Page 3 of 5
nd I think that there were a lot of things already happening to the Salish, that their culture had started to change so much. And the one question that always came up was about the horse. The horse, people always put in the Indian's world, and in their own minds, they seldom think of Indians without thinking of horses. But, the Salish really didn't have the horse until about 1725 -- someplace in there. And there are some people that study the subject who can tell you, "Yeah, it was Saturday afternoon at three o'clock, and the weather was such-and-such. I mean, they go to great detail. Probably for no good purpose at all, because what matters is, the horse did come, and it changed the whole concept that the tribes had.
Now, when Lewis and Clark made that contact, and vice versa -- and it depends which side of the story you're on, who made the contact -- First of all, I'm sure the tribes figured "These guys are lost," because no-one else had ever showed up there. And the way they treated them was not as a knowledgeable war-party, but as a party of people that . . . "Hey, these guys are just out here roaming around, totally lost." And they're some help, because they did help them about the trails west -- where to go.
But you think about that time . . . Their culture, the Salish culture had already changed this great amount because of the horse. First of all, if you look prior to the horse, you're looking at people that traveled eight, nine miles a day on foot. That sort of restricts the movement that they take. They carried everything they owned. And oftentimes, if a group was to travel, they would carry about 20, 25 pounds each person. Older women may carry the children, small children, or younger children carry small children. But everyone carried something. And the young man, he may carry a pack, and he may dog-trot for 8, 9 miles to a new campsite that scouts had already picked out, drop his pack there, because there'd be security staying there, and then dog-trot back to the old camp, pick up another pack. And [that] may be good reason why they were all skinny, and not like we are today -- or I am -- we're not all that way. But it's the idea that they moved constantly. But they always moved at that slow pace. Because time was a factor that was done by seasons, done by moons, and done by years. But they followed a life-cycle, and that life-cycle . . .
Oftentimes people say well, the Indians were all nomadic. To someone that did not understand how the Indians were surviving, yes, they would have been nomadic. But they traveled a cycle of life. When Lewis and Clark made the contact with them, he would have missed two of those cycles already. He would have missed spring -- and that was the beginning, that's when . . . like the New Year, that's when your ceremonies have to do with the renewal of the earth, because that's when the earth renews itself. Not on 1 January. Everything's dead on 1 January. It's either frozen in place. But to the Indian it was the natural cycle. So the natural cycle would start to live in the spring, and that's when the tribe's cycle would start. And they would move with root gathering. Usually the root crops were in early spring, maybe April but more likely in May, June. And the root-crop cycle is so short that after a certain point they're no longer edible. So they would have to gather an immense amount in a very short time. So they'd travel through these valleys to gather them -- the bitterroot, and other crops that they'd use -- whatever it was. And then the hunting would start, and even in this hunting they would follow a cycle, and even end up going for bison. Now they didn't necessarily have to go all the way east of the mountains. There used to be bison in these valley areas also -- over at Deer Lodge, over in that area. Down . . . The old, traditional, ancient areas of the Salish were around Three Forks, and south down to Dillon. That was their original territory, and there were bands that centered around that area. And if you look at the map, you see how they were able to drop down out of . . . through Dillon, and through the Big Hole, and back up into these valleys here. But they traveled a cycle of life, rather than being nomadic. And I think the biggest thing was that it was slow, and deliberate. And it had to be, because these people spent probably 95 percent of their time -- the Salish did -- just trying to survive.
It wasn't that they didn't have fun. We know they had a sense of humor, because without a sense of humor they would have disappeared a long time ago. But the big effort was simply to survive. And when you look at how we are today, if we were to take away all of the produced things that we go to the store and buy, there'd be a whole lot of dropping dead going on out there, because we have few skills. There are a lot of people that are getting those skills now. And again . . . even with the tribes. But there are many people that have no idea. . . . If it's not in the market, they're lost. Well, these people . . . Their market was the natural area around them. So they had to balance that, and I think that's where the old "living in balance with the earth" thing comes in.
--Ron Therriault, 02/2002