Shoshone and Bannock in Yellowstone


By Josh Kelly

Although they did not have frequent and close contact with Europeans in the West before 1800, Native American cultures were significantly affected by them. The adoption of horses into Indian societies is one way that changed how they lived. When the Spanish moved into New Mexico during the 1600s, they also brought a large number of domesticated horses.

By 1700, horses began to appear on the Plains. Shoshone Indians quickly adopted horses which helped them expand their geographical range of activities, and forced other groups of Indians to move as well. As a result, the Shoshones’ range extended through most of what is currently western Wyoming, southwestern Montana and eastern Idaho. The speed and efficiency that horses provided the Shoshone helped create a culture that blended their traditional activities as mountain dwelling people with a Plains lifestyle. This meant that they remained dependent on seasonal harvests of fish and plants as a mountain culture. By extending into the Plains, they also became accustomed to a generous supply of bison by using horses. By the beginning of the 1800s, however, the Shoshone had been pushed back into the mountains by other Indians.

 Bannock Indians were intermingled with the Shoshone west of the Continental Divide in what is now Idaho. They had also become accustomed to benefits that horses provided while maintaining many aspects of the mountain life. Like many Shoshone, they wintered on the upper parts of the Snake River until spring and early summer when salmon came up the river in large numbers to spawn. From there, they moved toward the bison ranges for late summer hunts.

The traditional range of bison extended well beyond the Continental Divide as far west as the Blue Mountains in Oregon. A combination of hunting pressure from Indians, Europeans and Americans diminished the bison populations west of the Divide by 1840 and the Shoshone and Bannock were forced to find game east of the Divide. The route that Shoshone and Bannock began to follow on this annual sojourn became known as the Bannock Trail. 

Beginning in Idaho near Shoshone Falls, they followed the Snake River to Henry’s Fork and over Targhee Pass. They then crossed the Madison River into the Gallatin Range through what is now the northwest portion of Yellowstone National Park and then down to Blacktail Deer Plateau southeast of Mammoth Hot Springs. The trail then crossed the Yellowstone River and followed the Lamar Valley into the Absaroka Mountains where it descended to the Wyoming Plains, still abundant with bison at that time. Many of the valleys that the route crossed were prime bison habitat. However, stopping in the Madison or Yellowstone Valleys to hunt meant possible contact with Blackfeet. Continue to the next page, Thomas Moran and Yellowstone National Park.

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