Information on the Salish Indians
Recorded by Members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

The following excerpts from the journals of Lewis and Clark and their men present a picture of the Salish people as the Anglo-Americans saw them. The modern reader must be careful to understand that what these white men saw and recorded was not necessarily correct from the Indian perspective.

The following passages have been freely adapted and excerpted from the original texts, and the spelling has been corrected to make them easier to read. For students wishing to quote these passages, the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, edited by Gary Moulton and published by the University of Nebraska Press, is the recommended source. For those who wish more in-depth information about Lewis and Clark's relations with various Indian tribes, including background from the Indian perspective, the best book is James P. Ronda's Lewis and Clark among the Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984. The very best way to obtain accurate information from the tribal perspective is to contact tribal councils for individual tribes - in other words, to consult the people themselves.

The Flatheads, as Lewis and Clark called them, prefer to be called Salish. Ironically, the tribe Lewis and Clark called the Flatheads never practiced the custom of flattening the skull of their children, while some of the Columbia River tribes did. The common explanation of the English name is that the Salish were considered flat-headed by the tribes of the Columbia who considered their own purposely deformed skulls to be pointed. Supposedly in the nineteenth century these mountain "Flatheads" became confused by Anglos with those who did practice skull deformation. The sign language term for the Salish suggests a flattening of the sides of the heads. The name "Tushepau" (or Tushepaw) may come from the Shoshone term tatasiba, "the people with shaved heads," meaning the Flatheads. After acquiring the horse in the 1700s, the Flatheads became buffalo hunters on the Montana plains, but pressure from the Blackfeet and other plains tribes forced them to spend much of their time in the mountains of northwestern Montana. Their buffalo hunts were perilous excursions into enemy country. They were consistently friendly to whites from Lewis and Clark's time on. In the 1840s many were converted to Christianity by Catholic missionaries. They met Lewis and Clark in the valley now called Ross, or Ross's Hole, east of modern Sula, Montana. The Salish signed a treaty in 1855 with the United States in which they gave up most of their lands in Idaho and Montana. Today they live on a reservation near Dixon, Montana that they share with the Kootenai tribe.

Contact Information:

Chairperson, Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribal Council
Box 278
Pablo, Montana 59855-0278

Journal Excerpts:

September 4th Wednesday 1805
[We] pursued our course down the creek to the forks, about 5 miles where we met a part of the (Flathead) [Salish] nation of 33 lodges, about 80 men, 400 total and at least 500 horses. Those people received us friendly, threw white robes over our shoulders & smoked in the pipes of peace. We encamped with them & found them friendly, but nothing but berries to eat, a part of which they gave us. Those Indians are well dressed, with skin shirts & robes. They [are] stout & light completed, more so than common for Indians. The Chiefs harangued until late at night. Smoked our pipe and appeared satisfied. I was the first white man who ever were on the waters of this river.

Wednesday 4th Sept. 1805
Towards evening we arrived at a large encampment of the Flathead nation of Indians, about 40 lodges and I suppose about 30 persons, and they have between 4 or 5 hundred horses now feeding in the plains at our view, and they look like tolerable good horses the most of them. They received us in a friendly manner. When our officers went to their lodges they gave them each a white robe of dressed skins, and spread them over their shoulders and put their arms around our necks instead of shaking hands, as that is their way. They appeared glad to see us. They smoked with us, then gave us plenty such as they had to eat, which was only serviceberries and cherries pounded and dried in small cakes, some roots of different kinds. Our officers told them that we would speak to them tomorrow and tell them who we were and what our business is and where we are going &c. These natives are well dressed, decent looking Indians, light complexioned. They are dressed in mountain sheep leather, deer & buffalo robes &c. They have the most curious language of any we have seen before. They talk as though they lisped or have a burr on their tongue. We suppose that they are the Welch Indians if there is any such from the language. They have leather lodges to live in, some other skins among them. They tell us that they or some of them have seen bearded men towards the ocean, but they cannot give us any accurate [account] of the ocean but we have 4 mountains to cross to go where they saw white men which was on a river, as we suppose the Columbia River.

Wednesday 4th. We kept down the valley about 5 miles, and came to the Tushapa band of the Flathead nation of Indians, or a part of them. We found them encamped on the creek and we encamped with them. Captain Clarke, in his letter to his brother, calls them the Oleachshoot band of the Tucknapax. It is of no very great importance, at present, to know by what names the several tribes and bands are distinguished; and Mr. Gass says, that without an interpreter it was very difficult to ascertain them with any degree of certainty.

Wednesday 4th Sept. 1805
Towards evening we arrived at a large encampment of the Flathead Nation which is a large band of the nation of about 40 lodges. They have between 4 and 500 well looking horses now feeding in this valley or plain in our view. They received us as friends and appeared to be glad to see us. 2 of our men who were a hunting came to their lodges. First the natives spread a white robe over them and put their arms around their necks as a great token of friendship, then smoked with them. When Capt. Lewis and Capt. Clark arrived they spread white robes over their shoulders and smoked with them. Our officers told them that they would speak with them tomorrow and tell them our business and where we are going &c. The natives are light complexioned, decent looking people, the most of them well clothed with mountain sheep and other skins. They have buffalo robes, leather lodges to live in, but have no meat at this time. But gave us abundance of their dried fruit such as serviceberries, cherries, different kinds of roots, all of which eat very well. They tell us that we can go in 6 days to where white traders come and that they had seen bearded men who came a river to the north of us 6 days march, but we have 4 mountains to cross before we come on that river.

September 5th Thursday 1805
We assembled the chiefs & warriors and spoke to them (with much difficulty, as what we said had to pass through several languages before it got into theirs, which is a gurgling kind of language spoken much through the throat). We informed them who we were, where we came from, where bound and for what purpose &c. &c. and requested to purchase & exchange a few horses with them. In the course of the day I purchased 11 horses & exchanged 7, for which we gave a few articles of merchandize. Those people possess elegant horses. We made 4 chiefs whom we gave medals & a few small articles with tobacco; the women brought us a few berries & roots to eat and the principal chief a dressed brarow, otter & two goat & antelope skins. Those people wore their hair (as follows): the men queued with otter skin on each side falling over the shoulders forward, the women loose promiscuously over their shoulders & face, long shirts which comes to the ankles & tied with a belt about their waist with a robe over. They have but few ornaments and what they do wear are similar to the Snake Indians. They call themselves Eoote-lash-Schute and consist of 450 lodges in all and divided into several bands on the heads of Columbia River & Missouri, some low down the Columbia River.

Thursday 5th Sept. 1805.
The Indian dogs are so ravenous that they eat several pair of the men's moccasins. A hard white frost this morning. Several men went out to hunt. Our officers purchased several horses of the natives after counseling with them. They are a band of the Flathead Nation. Our officers made four chiefs, gave them medals, 2 flags, some other small presents and told them our business and that we were friends to all the red people &c., which they appeared very friendly to us. They have a great stock of horses but have no provision, only roots and berries, at this time but are on their way to the Medicine River or Missouri where they can kill plenty of buffalo. Our officers bought 12 horses from them and gave a small quantity of merchandize for each horse. Our officers took down some of their language, found it very troublesome speaking to them as all they say to them has to go through six languages, and hard to make them understand. These natives have the strangest language of any we have ever yet seen. They appear to us as though they had an impediment in their speech or brogue on their tongue. We think perhaps that they are the Welch Indians, &c. They are the likeliest and most honest we have seen and are very friendly to us. They swapped to us some of their good horses and took our worn out horses, and appeared to wish to help us as much as lay in their power. Accommodated us with packsaddles and cords by our giving them any small article in return. [Communication would pass through Salishan, Shoshone (from a Shoshone boy among the Flatheads and Sacagawea), Hidatsa (Sacagawea and Charbonneau), French (Charbonneau and a French speaker in the party), and English].

September 6th Friday 1805
Some little rain, purchased two fine horses & took a vocabulary of the language. Lightened our loads & packed up, rained continued until 12 o'clock. We set out at 2 o'clock at the same time all the Indians set out on their way to meet the Snake Indians at the 3 Forks of the Missouri.

Friday 6th Sept. 1805.
At 10 o'clock A.M. the natives all got up their horses and struck their lodges in order to move over on the head of the Missouri after the buffalo. They make a large show as they are numerous and have an abundance of horses. We take these savages to be the Welch Indians if there be any such from the language. So Capt. Lewis took down the names of everything in their language in order that it may be found out whether they are or whether they sprung or originated first from the Welch or not. About noon we got ready to set out. We have 40 good pack horses and three colts.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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