August 2004: Publication: Sacajawea's People: Who Are The Lemhi And Where Is Their Home? (August 2004)
"Sacajawea's People: Who Are The Lemhi And Where Is Their Home?"
By: Professor Orlan J. Svingen History Department, Washington State University
Also read "The Lemhi People and Their Struggle to Retain a Homeland"
By: Shirley Stephens
Also read "The Lemhi Shoshone, Federal Recognition, and the Bicentennial of The Corps of Discovery"
By: John W. W. Mann
(1) On February 12, 1875, President Grant established a 100 square mile executive order reservation for the Lemhi-Shoshone people in the Lemhi Valley. Known as the Lemhi Valley Indian Reservation, the executive order established the reserve for "the exclusive use of the mixed tribes of Shoshone, Bannock, and Sheapeater Indians. (2) Almost from the outset, however, the government and local residents began efforts to rescind the executive order reservation. They ultimately succeeded in 1905, and in 1907 the Lemhi began what many have called the "Lemhi Trail of Tears," which saw their forced removal from their ancestral homelands to the Fort Hall Indian Reservation.
(3) Banished from their homeland in 1907 and seeking to return ever since, the Lemhi people create a dilemma for the nation. As it prepares to commemorate the Bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery, the United States needs to reassess its commitment to the Lemhi people, to Sacajawea's people. The obligation the nation acknowledges toward wolf and salmon recovery efforts is dwarfed by the responsibility it faces in treating fairly the people who played such a crucial role in advancing the success of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
In August of 1805, Lewis and Clark and their Corp of Discovery approached the Three Forks of the Missouri River. At Fort Mandan in October of 1804, they 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.
(4) By the time Lewis and Clark reached the Three Forks of the Missouri River, they understood the critical need for obtaining horses from the Lemhi-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 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. (5) 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.
(6) Mormon missionaries who came to the Salmon River Valley in 1855 were the first non-Indians to establish a sustained relationship with the Salmon River Indian people. Approximately twenty-seven Mormon men left the Salt Lake Valley on May 18, 1855. The party reached Fort Lemhi on May 27, and they selected a permanent site for their mission on June 15, 1855. The mission, named Fort Lemhi, was located approximately two miles north of present-day Tendoy, Idaho. The word "Lemhi" was associated with King Limhi who was one of the kings cited in the Book of Mormon. In Mormon scripture, King Limhi organized an expedition that lasted twenty- two days--the same duration it required the Mormon missionaries to reach the Salmon River Country. Consequently, they named their mission after King Limhi, and, in time, Limhi became Lemhi. (7)The Mormon mission enjoyed some success, especially after the Lemhi leader, Snag, became a convert to Mormonism, and his acceptance of Mormon doctrine sparked as many as 100 baptisms among the Lemhi people. (8) Ultimately, however, unrest among some Bannocks, Nez Perces, and the mission led to violence. In February of 1858, two hundred Shoshone and Bannock warriors attacked the mission, killing two missionaries and making off with stolen cattle and horses. The mission closed its doors on March 26, 1858.
(9) Next came a series of treaties and executive orders that further defined the relationship between the federal government and the Lemhi-Shoshone people and their tie to the Salmon River Country. On July 3, 1868, the United States government through its commissioners and chiefs and headmen of the Shoshone and Bannock tribes signed the Fort Bridger Treaty. Tendoy, the successor to Snag, was unable to attend the treaty negotiations, but he sent in his place one of his sub-chiefs, Taytoba, whose name appears among the signatories to the treaty. Throughout the deliberations, however, General Christopher C. Augur failed to recognize that Taytoba was a Lemhi headman, not a Bannock. When presents stemming from the treaty signing were not forthcoming to the Lemhi as they were to the Shoshones and Bannocks, the Lemhis concluded erroneously that they were not signatory to the Fort Bridger Treaty--despite the fact that Taytoba had signed the treaty.
(10) Failing to grasp the meaning of what had taken place, the federal government agreed to enter into what it thought to be separate negotiations with the Lemhi Tribe. Meeting with only two members of the Indian Peace Commission, five to six hundred Lemhis met at Virginia City, in Montana Territory. The Virginia City Treaty was signed on September 24, 1868, and it provided the "mixed tribe of Shoshones, Bannacks, and Sheepeaters" with two townships of land on the Salmon River, twelve miles north of Fort Lemhi. The treaty acknowledged the claim of the Lemhis to a vast holding, extending westward from the Yellowstone River to the Bitterroots Mountains. Lands noted in the Virginia City Treaty, moreover, were preferable to the Snake Plains near Fort Hall because they supported the Lemhi's traditional hunting and fishing activities. Unlike the Treaty of Fort Bridger which the United States Senate ratified on February 26, 1869, the Senate failed to ratify the Virginia City Treaty, causing its stipulations to become meaningless.
(11) By 1868, it had become clear that the mixed tribes living in the Salmon River country shared cultural traits that distinguished them from other Shoshone people. Their leadership was distinct from the people at Fort Hall and the Wind River country, and the geographic setting was quite different from the Snake Plains of Fort Hall. They consumed salmon, sheep, deer, elk, buffalo, and camas, giving them Plateau characteristics that set them apart from the Shoshone - Bannock people at the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. And they were likely to hunt buffalo in Montana and visit and trade with the Salish and Kootnai people to the north.
Gradually, the non-Indian name, Lemhi, came to define these mixed bands of people who lived cooperatively in the Salmon River region. The failure of the United States Senate to ratify the Virginia City Treaty of 1868 created uncertainty over the Lemhi's tie to their homeland, but it seemed to be relived when in 1875 President Grant issued an executive order that created the Lemhi Valley Indian Reservation. The order created a tract containing about 100 square miles for the "mixed tribes of Shoshone, Bannock, and Sheepeater Indians," and it referenced the unratified Virginia City Treaty of 1868. By now, Tendoy was the acknowledged leader of the tribe, and the annual report of 1875 listed 210 Bannocks, 340 Sheepeaters, and 500 Shoshones living on the reservation.
(12) Opposition to the Lemhis remaining in their homeland emerged almost before the ink had dried on the executive order--coming from policy makers in Washington, DC and local settlers. Three Shoshone reservations seemed excessive and local residents resented sharing what they perceived to be limited space in the Salmon River region. Meanwhile, Tendoy and his subchiefs continued to reject emphatically the suggestions that they relocate to Fort Hall, so the Indian Office considered moving them to the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana Territory.
This alternative failed to win support as well. Finally, the government decided to take a Lemhi delegation to Washington, DC, where it hoped to secure their agreement to remove to the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. After experiencing a tour that was designed to impress the Lemhi with the grandeur and majesty of the United States, Indian Office officials persuaded Tendoy, his son Jack, and two other Lemhi leaders to sign an agreement to move from the Lemhi Valley Indian Reservation to Fort Hall. Before the agreement was binding, however, a majority of the male population of the Lemhi Reservation was required to give its approval. While approval was never forthcoming, it was used as leverage by the federal government to brow beat the Lemhis into moving to a location that had been historically and overwhelmingly rejected.
(13) For the next twenty-five years, the federal government and local residents hounded the Lemhi, talking persistently about the tribe's removal to Fort Hall. Tendoy and others refused repeatedly, but by 1905 Tendoy and others became brow-beaten and worn down by the weight of thinly-veiled threats by federal agents and by the demands for their removal. Inspector James McLaughlin arrived on the scene and negotiated an agreement which, he claimed, was signed by eighty-six of the 137 adult Lemhi males. Tendoy and others seemed to have been persuaded that remaining at Lemhi meant starvation while land and food was said to be plentiful at Fort Hall. Despite Tendoy's apparent support, rumors abounded that he had no intention of leaving his home in the Pahsimeroi Valley.
(14) Tendoy never did leave the Lemhi Reservation. He died on May 9, 1907. That same month, however, more than 500 Lemhis departed their reservation bound for Fort Hall. They rejected the idea of removing to Fort Hall by rail, explaining that the government usually used trains to move prisoners and they objected to being classified in that fashion. Instead, they rode horses and wagons on the 200 mile overland journey. They packed their meager belongs on horses, strapped the ends of their wick-I-up poles to the sides of their horses and they dragged them along. They were very sad and passed thru the valley, crying. The ranchers along the way could hear their crying for some distance before they passed their homes.
(15) The approximately five hundred Lemhis who removed to the Fort Hall Indian Reservation faced a difficult adjustment to their new surroundings. As minorities on a reservation where Great Basin Shoshone-Bannocks outnumbered them, they were forced to enroll at Fort Hall, they received second-rate allotments as the reservation was allotted, and they quarreled with a government that was slow to respond to their request for annuities promised from the 1889 agreement. It is small wonder that they established the tradition of returning annually to the Lemhi Valley to hunt, fish, and visit with a number of Lemhis who remained behind in Salmon. They also tended the graves of relatives buried in their homeland.
(16) Rather than submitting to the new and negative circumstances they found themselves in, the Lemhis retained their identity by reacting to their adversities. During the 1930s, they formed the Lemhi Committee which was comprised of Lemhi Elders committed to preserving Lemhi cultural and political identity. The committee offered the leadership to pursue issues such as their annuities claim, allotment allocations, and enrollment questions. Despite the forced enrollment at Fort Hall, for example, as late as 1939 the agency still conducted a Lemhi Census for the purpose of distributing Lemhi annuities. Members of the Lemhi Committee and scores of other Lemhis who had the means continued to return to Lemhi Country in the summers.
The old Indians who remember when they ruled the valley, cling to their birthplace. They visit the reservation at Fort Hall, where they are supposed to stay, but they come stubbornly back, bringing their children and their grandchildren. . . . .(17) Lemhi people who remained behind, choosing to live in Salmon, Idaho, lived at three different locations. Some lived on the "bar," while others lived at the encampment and in particular Salmon neighborhoods.
(18) Difficulties attendant to a minority group whose numbers were diluted by the Sho-Ban majority continued to plague the Lemhis. In 1951, for example, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Business Council passed a resolution that absorbed the remaining $3,027.00 from the Lemhi annuity account. The resolution created a special account with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe and designated the money for celebration and recreational purposes. This was opposed by Lemhis who saw no tie between the annuity funds linked to their reservation and the Sho-Bans.
(19) But perhaps the ultimate act of dispossession was the Indian Claims Commission settlement involving the Lemhi people. During the 1960s, the ICC and the federal government determined that the Lemhi Claim to aboriginal lands would have to be submitted as part of the larger Shoshone-Bannock Claim. The Lemhis were prohibited from filing their own independent claim. When their claim, Docket #326-1, came before the ICC, the Lemhi claim to their land 200 miles north of Fort Hall totaled $4.5 million. Based on pressure from the federal government, the ICC, the Sho-Bans, and the Sho-Bans attorneys, the $4.5 million was assigned to the Shoshone Bannock general fund. Rather than dividing the 1971 Lemhi settlement among the approximately 500 Lemhis living at Fort Hall, it was, essentially, divided among as many as 3000 people living at Fort Hall--the overwhelming majority of whom had no direct or indirect tie to Lemhi lands.
(20) Opposition to the settlement was widespread among the Lemhi, but their dissatisfaction fell on the deaf ears of the Shoshone-Bannock majority and the Sho-Ban attorneys from the firm of Wilkinson, Cragun & Barker. Udale Simmer Tendoy, a Lemhi descendant, typified Lemhi opposition with his assessment of the ICC decision in 1971.
Well, as a native... the belief the natives have is that we are so related to the mother. earth, and that's why we, like myself, I would reject that offer of four and a half million...As I think about our little ones, Where are they going to go? Our little ones, our babies, Where are they going to go if we sellout? That's my own thinking. But perhaps the greatest irony that followed was an Idaho Supreme Court decision of 1972. In Idaho v. Tinno, a Lemhi man named Gerald Tinno had been charged with violating Idaho fishing regulations; he had been caught fishing on the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River. The court ruled in his favor, however, holding that the Lemhis possessed hunting and fishing rights that were guaranteed by the 1868 Fort Bridger Treaty.
In the process, the court also determined that one of the signatories to the treaty was a Lemhi leader named Taytoba who had been sent by Tendoy to represent the Lemhi. Possessing signatory treaty rights places any tribe who can claim them in something of an elite category, but what became clear was that since the 1875 executive order and throughout the twentieth century the Lemhi had been treated as a second-class, non-treaty tribe. Classified as a non-treaty tribe, their ICC claim, which never included acknowledgment of their treaty status, was attached as a rider to the Shoshone-Bannock claim. Scholars employed to make the best case for the Lemhis in their litigation research remained ignorant of their status which surely compromised the final outcome. Forcing the Lemhis to "piggy-back" their claim under the purview of the greater Shoshone-Bannock claim was the ultimate attack on the identity of Sacajawea's people.
Meanwhile, the Fort Lemhi Indian Community continue to push their case for restoring federal recognition to the Lemhis. Since its establishment in 1978, the Bureau of Acknowledgment and Research, an agency of the BIA, has received recognition petitions from approximately 325 Indian tribes nationwide seeking federal recognition. To date, fewer than twenty of the 325 tribes have won recognition. These are not good odds for the Lemhis, and as the nation prepares to celebrate the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, it is difficult to consider how the country can celebrate the Corps of Discovery while such a debt to Sacajawea and her people remains such a scandal. Who are the Lemhi and where is their home? Lemhis are Agaidikas, Tukudikas, and Bannocks and their home is in the Lemhi Valley of Idaho in the Salmon River drainage.
1. ldaho Statesman, February 16, 1996.
2. Kappler 839
3. Idaho Statesman, February 16, 1996.
4. Stephen E. Ambrose, Undaunted Courage, Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1996), 187.
5. Ambrose, Undaunted Courage, 259-285, 289-301.
6. Shoshone Tribe of Indians of the Wind River Reservation v. The United States of America, Ind. Cl. Comm. 387-413 (1962). Brigham D. Madsen, The Bannock of Idaho (Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, 1958), 170, 196-97.
7. Dorothy Clapp Robinson, "Fort Lemhi Mission, Idaho: Chapter in Review," Relief Society Magazine (September 1946): 583.
8. John D. Nash, "The Salmon River Mission of 1855: A Reappraisal," Idaho Yesterdays 11 (Spring 1967): 26; Merrill d. Beal, "Brigham Young's Indian Policy," A History of Southeastern Idaho (Caldwell, ill: The Caxton Printers, Ltd., 1942), 139.
9. Salmon River Mission Journal, February 24, 1858; Beal, Southeastern Idaho, 144-149; Nash, "Salmon River," 30-31.
10. The Fort Bridger Treaty of July 3, 1868, 15 Stat. 673, II Kappler 1020; Idaho Statesman, June 26, 1877.
11. The Unratified Treaty with the Shoshones, Bannacks, and Sheepeaters, September 24, 1868, 5 Kappler 707.
12. Kappler 839; Commissioner of Indian Affairs Annual Report, 1875,45-46,89.
13. "C.I.A Annual Report," 1880,278; Shirley Stephens, "The Lemhi Indian People of Idaho:
Removal from the Salmon River Country to Fort Hall, 1880-1907," (M.A. thesis, Washington State University, 1996), 15-18.
14. Stephens, "The Lemhi People of Idaho," 95-105, 173-174, 177.
15. Ethel Kimball, "The Vanishing Americans Along the River of No Return," Real West, May 1975, Vertical File, Idaho History: Native American Lemhi Shoshone, Salmon Public Library, Salmon, Idaho.
16. Marcia Babcock Montgomery, "The Struggle to Retain Tribal Identity: The Lemhi Indian People of Idaho, 1907-1929," (M.A. thesis, Washington State University, 1996),93-96.
17. Unidentified reporter, newspaper article, 1938, File 354, Indians, Idaho, University of Idaho Special Collections, University of Idaho, Moscow.
18. Susie Bennet, "The Village That Once Was, " Patchwork: Pieces of Local History, Salmon High School, (May 1989):
19. Resolution of the Fort Hall Business Council of Shoshone Bannock Tribes, Number 211, December 7, 1951, Central Classified Files 054, Fort Hall, File 39977, Box 220, Accession 56A- 588, Record Group 75, National Archives. John W.W. Mann, "Returning To The River Of No Return: The Lemhi Indian People and the Salmon River Country, Idaho, 1945-1972," (M.A. thesis, Washington State University, 1997.) Chapter 2.
20 . Fort Hall Business Council Resolution 4431 (Sharing Resolution), January 30, 1971.
Associate Professor of History - Washington State University
Wilson 311 -- 509-335-5205
Ph.D., University of Toledo, 1982
Academic and Professional Interests:
Svingen teaches public history, United States history, and has a special interest in Native American history.
Svingen's publications include articles in American Indian Culture and Research Journal, American Indian Quarterly, Montana: The Magazine of Western History, and Western Historical Quarterly. He recently published The Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, 1877-1900 (University Press of Colorado, 1994).
Publication: Sacajawea's People: Who Are The Lemhi And Where Is Their Home? (August 2004)
Who are the Lemhi-Shoshone and where is their home? Lemhis are Agaidikas (Salmoneaters), Tukudikas (Sheepeaters), and (Northern) Bannocks and their home is in the Lemhi Valley of Idaho in the Salmon River drainage.
|The Lemhi People and Their Struggle to Retain a Homeland
By: Shirley Stephens
Also read "The Lemhi Shoshone, Federal Recognition, and the Bicentennial of The Corps of Discovery"
By: John W. W. Mann
The Lemhi Indian people’s first recorded contact with non-Indians occurred in August of 1805, when the Lewis and Clark Expedition traveled through their homeland in the Lemhi Valley of east-central Idaho. Accompanied by Toussaint Charboneau and his wife Wadze-wipe (lost woman), the expedition chanced upon a band of Lemhi on the Lemhi River--a tributary of the Salmon--about seventeen miles south of present day Salmon City. Led by Wadze-wipe’s brother, Cameahwait, these Lemhi welcomed their lost relative and Wadze-wipe was given the name Sacajawea, which means “travels with the boat that is pulled.” Sacajawea’s people furnished the Expedition with pack horses and guides to continue their journey to the Columbia River.
A loose band of Shoshone and Bannock, the Lemhi had frequent contact with neighboring tribes, the Nez Perce, Flathead, and southern Idaho Shoshone (Fort Hall Shoshone) who used the Lemhi Valley as a “refuge from the raiding Blackfeet.” These tribes accompanied the Lemhi on buffalo hunts while all engaged in trade at Camas Prairie, south of Lemhi country.
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.
While both the Fort Hall Shoshone and Lemhi adopted aspects of “Plains cultural traits” encountered on buffalo hunts, “they incorporated these onto a different base.” According to anthropologist Julian Steward, the “natural landscape affects behavior patterns and the institutions of a culture.” The Fort Hall Indians with their Great Basin desert culture of “seed gathering, and communal rabbit drives, along with antelope drives, or sage hen drives. . . . held to a single, migratory cycle in which the entire band traveled together.” According to Brigham Madsen:
Because of their location in the Salmon River mountains and the Lemhi Valley north of the Snake River Plains, the Lemhi Shoshone differed from their neighbors, the Fort Hall Shoshone, in some important ways. Living on the border of the Nez Perce country, they were exposed to Plateau culture of the farther northwest more than to Desert culture of the Great Basin. . . . trade between these somewhat hostile peoples promoted cultural interchange in that isolated country. . . . Plateau culture - - based on salmon fishing and camas digging in the early days - - fitted the Lemhi country well. . . .
In 1863, the federal government began negotiating treaties with Shoshone nations to protect settlers and emigrant trails. President Lincoln appointed Utah Superintendent James Doty to head a special commission to negotiate with the tribes. The treaties did not involve land cessions; rather, they were designed to insure “peace and amity” between the Indians and non-Indians.
In May 1868, the Indian Peace Commission dispatched General Christopher Augur to Fort Bridger to meet with the “Snakes, Bannacks, and other Indians along the line of the Union Pacific RR in Utah.” The resulting treaty, concluded on July 3, 1868, provided for, among other things, the right of the signatory tribes to hunt and fish on the unoccupied lands of the United States. Historically, the Lemhi have never been acknowledged as a party to this agreement, but Tay-to-ba, a sub-chief of the Lemhi, attended the negotiations, and his signature appears on the official document. Although a Lemhi reservation was not established in the Bridger Treaty, Tay-to-ba’s participation brought the Lemhi into the treaty’s rights and obligations. Some years later, Lemhi Agent John Wright referred to Tay-to-ba as being an influential Lemhi on the reservation. The Lemhi argued that they were being treated unfairly when they were denied a share in the presents and money given to the other parties of the treaty. While the reasons the Lemhi were never recognized as signatories to the treaty remain obscure even through the Indian Claims Commission settlement of 1970s, it is clear that they were denied treaty rights afforded to the other signatory groups. The implications of this oversight are far-reaching.
In September of 1868, the Lemhi, recognized as a distinct people, negotiated another treaty at Virginia City, Montana Territory. This agreement set apart two townships, twelve miles from Fort Lemhi on the north fork of the Salmon River. The Lemhi surrendered all land claims outside the reserve in return for yearly annuities, but the Senate failed to ratify the treaty. In 1868 Montana Superintendent of Indian Affairs Alfred Sully offered as evidence the Indians’ poor condition and the Senate’s failure to ratify the Virginia City Treaty as reasons for the need of Lemhi removal to the Fort Hall. On August 10, 1869, the Virginia City Republican stated that:
Tendoy, their chief, is encamped with a hundred lodges near this city. . . . His lands are gone, his tribe is broken, they have nothing; they are starving. They have been ever kind to the whites, and the Great Farther [sic] has made promises to them which he has not kept. . . .
Nevertheless, the Lemhi resisted removal efforts and struggled to retain their hold on their homeland. Miners, settlers, and ranchers continued to pour into the western territories, depleting the game and claiming the land upon which the Lemhi had traditionally depended upon subsistence.
In 1871, the Indian office established the Lemhi Agency, appointing an Indian agent and appropriating $15,000 annually for the Lemhi’s subsistence. However, when Harrison Fuller assumed charge of the agency in April 1873, he found them “poor clad and provided for, the year’s appropriations and products of the [agency] farm exhausted.” Although the Lemhi continued to hunt, they often returned empty handed with no means to alleviate the hunger of their family members. In May the Indian office informed Fuller that the Lemhi were to be removed to the Fort Hall Reservation and he presented the letter to Chief Tendoy and the other headmen. Fuller reluctantly informed the Indian commissioner that “The Indians were much disappointed and dissatisfied to learn that it is contemplated to take them away from this valley, and, in fact, positively refused to go.” He explained to the commissioner that the Lemhi would reject government aid rather than be removed from their homeland.
George Shoup, a local Salmon businessman serving in the House of Representatives for Idaho Territory, intervened for the Lemhi, requesting the help of Idaho’s Congressional Delegate John Hailey in securing a permanent reservation for the Lemhi. President Grant signed an executive order on February 12, 1875 establishing a reservation that comprised one hundred square miles, considerably larger than the reserve outlined by the unratified treaty concluded at Virginia City in 1868. In October 1875, Fuller reported that there were 1,050 Indians receiving supplies: 210 Bannocks, 500 Shoshones, and 340 Sheepeaters on the Lemhi Reservation.
Removal, however, continued to be the goal of the Indian Office. Commissioner Ezra Hayt was committed to “the concentration of smaller bands on larger reservations,” and he made his intentions clear concerning the future of the Lemhi Reservation. ȁIt is intended to consolidate the Lemhi and the Fort Hall Agencies in Idaho,” Commissioner Hayt explained, “by removing to Fort Hall the 900 Indians who are unfavorably located at Lemhi.” Pursuing this goal in 1880, federal officials decided to use a more diplomatic approach, inviting Fort Hall and Lemhi chiefs and headmen to Washington, D.C. The commissioner believed the Indians, impressed by the “power and grandeur of the government,” would agree to the department’s proposals. On May 14, 1880, one year after “bitterly protesting removal,” Tendoy and three of his sub-chiefs signed an agreement that provided for the Lemhi’s removal to Fort Hall where they were to live on allotted lands. In compensation, the federal government pledged to pay the Lemhi twenty annual payments of $4,000. For the agreement to be binding a majority of the male population of the Lemhi Reservation were required to approve it. This stipulation impeded the Indian Office’s demands for removal for the next twenty-five years.
Although it appeared to the Indian Office that Tendoy was willing to surrender his people’s ancestral land that was not the case. Tendoy knew that his signature was not binding until a majority of the Lemhi adult males signed it. Tendoy, therefore, did not promise to relinquish the home of his fathers by singing the agreement. Rather, his was a pledge to present the agreement to his people for their consideration. Tendoy kept his word to the federal government and discharged his duties as chief. As tradition dictated, he presented the agreement to the Lemhi for their consideration. Undaunted by the power of the federal government, they rejected removal once again.
Tendoy was well versed in the process of arbitration. Although the Lemhi had negotiated the Virginia City Treaty with the federal government in 1868, no one accused the federal government of misleading Indians in these negotiations because it was understood that agreements such as these required Senate approval. The 1880 agreement was no different. This time, however, it became the prerogative of Indian people to ratify or reject it. Tendoy understood this process. Nonetheless, criticism that he failed to honor his pledge or that he “welched” on an agreement haunted him for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, the Indian Office stubbornly refused to take no for an answer, dedicating instead a generation of effort to hounding, coercing, and brow-beating the Lemhi into submission.
Throughout these years, the Lemhi resisted the authority of non-Indians. Agents complained that despite years of civilizing efforts the Lemhi continued to be, in their words, non-progressive and backward. The Lemhi were traditionalists and they resisted the assimilation efforts of the federal government. They balked at the education of their children and encouraged them to continue using their native tongue. Despite regulations to the contrary, the Lemhi continued to wear long hair, beads, and feathers. As late as 1897, three-fourths of the Lemhi still lived in the traditional teepee. The federal government ordered them not to do so, but the Lemhi continued to hunt and fish on their aboriginal lands drawing the ire of settlers.
By 1905, the Lemhi faced an uncertain future. White encroachment made it difficult for them to use their ancient hunting trails. Game was scarce; the salmon runs had been reduced by the traps of white settlers, and government rations were reserved only for the disabled. In December, Indian Inspector James McLaughlin, experienced in difficult Indian removal negotiations, was dispatched to the reservation to accomplish a task that no one had managed to do in the intervening twenty-five years since the 1880 agreement: obtain the necessary signatures for removal. McLaughlin declared to the Lemhi that the government would no longer support them at the reservation and that they would never again have the opportunity to accept the money and land the federal government was offering. McLaughlin reported that the agreement had been signed on December 18, 1905, and he transmitted a copy of the document to the interior secretary on December 19. Despite its legalistic clarity, the 1905 agreement was silent on several key elements. It contained no acknowledgment that from 1880 to 1905, the Fort Hall Reservation had been reduced from 1,202,230 acres to 447,940 acres. Nor did it take into account the appreciation of value of the Lemhi Reservation. McLaughlin reported simply that the Lemhi willingly agreed to leave their homeland.
President Theodore Roosevelt approved the 1905 removal agreement on January 27, 1906. In addition to the provisions for allotments on the Fort Hall Reservation and twenty annual payments of $4,000, the Lemhi insisted that they be paid for their improvements on the Lemhi Reservation. McLaughlin, however, did not believe that compensation for the improvements would exceed $7500, because he considered “the buildings of the Lemhi Indians quite small and of little value, [and] their cultivated fields . . . small and most of the fences poor. . . .” Mclaughlin’s report states that eighty-six of the 137 adult male Lemhi signed the final agreement, giving the government the majority required to make the 1880 agreement binding. The eighty-six signatories represented the total number of Indians present on the reservation at the time. Inspector McLaughlin claimed the sixty-five Lemhi present in the signing council agreed to removal without protest. He did not explain how the remaining eleven signatures were obtained. McLaughlin’s removal document bears the signatures of the four government employees who witnessed the signing, but the spaces for Lemhi signatures, marks, or thumbprints are blank.
After twenty-five years of resistance, it is unlikely that the Lemhi would suddenly and amicably decide that distant land and federal money were more important than their homeland. The move threatened their very existence. Numerous Lemhis protested removal after McLaughlin’s visit to the reservation, and prominent citizens joined in their protest. J.M Ingersoll, chairman of the Pocatello Commercial Club, foretold the future of the Lemhi people with unsettling accuracy:
If the Lemhis are moved to the Fort Hall lands, they will become the most homesick and disconsolate lot of poverty stricken Indians to be found anywhere in this great country of ours; and it will be years and years, if ever, before it will be possible to get them to settle down, as they will long for their old haunts and will spend so much of their time tramping back to their old winter hunting and fishing grounds on the Lemhi and Salmon rivers and their tributaries, and to the cool summer hunting and fishing grounds that abound in the shadow of the continental divide near the Lemhi reserve, that they and their fathers have been accustomed to for centuries.
The year 1906 was a time of indecision and hardship for the Lemhi. Amidst plans for the transfer, the Lemhi continued to petition that the removal order be rescinded. The commissioner informed Lemhi Agent August Duclos that the Lemhi would be removed by wagon no later than September 15. While he acknowledged that the Lemhi “were very much opposed to leaving [their] reservation,” Duclos assured the Indian office that he could accomplish it. The Lemhi informed him that they preferred to wait until the next spring fearing that they would have to live through the winter without proper houses or water. The commissioner granted their request for a delay.
Tendoy never moved to Fort Hall. He died on May 9, 1907. Toopompey succeeded his father as chief of the Lemhi. On June 15, 1907, the Idaho Recorder reported that the first few hundred Lemhis had arrived at Fort Hall. “They filed across the Snake River near Blackfoot,” the newspaper reported, “and came up to Ross Fork to take up their abode in their new home.” The second and third groups arrived at Fort Hall the following week. They passed through Blackfoot, “with all their horses, guns, lodge poles, squaw saddles and spring wagons.” By June 27, most of the Lemhi were relocated to the Fort Hall Reservation and a June 30, 1907 census indicates that 474 Lemhi had been removed. Many families refused to leave their homes, remaining in the Lemhi Valley, where they lived on land that no longer belonged to Indian people. Removal left the Lemhi people a fragmented group of refugees. Those who remained behind lived without sanction in a place that held the graves of their ancestors. Those who went to Fort Hall arrived as outcasts, bullied from their homeland by non-Indians and the federal government.
Until their removal in 1907, the Lemhi clung to their homeland, and their traditional culture. Despite the words attributed to him by non-Indians who attended the 1905 agreement negotiations, Tendoy ultimately rejected removal one last time. He made plans to live his last days in the Pahsimeroi Valley. After his death, other Lemhi protested the removal to influential white men, but to no avail. In the end, the Lemhi lost federal sanction of their homeland and the government won the dubious honor of having transformed the Lemhi people into refugees.
The Lemhi’s traditional remote and isolated setting was a world apart, far removed, from the cultural crossroads of Pocatello, Fort Hall, the Snake River Plains, and Great Basin culture. The removal of the Lemhi to Fort Hall entailed far more than a geographic move of two hundred miles. As Plateau Indians, the Lemhi left behind a homeland that had sustained them and defined who they were as a people. They had hunted and fished in the mountains and streams of the Salmon River country for centuries. What McLaughlin’s administrative and bureaucratic agreement ignored were crucial, human intangibles: pathos, grief, and the impact of rejection and ejection. The 1905 agreement was not a bargain: it was a “steal,” wrung from the Lemhi by a generation of coercion.
"The Lemhi Shoshone, Federal Recognition, and the Bicentennial of The Corps of Discovery"
By: John W. W. Mann
Also read - "The Lemhi People and Their Struggle to Retain a Homeland"
By: Shirley Stephens
In anticipation of the bicentennial celebration of the voyages of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery, the U. S. Mint issued a $1 coin in 1999 bearing the image of Sacajawea, the Indian woman who accompanied the expedition and contributed to its successful journey to the Pacific Ocean and back. While the coin has been heralded as a sign of long-overdue recognition of the contributions of Native Americans by the government, it has also been widely criticized.
For some, the image of Sacajawea on the coin is tantamount to a validation of the conquest of the American West. Sacajawea, they argue, is celebrated because she “complied with the goals of white America,” not because she was an Indian woman. Others suggest that Sacajawea’s contributions to the expedition have been magnified by myth, and that her role in the journey does not merit the acclaim she has received. Still others point to the irony of an American Indian on currency that will be spent disproportionately by non-Indians. Or to the obvious irony of the juxtaposition of the image of Sacajawea, who, some claim, was essentially a slave, and the word that appears above it: “liberty.”
While Sacajawea, the most famous Indian woman in American history, is celebrated, most Americans have never even heard of her people, the Lemhi Shoshone. When the Sacajawea coin was unveiled, some Lemhis joined the chorus of criticisms, but for a reason all their own. When Glenna Goodacre, the artist who designed the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington D. C., was commissioned to create the Sacajawea dollar, she went to the Fort Hall Indian Reservation, where the Lemhi Shoshone now reside, in search of a model, as well as some cultural context for her work. However, rather than finding a teenaged Lemhi to model for the coin, Goodacre selected a twenty-three year old Shoshone-Bannock woman from a different tribe or band. The Lemhis voiced their disapproval over the physical appearance of the woman on the coin, whom they said did not resemble them, and over the depiction of Sacajawea carrying her baby in a blanket instead of on a cradleboard, as a Lemhi would have.
The Lemhi, then, were slighted even when the federal government endeavored with the best of intentions to celebrate one of their contributions to American history. Moreover, the timing of the matter only added insult to the injury, because the Lemhi Shoshone, at the time, were four years into the long and arduous process of petitioning the government for federal recognition.
But while the apparent slight of the Lemhis can be dismissed as an accident born of good intentions, it is also illustrative of larger aspects in their experiences and difficulties with the government during the course of the twentieth century. The issue of Indian identity, as William Hagan has noted, “has been a problem for individuals, tribes, and government administrators since the birth of this nation.” Who is Indian, who decides, and how? These questions are particularly perplexing when they involve tribes or groups who are not officially recognized by the federal government. In fact, it was only with the promulgation of Title 25 Part 83 of the Code of Federal Regulations in 1978 that the government established standards for answering them. The history of the Lemhi Shoshone in the twentieth century, then, points to the difficulties surrounding issues of Indian identity, on both the group and individual levels, as well as the shortcomings of the criteria established for tribes or groups seeking federal recognition. Because the Lemhi Shoshone were removed to Fort Hall after their reservation in their traditional homeland in the Salmon River country was liquidated in 1907, and subsequently enrolled as members of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of Fort Hall, they fail to meet two of the criteria for the federal recognition that they seek: residence in a particular area with which they are historically associated, and a membership that does not belong to some other tribe.
Paradoxically, the erosion of outsiders’ perception of Lemhi distinctiveness over the course of the twentieth century has coincided with an ongoing effort on the part of the Lemhi Shoshones to assert their cultural identity. The tie to the Salmon River country has been central to Lemhi identity, and they have been continually returning to The River Of No Return, as the Salmon River is known, both literally and figuratively. Immediately after removal, a group of Lemhis left their new home at Fort Hall and returned to establish a permanent community in the town of Salmon, Idaho. The Lemhi village, as it was known, persisted through most of the century. Many of the Lemhis who were removed to Fort Hall also continued to return to the Salmon River country annually to visit, hunt and fish in traditional areas, and to tend to the graves of their ancestors. The Salmon River country also preoccupied the Lemhis who remained at Fort Hall politically, as they sought to gain restitution for the seizure of their lands and the subsequent liquidation of their reservation. In addition, they have struggled to retain use of treaty rights to hunt and fish in areas to which they have been accustomed for generations, and, ultimately, to once again secure a legitimate land base in their ancestral homeland.
After removal, there remained no incentive for federal officials to treat the 400-500 Lemhis as a distinct group. The BIA administered the Fort Hall Indian Reservation as a single tribal entity, and ceased the practice of separately enumerating the Lemhis from other peoples on the reservation by 1912. When the Fort Hall tribes adopted a constitution in 1936 under the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, Lemhi autonomy was further eroded. Although the IRA was designed to preserve tribal culture and to allow Indian peoples to enjoy greater participation in decisions concerning their affairs, it had the opposite effect for the Lemhis. To retain a voice in decisions at Fort Hall, the Lemhis enrolled as members of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, thus losing a measure of their Lemhi identity. But in the long run the Lemhi Shoshone’s experiences as a minority on a multi-tribal reservation only served to reinforce their identity.
One of the central concerns of Lemhis during their first decades at Fort Hall was securing annuities promised for relinquishing their reservation that had not been dispersed. Rather than pursuing their claim through the tribal council, however, the Lemhis formed their own committeethe Lemhi Committeeelected by and consisting of only Lemhis and charged with the task of securing the unpaid annuity monies. The total sum of outstanding monies amounted to just a few thousand dollars, but the Lemhis persisted in their efforts to secure it as a matter of principle; to the Lemhis, it appeared that the federal government intended to overlook its obligation to them now that they were enrolled at Fort Hall The Lemhi Committee succeeded in forcing federal officials to turn their attention to a Lemhi annuity fund that they had long ignored. By 1939, officials had compiled a census of Lemhi descendants eligible to receive payment. Slowly, individual per capita shares distributed. But when it came time to dispense the surplus of the fund, the Lemhis were required to request the monies through the Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Council. The Lemhi Committee had resolved to use the surplus for a celebration of Lemhi heritage, but the resolution passed by the Tribal Business Council asked that the funds be released to all tribal members at Fort Hall. The BIA refused, explaining that the Lemhis held exclusive rights to the monies. At the same time, the bureau refused to allow the Lemhis to exercise those rights because it determined that “it is impossible to make a distribution to the Lemhi Indians because they, as such, are not presently identifiable on the Fort Hall Reservation from other Indians located thereon.” The BIA’s refusal to recognize (despite the 1939 census) the Lemhis, however, only strengthened Lemhi identity, and created confusion about their status at Fort Hall that carried over into the Lemhi’s Indian Claims Commission case that followed.
The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes began to prepare a variety of claims to bring before the Indian Claims Commission shortly after its inception in 1946. The creation of the ICC coincided with a major shift in federal Indian policy to termination. As commission historian Harvey Rosenthal explains, “It is impossible to say if the commission represented the end of the Collier era or the beginning of that of termination; it stood between.” Whatever the intentions of its framers, however, the ICC was soon co-opted by terminationists in Congress, who viewed it as a useful tool in severing the special relationship between American Indian tribes and the federal government. With lump sum payments to tribes, the government could justify washing its hands of the Indian business. Nonetheless, “Indian communities and identity persisted.” Indeed, as Rosenthal argues, the ICC produced the exact opposite of the effect desired by terminationists: “enacted in theory to remove a stumbling block to assimilation, in practice it helped to redefine ‘Indianness’ for some groups and reawaken cultural pride for all.” Certainly this was the case with the Lemhi Shoshone.
In 1962 the ICC carved the larger Shoshone claim into four separate claims based on its determination that four distinct groups had held exclusive use and occupancy of portions of the lands in question. The Lemhi Shoshone were one of these groups, but the wording of the Indian Claims Commission Act required that they pursue their claim as enrolled members of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of Fort Hall. The consequences of that fact, however, remained unclear to tribal members at Fort Hall, Lemhi and non-Lemhi alike, in large part because the of the uncertainty resulting from the BIA’s earlier decision concerning the Lemhi annuity fund. The fact that some Lemhis, who had spent decades pursuing the annuity monies, assumed that their ICC case involved those funds only added to the confusion.
When it became clear that it was their homeland and millions of dollars that were at stake, many Lemhis organized to oppose the ICC award offer, but their efforts were in vain. Ultimately, all tribal members at Fort Hall held stake in all claims, as the ICC act specified. When Fort Hall tribal members voted to accept a $4.5 million settlement award for the Lemhi claim, a number of the Lemhi minority sought to intervene to reverse the decision and gain control over the claim. Lemhis objected to the award settlement for a variety of reasons: some found the amount awarded insufficient; some viewed acceptance of the award as tantamount to relinquishing their homeland, which they held they had never done, and called for the lands to be returned instead; others resented the fact that the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, rather than just the Lemhi Shoshone, controlled the claim. After hearings, the Lemhi Petition In Intervention was dismissed, and 75 percent of the Lemhi award was distributed per capita to all tribal members at Fort Hall. The remaining 25 percent was allocated for the acquisition of lands on and around Fort Hall. Once again, the Lemhis’ minority status at Fort Hall had cost them monies offered in restitution for their homeland, and, as before, the Lemhis found the federal government unsympathetic to their objections because it failed to distinguish the Lemhis from other Indian peoples at Fort Hall.
If organizing to pursue legal claims reinforced Lemhi identity during the twentieth century, the roots of that identity are in the Salmon River Country, and in the continuing Lemhi tie to their homeland there. The Lemhis have sought redress for being exiled from their aboriginal homeland, but that does not mean they have accepted their displacement. A Lemhi community clung stubbornly to the town of Salmon’s landscape for nearly a century after removal, beckoning Lemhis from Fort Hall. Foregoing the benefits accorded to tribal members at Fort Hall, the Lemhis in Salmon refused to leave their ancestral homeland and squatted on lands which sympathetic residents of Salmon provided for their use. But as the decades passed, Salmon residents came to view the ramshackle village to the south of town as a blot on the landscapea deterrent to tourismrather than a quaint reminder of the region’s Lemhi heritage, as they had once viewed it. Town officials bulldozed the remaining structures in the village in 1991 to make way for a children’s fishing park, much to the dismay of its residents. “It was our home,” Lemhi Rod Ariwite later recalled, “But I guess everyone else thought it was an eyesore.”
Traditional hunting and fishing grounds remained central for the Lemhis in both Salmon and Fort Hall; indeed, the Lemhis at Fort Hall returned to join those in Salmon every year after removal to take advantage of the salmon runs as they had done for centuries. With the construction of dams on the Snake and Columbia Rivers, however, the numbers of salmon began to diminish, and Indian treaty rights came under fire from Idaho sporting groups and state fish and game officials. Nonetheless, the Lemhis continued to fight to retain use of traditional hunting and fishing areas. Their efforts culminated in The State of Idaho v. Tinno, a 1972 Idaho Supreme Court case involving a Lemhi, Gerald Tinno, indicted for exercising tribal treaty rights that the court upheld in the end.
In the years since the Lemhi ICC claim, the Tinno case, and the demise of the Lemhi village in Salmon, a new generation of Lemhi leaders has emerged to renew the Lemhi Shoshone claim to their homeland, and they have brought national attention to their struggle to preserve their connection to the Salmon River country. One of these leaders has been Rose Ann Abrahamson. After the death of her father, Lemhi leader Willie George Jr., Abrahamson vowed to carry on his commitment to preserving Lemhi Shoshone culture and traditions in the Salmon River country and to cultivating mutual respect between its Indian and non-Indian communities. Abrahamson followed through on her oath even after the Indian village came down, organizing and participating in pow wows, traditional ceremonies, and other events to celebrate the Lemhis’ heritage and their shared history with the non-Indian residents of the Salmon River country.
Another Lemhi leader, Rod Ariwite, grew up in the Indian village and attended Salmon High School with Abrahamson, where he played football for the “Salmon Savages.” His vision for the Lemhis’ future in the Salmon River country is even more ambitious than hers. Ariwite directs the Fort Lemhi Indian Community, Inc., a Lemhi Shoshone group that is currently working to restore federal recognition for the Lemhis, and re-secure a land base for them in the Salmon River country.
The Fort Hall Indian Community, Inc. was formed under the auspices of Idaho Legal Aid Services in 1995, and it secured a $65,000 grant from the Administration for Native Americans with the aid of Idaho Legal Aid’s Indian Justice Clinic to pursue federal recognition. The Lemhis used grant money to contract with Dr. Orlan Svingen in the history department at Washington State University and Dr. Greg Campbell in the anthropology department at the University of Montana to conduct research and produce reports in support of the Lemhis’ efforts to secure acknowledgment.
Gaining federal recognition, however, has proved difficult and time-consuming for tribes. In the first decade after its creation, the BIA’s Branch of Acknowledgment and Research (BAR) granted recognition to only eight of the 105 groups that had submitted petitions. Due to a growing backlog of cases, BAR began to develop procedures to streamline the petitioning process. The Secretary of the Interior implemented these in February 2000, limiting the research that BAR employees undertake before evaluating petitions. Nonetheless, tribes seeking federal acknowledgment face an up hill battle, as evidenced by the Bush administration’s decision to rescind recognition that had been granted to the Duwamish tribe during the final days of the Clinton administration.
But while the Lemhis pursue recognition according to BAR guidelines, they also hold hopes that it can be achieved through direct Congressional or Presidential action. As the country prepares for the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Lemhi leaders are taking their campaign for recognition and land restoration to the public. They point to the irony of celebrating Sacajawea’s contribution to the success of the Corps of Discovery, while at the same time denying formal recognition to the Lemhi Shoshone, Sacajawea’s people.
The Lemhis hoped to reestablish a reservation in the Salmon River country in conjunction with their efforts to achieve recognition. The proposed reservation would have featured a model Lemhi village and a Sacajawea Interpretive Center to draw tourists during the bicentennial, and the plan seemed to get off to an auspicious start when the BLM suggested that it could help accommodate the Lemhis’ wish in 1997. “The tribe may only need 1,000 acres or less,” BLM area manager Dave Krosting commented at the time, “and in that case, we could probably find some land that would have very little conflict with other uses. We’d look at any practical proposal to help these people because they’re very deserving of it.”
The controversy over the Sacajawea dollar coin also focused national attention on the Lemhis’ efforts to re-secure recognition and a place in their homeland. Some 300 Lemhis signed a petition sent to the U. S. Mint that expressed their objections. For Rod Ariwite, however, the unveiling of the coin represented an opportunity to galvanize support for the Lemhis. While many Lemhis considered the coin an affront, Ariwite remained more diplomatic. “We are somewhat offended that they used a non-Lemhi,” he explained, “but we are honored that they are honoring one of our own.” Ariwite attended the Sacajawea coin reception ceremony at the White House on May 4, 1999, where he delivered a formal request for Lemhi recognition to Hilary Clinton.
Rose Ann Abrahamson also made a visit to the White House, when in January 2001 President Clinton posthumously elevated William Clark to the rank of Army captain and conferred the title of honorary sergeant to York, Clark’s slave, and Sacajawea. As a descendant of Cameahwait, Sacajawea’s brother, Abrahamson accepted the honor on behalf of Sacajawea from Clinton during the ceremony. Meanwhile, the story of the contemporary Lemhi Shoshone began to garner national attention. Newspapers featured accounts of the Lemhi Shoshone quest to return to the Salmon River country. On October 26, 1999, The New York Times ran a front-page article on the Lemhis with the headline “Seeking Land for Tribe of Girl Who Helped Lewis and Clark.”
But if the Lemhis have received support for their cause, they have also confronted obstacles. One has been the federal government. Despite the BLM’s favorable response to the Lemhis’ hope of acquiring a plot of land in the Salmon River country, the Interior Department has been less encouraging. “It is very hard for us to do something like that for one group of Indians without doing it for another,” department spokesman Stephanie Hanna commented. “If conscience was the only factor, a whole lot of Indian land might be given back based on historical grievances.” Meanwhile, Congress did fund some $12 million for a Sacajawea Interpretive and Education Center, but not in conjunction with a restoration of the Lemhis to their homeland. Instead, at the request of elected officials in Idaho, the center was granted to the town of Salmon and its tourist industry.
That decision was like pouring salt on an open wound of the Lemhis, who feel that Salmon residents are capitalizing on the town’s Lemhi heritage, while they shun the Lemhi Shoshone people. “The people who should be benefiting from the Lemhi heritage are not benefiting at all,” commented Snookins Honena, a grandson of Chief Tendoy. Ariwite is more explicit. “They have Sacajawea heritage days, they have Sacajawea arts and crafts, they have Sacajawea everything but the real Indians who are Sacajawea’s people in the valley,” he explains. “The feeling we get here is ‘We don’t want you here, but we want your Sacajawea heritage.’”
Many Salmon residents fear that a return of the Lemhis would bring unwelcome changes. Lemhi County Commissioner Tom Chaffin explained that area residents would welcome a return of the Lemhis, but they fear that a reservation would be accompanied by a casino and competition for precious resources like water and salmon, as well as jobs. “I don’t doubt that they have been neglected or abused down there [at Fort Hall]. My heart goes out to them,” Chaffin commented, but he also admitted “personally, I don’t want to see a reservation.” It is not surprising that many Lemhis feel that white residents of the valley welcome only the legends of Sacajawea and their other Shoshone ancestors, not real human beings. They cite the destruction of the Indian village in 1991 as the clearest sign that they are not welcome in Salmon.
If the community of Salmon does not exactly welcome the Lemhis’ return, the Sho-Bans at Fort Hall are not eager to see them go either. Recognized tribes in general do not favor federal acknowledgment; the more tribes there are, the thinner federal funds must be spread. Commenting on the Lemhis’ desire to return home, Fort Hall Tribal Business Council Chairman Duane Thompson offered a dismissal, explaining that “Their treaty was never ratified, so basically they belong down here.”
But many Lemhis have never felt that they belonged at Fort HallAriwite describes them as “hostages” of the Sho-Bans. The Lemhis never wanted to go to Fort Hall in part because they had been enemies with some of the other bands on the reservation, and despite nearly a century sharing the same home, old tensions remain. “It was that way then,” Ariwite explains, “Why in hell would it be any different now?” The Lemhis believe that Indians and non-Indians alike have victimized them. sically,” Ariwite summarizes the Lemhi experience, “we are the Indians to the other Indians.”
Of the 400 to 500 Lemhi Shoshones at Fort Hall, Ariwite estimates, at least half are in favor of returning to the Salmon River country. The odds are stacked against them. The government will not help them. Salmon area residents are reluctant to accept them. The Sho-Bans do not want to let them go. But the Lemhis will not give up. They want their children to know the land of their ancestors. “My kids come up here [to the Salmon River country] with me to fish and camp in the summer, and they say, ‘Dad, how could you ever give this land up?” Ariwite relates, “But we haven’t given up. The Lewis and Clark bicentennial is going to be our last fight. In 1805, the Americans asked for our help. Now we’re asking for theirs.”
When the Corps of Discovery entered the Salmon River country in 1805 it reunited Sacajawea with her people, ending her five-year exile from her homeland. The approach of the bicentennial celebration of the Lewis and Clark expedition presents the federal government with a unique opportunity. The Lemhis have been refugees for nearly a century. If government officials are serious about pursuing a policy of self-determination for Indian peoples, and if they are sincere in their desire to honor American Indian contributions to the achievements of the Corps of Discovery, then perhaps they will restore official recognition to the Lemhi Shoshone, Sacajawea’s people.