Story type: Essay
There are about 5,000 Snake or Shoshone Indians now extant, the greater part being in Utah and Nevada, though there is a reservation in Idaho and another in Wyoming.
The Shoshone Indian is reluctant to accept of civilization on the European plan. He prefers the ruder customs which have been handed down from father to son along with other hairlooms. I use the word hairlooms in its broadest sense.
There are the Shoshones proper and the Utes or Utahs, to which have been added by some authorities the Comanches, and Moquis of New Mexico and Arizona, the Netelas and other tribes of California. The Shoshone, wherever found, is clothed in buckskin and blanket in winter, but dressed more lightly in summer, wearing nothing but an air of intense gloom in August. To this he adds on holidays a necklace made from the store teeth of the hardy pioneer.
The Snake or Shoshone Indian is passionately fond of the game known as poker among us, and which, I learn, is played with cards. It is a game of chance, though skill and a thorough knowledge of firearms are of great use. The Indians enter into this game with great zeal, and lend to it the wonderful energy which they have preserved from year to year by abstaining from the debilitating effects of manual labor. All day long the red warrior sits in his skin boudoir, nursing the sickly and reluctant “flush,” patient, silent and hopeful. Through the cold of winter in the desolate mountains, he continues to
“Hope on, hope ever,”
that he will “draw to fill.” Far away up the canyon he hears the sturdy blows of his wife’s tomahawk as she slaughters the grease wood and the sage brush for the fire in his gilded hell where he sits and woos the lazy Goddess of Fortune.
With the Shoshone, poker is not alone a relaxation, the game wherewith to wear out a long and listless evening, but it is a passion, a duty and a devotion. He has a face designed especially for poker. It never shows a sign of good or evil fortune. You might as well try to win a smile from a railroad right of way. The full hand, the fours, threes, pairs and bob-tail flushes are all the same to him, if you judge by his face.
When he gets hungry he cinches himself a little tighter and continues to “rastle” with fate. You look at his smoky, old copper cent of a face, and you see no change. You watch him as he coins the last buckshot of his tribe and later on when he goes forth a pauper, and the corners of his famine-breeding mouth have never moved, His little black, smoke-inflamed eyes have never lighted with triumph or joy. He is the great aboriginal stoic and sylvan dude. He does not smile. He does not weep. It certainly must be intensely pleasant to be a wild, free, lawless, irresponsible, natural born fool.
The Shoshones proper include the Bannocks, which are again subdivided into the Koolsitakara or Buffalo Eaters, on Wind River, the Tookarika or Mountain Sheep Eaters, on Salmon or Suabe Eivers, the Shoshocas or White Knives, sometimes called Diggers, of the Humbolt Eiver and the Great Salt Lake basin. Probably the Hokandikahs, Yahooskins and the Wahlpapes are subdivisions of the Digger tribe. I am ‘not sure of this, but I shall not suspend my business till I can find out about it. If I cannot get at a great truth right off I wait patiently and go right on drawing my salary.
The Shoshones live on the government and other small game. They will eat anything when hungry, from a buffalo down to a woodtick. The Shoshone does not despise small things. He loves insects in any form. He loves to make pets of them and to study their habits in his home life.
Formerly, when a great Shoshone warrior died, they killed his favorite wife over his grave, so that she could go to the happy hunting grounds with him, but it is not so customary now. I tried to impress on an old Shoshone brave once that they ought not to do that. I tried to show him that it would encourage celibacy and destroy domestic ties in his tribe. Since then there has been quite a stride toward reform among them. Instead of killing the widow on the death of the husband, the husband takes such good care of his health and avoids all kinds of intellectual strain or physical fatigue, that late years there are no widows, but widowers just seem to swarm in the Shoshone tribe. The woods are full of them.
Now, if they would only kill the widower over the grave of the wife, the Indian’s future would assume a more definite shape.