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Shoshone Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Shoshone Indian tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our Shoshone Indian homepage for more in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Shoshone pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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   Shoshone Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Shoshone"? What does it mean? Should it be spelled 'Shoshone' or 'Shoshoni'?
Shoshone is pronounced show-SHOW-nee. Nobody knows where this word came from or what it meant. Probably it was an English corruption of a name for their tribe in a different Indian language. In their own language, the Shoshones call themselves Newe (pronounced nuh-wuh) which means "people." Some bands prefer the spelling 'Shoshoni,' and others prefer 'Shoshone.' Either spelling is fine to use.

Where do the Shoshones live?
The Shoshone Indians were far-ranging people. Different bands of Shoshoni Indians lived in what is now Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, and even parts of California. Most Shoshone people still live in these areas today.

How is the Shoshone Indian nation organized?
There are nine different Shoshone tribes today. Each Shoshone tribe lives on its own reservation, which is land that belongs to them and is under their control. Each Shoshone tribe has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Shoshones are also US citizens and must obey American law. In the past, each Shoshone band was ruled by a chief, who was usually were chosen by a tribal council. Today, most Shoshone tribes are led by a chairman and council members elected by all the people.

What language do the Shoshones speak?
Most Shoshone people speak English today. More than a thousand Shoshones also speak their native Shoshone language. If you'd like to know a few easy Shoshone words, "behne" (pronounced similar to buh-nuh) is a friendly greeting, and "aishen" (pronounced similar to eh-shun) means "thank you." You can also read a Shoshone picture glossary here. These words come from a dialect of Shoshone spoken in Idaho. Some Shoshone words are different among Nevada Shoshones, just like English sounds different when spoken by British and American people.

What was Shoshone culture like in the past? What is it like now?
There are some cultural differences between the Eastern Shoshone people, the Western Shoshone people, and the Northern Shoshone people. In particular, the Eastern Shoshones adopted more elements of Plains Indian culture. Here are links to the homepage of the Eastern Shoshone tribe, the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone, and the Shoshone-Bannock tribe (Northern Shoshones.) On their sites you can find information about the Shoshone people in the past and today.

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How do Shoshone Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Shoshone children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play in their daily lives, just like colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys, and games to play. Shoshone kids also enjoyed footraces, and girls and women played a ball game called shinny. A Shoshone mother traditionally carried a young child in a cradleboard on her back--a custom which many American parents have adopted now.

What were Shoshone men and women's roles?
Shoshone women were in charge of the home. Besides cooking and cleaning, a Shoshone woman built her family's tepee and dragged the heavy posts with her whenever they moved. Shoshone men were hunters and warriors, responsible for feeding and defending their families. Only men became Shoshone chiefs, but both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.

What were Shoshone homes like in the past?
The Eastern and Northern Shoshones lived in the tall, cone-shaped buffalo-hide houses known as tipis (or teepees). Since the Shoshone tribe moved frequently as they gathered food, a tipi had to be carefully designed to set up and break down quickly, like a modern tent. An entire Shoshone village could be packed up and ready to move on within an hour. The Western Shoshones, who didn't do much hunting, built less portable wickiup homes. Here are pictures of these different Indian home types.

Today, Native Americans only put up a tepee for fun or to connect with their heritage, not for shelter. Most Shoshones live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Shoshone clothing like? Did the Shoshones wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Shoshone women wore long deerskin dresses with wide sleeves. Shoshone men wore breechcloths and leggings. Here is a website with American Indian breechcloth pictures. When the weather was cool, they would also wear buckskin shirts. Both men and women wore moccasins on their feet. A Shoshone lady's dress or warrior's shirt was fringed and often decorated with porcupine quills and beadwork. Later, Shoshone people adapted European costume such as cloth dresses and vests, which they also decorated with beading and traditional ornaments. Here is a site with photographs of Shoshone beaded clothing, and some photos and links about Native style clothing in general.

Shoshone men did not originally wear the famous Indian war bonnet like the Plains tribes, but in the 1800's some Shoshone leaders did adopt this custom from their neighbors. Shoshone women often wore basket hats. Traditionally, Shoshone people only cut their hair when they were in mourning. Shoshone men and women both wore their hair either loose or in two long braids. Shoshone men often styled the front of their hair into pompadours or other styles, and sometimes wrapped their braids in fur. Some Shoshones wore face tattoos, and they commonly painted their faces for special occasions. They used different patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration.

Today, some Shoshone people still have moccasins or a buckskin dress, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear traditional regalia on special occasions like a wedding or a dance.

What was Shoshone transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No--the Shoshone Indians weren't coastal people, and when they traveled by river, they usually built rafts. Originally the Shoshones would use dogs pulling travois (a kind of drag sled) to help them carry their belongings. Once Europeans introduced horses to North America, the Shoshones could travel quicker and further.

What was Shoshone food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Eastern Shoshone were big game hunters. Men worked together to hunt buffalo on the plains, and also hunted deer, mountain sheep, and other animals. The Northern Shoshone occasionally hunted buffalo, but relied more on salmon fishing, deer, and small game, as well as roots gathered by the women. The Western Shoshone had a more plant-based diet, particularly pine nuts, roots, and seeds, and also hunted antelopes and rabbits. Here is a website with more information about Native hunting.

What were Shoshone weapons and tools like in the past?
Shoshone hunters used bows and arrows. Fishermen used spears, nets, and basket traps. In war, Shoshone men fired their bows or fought with war clubs and buffalo-hide shields. Here is a website of pictures and information about Native American weapons.

What other Native Americans did the Shoshone tribe interact with?
Shoshone bands traded regularly with each other and also with neighboring tribes such as the Crow, Nez Perce, and Paiute tribes. The Shoshone were especially friendly with the Paiutes, and intermarried with them frequently.

The Shoshone also fought wars with other tribes. Plains Indian tribes treated war differently than European countries did. They didn't fight over territory but instead to prove their courage, and so Plains Indian war parties rarely fought to the death or destroyed each other's villages. Instead, their war customs included counting coup (touching an opponent in battle without harming him), stealing an enemy's weapon or horse, or forcing the other tribe's warriors to retreat. So the Shoshone sometimes were enemies of Plains Indian tribes like the Blackfeet , Lakota, and Cheyenne, and other times they were peaceful. The Europeans who first met them were surprised by how often the Plains tribes fought with their neighbors, yet how easily they made peace with each other when they were done fighting. The Western Shoshone, who lived farthest from the Plains, did not fight other tribes often.

What are Shoshone arts and crafts like?
Shoshone artists are famous for their bead embroidery, baskets, and painting arts. Here is an article with pictures of different Shoshone and other Plains Indian beadwork.

What kinds of stories do the Shoshones tell?
There are lots of traditional Shoshone legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Shoshone Indian culture. Here is one story about the origin of death. Here's a website where you can read more about Shoshoni mythology.

What about Shoshone religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Shoshone life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Shoshone people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Shoshone rituals or this site about Native American religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy reading a book about the famous Shoshone explorer Sacagawea, such as Sacagawea: Brave Shoshone Girl or Sacajawea, Shoshone Trailblazer. If you like fiction books, the novel Naya Nuki: Shoshoni Girl Who Ran is based on the true story of a childhood friend of Sacagawea who traveled 1000 miles through the wilderness to rejoin her tribe. If you'd like to learn more about Shoshone culture and history, two good sources for kids are Shoshone History and Culture and Shoshone Native Americans. You can also browse through our recommendations of books about Native Americans in general. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Shoshone Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Shoshones

Shoshone Indian Tribe
An overview of the Shoshone people, their language and history.

Shoshone Language Resources
Shoshone language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Shoshone Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Shoshone tribe past and present.

Shoshoni Words
Shoshone Indian vocabulary lists.

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