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Determining the Facts

Reading 4: The Lemhi Shoshone and Coastal Tribes

The following excerpts are from the Lewis and Clark journals describing their interactions with the Lemhi Shoshone and the coastal tribes near Fort Clatsop. The excerpts present a picture of the Indian 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. Descriptions include the social structure of their societies as well as their customs and appearance.

Lemhi Shoshone Tribe: Appearance
These people are diminutive in stature, thick ankles, crooked legs, thick flat feet and in short but ill formed…. Their complexion is...darker than the Hidatsas, Mandans or Shawnees. Generally both men and women wear their hair in a loose, lank flow over the shoulders and face; though I observed some few men who confined their hair in two equal cues hanging over each ear and drawn in front of the body.... Cameahwait has his cut close all over his head. This constitutes their ceremony of mourning for their deceased relations. The dress of the men consists of a robe, long leggings, shirt, tippet and moccasins, that of the women are also a robe, chemise, and moccasins. Sometimes they make use of short leggings. The ornaments of both men and women are very similar, and consist of several species of seashells, blue and white beads, brass and iron arm bands, plaited cords of the sweet grass, and collars of leather ornamented with the quills of the porcupine dyed of various colors, among which I observed the red, yellow, blue, and black. The ear is perforated in the lower part to receive various ornaments, but the nose is not, nor is the ear lacerated or disfigured.... The men never mark their skins by burning, cutting, nor puncturing and introducing a coloring matter as many nations do. Their women sometimes puncture a small circle on their forehead, nose or cheeks and thus introduce a black matter, usually soot and grease, which leaves an indelible stain....

[Lewis] Monday August 19th 1805

Coastal Tribes: Appearance
The Tillamooks, Clatsops, Chinooks, Cathlamets and Wac ki-a-cums resemble each other as well in their persons and dress as in their habits and manners. Their complexion is not remarkable, being the usual copper brown of most of the tribes of North America. They are low in stature, rather diminutive, and illy shapen; possessing thick broad flat feet, thick ankles, crooked legs, wide mouths, thick lips, nose moderately large, fleshy, wide at the extremity with large nostrils, black eyes and black coarse hair. Their eyes are sometimes of a dark yellowish brown…. The nose is generally low between the eyes. The most remarkable trait in their physiognomy is the peculiar flatness and width of forehead which they artificially obtain by compressing the head between two boards while in a state of infancy and from which it never afterwards perfectly recovers…. From the top of the head to the extremity of the nose is one straight line. This is done…to give a greater width to the forehead, which they much admire.

[Lewis] Wednesday March 19th 1806

The nations...wear their hair loosely flowing on the back and shoulders; both men and women divide it on the center of the crown in front and throw it back behind the ear on each side. They are fond of combs...and…keep their hair in better order than many nations.... The large or apparently swollen legs particularly observable in the women are obtained…by tying a cord tight around the ankle. Their method of squatting or resting themselves on their hams…no doubt contributes much to this deformity of the legs by preventing free circulation of the blood. The dress of the man consists of a small robe, which reaches about as low as the middle of the thigh and is attached with a string across the breast and is at pleasure turned from side to side as they may have occasion to disencumber the right or left arm from the robe.... The fixture of the robe is in front with its corners loosely hanging over their arms…. This robe is made most commonly of the skins of a small animal.

[Lewis] Wednesday March 19th 1806

The dress of the women consists of a robe, tissue, and sometimes when the weather is uncommonly cold, a vest. Their robe is much smaller than that of the men, never reaching lower than the waist nor extending in front sufficiently far to cover the body. It is like that of the men.... The most esteemed and valuable of these robes are made of strips of the skins of the sea otter net together with the bark of the white cedar or silk-grass.... It makes a warm and soft covering.

[Lewis] Wednesday March 19th 1806

Such of them as do mark themselves in this manner prefer their legs and arms on which they imprint parallel lines of dots either longitudinally or circularly. The women more frequently than the men mark themselves in this manner. The favorite ornament of both sexes are the common coarse blue and white beads which the men wear tightly wound around their wrists and ankles many times until they obtain the width of three or more inches. They also wear them in large rolls loosely around the neck, or pendulous from the cartilage of the nose or rims of the ears which are perforated for the purpose. The women wear them in a similar manner except in the nose which they never perforate. They are also fond of a species of wampum [shell]…. These are worn in the same manner in which the beads are; and furnish the men with their favorite ornament for the nose.

[Lewis] Wednesday March 19th 1806

Lemhi Shoshone Tribe: Tribal Chief
Each individual is his own sovereign master, and acts from the dictates of his own mind…. The title of chief is not hereditary, nor can I learn that there is any ceremony of installment, or other epoch in the life of a Chief from which his title as such can be dated. In fact every man is a chief, but all have not an equal influence on the minds of the other members of the community, and he who happens to enjoy the greatest share of confidence is the principal Chief. The Shoshones may be estimated at about 100 warriors, and about three times that number of women and children.

[Lewis] Monday August 19th 1805

Coastal Tribes: Tribal Chief
These families when associated form nations or bands of nations, each acknowledging the authority of its own chieftain who does not appear to be hereditary, nor his power to extend further than a mere reprimand for any improper act of an individual. The creation of a chief depends upon the upright deportment of the individual & his ability and disposition to render service to the community; and his authority or the deference paid him is in exact equilibrium with the popularity or voluntary esteem he has acquired among the individuals of his band or nation.

[Lewis] Monday [Sunday] January 19th 1806

Lemhi Shoshone Tribe: Society Structure
They treat their women but with little respect, and compel them to perform every species of drudgery. They collect the wild fruits and roots, attend to the horses or assist in that duty, dress the skins and make all their apparel, collect wood and make their fires, arrange and form their lodges, and when they travel pack the horses and take care of all the baggage; in short the man does little else except attend his horses, hunt and fish. The man considers himself degraded if he is compelled to walk any distance, and if he is so unfortunately poor as only to possess two horses he rides the best himself and leaves the woman, or women if he has more than one, to transport their baggage and children on the other, and to walk if the horse is unable to carry the additional weight of their persons.

[Lewis] Monday August 19th 1805

Coastal Tribes: Society Structure
They do not hold the virtue of their women in high estimation…. they make their women perform every species of domestic drudgery, but in almost every species of this drudgery the men also participate. Their women are also compelled to gather roots and assist them in taking fish, which articles form much the greatest part of their subsistence. Notwithstanding the survile manner in which they treat their women they pay much more respect to their judgment and opinions in many respects than most Indian nations. Their women are permitted to speak freely before them, and sometimes appear to command with a tone of authority. They generally consult them in their traffic and act in conformity to their opinions.

[Lewis] Monday January 6th 1806

Lemhi Shoshone Tribe: General Opinion & Relations & Customs
The chief next produced his pipe and native tobacco and began a long ceremony of the pipe when we were requested to take off our moccasins…. This we complied with; the Chief then lit his pipe at the fire kindled in this little magic circle, and standing on the opposite side of the circle uttered a speech of several minutes in length, at the conclusion of which he pointed the stem to the four cardinal points of the heavens, first beginning at the east and ending with the north. He now presented the pipe to me as if desirous that I should smoke, but when I reached my hand…, he drew it back and repeated the same ceremony three times, after which he pointed the stem first to the heavens then to the center of the magic circle, smoked himself with three whiffs and held the pipe until I took as many as I thought proper. He then held it to each of the white persons and then gave it to be consumed by his warriors.

[Lewis] Tuesday August 13th 1805

From what has (already) been said of the Shoshones…they live in a wretched state of poverty. Yet…they are not only cheerful but even gay, fond of gaudy dress and amusements. Like most other Indians they are great egotists and frequently boast of heroic acts which they never performed. They are also fond of games of risk. They are frank, communicative, fair in dealing, generous with the little they possess, extremely honest, and by no means beggarly.

[Lewis] Monday August 19th 1805

Coastal Tribes: General Opinion & Relations & Customs
These people, the Chinooks and others residing in this neighborhood and speaking the same language have been very friendly to us; they appear to be a mild, inoffensive people but will pilfer if they have an opportunity to do so.... They are great higlers in trade and if they conceive you anxious to purchase will be a whole day bargaining for a handful of roots. This I should have thought proceeded from their want of knowledge of the comparative value of articles of merchandise and the fear of being cheated, did I not find that they invariably refuse the price first offered them and afterwards very frequently accept a smaller quantity of the same article.... I therefore believe this trait in their character proceeds from an avaricious, all-grasping disposition. In this respect they differ from all Indians I ever became acquainted with, for their dispositions invariably lead them to give whatever they are possessed of no matter how useful or valuable, for a bauble which pleases their fancy, without consulting its usefulness or value.

[Lewis] Saturday January 4th 1806

The Clatsops, Chinooks, Tillamooks &c. are very loquacious and inquisitive; they possess good memories and have repeated to us the names, capacities of the vessels &c. of many traders and others who have visited the mouth of this river.... They are generally cheerful but never gay. With us their conversation generally turns upon the subjects of trade, smoking, eating or their women….

[Lewis] Monday January 6th 1806

Questions for Reading 4:

1. Compare and contrast the descriptions of the Shoshone and coastal tribes' appearances. How are the descriptions similar? How do they differ? What unique physical trait did Lewis note regarding the coastal tribes? How is the trait formed?

2. Make a chart listing some of the observations made by Lewis regarding the Shoshone and coastal tribes using the following questions. How do the chiefs come into power or influence? How do the tribes treat women? What are some important customs of the tribes? Compare and contrast your answers. How are the tribes similar? How do they differ?

3. How did Lewis describe the coastal tribes trading habits? Considering that Lewis may not be familiar with the lives and customs of the indigenous people they encountered, could he have misunderstood their overtures? Can you think of a culture, ethnic group, or religious group in the news today that might be misunderstood? What actions might help bridge the gap between two parties that don't understand each other?

4. The journal entries of Lewis, Clark, and other members of the corps tell us what they observed, what they perceived, and what they believed. Whose perspective are we missing? Why do you think this is the case? How might this effect our understanding of these people?

5. One of the goals of the Lewis and Clark expedition was to conduct diplomacy with, and gather information about, the various Indian nations they would encounter on their journey. Based on these excerpts, did they accomplish this goal? Explain your answer.

6. Consider the perspective of the Clatsop. The Clatsop nation was used to dealing with foreigners coming on trading ships from the Pacific Ocean. The Lewis and Clark expedition members came to the Clatsop homeland not for the purpose of trading, but to explore. They came from the "wrong" direction and came during some of the worst weather of the year. What do you think the Clatsop people thought of the expedition members under these unusual circumstances?

Reading 4 was excerpted from The Lewis and Clark Journey of Discovery: Native Peoples website, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (JNEM), National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. JNEM adapted and excerpted the passages featured on their website from the original texts, and they corrected spelling to make the text easier to read.


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