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Lewis and Clark
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image: Shoshone Indians
Photograph by James L. Amos/Corbis
Shoshone Indians

These skilled horsemen had once lived on the buffalo-rich plains of present-day Montana. But the Blackfeet and Hidatsa had driven the Shoshone from the plains into the mountains, where they were leading a precarious existence when the Corps of Discovery arrived.

Lewis had taken a small party of men ahead of Clark to find the Lemhi Shoshones and the horses they needed to continue their journey. On August 11, 1805, he saw an Indian on horseback. Attempting to let the man know that they came in peace, Lewis shouted tab-ba-bone which he'd been told meant "white man." In fact it meant "stranger," which had a completely different connotation. The Indian fled.

Two days later, on August 13, Lewis and his party came across a few Indian women. Through gifts, Lewis assured the women they meant no harm, and when 60 Shoshone warriors soon joined them everything was peaceful. These were likely the first white men that the Shoshone had ever seen. Lewis and Clark called the village Camp Fortunate.

When Clark joined the party days later, the conversations turned to the trade alliances and peace proposals that the expedition supported. The Shoshone traditionally traded with the Spanish, who would not give them guns or ammunition. The Indians were very clear that they wanted those guns so that they could compete with their regional enemies.

Lewis was still holding out hope for a water passage to the Pacific, but Shoshone Chief Cameahwait explained that the only way westward was over the mountains that loomed in the distance. It was now imperative that the Corps secure horses.

The Lemhi Shoshone were the tribe of Sacagawea, the woman hired with her husband, Toussaint Charbonneau, to guide the expedition and translate whenever necessary. Sacagawea, who had been kidnapped by raiding Hidatsa several years before, recognized Cameahwait as her brother. After a joyful reunion, serious discussions between Lewis and Clark and the chief got under way.

Negotiations for the horses were hindered by a cumbersome translation process. In Shoshone Cameahwait spoke to Sacagawea, who translated into Hidatsa for her husband, Charbonneau. Charbonneau passed the message along in French to corpsman Francois Labiche, who repeated it in English for Lewis. This process repeated in reverse for any responses.

Cameahwait agreed to provide the horses the Corps required and gave them information about the Nez Perce tribe they would encounter on the other side of the mountains. He also provided a guide, Old Toby, to lead them through the passes.

Today the Shoshone live on reservations in Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and California.

From the Expedition Journals

"Notwithstanding the extreem povery of those poor people they are very merry they danced again this evening untill midnight. ..."
image: Shoshone Indians
Photograph by Werner Forman/Corbis

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