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The Original People of the Boise Basin


Anthropologist believe that humans first crossed the Bering land bridge to North America 12,000 to 15,0000 years ago.  Based on new findings in South America other scientists believe man may have inhabited the Americas as far back as 30,000 years ago.
According to findings at Wilson Butte Cave near Twin Falls and the Wasden site near Idaho Falls, the earliest indications of human presence in Idaho area appears to be about 11,000 years ago.  The  Clovis points found near Fairfield, ID also point to human presence in Idaho at that time.  Whether these people are the ancestors of the native Americans of today is still the subject of much discussion.
                     Bannock Indians
The Native American culture that Lewis and Clark and other European explorers encountered is believed to have developed between 4,000 and 1,300 years ago with the influx of desert dwellers from the south.  This is when we see begin to see the bow and arrow, free standing lodges and the tribal identities of today.
The main tribes or nations of Native Americans that would have existed in or around the Boise Basin at the time the first Euro-American explorers entered the area would have included the Shoshones, the Northern Paiutes, the Bannocks and subsets of these nations.  There is also the possibility that the Nez Perce people may have traveled into the area from the north.  Certainly there were others who may have passed through from time to time.
Idaho's largest and most wide spread group would have been the Shoshones.  The Shoshones entered Idaho from the south, originating in the areas of Arizona and New Mexico.  When we combine them with the Bannock people they were definitely the largest native American population in southern Idaho.  There were several subsets to these groups including the Shoshone-Paiutes, Weiser Shoshones, the Tukarikas, the Lemhis and other smaller bands connected by family or leader.
 The Shoshone-Paiutes are the people most likely to have inhabited the Boise Basin.  The Tukarikas or Tukudekas, a subset of the Shoshones also lived in the area of the Basin.  The Tukarikas are more commonly known today as the Sheepeaters.
There is little evidence left of the presence of these people in the Basin.  This is most likely due to the fact that their primary dwellings were along the Snake River.  The desert area of the Snake River had a more moderate climate, especially during the winter months.  The availability of food and water was also more plentiful along the river during winter.  There is much evidence of these early people along the river.  The native people left signs of their existence in the form of pictographs, tools and fire pits.  You can see many examples of their activity near Celebration Park, Givens Hot Springs and Swan Falls.
In the summer the people would move to temporary camps in the mountains to escape the heat and to hunt the larger animals such as deer and elk.  These animals would provide the food and clothing which was more difficult to find in the low lands.  They would also have moved into the mountains to escape enemies and other calamities such as floods or fire. 
What little evidence that might remain of Native Americans in the Boise Basin would be found along the streams and at hot springs scattered throughout the basin.
The first white men to enter the Basin would certainly have encountered the Shoshone-Paiute people, the most popular story being that of George Grimes and a party of miners who entered the Basin in August of 1862.
The interaction between white man and the Native Americans of Idaho began on August 12, 1805 when the Discovery Corps of Lewis and Clark entered what is now Idaho.  Local tribes were aware of the coming of the white man from reports they had received from neighboring tribes.  Soon after, other explorers and fur trappers began to enter the area.  Fur trading posts were set up near the Portneuf River in Eastern Idaho and in Western Idaho near the confluence of the Payette and Snake Rivers.  These posts were known as Fort Hall and Fort Boise.  Other posts such as Kalispel House near Pend Orelle and Henry's Post near St. Anthony were also established in what is now Idaho. These posts were operated by competing fur trading companies seeking to capitalize on trading with the local tribes.  These early encounters were usually peaceful and benefited both parties.  Fur trappers eventually reached the Boise River plying their trade and interacting with the native peoples.  Little is known of these interactions but the area had certainly been discovered.
By the 1830s the influx of the white people had begun in earnest.  Wagon trains with settlers by the thousands were crossing southern Idaho bound for the fertile lands of western Oregon.  At first the native people must have watched with mixed feelings over the coming of these people through their lands.  It was only a matter of time before trust was broken and hostilities began.
Over the centuries the native cultures of North America had developed into many separate and diverse groups .  Some of the groups encountered by the incoming Europeans were related through common ancestory and language but had split into separate family units or tribes.  Alliances had changed over time due to location and common needs.
Conflicts developed frequently between tribes as they vied for control of land and natural resourses.  Not unlike cultures in other parts of the world war and destruction were common.  For much of North America the native peoples had become accustomed to war and had developed warrior societies.   The survival of each group depended on their ability to maintain control over their resources and assets.  At certain times their very subsistance depended on their ability to overpower their neighbors and steal their resources.  Certain of these groups had developed a nomadic way of like in order to follow food sources and to evade stronger enemies.
It seems probable that this nomadic and destructive way of life may have been the cause of their slower technological advancement.  Their lack of comparable technology and cultural cohesiveness  would eventually lead to their demise under the onslaught of the large numbers of Europeans.
Today there are many who look back at an idealized Native American culture and wonder if  these people weren't socially and environmentally more advanced than the incoming Europeans.
As stated earlier, the earliest fur trappers were generally those sponsored by French or English companies capitalizing on the then current  fashion trends in Europe.  European fashions at the time were based on a constant supply of furs and beaver pelts from North America.
Trappers entered Idaho from the west traveling up the rivers from the Pacific coast.  Some entered Idaho from the north coming in from British territories in Canada.  A few came in from the east.  In most cases the trappers relied on the native people for assistance and direction.  At first the natives were more than willing to  help in exchange for goods and technology brought in by the Europeans.  It was a mutually beneficial arrangement, in the beginning.
BLM. "Wilson Butte Cave, Beringia" US Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management,
3/25/2009.  Idaho Shoshone Field Office.  (12/21/2009)
Meltzer, David J. "On Monte Verde."  Scientific American Discovering Archaeology
Nov/Dec 1999: 16-17
Haynes, Vance. "Monte Verde and the Pre-Clovis Situation in America." Scientific American Discovering Archaeology
Nov/Dec 1999: 17
BLM, Beringia
"Peoples of Idaho, Native Settlers." Digital Atlas of Idaho.  1997  Idaho State University. 12/30/2009
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