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The history of the Shoshoni, most northerly of the great Shoshonean tribes, which all belong to the extensive Uto-Aztecan linguistic stock, is full of paradox. They occupied western Wyoming, central and southern Idaho, southwestern Montana, northeastern Nevada, and northeastern Utah. The Snake River country in Idaho was their stronghold, but their expeditions sometimes reached the Columbia. Holding somewhat in contempt their less vigorous cousins to the south Ute, Hopi, and Paiute they themselves seem to have been almost equally despised by the Plains tribes. The northern and eastern Shoshoni were riding and buffalo-hunting Indians. Their traditions are full of references to a period when they had no horses, when small game took the place of the buffalo, and when they had no skin tepees in which to live. None of the Shoshoni were ever known to be agriculturists, but in- the Wind River of central Wyoming, huge pestles have been discovered, about five feet in length, consisting of a ball eight or nine inches in diameter and a stem tapering to about four inches. They were found by Shoshoni Indians who suggest they were used for grinding grain, grass seeds, and dry berries, by some early tribe.
Wyoming, A Guide to Its History, Highways and People, compiled by Workers of the Writers' Program of the WPA in the State of Wyoming. New York: Oxford University Press, 1941, pp. 52-7.
It was early morning in the Agaiduka, the Salmon Eaters encampment, and struggling puffs of cookingfire smoke reached into the chilly dawn air. Everywhere in this Shoshoni camp there was the pungent smell of burning pine.Moving silently, robe-covered women fed each fire and cooked the first meal of the day. Inside the tepees children came half-awake; small babies felt hunger pangs and began their crying.
Near the center of the encampment was the tepee of the head chief, Chief No Retreat. This morning he rose from his pine-bough sleeping couch early, disturbed by thoughts in his mind of things he did not understand. Ages ago, beyond the time of counting, there had been a tribe living here, in the Big Horn Mountains, different from the people he knew.
The day before, Chief No Retreat and his younger daughter, Boinaiv, Grass Child, had wandered onto a great circle of stones. To him it seemed larger than the circle of the sun. He had seen the similar but smaller circle of stones to the north, but never had he dreamed there was another and of such imposing size. He was certain it had been built before the light came to the Agaiduka Shoshonis, his people.
The old man had looked at the great circle then in awe and spoken to his child about the Tukadukas, the Sheep Eaters, who had built stone game blinds and bighorn sheep pens with stone fences. He had seen them often. "The Sheep Eaters were once many tribes and lived in eaves and mountain canyons to avoid their enemies. They had dogs to help them hunt. Now they are gone. Their time is over.",
"Were they happy?" asked Grass Child.
"Ai, they felt as we, sometimes sad, sometimes angry, and sometimes happy. They lived. Now we live."
"Did they paint the buffalo in the caves?"
"Ai, they painted the animals they were going to hunt. This is the way they breathed life into herds so that there was always food for their people. They drew the buffalo as if he were alive. In their firelight his eyes glistened, his muscles seemed to tense beneath the hide, and his tail to lash to and fro in excitement like the beasts grazing on the grassy hillsides."
"Did they color him with the same paints we use to paint bodies before the hunt?" asked the curious child.
"Ai, the same. They took the best ocher and bear's fat and mixed it carefully and put it on the picture with charcoal or tiny sticks dipped in the paints. They usedthe black earth for contours and shadows to give the beast depth or life. They used vermilion to fill in the glowing eyes."
"I would like to do that," exclaimed the child.
"Women are never painters of stones. They paint only clothing and their faces," laughed her father.
"I could do that, though. Did the people of the suncircle paint?"
Chief No Retreat was deep with his own wondering.
Were the people who built the smaller circle in the north and then this larger one of the same nation? He wondered how long ago these people had gone away from here. Who were their enemies?
As he gazed at the large circle of stones, Grass Child pointed to the center cairn, about as high as the chief's waist. "What is there?"
"You ask more than a girl child should he admonished his inquisitive offspring. "Women need know only
cooking, sewing, and keeping a neat tepee and a contented man."
"Maybe it is Father Sun," she said. "In the middle is the sun, and on the outside are the stars, and this one way over here, the moon." She laughed at her analogy. Then she counted the "spokes" radiating from the "hub." "Five hands and three fingers," she said.
The chief counted, then said, "That is the number of suns from one full moon to the next."
Grass Child began to examine the six low shelters, peering under the slab roofs.
"Grass Child! Keep your head out of there!" The chief quickly stood the child on her feet. "See, that flat stone is tipping. The pine logs are old and rotting. They no longer can hold it up. The spirits of this nation may be near. Do not disturb their sacred place. Now, watch where you step! Do not step on the stones."
On the stone slab of the center structure rested a...