Early Shoshone history - The Shoshone before the invasions
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Early Shoshone History

Snake River
Snake River

The Shoshone people are descended from the Cochise culture that lived in the southwest of North America about 8000 BC. With the end of the last Ice Age, the southwest got too dry to support everybody, and the culture split up. The ancestors of the Shoshone, Aztec, and Ute moved north and lived around the edges of an enormous lake that covered most of northern Nevada and into Wyoming and Utah and Colorado. When this too began to dry up about 7000 BC, the Aztec and Ute moved south again, and only the Shoshone stayed where they were.

So by about 5000 BC, the Shoshone people lived on the western Great Plains and the east side of the Rocky Mountains, in what is now eastern Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Utah and Colorado. Their language is distantly related to the language of the Utes and the Aztecs. Shoshone people were not farmers. They were nomadic, and they hunted and gathered all of their food. They walked around their territory to different places to harvest different wild foods as they came ripe. In the spring and summer, Shoshone people gathered seeds, roots like wild onions and wapato, and berries as they came ripe. They dried the berries in the sun to store them, and they hunted rabbits and other small animals. In the fall, they came to Idaho to fish in the rivers there, and to gather pine nuts. When the fishing was over, they hunted buffalo, moose, and deer. Then Shoshone people spent the long, cold winter quietly telling stories in their lodges.

Grass lodges
Grass lodges in Oklahoma (1898)

Northern Shoshone people lived in tipis made of buffalo skins - they were much like the Indians you see in old cowboy movies. But unlike the Sioux to their east, Shoshone people did not wear feather headdresses. Further south, Shoshone people lived in houses made by weaving grass or sagebrush together into lodges, and many of their neighbors called the Shoshone the "grass-house people".

About 1200 AD, some of these southern Shoshone people may have gotten together with the Ute to invade Pueblo people's land, far south of them in what is now New Mexico and Arizona.

Learn by doing: gather wild berries like blackberries or huckleberries
The Shoshone after European invasions

Bibliography and further reading about Shoshone history:

Blackfoot history
Paiute history
Nez Perce history
Mandan history
More about Native Americans
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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, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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