Festivals and ceremonies
All Shoshone had several ceremonies. Major dances included the Round Dance, The Father Dance, and the Sun Dance. The Round Dance was done when food was plentiful or as part of a yearly mourning ceremony. The Father Dance honored the Creator and asked for good health. The Sun Dance was done after a buffalo hunt. The head of a buffalo was prepared so that it seemed to be alive. Today, a mounted buffalo head is used. The Sun Dance shows unity and renews ties to spiritual life.
Today, the Shoshone hold fandangos (festivals that include prayers and games) and powwows. The powwow—a traditional song-and-dance celebration—only came to the Shoshone in 1957.
The Eastern Shoshone had military societies called the Yellow Brows and the Logs. Yellow Brows went through an interesting initiation ritual. In it, all speech was backward. For example, “yes” meant “no.” The young men painted their hair yellow and promised to be fearless. They vowed not to give up even if they faced certain death. Logs were older soldiers. They painted their faces black.
Courtship and marriage
Most couples met at Round Dances. Some men, however, kidnapped their brides—and did not care if the women were single or married. Good hunters were sought as husbands. They often had more than one wife. Divorce was common and people often remarried.
The role of women
In early times, Shoshone women were seen as inferior to men. As women grew older, there were ways to raise their standing in the group. They could heal people, help at births, or show skill at gambling. Shoshone women were respected more by Europeans because they were often go-betweens for trappers and traders.
Death and burial
Some Shoshone wrapped their dead in blankets and placed them in rock crevices. They believed the souls of the dead went to the lands of Coyote or Wolf. Mourners cut their hair and destroyed the dead person's property, horse, and tepee. The ghosts of the dead were feared. It was considered a bad sign even to dream about someone who had died.
Current tribal issues
The Western Shoshone continue to have land claim struggles with the government. They reject offers of money. Instead, they hope to win back some of the 22 million acres they have lost since the 19th century. In 1972, the Shoshone joined with a group called the American Indian Movement (AIM) in a political demonstration. Five hundred Indians went to Washington, D.C., to protest government policies.
Washakie (c. 1804–1900) was a chief of the Eastern Shoshone. In the 1820s and 1830s, Washakie and the Shoshone were on good terms with whites. Washakie signed the Treaty of Fort Bridger in 1863, which promised travelers safe passage through his band's lands. His good relations with the U.S. government helped the Eastern Shoshone get the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.
Sacajawea (c. 1784–c. 1812) guided explorers Lewis and Clark on their westward journey. She was part of the Lemhi Shoshone of Idaho and Montana. Around the age of ten, she was kidnapped by the Hidatsa tribe. In 1804, a trader, Toussaint Charbonneau, bought and married her. Charbonneau and Sacajawea joined the Lewis and Clark expedition just before she gave birth to their child. Sacajawea showed the people Lewis and Clark met that their mission was peaceful.
Other notable Shoshone include: Pocatello (c. 1815–1884), who fiercely resisted white settlement; Bear Hunter (d. 1863), who died in a U.S. army raid; and author Laine Thom (1952–), who edited two books about the American Indian experience.