In approximately 1739, the Eastern Shoshones entered written history. During an attempt to discover an overland route from New France to the "Western Sea", an expedition directed by Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de la Verendrye, never actually encountered any Shoshones, but his entourage learned about them from their northern Great Plains neighbors. A Hidatsa or Mandan chief, for instance, informed the visitors that the Gens du Serpent (as the Snakes, or Shoshones were also called) were "a brave people dreaded of all the other tribes” and that "many of them wander about occupying a large extent of territory." Two years later, when la Verendrye's sons visited the Plains during a similar (failed) venture to reach the "Western Sea", one of them also learned about the Shoshones from the region's Natives, writing that, "[t]hey do not content themselves in a campaign with destroying a village… they keep up the war from spring to autumn. They are very numerous, and woe to those who cross their path!"

By the early nineteenth century, however, reports on the Shoshones described them in an entirely different light. In 1802, trader Charles Le Raye visited a Crow village, where he met some Shoshones. He remarked that, "[t]his nation resides principally on the headwaters of the Big Horn river, and in the most inaccessible parts of the Rocky mountains, where they have frequently to hide in caverns from their enemies." Moreover, "[o]wing to their defenseless situation, they become an easy conquest to any nation disposed to attack them, and they are frequently attacked for no other reason than the pleasure of killing them." Another trader, Alexander Henry, conveyed a similar image of the Shoshones, as he wrote that, "[t]he Snake Indians are a miserable, defenceless nation that never ventured abroad. The Peagans still compare them to old women who they can kill with sticks and stones."

This project attempts to capitalize on the opportunities provided by digital approaches to history in an effort to explain this drastic change in portrayals of the Eastern Shoshones. Using textual discussions and visualizations derived from Euroamerican reports on the Shoshones and their neighbors, this project examines the course of developments on the northwestern Great Plains during the eighteenth century to reveal what forces so powerfully influenced the course of Eastern Shoshone history. The study considers the relationship between horses, guns, and smallpox - all introduced to the Americas by Europeans - on the one hand, and, on the other, competing Native expansion efforts in the story of the Shoshone rise and fall.

© 2011 Adam R. Hodge, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Please feel free to contact the author about this project.