The Shoshone, or Shoshoni, which means "snake", consist of a Native American tribe which occupied the territory from southeastern California across Nevada and northwestern Utah into parts of Idaho and Wyoming. A comparatively recent offshoot of the Wyoming Shoshoni are the Comanche. The Shoshoni language belongs to the Numic group of the Uto-Aztecan family.

The Shoshoni may be roughly divided into four groups: Western Shoshoni, who were the only band that did not have many horses, centring in Nevada, Northern Shoshoni of northern Utah and Idaho, Wind River Shoshoni in western Wyoming, and Comanche in western Texas.

The Western Shoshoni were divided into loosely affiliated family bands that subsisted on wild seeds, small mammals, fish, and insects. Each family was independently nomadic during most of the year and joined other families only briefly for hunts or ceremony. The western Shoshone now live in reservations around the California desert.

Wind River Shoshoni and Northern Shoshoni probably acquired horses as early as 1680, before white settlers occupied their lands. They formed loosely organized bands of mounted buffalo hunters and warriors and adopted many Plains Indian characteristics. Many of these tribes now live on the Wind River Reservation with the Arapaho in Wyoming. After acquiring horses, the Comanche split off from the Wind River Shoshoni and moved south into Texas.


"Black, black; no backs. Blue, blue; make it come true." This short rhyme was spoken in the fifties and sixties when children would trade and barter what they had on the schoolyard. A deal had been made. All the children knew the rules; the deal was irreversible. The rhyme made it known to all the kids involved in the trade that the transaction was final and binding-no "trade-backs", no returns, and no renegotiations. No "Indian-giving" was tolerated among the youngsters.

The term, "Indian-giving", has come about in a horribly sad way, to which most people give little recognition. Throughout nearly all of American history, the white man has been making deals with the natives, whose homelands he has taken. However, The US has also gone back on many of its deals. The white man had a habit of taking back nearly all that he had given. So, it became known when one takes back what he has given, he is an "Indian-giver". It seems that our own nation cannot follow the simplest of ethics known and understood even by children.

The Western Shoshone Indians have been combating the US government for quite some time on this very "Indian-giving" principle. They have inhabited their lands peacefully for hundreds of years; most of which by now has already been taken. "In the eyes of the Western Shoshone Indians, the various American governments resemble a band of thieves fighting over the spoils of a heist", declared journalist Robert Ladd. The area in the northeast portion of Nevada stretching through the northwest section of Utah, known to the Western Shoshone as Newe Sogobia, is the only land that these people have left. This land was agreed to the Shoshone Nation in the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley. This treaty allowed the Western Shoshone to remain on at least part of their land without threat of removal. However, the US government was still to have certain rights to some of the lands resources (e.g. silver, gold, and other minerals) and the right to establish ranches, railroads, telegraph lines, and military posts within Shoshone lands. "Nothing in the document even suggests that such establishments extinguish Shoshone sovereignty" (Ladd, 1996). Essentially, the land was then legally recognized as Western Shoshone land-a sovereign territory.

This victory was unfortunately short-lived. In 1951, Lawyer Robert Barker, accompanied by one small band of naïve Shoshone-the Te-Moaks- filed an ICC claim on behalf of all the Western Shoshones. All the following cases showed an assumption that aboriginal title had been lost at some unspecified date. In 1962, The ICC commissioners, with agreement of Barker, decided upon a "taking date" of July 1, 1872. The Te-Moak council fired Barker and hired a new lawyer. The ICC refused to recognize the new lawyer. They were not allowed the choice of their own council.

On December 12, 1979, the ICC granted an award to the Shoshone for their land, which they promptly refused. The US offered the Western Shoshone a mere average of 15 cents per acre. Gold companies would pay $2.50 for the same acre. "Adding insult to injury, the ICC paid 10% of the judgment fund to Barker for his 'extraordinary' efforts in the face of opposition by his clients. The remaining money was deposited in a Treasury Department account, in the name of the Secretary of Interior as the government-appointed 'trustee' of the Western Shoshone" (Ladd, 1996). The Western Shoshone were left a landless people; it had been usurped.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) controlled the majority of Newe Sogobia. The BLM collected fees from the ranchers for use of public range. The Indians refused to pay on their belief that it was still Shoshone territory. By august of 1994, the Shoshone tribes had amassed a debt of more than $3.5 million in back fees and penalties. The independent Dann family owed more than $4000,000 themselves for illegal grazing. The BLM decided to confiscate the Shoshone's livestock.

On one incident, County Sheriff Ken Jones escorted a BLM convoy focused on removing a good many horses, both wild and Dann-owned. Fifty-nine year-old Clifford Dann parked his truck in the road to prevent the convoy from leaving the valley. He proceeded to douse his arms in gasoline, threatening to burn himself if his family's horses were not returned. His sister, Carrie, arrived with many non-Indian supporters; a debate ensued. Jones told Clifford that they did not have his family's horses. The man inched toward the BLM convoy, lighter and Gasoline in hand. A BLM agent lunged for Clifford and the gasoline. From there it was an eruption of white fire-extinguisher spray and flailing limbs. Sheriff Jones can be heard yelling, "Get him down! Get him down! Break his fucking arm if you have to!" As Clifford and his sister struggled with the BLM agents, the convoy escaped. Clifford, glasses bent and crooked, face streaked with blood, was rushed away by police.

The Danns were pushed off of their land and told that they could herd livestock there no more. The case that ensued was long and tedious. The government won out, saying that the Western Shoshone people's "aboriginal right had been extinguished." Many appeals and related cases followed with limited luck. On March 20, 1997, the Western Shoshone filed a complaint in federal district court against the United States, various officials of the Dept. of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and Oro Nevada Resources, Inc., a mining company. The complaint asked for, "injunctive and declaratory relief as well as monetary damages." The Western Shoshone were tired of being taken advantage of.

On May 5, 1998, the Magistrate judge issued a report disallowing the BLM from impounding, confiscating, or forcibly removing Shoshone livestock. The court even denied the United State's motion to alter and amend this injunction. This injunction was rather important to the people. It meant that they could find some sort of economic security. Unfortunately, this to was short lived. On July 29, 1998, the Magistrate Judge granted the US's motion to dismiss the case; the injunction was dissolved. Again, the white man has taken back what he had given. This same pattern has continued for years from as far back as 1951 up to this very day.

The American government has now decided that it has better uses for the land inhabited by the Western Shoshone. For instance, the area around Yucca Mountain has been determined to be better used as a high level nuclear waste repository. This is a major concern to the tribe; many people live around this relative area. Many health and environmental issues are at stake. "Residents have reported unusual animal deaths, human hair loss, the soil in the area turning a dark black color, along with increases of cancer and birth defects" (EPA: case study, 1997). Radiation is wreaking havoc among the land. Not only is there radiation from the many unsupervised nuclear waste sites, but there is also a good deal of radiation coming from the Nevada Test Site (NTS), which has been testing nuclear devices since 1951 and the Tonopah Test Range. Since then, "nearly 1,350 square miles of the 43,000 square mile territory have been destroyed…"(EPA: case study, 1997).

Was this country not based on the principles of justice and freedom for all? How can our own government treat such a wonderful people so poorly? And, how can we, as Americans, allow our nation to carry on with this? It is all quite ridiculous and shameful. This country has found a way to justify stealing the ancestral lands of a great populace. We have bullied them and lied to them enough. The Western Shoshone Nation should have its New Sogobia. Let them be free, let them be secure, and let them be their own.

Sho*sho"ne (?), n. Ethnol. A linguistic family or stock of North American Indians, comprising many tribes, which extends from Montana and Idaho into Mexico. In a restricted sense the name is applied especially to the Snakes, the most northern of the tribes.


© Webster 1913.

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