Historic Tribes

Two structures made of logs next to each other in a meadow
Wickiups provided temporary shelter for some Native Americans while they were in Yellowstone. No authentic, standing wickiups are known to remain in the park.

NPS / Harlan Kredit

 

Greater Yellowstone’s location at the convergence of the Great Plains, Great Basin, and Plateau Indian cultures means that many tribes have a traditional connection to the land and its resources. For thousands of years before Yellowstone became a national park, it was a place where Indians hunted, fished, gathered plants, quarried obsidian, and used the thermal waters for religious and medicinal purposes.

Tribal oral histories indicate more extensive use during the Little Ice Age. Kiowa stories place their ancestors here from around 1400 to 1700. Ancestors to contemporary Blackfeet, Cayuse, Coeur d’Alene, Bannock, Nez Perce, Shoshone, and Umatilla, among others, continued to travel the park on the already established trails. They visited geysers, conducted ceremonies, hunted, gathered plants and minerals, and engaged in trade. The Shoshone say family groups came to Yellowstone to gather obsidian, which they used to field dress buffalo. Some tribes used the Fishing Bridge area as a rendezvous site.

The Crow occupied the area generally east of the park, and the Blackfeet occupied the area to the north. The Shoshone, Bannock, and other tribes of the plateaus to the west traversed the park annually to hunt on the plains to the east. Other Shoshonean groups hunted in open areas west and south of Yellowstone.

In the early 1700s, some tribes in this region began to acquire the horse. Some historians believe the horse fundamentally changed lifestyles because tribes could now travel faster and farther to hunt bison and other animals of the plains.

 
Map of the northwestern US showing 26 tribes that have ties to the Yellowstone area.

Associated Tribes of Yellowstone

26 tribes have ties to the area and resources now found within Yellowstone National Park.

Three Nez Perce on horseback.

Ethnography

Many tribes have a traditional connection to the land and resources of Yellowstone.

 
Steam rises from a large vent in a hillside above blue water
Tribes used hydrothermal sites ceremonially and medicinally. The Mud Volcano area is especially significant for the Kiowa. Their tradition says that a hot spring called Dragon’s Mouth (above) is where their creator gave them the Yellowstone area for their home. The Crow also have stories.

NPS

The Tukudika (Sheep Eaters)

Some groups of Shoshone who adapted to a mountain existence chose not to acquire the horse. These included the Tukudika, or Sheep Eaters, who used their dogs to transport food, hides, and other provisions. The Tukudika acquired the name "Sheep Eaters" from the bighorn sheep whose migrations they followed. Bighorn sheep were a significant part of their diet, and they crafted the carcasses into a wide array of tools. For example, they soaked sheep horns in hot springs to make them pliable for bows. They traded these bows, plus clothing and hides, to other tribes.

 
Rocks covered in lichen arranged in the shape of a tall fire ring on a mountain top

Park History

Learn about Yellowstone's story from the earliest humans to today.

Brown and gray columns of rock make up a cliff that towers up to a deep blue sky.

The Earliest Humans in Yellowstone

Human occupation of this area seems to follow environmental changes of the last 15,000 years.

A group of people in a field

Timeline of Human History in Yellowstone

The human history of the Yellowstone region goes back more than 11,000 years.

Rifle and powder horn with a map etched on side resting on fur.

European Americans Arrive

In the late 1700s, fur traders traveled the Yellowstone River in search of Native Americans with whom to trade.

Man sits on a box in front of a canvas tent while another man stands next to him.

Expeditions Explore Yellowstone

Formal expeditions mapped and explored the area, leading to the nation's understanding of the region.

Historic Moran water color of hot springs with group standing in distance

Birth of a National Park

Learn about Yellowstone's early days as a national park.

Modern Management

Managing the national park has evolved over time and dealt with some complex issues.

Visitors standing on a boardwalk and taking pictures of the orange thermophiles of Grand Prismatic.

Today's National Park Service

The National Park Service has grown to manage ~83 million acres in all 50 states, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, and American Samoa.

Last updated: June 4, 2018

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168

Phone:

307-344-7381

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