battle with the Umatilla. In fact, Eagle Eye was still very much alive and had not been involved in the fight with the Umatilla. Eagle Eye and his extended family were in the mountains where they spent much of the winter.  

For nearly two decades Eagle Eye and his people continued to live quietly out of the way of the non-Indian invaders, hunting, fishing, and gathering in the old way and working occasionally for wages. For the most part, non-Indians believed that Eagle Eye was dead and thus felt that the Weiser Shoshone no longer existed.

In 1896, Eagle Eye, the leader of the Weiser Shoshone, died. His people gathered together and carried the body of the old chief to the top of Timber Butte. They laid him to rest overlooking the valleys and mountains of the homelands of the Weiser Shoshone. His people continued to live deep in the mountains, out of sight of the non-Indians, until well into the twentieth century. Some eventually moved to the Lemhi Reservation and then to the Fort Hall Reservation.  

The Nez Perce in Exile

The 1877 Nez Perce War ended with the Battle of the Bear Paw in Montana. After a five-day siege the five non-treaty bands of Nez Perce surrendered with the understanding that they were to be sent to the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho. A total of 418 Nez Perce surrendered: 87 men, 184 women, and 147 children. Among those who surrendered was Halahtookit (Daytime Smoke), the son of Captain William Clark, and his daughter and granddaughter.

Following their surrender, the Nez Perce were taken to Kansas as prisoners of war. Here they asked the army to take them to Idaho. They pointed out that General Miles had promised them that they could return home. General Sherman, however, denied their request saying:

“These Indians are prisoners and their wishes should not be consulted.”

In 1878, Congress appropriated money for the permanent resettlement of the non-treaty Nez Perce bands to Oklahoma. The Nez Perce, who were considered to be prisoners of war, were transported from Leavenworth by train and then by wagon to lands purchased from the Peoria and Miami tribes. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs assured Congress that the climate of Oklahoma was similar to that of the Nez Perce homelands in Idaho and Oregon.

On the first day of their journey, the Nez Perce were herded into an open field near a railroad siding. In temperatures hovering near one hundred degrees they waited in the open for the train. When it didn’t arrive, they spent the night in the open.

The following year, the government encouraged three young Nez Perce Presbyterians-James Reuben, Mark Williams, and Archie Lawyer-to travel from their Idaho reservation to Oklahoma so that they could preach to the exiled Nez Perce who were being held there as prisoners of war. The bands which had been at war with the United States were pagan, and many were followers of the Wanapan prophet Smohalla. If the Nez Perce prisoners were to move to the Nez Perce Reservation they would have to give up their pagan ways.

In 1879, Nez Perce leaders Chief Joseph and Yellow Bull and their interpreter traveled to St. Louis and then to Washington, D.C. In Washington, Chief Joseph addressed a packed house at the Lincoln Hall auditorium. For an hour and twenty minutes he told the audience about the history of his people, about the many broken promises, and about the problems they were having in Oklahoma. Chief Joseph and Yellow Bull spoke to a large group of cabinet members, congressmen, and diplomats. Joseph’s account of the causes of the war and their difficulties in Oklahoma were eloquent and moving. An interview with Joseph was also published in the North American Review. With this publicity, Joseph became the popular symbol among non-Indians for Nez Perce heroism.

Chief Joseph

While they were in Washington, the Nez Perce were also granted a meeting with President Rutherford B. Hayes. They returned home hopeful that the government would fulfill some of its promises to them.

Chief Joseph 1880

Shown above is Chief Joseph and family in 1880.

In 1880, Nez Perce Presbyterian leader Archie Lawyer organized a church among the exiled Nez Perce. At the same time, James Rueben opened a day school which had an average attendance of 80 students.

In 1883, a few of the Nez Perce prisoners of war-two elderly men and the rest women and orphans – were allowed to return to the reservation in Idaho.  The government refused to appropriate any money for the move so the Nez Perce raised the money themselves by selling gloves, moccasins, and foodstuffs.  

Finally, in 1884, the Nez Perce who had been exiled to Oklahoma for their 1877 war were allowed to return to the northwest. They were given a choice of going to the Nez Perce reservation in Lapwai, Idaho where they would have to become Christians or going to the Colville Reservation in Washington. Nez Perce warrior Yellow Wolf reported that they were asked:

“Where you want to go? Lapwai and be Christian, or Colville and just be yourself?”

According to Yellow Wolf:

“Because we respected our religion, we were not allowed to go on the Nez Perce Reservation.”

Chief Joseph and the members of his band were not allowed to choose and were required to go to the Colville Reservation.

The Lapwai Reservation in Idaho was a Presbyterian-administered reservation, and as such it was not an environment conducive to the practice of the old ways and beliefs. Those who wished to live as Christians would be welcomed, but those who wished to practice any of the old ways faced some danger. Among the Nez Perce captives, 118 chose to go to Lapwai.  

On the Colville Reservation, those who wished to practice the old religion would be welcome. On the Colville Reservation the Nez Perce would be free from the oversight of the churches and Indian agents committed to their Christianizing and civilizing. Here they would be able to retain their traditional ways.

On the trip home, the train stopped in Pocatello where it was to be divided: taking some Nez Perce to Lapwai and some to Colville. As the train was stopped in Pocatello, U.S. Marshals attempted to arrest Chief Joseph for murder. Instead of dividing at Pocatello, the train continued through to Wallula Junction.

On the Colville Reservation, the Nez Perce settled in Nespelem territory. There was some friction as the Nespelem resented that the Nez Perce were settled on their land without their consent.

The non-Indian response to the return of the non-treaty Nez Perce to the Nez Perce Reservation raised a demand to re-garrison Fort Lapwai. One editor wrote:

“Isolated as we are and surrounded as we are by the most powerful tribe of Indians in the Northwest, the people of north Idaho have a right to demand from the government protection for their lives.”

After being settled on the Colville Reservation, Chief Joseph continued being a popular icon among non-Indians. In 1897, Chief Joseph was taken to New York City to participate in a parade for the dedication of Grant’s Tomb. He was invited to Madison Square Garden to watch Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. When Buffalo Bill realized that he was in the audience, he rode over and paid his respects.

In 1900, Chief Joseph, who was still a prisoner of war, was allowed by the government to visit the Wallowa Valley. He visited the grave sites of his parents and wept openly. The Americans who were now living in the valley, however, jeered him. They denigrated his spiritual connection to the land and they viewed his claims as antiquated and delusional.

In 1901, Pendleton Wool Company in Oregon produced its first catalog entitled The Story of the Wild Indian’s Overcoat which featured a picture of Chief Joseph arrayed in a Pendleton robe on the cover. In its catalog and its advertising, the company made an effort to describe native customs and traditions.

In 1903, Chief Joseph met with President Theodore Roosevelt in Washington, D.C.. At a buffalo dinner, Chief Joseph explained the situation of his people. He was promised by the President that someone would come to investigate the matter. It was another empty promise.

In 1903, railroad magnate James J. Hill invited Chief Joseph to give a speech in the Seattle Theater. Chief Joseph told the packed audience:

“The government at Washington has always given me many flattering promises but up to the present time has utterly failed to fulfill any of its promises.”

Chief Joseph died of a heart attack on the Colville Reservation in 1904. Some people say that he died of a broken heart.

Gold and the Nez Perce

It is often said that the European invasion of the Americas was driven by three things: Gold, Glory, and God. Gold-fever often resulted in genocide or displacement of Indian nations. Concepts of law, of morality, of respect for others usually disappeared when gold was discovered on Indian land. One example of this can be seen on the Nez Perce land in Idaho in the 1860s.  

The Nez Perce reservation in Idaho was created at the 1855 Walla Walla treaty council. The treaty with the Nez Perce clearly indicated that no American was to be allowed on the reservation without the consent of tribal leaders and the Indian agent.

In 1860, a group of ten American miners invaded the Nez Perce Reservation without the permission of the Indian agent or the Nez Perce chiefs. They made a rich gold discovery on Canal Gulch and then they claimed that the gold was found east of the Nez Perce Reservation, a claim they knew was false.

The following year, more than a thousand gold seekers invaded Nez Perce land in direct violation of the 1855 treaty. The superintendent of Indian affairs met with the Indian agent for the Nez Perce Reservation who recommended that the Nez Perce treaty be modified to allow the gold miners to stay. The Americans then met with Nez Perce chief Lawyer and his followers who agreed to sell the land around Pierce and Oro Fino. The area was opened to occupation in common with non-Indians and was for mining purposes only. The new treaty clearly indicated that the traditional root grounds and agricultural areas were to be for the exclusive use and benefit of the Indians.

In signing the new treaty, Nez Perce leader Lawyer reminded the Americans that the Nez Perce had not yet received any of the funds promised them in the 1855 treaty. The Americans promised to look into the matter and speed up payment.

The treaty was sent to Washington and was  eventually ratified. Congress eventually appropriated only forty thousand dollars to pay for the land and there is no record that this money ever reached the Nez Perce. In the 1862 Senate debate regarding appropriations for the Nez Perce in Idaho, Senator J.W. Nesmith said:

“Treaties are written out conveying away millions of acres, not one word of  which the Indians understand; and complicated articles involving the most abstruse legal provisions, furnishing subjects for interminable litigation, are fully explained and elucidated by some ignorant half-breed interpreter, who does not know one letter from another, but who acts under the direction of some politician, who desires to win his way to public favor by perpetrating a huge swindle upon those who have neither power or intelligence adequate to their own protection.”

Less than a month after the signing of the treaty, Lewiston, Idaho was founded in flagrant violation of the treaty. After some unsuccessful attempts to get the squatters to leave, Lawyer agreed to the building of a wharf and warehouse provided that no other permanent structures were built at the site. The Nez Perce had farms in the bottom area and wanted to retain this land. A few months later, however, the Americans laid out a permanent townsite.

Near the present-day town of Stites, Koolkool Snehee (Red Owl) encountered a group of miners and informed them that they were in violation of the treaty. After a long discussion, some of the prospectors returned to Oro Fino, but others snuck around the Indians and into the mountains. They later returned to announce their new gold strike and within a couple of months more than 2,000 miners had illegally invaded the area.

In 1861, the non-treaty Nez Perce under the leadership of Eagle-From-the-Light returned from visiting the Shoshone in the Weiser area and found that mining camps had been established in direct violation with earlier agreements. Eagle-From-the-Light quickly found that the American authorities refused to act in the matter, so he called a council in  which he proposed an alliance with the Shoshone to drive the miners out. Red Owl and other Nez Perce leaders refused to go along with this idea. Eagle-From-the-Light gathered his people, vowed not to be a slave to the Americans like the other Nez Perce bands, and departed for Shoshone country in the south.

In 1862, the U.S. military held a grand council with the Nez Perce to propose stationing troops on the Clearwater River to protect the Indians from the lawless miners who were invading their territory. The Nez Perce chiefs attending the council included Lawyer, Joseph, and Big Thunder. As a result of the talks, a new military post, Fort Lapwai, was established near the village of Thunder Eyes. However, rather than being used to force the illegal squatters off Nez Perce land, the military tended to support the American squatters and create anxiety among the Nez Perce.

In 1862, an estimated $7-10 million in gold was taken from Nez Perce lands by non-Indian miners. It was estimated that there were about 15,000 miners on Nez Perce land in open defiance of their treaty. Some of the miners called upon the American government to move the Nez Perce to some other location.

With regard to the Nez Perce treaty, General Benjamin Alvord reported in 1862:

“Even now, at the end of seven years, I can find but few evidences of the fulfillment of the treaty. Lawyer has never received but six months of his salary as head chief, and the house with which he was to be provided has but just been commenced. Few of their annuities have ever reached them.”

In 1862, the Nez Perce received the first of the annuities promised them in the 1855 treaty. The payment was only $6,396 and Lawyer realized that he and his people were being cheated. He complained to the Americans, who simply ignored him.

With the passage of the Idaho Territorial Organic Act in 1863 Congress created Idaho Territory. With the creation of this new territory came increased pressure against the Nez Perce: the miners had their own politicians who could force federal actions against the Indians on behalf of the miners.

In 1863, the Americans met once again with the Nez Perce to negotiate a new treaty with them which would reduce their reservation. According to the American negotiators, this would “protect” the Nez Perce from illegal settlement. During the treaty council Nez Perce chief Lawyer talked to the Americans about breaking the treaty. He said:

You have broken the treaty, not we. When you broke through the treaty, it did not make my heart sad or sore, I only wondered why you did it. Now, I am called on to look upon this proposition of yours after the Americans have broken the treaty so often.”

The American Indian agent addressed the council:

“We come as your friends, to advise with you, and to arrange for the preserving of your rights. As your friends we propose to you to relinquish to the United States a part of your present Reservation, and to take a new Reservation, smaller than the one you now hold. We also propose that on this new Reservation, each man or family shall have a piece of land in their own right [severalty], in their own name, just as the Americans do.”

He also said:

“We intend to act with perfect justice towards you, in the sight of God.”

In the treaty, the Nez Perce gave up nearly 7 million acres and retained only 785,000 acres for themselves. Fifty-one Nez Perce men signed the treaty. No leaders from outside the reservation area signed. None of these signing the treaty lost any land. One of the American participants in the council, Captain George B. Curry, reported:

“Although the treaty goes out to the world as the concurrent agreement of all the tribe, it is in reality nothing more than the agreement of Lawyer and his band, number in the aggregate not a third part of the Nez Perce tribe.”

The army commander at Fort Lapwai on the Nez Perce reservation was sent the following order:

“you are directed to protect-with a strong hand, and in the most-prompt-and vigorous manner, the Indians from all encroachments and aggressions.”

The army commander is also ordered to prevent the sale of liquor to the Indians.

In 1863, prior to the ratification of the treaty by the U.S. Senate, the lands ceded by the Nez Perce treaty were opened for American settlement.

Like many other Indian nations, the Nez Perce found that the discovery of gold on their lands was a curse rather than a blessing. Rather than benefitting from its riches, gold meant a loss of land and demonstrated to them to them the meaning of greed, a cultural value that was alien to Nez Perce traditions.

In 1881, the Secretary of the Interior wrote:

“There is nothing more dangerous to an Indian reservation than a rich mine.”

The Sheepeater Indian War

( – promoted by navajo)

It is not uncommon for Indian tribes to be named for the food they consume. One group of Shoshone living in the mountains between Idaho and Montana were called Sheepeaters because mountain sheep were the mainstay of their food supply. In 1879, the deaths of five Chinese miners was attributed to the Sheepeaters, even though the murders appeared to have been committed by a party of Americans disguised as Indians. This marked the beginning of the Sheepeater War.  

General O. O. Howard was prompted to investigate these deaths. He had already been wanting to subdue what was said to be the last holdout of hostiles from the Bannock War along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. This gave him the excuse he needed.

In the first battle of the war, the army destroyed an Indian camp which had been abandoned about two hours earlier. Then, ignoring the findings of its scouts, the army followed a trail down the creek into a steep canyon. About two dozen Sheepeater warriors were waiting and the army unit was ambushed. Two soldiers were wounded. In a disorganized and hasty way, the soldiers retreated. The victorious Indians made no immediate effort to press their advantage by pursuing the fleeing troops.

The following morning, the Indians set fire to the base of the mountain and the winds carried the flames uphill toward the army camp. With shifting winds and carefully set backfires, the army escaped the flames and when darkness set in they were able to sneak past the Indians. The army lost 21 pack animals and all of their supplies to the Sheepeaters.

In the second battle of the war, Umatilla scouts led the army to a Sheepeater camp which had been hastily abandoned. There was an exchange of gunfire, but no casualties. The Sheepeaters lost a large cache of supplies, including goods which they had captured in their earlier battle with the army.

Several army companies spent four months battling a band of 51 people, which included only 15 warriors who had only 8 firearms: 4 carbines, 2 muzzle-loading rifles, 1 breech-loading rifle, and 1 double-barreled shotgun. In the end, the band surrendered after being pursued by the Army’s Umatilla and Cayuse scouts.

The Bannock War

( – promoted by navajo)

A casual reading of almost any book on American history-from popular accounts to textbooks to scholarly tomes-reveals that there have been a lot of conflicts or wars with American Indians since the creation of the United States. In 1907, the War Department officially enumerated 1,470 incidents of military action against American Indians between 1776 and 1907. This suggests that there was about one military action per month against Indians during the first 131 years of the nation’s existence. This count does not include a number incidents or wars involving state militias and volunteer groups, such as vigilantes. In some instances the military action was a single battle, in others there were a series of battles.

According to the War Department, only two of these actions have the formal status of “war” under U.S. Army terminology: the 1877 Nez Perce War and the 1878 Bannock Indian War.

Of the two “official” wars delineated by the War Department in 1907, the 1878 Bannock War is probably the least known. The Bannock are a Great Basin tribe which migrated from the desert areas of southeastern Oregon to the more propitious and well-watered region found at the confluence of the Portneuf and Blackfoot streams with the Snake River in present-day Idaho. When the Bannock moved into the Snake and Lemhi River valleys and the Bridger Basin, they came into close contact with the Shoshone, a group which is linguistically and culturally related. The Bannock language belongs to a branch of the Uto-Aztecan family known as Western Numic while Shoshone is Central Numic. Bannock culture tended to emphasize war more than Shoshone culture.

The Bannock call themselves Bana’kwut (“Water People”), and they often were called Buffalo Eaters and Honey Eaters by other tribes.

The Bannock War was about camas: Camassia quamash, a plant with a blue or purple flower which has a nutritious bulb about the size and shape of a tulip bulb. For many of the tribes in Idaho, Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon, and Western Montana, camas was a major food item. It was gathered in late spring or early fall. It was either eaten raw or steamed in a pit for immediate consumption. If the camas was to be preserved, the camas bulbs were pounded in a mortar to make a kind of dough. The dough was then shaped into loaves, wrapped in grass, and steamed again. After the second cooking, the loaves were made into smaller cakes and dried in the sun. Without stores of camas, people would be ill prepared for the cold months of the year.

In Idaho, one of the most important camas areas was known as Camas Prairie.

In 1867 the Bannock met in treaty council with the American government at Long Creek. The Americans wanted to confine the Bannock as well as the Shoshone to a reservation so that the land could be opened for American settlement. In the discussions about the reservation, Chief Taghee told the Americans:

“I want the right to camp and dig roots on Camas prairie, when coming to Boise to trade.”

At this time, popular opinion among non-Indians in Idaho called for the extermination of all Indians. An editorial in the Idaho Statesman advocated that the military continue to kill Indians. According to the editor:

“The idea that the Indians have any right to the soil is ridiculous…They have no more right to the soil of the Territories of the United States than wolves or coyotes.”

Another newspaper editorial suggested:

“This would be our plan of establishing friendship on an eternal basis with our Indians: Let all the hostile bands of Idaho Territory be called in (they will not be caught in any other manner) to attend a grand treaty; plenty of blankets and nice little trinkets distributed among them; plenty of grub on hand; have a jolly time with them; then just before the big feast put strychnine in their meat and poison to death the last mother’s son of them.”

The following year, the Bannock and the Shoshone met in treaty council with the Americans at Fort Bridger, Wyoming. Once again the Bannock insisted that Camas Prairie be included in their reservation and article 2 of the treaty expressed this desire. However, instead of saying “Camas” Prairie, the wording of the treaty indicated “Kansas” Prairie.

In 1870, the American government, instead of establishing a separate reservation for the Bannock, assigned them to the Fort Hall Reservation which they were to share with the Shoshone. In moving to Fort Hall, the Bannock were to give up all rights to areas outside of the reservation, including Camas Prairie. Under military escort, the Bannock were moved to the reservation. The soldiers expressed little sympathy or concern for the Indians they were herding and some Indians were killed for slowing the procession down.

Life on the Fort Hall Reservation during the 1870s was not good for the Bannock and Shoshone. While the American government had promised to provide the Indians with rations as they made the transition from a hunting and gathering way of life to a more settled agricultural lifestyle, the promised food supplies were meager. Hunger was a regular part of life. By 1877, the Shoshone and Bannock were starving. To alleviate the hunger, the Indians once again travelled to Camas Prairie were they harvested camas to prepare for the coming winter.

In 1877, the Americans were afraid that the Bannock and Shoshone might join with the non-treaty bands of Nez Perce in their war against the United States. After the camas harvest, the chiefs travelled to Boise to meet with the governor and express their peaceful intentions. Once again, the Bannock explained to the Americans the importance of camas.  Bannock leader Major Jim asked that Camas Prairie be included in the Fort Hall Reservation. He complained that the Americans were driving their hogs and cattle onto Camas Prairie and destroying the camas. The Americans were grateful to hear that the Shoshone and Bannock did not intend to join the Nez Perce, but they did nothing about the Camas Prairie situation.

The food shortages at the Fort Hall Reservation did not improve, and by 1878 the Indian agent felt that he had no choice but to encourage the Indians to hunt outside the reservation. Bannock chief Buffalo Horn visited the territorial governor and obtained permission to buy $2 worth of ammunition for deer hunting. With Indians hunting off the reservation, fears and rumors about Indian wars spread throughout the non-Indian settlements.

Once again the Bannock went to Camas Prairie to obtain the food they needed. They found that American settlers had turned their cattle loose in the area and so the Bannock insisted that the Americans remove the cattle. The Americans belligerently refused, insisting that the Indians had no rights to the land.

The Shoshone and Bannock then met in council to discuss what to do next. Bannock chief Buffalo Horn and about 200 Bannock and Paiute warriors decided to go to war against the Americans.  The Boise Shoshone under the leadership of Captain Jim and the Bannock under the leadership of Tendoy opted for peace and returned to their reservations.

Buffalo Horn and a war party of 60 warriors were attacked by American volunteer troops. While the Indians killed two volunteers and wounded several others, Buffalo Horn was badly wounded. After several days travel, he asked to be left behind to die.

After Buffalo Horn’s death the war party went to Oregon. At the Malheur Reservation, Paiute Chief Winnemucca refused to join the war against the Americans and was taken prisoner. Sarah Winnemucca, his daughter, snuck into the camp and helped the chief and about 75 others to escape.

In Oregon, Oytes and Egan assumed leadership of the rebel group. Egan was initially a reluctant leader, but he was persuaded to become the war chief. Oytes was a Dreamer Prophet and this created problems for the Americans. Part of the reason for the Nez Perce War a year earlier was to eradicate the Dreamers-followers of the Washat Religion of the prophet Smohalla.

At this time, the regular army entered the picture. The army was headed by General O.O. Howard-America’s Christian general. Howard had fought against the Nez Perce and was strongly opposed to Smohalla and his Dreamer movement. He saw himself as a Christian warrior fighting against the forces of evil. Howard and his army were soon in pursuit of the rebel Indians.

At Silver Creek in Oregon, the Americans caught up with the war party and carried out a daring daylight attack with the scouts and some of the troops charging through the camp. Egan led a countercharge, but was wounded first in the wrist and then was shot in the breast and the groin. He was carried off by his warriors and Oytes assumed command. Though badly wounded, Egan directed a retreat and the war party crossed over into the John Day Valley with the army in pursuit.

The war party headed for the Umatilla Reservation hoping to enlist them in the war. Near the reservation, they engaged the army in a day-long battle in which five warriors were killed. The Umatilla under the leadership of Chief Umapine watched the battle from a hilltop. The next day, the Umatilla held council with the Americans. The Umatilla agreed to capture or kill Egan and in exchange tribal members were to be pardoned for their role in the war.

Egan regrouped his warriors in Oregon’s Blue Mountains and waited for the Umatilla to join him. A large party of Umatilla under the leadership of Umapine, Five Crows, and Yettinewitz, came into the camp to talk with Egan. The Umatillas then opened fire, killing Egan and 13 of his warriors. The Umatilla retreated with Egan’s scalp before his followers could react.

Following the death of Egan, the Bannock and Paiute broke into a number of smaller groups which were pursued by the troops. At Birch Creek, the Umatilla under Umapine surprised part of the fleeing war party. They killed 17 warriors and captured 25 women and children.

One of the small raiding parties decided to make a run for Canada to join Sitting Bull and the Sioux. They followed the Bannock trail through Yellowstone National Park where they encountered a survey team. The Bannock managed to capture the survey crew’s animals and supplies.

The army, under the command of Col. Nelson Miles, was actually in Yellowstone National Park. They were not on active duty, but were there as tourists. They surprised a Bannock camp near Heart Mountain, killing 11 and capturing 31.

Southwest of Yellowstone Lake, the army met some of the escapees from the Heart Mountain battle. After a brief fight, the Indians surrendered. While the army reported only one Indian killed, the captives reported that 28 were killed. One observer of the battle wrote:

“The Bannock decided to surrender to the troops, and they moved in a peaceful manner to do so. Nevertheless, volleys of gun-fire were poured into them and several of them were killed.”

The writer concluded:

“It seemed to me that killing these Indians when it was plainly evident they were trying to surrender was a violation of the humanities. They did not respond to the fire.”

Oytes and his followers elluded capture for another month.

In looking back at the causes of the Bannock War, the territorial governor explained that Camas Prairie was the Indians’ garden and it provided them with an abundant supply of vegetable foods. The governor further explained that the government had failed to follow through with the treaty stipulation to assign the prairie as part of the reservation for the Bannock. He recommended that immediate action be taken to assign it to the Fort Hall Reservation or to compensate the Indians in some other way.

In an interview with the Omaha Herald, General George Crook explained that the root cause of the Bannock War was hunger. He said:

“It cannot be expected that they will stay on reservations where there is no possible way to get food, and see their wives and children starve and die around them. We have taken their lands, deprived them of every means of living.”

Crook later wrote:

“Our Indian policy has resolved itself into a question of warpath or starvation; and, merely being human, many of them will choose the former alternative where death shall be at least glorious.”

The Idaho Statesman disagreed with General Crook, and the editor wrote:

“It was not the want of food which started them upon the warpath, but their savage thirst for blood, which had not been restrained and prevented by proper discipline and Governmental supervision.”