Northern Shoshone and Bannock
Traditional Culture
  Since Time Immemorial
Who's Who
All My Relations
Pipe Ceremony and Peacemaking
Great Circle
Intertribal Relations
"How the Indian Averted Famine"
Naming Ceremonies
Agaidika Perspective on Sacajawea
Horses, Trade, & Travel
References Cited

  Contemporary Culture
  Sovereignty & Tribal Government
Arts & Artists
Annual Festival Dances
Recommended Websites

  Relationship with the U.S.
  Early Contact
Fur Trade
Naturalists in Shoshone Country
Missionaries and Emigrants
Making Treaties
Lemhi In Limbo
Lemhi Reservation and  Loss
Shrinking Reservation
References Cited

Braided horsehair bridle.
Courtesy Lemhi County Historical Society
Detail of Shoshone beadwork.
Courtesy Lemhi County Historical Society.
Two eagle feathers
Courtesy of the Sho-Ban Museum at Fort Hall, Idaho.
S. Thompson photo.
Shoshone saddle
Courtesy ISU Museum of Natural History


Chief Tendoy and mounted tribesmen by the river in Salmon, Idaho.
Undated photo courtesy Lemhi County Historical Society.

Shoshone Men in Ceremonial Attire.
U.S. Indian Service photo.
Museum of the Rockies Photo Archives X85.3.257
Portion of Precontact and Early-Contact Trade Network.
Adapted from image appearing in North American Indian Jewelry and Adornment
by Lois Sherr Dubin. © Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
Shoshone bow & arrows
Courtesy the Idaho State University Museum of Natural History.

"Do your Neighbours the Serpent nation enjoy the Security and happiness we enjoy? If the white men furnished the Serpents as they furnish us with arms, we should not carry away so many of the Serpents' Scalps…( Red Calf, Crow Chief, from Charles MacKenzie's Narratives in (Wood & Thiessen 1985:247)"

Lemhi Pass > Culture > Horses, Trade, & Travel
Horses in the Lemhi Valley today.
Kel Ariwite photo.

The Shoshoni were the first of the northern tribes to obtain horses from the Spaniards who brought horses into the area which is now the American Southwest in the 16th century. By the early 18th century, many Spanish settlers lived throughout the region, as far north as southern Colorado. Although people had traveled widely for the purpose of trade for thousands of years, the horse made long distance travel much easier. Horses gave the Shoshoni a distinct advantage over neighboring tribes. They expanded their territory far to the north, even into what is now Canada, pushing back their enemies, the Blackfeet. The tables were turned when the Blackfeet acquired guns from Canadian traders and drove the Shoshoni back to the area where Lewis & Clark found them in 1805.

The Blackfeet and other enemy tribes raided Shoshoni camps for horses, yet allied tribes "visited them for the purpose of swapping and bartering for their cayuses." The sign language symbol for horse is:

"hold the left hand, back to left, in front of left breast, fingers extended, touching, and pointing to front; bring the right hand, back about outwards, and place first and second fingers astride the left index. This represents one of their horses or ponies" (Clark: 1959).

Wild Horses
A watercolor by Alfred Jacob Miller
Courtesy of The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.
Petroglyphs Describe Trade

Two petroglyph panels along the Snake River tell of a trading expedition to Shoshone Country. The petroglyphs' meanings are explained by Rees on the basis of sign language.

Click on the map, then click on individual images for information, or click on the highlighted figures below to view same details.
Image courtesy Idaho State University Library, Special Collections Department, Minnie Howard Papers, #MC001-23-03 Plate XXI.

"Members of various tribes oftimes made trips for the purpose of visiting and trading with other Indians, especially after [the] raising of horses became an established business and the use of the pony attained a necessity. The Shoshoni being a member of the Uto-Aztecan family or stock, see supra, was among the first Indians to obtain horses from the Spaniards of Mexico, which possession gave them an advantage over adjacent tribes. While there were some Indians who oftimes raided the Shoshoni camps and stole their horses, yet others visited them for the purpose of swapping and bartering for their cayuses. This petroglyph represented such a visit and is designated by fig. 1, which is the symbol for 'trade'or 'swap'" (Rees: ISU Archives).

Fig. 2 represents a trading camp.

The kind of Indian who came to trade is shown in fig. 3 as Hunkapapa Sioux.

The Sioux has with him to trade for the horses "things" taken from the eagle, represented by fig. 4, the bird in the sky.

The horses for which he has traded are represented in fig. 5.

In fig. 6 the rate of trade is documented as two eagle feather items for one horse.

Click on the map, then click on individual images for information, or click on the highlighted figures below to view same details.
Image courtesy Idaho State University Library, Special Collections Department, Minnie Howard Papers, #MC001-23-03 Plate XXII.
The second petroglyph panel represents the Shoshoni with whom the Sioux is dealing. Rees recognizes the connection between the two panels in several ways, especially the image of the eagle in both panels (fig. 4 in the first and fig. 1 in this panel.

Fig. 2 shows the rate of exchange, corresponding to that on the other panel of two for one, or eighteen feather objects for nine horses..

The Shoshoni who has traded for the eighteen feather objects is represented in Fig. 3.

Fig. 4 represents a "head-dress" for which the Shoshoni has traded ten head of horses.

Fig. 5 is a necklace made of eagle bones and claws, for which horses were traded. Rees notes the loss of some of the story where the rock has scaled off.

Fig. 6 denotes "feathers and claws" from the soaring eagle.

Fig. 7 represents a long "trailing bonnet" that has cost ten head of horses.

Fig. 8 represents "two head of horses" and fig. 9 a "horseman." These two figures (8 and 9) mean that the Shoshoni has two especially fine riding horses which he does not care to trade away.


Fur Trader Larocque meets Shoshones in Crow Country, Summer, 1805

On August 22, 1805, while Lewis and Clark were negotiating with Cameahwait's band for horses to cross the mountains, Laroque was on the Yellowstone, establishing trade relationships with the Absaroka, or Crow, Indians, relatives of the Hidatsa with whom he had spent the previous winter. Encamped near where the Little Big Horn River falls into the Big Horn River, where the town of Hardin is now located, he

"traded 8 Beavers with Snake Indians in whose possession I saw a kettle or Pot hewn out of a solid stone, it was about 1 inch thick & contained about 6 or 8 quarts; it had been made with no other instrument but a piece of Iron. LaRocque Yellowstone Journal" (Wood & Thiessen 1985:185).

Stone cup (basalt)
Yellowstone National Park Museum, Museum Catalog Number YELL 37041-1

On September 1st Larocque was encamped about 25 miles further up the Bighorn from where he had traded beaver with the Snake Indians on August 22. There he encountered a Snake man who had been on a trading mission in the Southwest.

"While we were here a Snake Indian arrived, he had been absent since the spring and had seen part of his nation who trade with the Spaniards; he brought a Spanish B[r]idle and Battle ax, a large thick blanket, striped white and black and a few other articles, such as Beads &c.

"The more southern tribes have dealings with the white[s] of New Mexico from whom they get thick striped Blankets, Bridles & Battle axes in exchange for Buffaloe robes and Deer Skins

"Their pipes are made of a transparent stone. They have horn bows & horses which they give in exchange of Knives, Tobacco, &c. This nation as well as the Flatheads trade as yet no guns from the Ererokas but this year the Ererokas intend selling them a few as they have many" (Wood & Thiessen 1985:189,219).

Shoshone near Hidatsa Village

On June 25, 1805, while Lewis and Clark were near Great Falls, Francois-Antoine Larocque noted the presence of

"20 lodges of the Snake [Shoshoni] Indians and about 40 men" (Wood & Thiessen 1985:170).

a little distance from the Big Hidatsa village on the Missouri. Some of the Plains Shoshonis, (whose descendants now live on the Wind River Reservation), were probably living with the Crows for protection. The Shoshonis had been seriously impacted by the 1801 smallpox epidemic and the frequent attacks by various bands of the Blackfeet Confederacy and other Missouri River tribes. Those who were dedicated buffalo-eaters (Kucundikas), sought safety in numbers with these Crow allies. The Crows, in turn, benefited from the trade relationship the Shoshones had with Spaniards and tribes to the south.

Trade Items
Shoshone moccasins
Courtesy Lemhi County Historical Society.

"After the coming of the horse, it was in the manufacture of clothing that the Sheepeeaters became recognized by other Shoshoni as specialists. Liljeblad says that as furriers they excelled all other Shoshoni and their produce was sought in trade by both Indians and the white 'mountain men'. Again, Osborne Russell recorded this of his encounter with Sheepeaters in Yellowstone Park: 'We obtained a large number of Elk, Deer and Sheep skins from them of the finest quality and three neatly dressed Panther Skins in return for awls axes kettles tobacco ammunition etc. They would throw the skins at our feet and say 'give us whatever you please for them and we are satisfied. We can get plenty of skins but we do not often see the Tibuboes',"(or people of the sun). "A hunter's mocassins were made from badger skin, supposedly being very tough; and the typical single-piece Shoshoni moccasin was made for both men and women from deer skins. Elk-skin moccasins were also made but were less preferred.

"One other specialty practiced by Sheepeaters, recognized by all other Shoshoni, was the manufacture of very powerful bows from the horn of a mountain sheep. Osborne Russell reported, "The bows were beautifully wrought from Sheep, Buffaloe and Elk horns secured with Deer and Elk sinews and ornamented with porcupine quills and generally about 3 feet long" (Allen: 1913).

Background: Kel Ariwite photo of horses in the Lemhi Valley