Snake Indians

Bannock County, ID, USA

First Contact:

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A rough estimate to help us understand how carnivorous and how ketogenic these people were before being exposed to western civilization

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About the Tribe

THE SNAKE INDIANS

The appellation by which this nation is distinguished is derived from the Crows but from what reason I have never been able to determine They call themselves Sho-sho-nies but during an acquaintance of nine years during which time I made further progress in their language than any white man had done before me I never saw one of the nation who could give me either the derivation or definition of the word Sho sho nie - Their country comprises all the regions drained by the head branches of Green and Bear rivers and the East and Southern head branches of Snake River They are kind and hospitable to whites thankful for favors indignant at injuries and but little addicted to theft in their large villages I have seldom heard them accused of inhospitality on the contrary I have found it to be a general feature of their character to divide the last morsel of food with the hungry stranger let their means be what it might for obtaining the next meal The Snakes and in fact most of the Rocky Mountain Indians believe in a supreme Deity who resides in the Sun and in infernal Deities residing in the Moon and Stars but all subject to the Supreme control of the one residing in the Sun - They believe that the Spirits of the departed are permitted to watch over the actions of the living and every warrior is protected by a pecular guardian Angel in all his actions so long as he obeys his rules a violation of which subjects the offender to misfortunes and disasters during the displeasure of the offended Deity. Their Prophets Jugglers or Medicine Men are supposed to be guided by Dieties diffring from the others insomuch as he is continually attended upon the devotee from birth gradually instilling into his mind the mysteries of his profession which cannot be transmitted from one mortal to another. The prophet or juggler converses freely with his supernatural director who guides him up from childhood in his manner of eating drinking and smoking particularly the latter for every Prophet has a different mode of handling filling lighting and smoking the big Pipe - Such as profound silence in the circle whilst the pipe is lighting the pipe turned round three times in the direction of the sun by the next person on the right previous to giving it to him or smoking with the feet uncovered Some cannot smoke in the presence of a female or a dog and a hundred other movements equally vague and superstitious which would be too tedious to mention here. A plurality of wives is very common among the Snakes and the marriage contract is dissolved only by the consent of the husband after which the wife is at liberty to marry again Prostitution among the women is very rare and fornication whilst living with the husband is punished with the utmost severity The women perform all the labor about the lodge except the care of the horses. They are cheerful and affectionate to their husbands remarkably fond and careful of their children

The Government is a Democracy deeds of valor promotes the Chief to the highest points attainable from which he is at any time liable to fall for misdemeanor in office: their population amts. to between 5 and 6,000 about half of which live in large Villages and range among the Buffaloe: the remainder live in small detached companies comprising of from 2 to 10 families who subsist upon roots fish seeds and berries They have but few horses and are much addicted to thieving from their manner of living they have received the appellation of "Root Diggers -they rove about in the mountains in order to seclude themselves from their warlike enemies the Blackfeet - their arrows are pointed with quartz or obsideon which they dip in poison extracted from the fangs of the rattle snake and prepared with antelopes liver these they use in hunting and war and however slight the wound may be that is inflicted by one of them - death is almost inevitable but the flesh of animals killed by these arrows is not injured for eating - The Snakes who live upon Buffaloe and live in large villages seldom use poison upon their arrows either in hunting or war - They are well armed with fusees and well supplied with horses they seldom stop more than 8 or 10 dys in one place which prevents the accumulation of filth which is so common among Indians that are Stationary. their lodges are spacious neatly made of dressed Buffaloe skins, sewed to gether and set upon 11 or 13 long smooth poles to each lodge which are dragged along for that purpose. In the winter of 1842 the principal Chief of the Snakes died in an appoplectic fit and on the following year his brother died but from what disease I could not learn. These being the two principal pillars that upheld the nation the loss of them was and is to this day deeply deplored - immediately after the death of the latter the tribe scattered in smaller villages over the country in consequence of having no chief who could control and keep them together - their ancient warlike spirit seemed to be buried with their leaders and they are fast falling into degradation, without a head the body is of little use.


Traditionally, the Northern Paiute traded with surrounding tribes. The bands in eastern Oregon traded with the tribes to the north,[5] who by 1730 had acquired the horse.[6] In the mid-18th century, some bands developed a horse culture and split off to become the Bannock tribe.[7] The horse gave the tribe a greater range, from Oregon to northern Nevada,[2] southern Idaho, [8] and western Wyoming.[7] They forayed from there on the Bannock Trail to Montana and Canada to hunt buffalo.[9]

The Bannock made pottery, utensils from mountain sheep horns, and carrying bags from salmon skin. Their petroglyphs date back before European contact, and, after the introduction of glass beads, they transferred their geometric design to beadwork. For water transport, they made tule reed rafts.[10] Prior to the late 19th century, Bannock people fished for salmon on the Snake River in Idaho and in the fall, they hunted buffalo herds. Buffalo hides provided material for tipis.[11]

Importance of Animal Products

Importance of Plants

Transition to Industrialized Food Products

Journal of a Trapper

A trapper meets some Snake Indians who "were all neatly clothed in dressed deer and Sheep skins of the best quality and seemed to be perfectly contented and happy." "They were well armed with bows and arrows pointed with obsidian."

The stream after running thro. the center in a NW direction rushed down a tremendous canyon of basaltic rock apparently just wide enough to admit its waters. The banks of the stream in the valley were low and skirted in many places with beautiful Cottonwood groves.


Here we found a few Snake Indians comprising 6 men 7 women and 8 or 10 children who were the only Inhabitants of this lonely and secluded spot. They were all neatly clothed in dressed deer and Sheep skins of the best quality and seemed to be perfectly contented and happy. They were rather surprised at our approach and retreated to the heights where they might have a view of us without apprehending any danger, but having persuaded them of our pacific intentions we then succeeded getting them to encamp with us. Their personal property consisted of one old butcher Knife nearly worn to the back two old shattered fusees which had long since become useless for want of ammunition a Small Stone pot and about 30 dogs on which they carried their skins, clothing, provisions etc on their hunting excursions. They were well armed with bows and arrows pointed with obsidian 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. We obtained a large number of Elk Deer and Sheep skins from them of the finest quality and three large 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) They said there had been a great many beaver on the branches of this stream but they had killed nearly all of them and being ignorant of the value of fur had singed it off with fire in order to drip the meat more conveniently. They had seen some whites some years previous who had passed thro. the valley and left a horse behind but he had died during the first winter. They are never at a loss for fire which they produce by the friction of two pieces of wood which are rubbed together with a quick and steady motion One of them drew a map of the country around us on a white Elk Skin with a piece of Charcoal after which he explained the direction of the different passes, streams etc From them we discovered that it was about one days travel in a SW direction to the outlet or northern extremity of the Yellow Stone Lake, but the route from his description being difficult and Beaver comparatively scarce our leader gave out the idea of going to it this season as our horses were much jaded and their feet badly worn.

Osborne Russell

Journal of a Trapper

The trapper describes a Christmas dinner feast at the end of his book with Snake Indians and other foreigners. The feast included stewed elk meat, boiled deer meat, boiled flour pudding prepared with dried fruit, 4 quarts of sour berry and sugar juice, cakes and sweetened coffee.

Decr. 25th It was agreed on by the party to prepare a Christmas dinner but I shall first endeavor to describe the party and then the dinner. I have already said the man who was the proprietor of the lodge in which I staid was a French man with a flat head wife and one child The inmates of the next lodge was a half breed Iowa a Nez percey wife and two children his wifes brother and another half breed next lodge was a half breed Cree his wife a Nez percey 2 children and a Snake Indian The inmates of the 3d lodge was a half breed Snake his wife (a Nez percey and two children). The remainder was 15 lodges of Snake Indians Three of the party spoke English but very broken therefore that language was made but little use of as I was familiar with the Canadian French and Indian tongue. About 1 oclk we sat down to dinner in the lodge where I staid which was the most spacious being about 36 ft. in circumference at the base with a fire built in the center around this sat on clean Epishemores all who claimed kin to the white man (or to use their own expression all that were gens d'esprit) with their legs crossed in true Turkish style - and now for the dinner The first dish that came on was a large tin pan 18 inches in diameter rounding full of Stewed Elk meat The next dish was similar to the first heaped up with boiled Deer meat (or as the whites would call it Venison a term not used in the Mountains) The 3d and 4th dishes were equal in size to the first containing a boiled flour pudding prepared with dried fruit accompanied by 4 quarts of sauce made of the juice of sour berries and sugar Then came the cakes followed by about six gallons of strong Coffee already sweetened with tin cups and pans to drink out of large chips or pieces of Bark Supplying the places of plates. on being ready the butcher knives were drawn and the eating commenced at the word given by the landlady as all dinners are accompanied with conversation this was not deficient in that respect The principal topic which was discussed was the political affairs of the Rocky Mountains The state of governments among the different tribes, the personal characters of the most distinguished warriors Chiefs etc One remarked that the Snake Chief Pah da-hewak um da was becoming very unpopular and it was the opinion of the Snakes in general that Moh woom hah his brother would be at the head of affairs before 12 mos as his village already amounted to more than 300 lodges and moreover he was supported by the bravest men in the Nation among whom were Ink a tush e poh Fibe bo un to wat su and Who sha kik who were the pillars of the Nation and at whose names the Blackfeet quaked with fear. In like manner were the characters of the principal Chiefs of the Bonnak Nez percey Flathead and Crow Nations and the policy of their respective governments commented upon by these descendants of Shem and Japhet with as much affected dignity as if they could have read their own names when written or distinguish the letter B from a Bulls foot. Dinner being over the tobacco pipes were filled and lighted while the Squaws and children cleared away the remains of the feast to one side of the lodge where they held a Sociable tite a tite over the fragments. After the pipes were extinguished all agreed to have a frolic shooting at a mark which occupied the remainder of the day.

Journal of a Trapper

A trapper provides various references to the important of fat meat, which was plentiful in the areas to the west of the Rockies. "The Sheep were all very fat so that this could be called no other than high living"

...we travelled down this stream about 15 Mls and stopped to kill and dry Buffaloe meat sufficient to load our loose horses. On the 22d We moved down 10 mls. where we found thousands of Buffaloe Bulls and killed a great number of them as the Cows were very poor at this season of the year.


Here we Killed a couple of fine Bulls and took some of the best meat.


These peaks bear the French name of Tetons or Teats - The Snake Indians call them the hoary headed Fathers. This is a beautiful valley consisting of a Smooth plain intersected by small streams and thickly clothed with grass and herbage and abounds with Buffaloe Elk Deer antelope etc.


Here we again fell on to Lewis' fork which runs in a Southern direction thro. a valley about 80 mls long then turning to the west thro. a narrow cut in the mountain to the mouth of Salt River about 30 miles. This Valley is called "Jackson Hole" it is generally from 5 to 15 mls wide: the Southern part where the river enters the mountain is hilly and uneven but the Northern portion is wide smooth and comparatively even the whole being covered with wild sage and Surrounded by high and rugged mountains upon whose summits the snow remains during the hottest months in Summer. The alluvial bottoms along the river and streams inter sect it thro. the valley produce a luxuriant growth of vegetation among which wild flax and a species of onion are abundant. The great altitude of this place however connected with the cold descending from the mountains at night I think would be a serious obstruction to growth of most Kinds of cultivated grains. This valley like all other parts of the country abounds with game.


On the North and West were towering rocks several thousand feet high which seem to overhang this little vale - Thousands of mountain Sheep were scattered up and down feeding on the short grass which grew among the cliffs and crevices: some so high that it required a telescope to see them.


We now seated ourselves for a few minutes to rest our wearied limbs and gaze on surrounding objects near us on either hand the large bands of Mountain Sheep carelessly feeding upon the short grass and herbage which grew among the Crags and Cliffs whilst Crowds of little lambs were nimbly Skipping and playing upon the banks of snow.


The next morning at daybreak I arose and kindled a fire and seeing the mules grazing at a short distance I filled my tobacco pipe and sat down to Smoke, presently I cast my eyes down the mountain and discovered 2 Indians approaching within 200 yards of us I immediately aroused my companion who was still sleeping, we grasped our guns and presented them upon the intruders upon our Solitude, they quickly accosted us in the Snake tongue saying they were Shoshonies and friends to the whites, I invited them to approach and sit down then gave them some meat and tobacco, they seemed astonished to find us here with Mules saying they knew of but one place where they thought mules or horses could ascend the mountain and that was in a NE direction.


But for my part I was well contented for an eye could scarcely be cast in any direction around above or below without seeing the fat sheep gazing at us with anxious curiosity or lazily feeding among the rocks and scrubby pines. The bench where we encamped contained about 500 acres nearly level. 16th We staid at this place as our wounded comrade had suffered severely the day before. Some went down the stream to hunt a passage while others went to hunt Sheep. Being in Camp about 10 ock I heard the faint report of a rifle overhead I looked up and saw a sheep tumbling down the rocks which stopped close to where I stood but the man who shot it had to travel 3 or 4 miles before he could descend with safety to the Camp. The Sheep were all very fat so that this could be called no other than high living both as regarded altitude of position and rich provisions

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