20 May 2008, 5:19pm
Local History Resident Stewardship
by admin

The People Who Lived Among the Clouds

Originally posted at SOS Forests (the old version) May 26th, 2006

On August 12, 1805, Meriwether Lewis and an advance party of the Corps of Discovery crossed the Continental Divide at Lemhi Pass. They were following an Indian road that led them down the west slope of the Rockies into the Lemhi River Valley. Lewis wrote:

… the road was dusty and appeared to have been much traveled lately both by men and horses. … we had marched about 2 miles when we met a party of about 60 warriors mounted on excellent horses who came in at nearly full speed, when they arrived I advanced towards them with the flag leaving my gun with the party about 50 paces behid me.

The mounted warriors did not slaughter Lewis and his small party, nor steal their trinkets. Instead:

… these men then advanced and embraced me very affectionately in their way which is by putting their left arm over you wright sholder clasping your back, while they apply their left cheek to yours and frequently vociforate the word ah-hi’-e, ah-hi’-e that is, I am much pleased, I am much rejoiced. bothe parties now advanced and we wer all carresed and besmeared with their grease and paint till I was heartily tired of the national hug.

Lewis convinced the chief, Cameahweit, to accompany him back over Lemhi Pass to Shoshone Cove. Five days later Clark and the main Corps of Discovery reached Lewis, and Sacajawea turned out to be Cameahweit’s long lost sister! From “Sacajawea’s People: Who Are The Lemhi And Where Is Their Home?” by Professor Orlan J. Svingen History Department, Washington State University [here]:

At Fort Mandan in October of 1804, they [Lewis and Clark] had acquired the services of Toussaint Charbonneau and one of his wives, Sacajawea, a fifteen year old “Shoshone” woman who was six months pregnant. The expedition valued Charbonneau and Sacajawea for their skills as interpreters–he for his French and she for her Hidatsa and Shoshone. Sacajawea, along with several other Shoshone girls, had been captured by a Hidatsa raiding party near the Three Forks four years earlier. Living at Fort Mandan, Charbonneau won Sacajawea in a wager with Hidatsa warriors. Lewis and Clark recognized the importance of being accompanied by someone who spoke the language of one of the tribes living in the Rocky Mountains in the vicinity of the Three Forks.

By the time Lewis and Clark reached the Three Forks of the Missouri River, they understood the critical need for obtaining horses from the Shoshones living just to the west, and they recognized as well the need to obtain geographical information necessary for crossing into the Columbia River drainage. The role of Sacajawea loomed large indeed. First Lewis and then Clark together with Sacajawea, the expedition met and established friendly relations with the Shoshones. They shared food and presents, and they smoked a pipe with the people under the leadership of Cameahweit, later revealed to be Sacajawea’s brother. Shortly thereafter, Lewis and Clark assessed the Salmon River as too wild to carry them to the Columbia so they discussed with Cameahweit how best to cross the mountains to the land of the Nez Perce. Cameahweit provided them with a guide, Old Toby, and the expedition bartered for about thirty horses to convey their goods across the mountains. With Old Toby’s assistance, the Corps of Discovery finally reached the Nez Perce villages in late September of 1805.

Historian Stephen Ambrose [Undaunted Courage] placed a high value on the role Sacajawea’s people played. “Without Shoshone horses, without Shoshone information,” he explained, “the expedition might as well turn around and go home.”

The heroine of this tale had been captured and enslaved at age 11 by the Mandan Hidatsa. Later Charbonneau won Sacajawea in an Indian gambling game. When Lewis and Clark recruited them she was 15 years old and 6 months pregnant. Sacajawea walked from North Dakota to the Pacific Ocean, and back, carrying her newborn son, Jean Baptiste C. When the Corps returned from the Pacific, Sacajawea was deposited back in the Mandan Hidatsa village with Charbonneau and his other wives/slaves. Her reunion with her brother and people in August, 1805, was the last time she ever saw them.

Although treaties were signed with the Lemhi Shoshone, none were honored. The Lemhi Shoshone were evicted from the Lemhi Valley in 1907. Today they are still trying to recover a tiny piece of their ancestral homeland (see here). The Lemhi Shoshone aided Lewis and Clark, and in fact saved the expedition. They have never been repaid. Sacajawea is on a coin; her people have been robbed. There is an unpleasant irony in that.

The Lemhi Shoshone were not Hollywood archetypal, fierce buffalo warriors of the Plains. They were mountain (or Plateau) people, with advanced cropping systems for camas, berries, and other native foods. They constructed complex weirs for catching salmon. They ate more deer and mountain sheep than buffalo. From “The Lemhi People and Their Struggle to Retain a Homeland” by Shirley Stephens [here]:

Sharing a home territory, the Lemhi Valley Shoshonis called themselves salmon eaters, while the mountain bands identified themselves as sheepeaters. By 1850, a majority of the surrounding Shoshone mountain dwellers (sheepeaters) consolidated with the salmon eaters. The combined bands comprised two hundred families with a population of twelve-hundred “in a subsistence area of 27,000 square miles.” Taking advantage of the widely scattered subsistence foods while ensuring their survival, the Lemhi traditionally formed hunting and gathering groups. The mountains yielded seeds, roots, mountain sheep, deer, and salmon. From early spring until September, the Lemhi caught salmon from the Salmon, Lemhi, and Pahsimeroi rivers. In the summer, certain Lemhi groups traveled east to hunt buffalo. Hunting families traveled to the “upper waters of the Missouri and eastward beyond Bozeman and utilized areas immediately east of the Divide” and to the Yellowstone area. Returning in the fall, Lemhi families camped in the Lemhi valley during the winter months.

From Dr. Svingen again:

The tribal people living in the Lemhi and Pahsimeroi valleys and along the Salmon River in 1805 were comprised initially of two groups. They included the Agaidika, or Salmoneaters, the Tukukika, or the Sheepeaters who lived in the surrounding mountains. These people subsisted by digging camas, fishing for salmon, and hunting mountain sheep, deer, antelope, and buffalo. As such, they exhibited the classic characteristic of Plateau Indian culture. The two groups subsisting in the Salmon River Country were an organized tribe that crossed the Bitterroots to hunt buffalo north and west of Yellowstone, traveled to the Camas Prairie near Nez Perce country, and traveled north to trade with their allies, the Flatheads. Sometime after 1805, perhaps in the 1850s, the Salmoneaters and Sheepeaters were joined by a number of Bannock Indians who came north from Fort Hall where the main Bannock tribe resided. These Bannock people, numbering about one hundred, became absorbed into the Lemhi tribe living in the Salmon River country.

From “The Agaidikas (Salmon Eater Shoshone)” by Kel Ariwite [here]:

The Agaidikas and Tukudikas are considered the first residents of the upper Lemhi Valley, dating back 10,000 years or more. Archaeological research indicates that buffalo, when present, were hunted throughout the 10,000 years of Indian occupancy of the Lemhi Valley.

The Agaidika and Tukudikas (Lemhi - Shoshone) were also great fishermen. It was their practice to build weirs and dams to catch the salmon. They shared their Salmon River fishing grounds with their neighbors, the Nez Perce from the north and the west, and the Flathead Indians from the Bitterroot Valley to the north. The Nez Perce and the Flathead Indians often came to the valley to fish and trade with the Lemhi-Shoshone. It is also believed that the Shoshone, Flathead and Nez Perce may have united, from time to time, to strengthen their hunting endeavors and to give themselves more protection against the Blood (Blackfeet) and other Plains tribes who considered their territory invaded by the Shoshone, Nez Perce and Flathead from the west.

The Tukudikas lived higher up, in the jaggedy country, among the clouds. From Kel Ariwite again:

In W. A. Allen’s The Sheep Eaters (published in 1913), Allen relates this story told him by a 115 year old Sheep Eater named “The Woman Under the Ground.” According to Allen, she spoke in sign language:

My people lived among the clouds.
We were the Sheep Eaters who have passed away,
But on those walls are the paint rocks,
Where our traditions are written on their face,
Chiseled with obsidian arrow heads.

Our people were not warriors.
We worshipped the sun,
And the sun is bright
And so were our people.
Our men were good
And our women were like the sun.

The Great Spirit has stamped our impressions
On the rocks by His lightnings;
There are many of our people who were outlined
On those smooth walls years ago;
Then our people painted their figures,
Or traded them with beautiful colored stones,
And the paleface calls them “painted rocks”.

Our people never came down into the valleys,
But always lived among the clouds,
Eating the mountain sheep and the goats,
And sometimes the elk
When they came high on the mountains.

Our tepees were made of the cedar,
Thatched with grey moss
And cemented with the gum from the pines,
Carpeted with the mountain sheep-skins,
Soft as down.

Our garments were made from the skins of the gazelle,
And ornamented with eagle feathers
And ermine and otter skins.

We chanted our songs to the sun,
And the Great Spirit was pleased.
He gave us much sheep and meat
And berries and pure water,
And snow to keep the flies away.
The water was never muddy.
We had no dogs nor horses.
We did not go far from our homes,
But were happy in our mountain abode.

The homeland of the people who lived among the clouds should be restored to them, for the benefit of all humanity.

Cut, Burn and Kill

Bell, Roni. 1998. Cut, Burn and Kill. Range Magazine, Spring 1999.

Full text follows:

In the new wild West, it’s cowboys vs. radical environmentalists

June 14th dawned a tender blue. Chuck Sylvester and I, the last of the branding help to leave the Circle Bar Ranch, closed up the century-old sod and log home. We carefully checked the lights, water heater, doors, windows and furnace to ensure the old girl’s well-being.

Chuck drove slowly past the corrals, irrigation ditches, gates, fences and meadows to make sure the cows were where they were supposed to be, the horses could get water and shade, and the ranch could hum along plenty fine until our return. It was 11 a.m. when we finally trucked over the Rough Hills road to meet with Chuck’s foreman Cal Hancock at the N.T. Bar, part of the Circle Bar Ranch.

The graceful stillness of that Sunday was aborted at 1 p.m. by a phone call. Cathy Meyer, wife of Chuck’s foreman on the 7D, also part of the Circle Bar, told us: “I was putting mineral out, and when I was coming back from the Circle Bar I noticed the fences were down. At first I thought the yearlings did it. Then I saw there was more damage than yearlings could have done. I found a note, and I saw the cuts.”

Jarring our belly buttons into our toes, we raced back over rough roads to the Circle Bar. While Chuck gathered fence fixing stuff, I read the note: “THIS RANGE IMPROVEMENT PROJECT BROUGHT TO YOU BY EXTENDED PALM PROJECTS A DIVISION OF ISLAMIC JIHAD ECOTERRORISTS INC, pc NO ADDRESS-WE’RE EVERYWHERE NO PHONE-WE’LL BE IN TOUCH”

In one hour, they made 50 cuts at the Circle Bar Ranch. That day, eight ranches, zagging from about Waltman down to Muddy Gap, were hit with over 300 cuts. None of us saw any sign of the leaf-sucking-poppy-cocks as they sleazed down the remote Wyoming roads, only to flop out at a fence closest to their air-conditioned wheels and leave their snippy greetings. The budget for this little outing-the payroll, maps, communication equipment, reliable vehicles, gas, bolt cutters, motel rooms, recruiters, training, printing and food-proves that the conflict industry is big business.
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