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Summary Article: Shoshone from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Member of an American Indian people who inhabited the Great Basin region (Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada). Their language belongs to the Central Numic (Shoshonean) branch of the Uto-Aztecan family. They comprised four groups: the Western or ‘unmounted’ Shoshone of Nevada, nomadic hunter-gatherers; the Northern or ‘mounted’ Shoshone of Utah and Idaho and the Wind River Shoshone of Wyoming, who adopted the buffalo-hunting lifestyle of the Plains Indians; and an offshoot of the Wind River Shoshone, who became the Comanche. Most Shoshone now live on reservations in their old territory. They have a strong sense of tribal identity, and retain numerous traditional beliefs and customs. They number about 7,700 (2000).

The Western Shoshone lived in small family bands. They hunted small game and are sometimes called ‘diggers’ because they dug for roots when gathering wild plants. The Northern and Wind River Shoshone both acquired horses late in the 17th century and adopted a Plains Indian way of life, hunting the buffalo in small bands, living in tepees, wearing skin clothing, and achieving honour and status by performing feats of daring during warfare. At the end of the 17th century a group of Wind River Shoshone moved to Texas, where they became known as the Comanche.

The Shoshone were closely related to the Ute, Paiute, and Bannock, with whom they shared the Great Basin and often intermarried. The harsh arid environment of the Great Basin proved an unattractive prospect for white settlers, and the Shoshone remained relatively undisturbed until the 19th century. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were guided by a Shoshone woman named Sacajewea (Bird Woman) on their expedition of 1804–06; she had been captured by the Crow and sold to the Mandan people, and was returned to the Shoshone on their return journey. White traffic and settlement in the region increased after the California gold rush of 1848 and the opening up of silver mines in Nevada in the 1860s. US forts were built all over the region and the Shoshone were pushed into the canyons and mountains. Under treaties of 1865 and 1866, the Shoshone and Bannock accepted joint reservations, and in 1877 a further reservation was shared with the Paiute. In 1887 the Dawes Act allocated plots of reservation lands to individuals, opening up the remaining reservation lands to non-Indians. Water shortages have been partly resolved by the construction of Wildhorse Reservoir, built in 1936 and reconstructed in 1967.

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