The Shoshone fight the United States - Shoshone History
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Shoshone Wars

native woman carrying baby on her back
Shoshone woman and baby

By about 1750 AD, Shoshone people were trading with the Mandan to their east. The Shoshone sold buffalo skins and beaver furs to the Mandan, in exchange for guns, glass beads, iron tools, and cloth that the Mandan bought from French and Spanish traders. Probably Shoshone people occasionally met white men who were fur trappers or traders. Like the Mandan to their east and the Nez Perce to their west, they caught smallpox and measles from their neighbors and the traders, and many of them died.

two tipis
Shoshone tipis (Wyoming, 1870)

In 1805, Lewis and Clark formed the first official visit of the United States government to the Shoshone people. Because Lewis and Clark brought with them a Shoshone interpreter, Sacagawea, the Shoshone welcomed them warmly. By 1860, however, as the railroad brought more and more white settlers into Montana and Idaho, the Shoshone realized their mistake and began to fight the settlers. In 1863, the United States Army took revenge by killing about 400 Shoshone - including many young boys and girls - in the Bear River Massacre.

The Shoshone continued to fight wars with the United States until 1879. They were the last Native Americans to be fighting the United States in the Pacific Northwest. Even as late as 1911, a small group of Shoshone and Bannock people killed four ranchers in Nevada.

The numbers of Shoshone people have been increasing since the end of the smallpox epidemics. Today there are about 12,000 Shoshone people. Most of them live on Shoshone reservations in their traditional home.

More about Shoshone neighbors: the Mandan

Bibliography and further reading about the Shoshone:

Early Shoshone history
Sioux history
Nez Perce history
Mandan history
American history
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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