Idaho History January 10, 2016

The Tukudika – Sheepeaters

Indigenous People of Long Valley

… what we now know as Long Valley was once the summer home of several tribal groups. Long Valley was a point of overlap for the traditional territories of the Nez Perce to the north, the Shoshone to the southeast and the Paiute to the southwest.

Indigenous People Mid 1800’s


Indigenous People


Indigenous People Wedding Gifts


Indigenous People


Indigenous People Women Riding


source: Hoff Phenomenology Research – Pioneer Life Photo Essay compiled by Rosemary Hoff
[hat tip to SMc]

Sheepeater Indians

(click image for larger size)
William Henry Jackson’s 1971 Photo of a Sheepeater Family
source: Cabin Creek Chronicle
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The Tukudika – Indians of the Wilderness

By Sheila D. Reddy Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Regions 1 and 4 Heritage Program October 2002

Along the banks of the rivers and stream in the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness are the remains of the homes of the American Indian people called the Tukudika, or Sheepeaters. The Tukudika were and are Northern Shoshone, members of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe whose tribal offices are located on the Fort hall Reservation near Pocatello, Idaho.
Northern Shoshone speakers are included within a larger related group identified by common elements in their language. The Northern Shoshone belong to the central branch of the Numic sub-family of the Uto-Aztecan family of American Indian languages.

Between one and four thousand years ago early ancestors of the Northern Shoshone were living a rhythmic life of seasonal hunting and gathering within the arid desert core of the Great Basin. In the surrounding country were tribal groups whose lifeways depended and focused on lake/marsh settings and riparian environments.

About 1,100 years ago an episode of climatic change resulted in a serious decline in seasonal rain and snowfall. Tree-ring, pollen, and sedimentary records indicate an extended period of drought that resulted in a more arid regional landscape.

Groups who depended on wetlands for food and other resources saw marshes, rivers, creeks and springs turn to dust and remain dry. Tribes and bands who were unable, or unwilling to adapt to the desert environment began migrating, abandoning dusty riparian camps, village sites, hunting and gathering areas.

Ancestors of the Shoshone were well adapted to living in a drier environment. With the threat of competing tribes lessened, Numic bands began moving north and east into abandoned areas. Within their formal traditions the Shoshone carried ancient knowledge and a vast memory of technical information that would prove successful in drought-effected environments.

One group, the Northern Shoshone, continued migrating north until they reached the Snake River Plain. Their tribe was made up of bands of hunters and gatherers, people who traveled in small groups over the landscape utilizing all resources as they became available.

They moved with the seasons. Each spring after warming winds dried the old trails, families traveled to harvest camas and other roots in wet mountain meadows. Later when salmon and steelhead spawned, groups would gather with other families or bands at fishing camp sites on the lower Snake River, Salmon River or their tributaries to build weirs and fish traps. After catching and drying the fish the excess would be cached or stored for winter. After the aspen leaves began to leaf out, family bands returned to the mountains to hunt elk, deer and mountain sheep.

As the small fluid bands of Shoshone moved from one resource to another, they were named or identified by the food they were harvesting, or for a specific animal they hunted; one might say they became that food. For example, at Shoshone Falls on the Snake River, the bands fishing below the falls were referred to as “Salmon-eaters.” If a group moved east and hunted buffalo, they were called “Buffalo-eaters.” In the central Idaho wilderness a mountain band came to be identified as hunters of mountain sheep, the Tukudika or “Sheepeaters.”

Bands of Tukudika often remained to winter along the banks of the Salmon River and its tributaries. Hunting, fishing and gathering enough through the war seasons they cashed dried meat, fish, berries, and roots near winter camp sites. Those families living along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River built semi-subterranean pit houses on sandy river terraces, collecting driftwood from the river’s edge for their winter fires.

Even after explorers, fur trappers and traders, miners and farmers came into Idaho Territory, the Tukudika remained within their mountain stronghold. In Idaho’s last Indian war, the Sheepeater Campaign of 1879, the quiet reclusive hunters of the mountain sheep were forced into battle. From spring to late fall they defended their ancient homeland. Only after months of flight and constant fighting, after their homes and winter caches of meat had been destroyed, only after autumn had faded ad snow covered the ground did the Tukudika walked out of the trees towards the soldiers and the Indian scouts who had pursued them.

Along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River travelers can still see the remains of ancient fire hearths, pit houses, talus slope, talus slope hunting blinds, cached pits, pictographs (rock paintings). Out of respect for all people leave with empty hands, memories and photographs of the wilderness; remembering your footsteps mingled with those of the Tukudika within the wilderness.

source: Secesh Area History
[h/t B Johnstone]
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The Sheepeater Indians

Idaho State Historical Society Reference Series
Number 24 May, 1972

In identifying the different groups of Shoshoni Indians who lived in the Snake River country, one of the most common early mistakes was to regard them as consumers of distinctive foods and to name them for whatever they happened to be eating at the moment. (Some of them did specialize more than others in certain foods, but they all had to have a fair variety in order to survive.) Depending upon where they were at a given time, a Shoshoni group might subsist upon a particular food: a band fishing at Salmon Falls, for example, would be living off the salmon there, and a group digging camas on Camas Prairie might naturally be dining regularly on camas. Moreover, mounted bands of Shoshoni buffalo hunters, when accosted by white explorers or travelers, proudly referred to themselves as buffalo hunters. Most humble Shoshoni groups engaged in hunting rabbits likewise called themselves rabbit eaters, while the very same individuals, if found out gathering seeds or pine nuts became the seed eaters or the pine nut eaters, as the circumstances of the occasion determined. Since any given Shoshoni family or group usually went through several seasonal food-gathering phases, they might in the course of a year have been designated as several different kinds of eaters. This system had some merit for accuracy in designating the various people who might be in a particular place (such as Salmon Falls, or a pine nut area), but it did not accommodate bands or groups at all, since the groups were transient and thus capable of having altogether too many names ending in “eater” to be of much value for identification.

Some Shoshoni groups had become proficient at hunting mountain sheep in parts of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, and were referred to as sheep eaters. (They actually called themselves big game eaters, but since their kind of big game proved to be mountain sheep, their name in English was corrupted into sheep eater.) But the sheep eaters of the Salmon River Mountains, when they camped on the Salmon to fish, turned into salmon eaters. One of these Salmon River sheep eater and salmon eater bands gained widespread fame at the beginning of the nineteenth century because it was the band to which Sacajawea belonged: that particular group had acquired horses and advanced to the noble station of buffalo hunters by the time that Lewis and Clark crossed the Continental Divide in 1805; and as horse owners, Sacajawea’s band was able to provide the explorers with pack horses to traverse the Lolo Trail on their way to navigable waters of the Clearwater. In later years, after the Mormon Salmon River mission at Fort Lemhi brought a new geographic name to the area, Sacajawea’s people eventually became known as the Lemhi Indians. Other central Salmon River groups, though, continued their skillful and highly-respected mountain sheep hunting, and were known as the Sheepeaters on through the nineteenth century.

Until the end of the Bannock War of 1878, the Sheepeaters lived relatively unmolested in their Salmon River mountain wilderness. Dr. Sven Liljeblad describes them as “less dependent on the gathering of wild crops than the Shoshoni south of them originally were. Their skin products were highly praised by other Indians and by the white fur traders. As the gold prospectors moved into their country and ruined their fishing, many of them joined their relatives among the Lemhi Indians for living and protection.” He notes further that “they lived as peaceful villagers under the leadership of trusted headmen; they shared cultural inventory and social traditions with all other Idaho Shoshoni in the early days. In many respects, they were culturally superior to any other Shoshoni groups on a pre-horse level of culture. Other Indians respectfully referred to them as ‘hunters of big game.'”

Except for Leesburg and Loon Creek miners, and for a few scattered ranchers on their borderland, whites had not penetrated very much into the Sheepeaters’ central wilderness area before the Bannock War. A number of Bannock refugees from the war were thought to have joined them when the Bannock cause collapsed as a military venture, and from that accretion they seem to have gained an entirely undeserved later reputation as a band of outcasts from other tribes. During the Bannock War, an ambush of four whites in Long Valley was attributed perhaps to the Sheepeaters, and the next winter the Loon Creek Chinese massacre at Orogrande was blamed off on the luckless Sheepeaters also. (On the basis of a careful ethnological investigation, Dr. Liljeblad rejects this latter aspersion as false in fact, just as the notion that the Sheepeaters were a band of outlaws turned out to be a gross misrepresentation.) In any event, the army decided to round up the Sheepeaters in the summer of 1879. After a difficult military campaign, some fifty of them — found at the very end of a long search that had to be called off for the winter — agreed to move to a reservation. Other sheepeaters eluded the army, and a few families continued to live their mountain life unmolested in its ancient pattern for another decade or two.

The information for this statement was provided to the staff of the Idaho Historical Society by: Dr. Sven Liljeblad, Idaho State College, Pocatello, Idaho. April 19, 1962.

source: Idaho State Historical Series
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Eagle Eye’s Band

By Sheila Reddy August 1996
Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Regions 1 and 4 Heritage Program

Eagle Eye, the last chief of the Tukudika (Sheepeater band) of Northern Shoshone, was not among the Indians captured during Idaho’s last Indian war, the 1879 Sheepeater Campaign. He and his family had retreated to a small secluded valley in Dry Buck basin west of Banks, Idaho, where they lived quiet lives trying to attract as little attention as possible. Only on a few occasions were they seen.

In 1881, Norman B. Willey sent the following article about an Indian sighting to The Nez Perce News, Lewiston, Idaho Territory:

“May 24, 1881: Thos. Clay, mail carrier on the Indian Valley route from here (Warren), brought us news yesterday of a ripple of Indian excitement in Little Salmon and Long Valley last week. A man named Wilson, who traps in that region, while making his daily rounds in the lower end of Long Valley, saw a couple of Indian boys nearby. He himself was not observed, and he watched their motions; they were endeavoring to catch birds along the river, and when out of sight, he made a bee-line for the settlement in Little Salmon (New Meadows), some 25 miles distant. The famil(ies) were gathered in the most central place, and the next day the able bodied men of the neighborhood who had sufficient arms, returned to the scene. They found the camp, but the Indians had left, taking the Indian trail across the divide that separates Long Valley and Indian Valley… The party apparently consists of three bucks, two squaws, the two boys, and a child. A visit to their camp indicated that they are entirely destitute of ammunition. They had peeled bark from a great many trees and had been scraping and apparently living on the soft portions of it, but there was not a bone or feather to be found, although game was plenty thereabouts. They are supposed to be (with) a well known Indian named Andy Johnson” (June 9, 1881 issue).

The editor of The Nez Perce News, Aaron Parker, added this postscript to Willey’s article, “Andy Johnson is, or was, a sub-chief of the Weiser Indians, and a brother-in-law of Eagle Eye, chief of the same band…”

In the June 23, 1881 issue, The Nez Perce News, Willey added: “Nothing has been heard of the Indians seen lately in Long Valley. There is a large section of unoccupied hills and mountains between Long Valley and Indian Creek, Crane’s Creek, and Willow Creek where they could range all summer. No one can say what farm or house they will burn or what farmer or stock herder they will first pounce upon and massacre.”

But, Eagle Eye and his band continued living quietly at Dry Buck, building log homes, planting gardens and orchards. Anthropologist Sven Liljeblad (1972) wrote of Eagle Eye’s band:

“As far back in time as their memories reached, the valley from the bend of the (Payette) river to Payette Lake had been their summer range where they had gathered food, fished and hunted deer… As long as their old headman (Eagle Eye) had lived, highly esteemed by both settlers and officials, the Indians had stubbornly refused to leave their village. After his death (in 1896), the intimidated Indians, rather to be safe than sorry, decided to move to Fort Lemhi where they had relatives. One day in early summer sometime about the turn of the century, they left their little farmsteads where the apple trees had just shed their blossoms, never to see them again. As they wanted to avoid traveling over public roads and much frequented trails, it took them the whole summer to cross the mountains. Although the loss these emigrants had suffered in having to give up their native ground… must have been appalling to them all, some of them and their children in time became citizens with great prestige in their new community.”

Idaho historian Merle Wells told of visiting Eagle Eye’s farm in Dry Buck basin in 1963 with Dr. Liljeblad and members of Eagle Eye’s family. The trip was taken in response to a request to visit the area by Josephine Thorpe, Eagle Eye’s granddaughter:

“…this group (on the expedition) included a number of Eagle Eye’s descendants: his great grandson (and Mrs. Thorpe’s son) Frank, as well as some great-great-grandchildren. Mrs. Thorpe who had attended Eagle Eye’s funeral on top of Timber Butte, wished to return to her grandfather’s grave, and I promised to find them a practical route to the site. On the way, we toured Dry Buck basin, where Eagle Eye and his people had worked in a sawmill when Mrs. Thorpe was a child. There we found some of Eagle Eye’s apple trees (or their descendants) that Mrs. Thorpe remembered.

“An interesting basin west of Banks, Dry Buck had provided a secluded home for the last of Idaho’s non-reservation Indian bands. Eagle Eye had led a prominent group of mountain Northern Shoshoni-known to the whites as Sheepeaters – from at least the time of the Snake war of 1866-1868 through the rest of the nineteenth century… After his funeral, his band retired to Fort Hall, where his granddaughter (Josephine Thorpe) became a successful rancher on Lincoln Creek.”

source: Secesh Area History
[h/t B Johnstone]
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Eagle Eye


Circa 1868

Bow and arrow of Eagle Eye, chief of the Weiser Indians who died in Drybuck Valley, Boise County, Idaho in 1896.

Shoshoni Chief Eagle Eye’s Bow and Arrows captured from him in Idaho Territory, 1868
Length 34 in. the bow; Length 26 3/4 in. the longest arrow
“This important bow and arrow set of historical significance is a masterpiece of American Indian archery. It is a composite bow of wood, sinew backed and sealed with pitch and/or animal tallow, with rawhide wrappings at its grip area concealing bird quills and exhibiting good age and manufacture. This perfectly tillered bow, the relationship and balance of each bow limb to pull uniformly, is a perfect example of the type used in the northwestern Plains and eastern Plateau. Its pull weight would be estimated to be about 40 pounds. Only a few similar examples exist, some made from elk antler are even more rare… The bow retains its original multi-strand, twisted sinew string, again demonstrating a high degree of skill in its making.
“Of the thousands of arrows this author has seen, these arrows represent the finest example of a ‘Plains’ type self-arrow, that is, of one-piece construction. They average 25 inches in length and the 1/4 inches diameter midsection tapers gracefully to both the distal and proximal end, which finishes in a perfectly expanding nock. Two straight shallow grooves representing ‘spirit lines’ are evident on each arrow. These arrows are carefully hand-hewn to be of the correct spine, meaning, matched to the bow’s weight for perfect cast. Few aboriginal arrows exhibit such care in manufacture. The well-fitted points are of native manufacture, and the short cropped fletching would give uniform and speedy flight. There is no doubt this matched set represents one of the best examples of the American Indian bowyer’s craft and would be a very formidable weapon in the hands of a warrior on horseback.”
The words “Eagle Eye Chief of Weiser Snake Indians, August, 1868” and “Presented to Col. Sinclair…”
source: Heritage Auctions,
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Eagle Eye

Eagle Eye and his Weiser Shoshoni associates had an extraordinary experience accommodating their traditional way of life to changes imposed by the nineteenth-century ranchers and farmers who settled in their ancestral domain. More than an ordinarily adaptable group, they had Mountain Shoshoni origins that helped them resist pressure to move to a distant Indian reservation in an unfamiliar area. All of Idaho’s Mountain Shoshoni people went to a great deal of effort to retain their long-established range. Their ancestors had a tradition of hunting mountain sheep in a wilderness that few other people could penetrate.

Many of them preserved their customs and continued to occupy their mountain strongholds in Wyoming, as well as in Idaho, for two decades after mining and ranching commenced in more accessible areas. Others had shifted to adjacent ranges—notably in Idaho’s Lemhi and Weiser valleys—after they obtained horses a century prior to gold rush intrusions into their borderlands. More than other Shoshoni peoples, they succeeded in avoiding removal to reservations. That way, Eagle Eye’s Weiser group made a surprisingly successful transition to a new way of life without leaving their old homeland. Other Northern Shoshoni people who inhabited reservations after 1867 had a much less satisfactory time. An important lesson in Indian acculturation can be learned from Eagle Eye’s successful program of adaptation to life in a hostile mining and ranching environment.

Unlike Wyoming’s Mountain Shoshoni, Idaho’s sheep hunters had a long era of close contact with the plateau culture of their Nez Perce neighbors. Occupying a zone of cultural interchange between Great Basin and plateau elements over a long prehistoric period, Idaho’s Northern Shoshoni gained additional cultural exposure when many of them began to travel on horseback and to have more contact with Great Plains Shoshoni who expanded from Texas to Saskatchewan and Alberta before 1780. Some Mountain Shoshoni adopted more of a Plains way of life and added long buffalo hunts to their migratory pattern. These included a Lemhi Valley group that ranged into Montana. In addition, a Weiser group farther west occupied a smaller Idaho area.

Shortly after 1800, Idaho’s Lemhi and Weiser Shoshoni had an opportunity to add features of a fourth—and very different—cultural variety to their ever-changing way of life. Fur hunters based in Montreal and Saint Louis came to the area with guns. traps. iron utensils. and new economic pursuits. These affected Plains Shoshoni more than their mountain neighbors. Eagle Eye’s Weiser people avoided much of that impact for a while, and traditional mountain sheep hunters were hardly disturbed at all. But after 1860, when miners and ranchers suddenly rushed into some of their lands, Eagle Eye and his Weiser Shoshoni had to meet serious new challenges.

Mining pressures affected Eagle Eye’s Nez Perce neighbors a year of two before his own people were displaced. Eagle-from-the-Light and his important lower Salmon Nez Perce band (a village led by White Bird after Eagle-from-the-light retired to Montana in 1875) resisted mining expansion into their territory. But after his call for war against miners in Florence failed to drive all gold hunters from their Salmon River mines, Eagle-from-the-Light moved to join Eagle Eye’s Weiser Shoshoni. By 1862, a Boise Basin gold rush brought a worse threat to all Shoshoni of that area. Farm settlements around the lower Boise forced them to move their traditional summer salmon fishing festival north to Eagle Eye’s upper Weiser country, where it continued to attract a variety of tribes for another decade and more. Military raids against Idaho’s Indians also proved troublesome after 1862. Most army efforts during the Snake War, for instance, focused on finding Shoshoni to fight; but, generally, Northern Paiute and Northern Shoshoni vanished when miners or military showed up. In fact, from early fur trade days. the Shoshoni were noted for their skill In evading intruders who annoyed or threatened them.

Eagle Eye could not avoid central Oregon’s Snake War that affected Idaho from 1866 to 1868, and a decade later, his Weiser Shoshoni experienced more conflict during General O. O. Howard’s campaign against Buffalo Horn’s Bannock forces. Eagle Eye’s sons took great pride in their father’s diplomatic skill in avoiding excessive embroilment in that unavoidable disturbance. More importantly, in 1878, Eagle Eye was reportedly killed during the Bannock conflict. That false report helped him considerably during his later career, because hostile army authorities ceased to look for him, and he was able to disappear with his Weiser survivors into Idaho’s mountain wilderness. Gradually, he and his extended family underwent a remarkable cultural change that few other Northern Shoshoni could match.

Eagle Eye’s consistent and determined refusal to accept reservation life enabled him and his people to acculturate more successfully than most other Northern Shoshoni who could not avoid that alternative. Even though reservations were supposed to promote acculturation, those who lived on them generally failed to do as well as Eagle Eye’s group, who stayed on their own land. Eagle Eye and his followers were resourceful enough to go into a mining and lumber business with settlers in Eagle Eye’s Dry Buck Basin refuge near the ancient Timber Butte obsidian tool center. A few Nez Perce refugees joined them in an isolated, nonreservation community that lasted until a little after 1900. Eagle Eye, who survived there until 1896, emerged as a highly respected Shoshoni leader who succeeded, largely because he got so little publicity. His descendants—well educated and capable of operating in a new culture as well as in their traditional ways—finally moved to Fort Hall and became reservation leaders.

Many Northern Shoshoni gained prominence through their success in developing large mounted bands that impressed early trappers and settlers by their size and power. Other Northern Shoshoni, particularly Mountain Shoshoni, chose a less spectacular way of life. Eagle Eye’s people represent those who followed this more conservative approach, and who finally adapted more successfully because they avoided reservation life and retained their ancient homeland with a tenacity characteristic of their Mountain Shoshoni heritage. Their variety of cultural experiences gave them an importance that most of their neighbors could not duplicate.

Several important aspects of nineteenth-century Indian adjustment to disruption of their traditional culture became evident in a comparison of Eagle Eye’s experience with misadventures of other bands exposed to reservation life. More than a few settlers preferred to engage in military campaigns in order to wipe out Idaho’s Shoshoni peoples altogether. Such attempts succeeded at Bear River and Salmon Falls, as well as in part of Oregon’s Malheur country where an expedition of Idaho miners inflicted substantial damage to Northern Paiute inhabitants. Most Northern Shoshoni managed to elude that kind of military pursuit. With notable exceptions. the majority of Northern Shoshoni survivors were confined to the reservation at Fort Hall where they were expected to become farmers and adopt a new culture. For a decade. they were forced by the absence of resources and by the failure of Fort Hall reservation officials to provide supplies to go in numbers to Eagle Eye’s Weiser country each summer. Reservation authorities compiled a poor record in their attempts to force an alien culture upon their Shoshoni and Bannock residents. In retrospect, the Indians’ failure can be explained by a natural resistance to agents trying to destroy their traditions and to suppress their culture. Other aspects of unacceptable reservation administration have been identified as well. In contrast to reservation life, Eagle Eye’s people preserved their language and organization while they worked in gold Mines or sawmills operated by local settlers. Living on their own land, they decided what they wanted to do without having to give up their old ways. Andy Johnson, for example, retained his marvelous ability to tell Shoshoni folk tales while he served as a ditch rider for some lower Boise farmers, men who did not undermine his cultural values. In their transition from hunting, fishing, and camas or bitterroot harvesting to a close association with local settlers in their homeland, the Wciscrs made lasting friendships and gained protection often denied to reservation bands. Eagle Eye’s identity at Dry Buck, for example, was concealed for most of two decades during his later career in that area. His success in overcoming a long period of hostility from miners and ranchers came partly from his good fortune in finding people who would accept him after more than a decade of conflict. Eagle Eye’s adaptation to life in a changing world brought together a select group of people who managed to develop an unusual alternative to reservation life for unfortunate Indians. Their arrangement would have been difficult to manage for large Shoshoni bands during that era, but they demonstrated the advantages of a less rigid solution to Indian problems of survival in a region dominated by hostile settlers.

Documentation of Eagle Eye’s remarkable career comes from a variety of sources. Sven Liljeblad’s ethnographic investigation has provided information essential for interpreting archival and newspaper materials. A careful geographical examination of Eagle Eye’s country also has been crucial. In 1962, Eagle Eye’s granddaughter—Josephine Thorpe—returned with her family to revisit her childhood home in Eagle Eye’s camp. Sixty-six years had passed since Eagle Eye’s time, and I acted as guide with Dr. Liljeblad for that expedition. Sites were located, including a major Pacific Northwest obsidian source for prehistoric tools that had remained unknown to archaeologists. This find contributed greatly to a clarification of Eagle Eye’s story, and has allowed a superior interpretation of Eagle Eye’s adventures and cultural importance.

– Merle W. Wells

excerpted from the forward to: “The Weiser Indians: Shoshoni Peacemakers”, by Hank Corless. Caxton Press

page updated Dec 4, 2018