Idaho Indian Tribes

(Federal List Last Updated 5/16)

Coeur D’Alene Tribe of the Coeur D’Alene Reservation
Kootenai Tribe of Idaho
Nez Perce Tribe (formerly Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho)
Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Reservation of Idaho

(Not recognized by the Federal Government)



Delawares of Idaho, Inc. Letter of Intent to Petition 06/26/1979
Lemhi-Shoshone Tribes was stripped of recognition in 1907.
Northwestern Band of Shoshone Nation


The Lewis and Clark expedition of 1805 brought the first white men to the area that is now known as Idaho.

Lewis and three men split from the main group at Dillon, Montana on August 8, 1805, and reached the Continental Divide on August 12. They became the first white men to set eyes on Idaho.

The party traveled into Idaho and camped with the Shoshone, rejoining their party on the 16th of August and going on to meet the Nez Perce near the Clearwater River.

After a brief stay with the Nez Perce, they traveled to the junction of the Clearwater and the Snake Rivers, and left Idaho. However, they would returned to Idaho on their way back to the east the following spring.

On May 5, 1806 they arrived at the mouth of Colter Creek, in present-day Potlatch, Idaho. Again they stayed with the Nez Perce for a brief period before departing Idaho on the Lolo Trail in June 1806.

Idaho provided a number of “firsts” for Lewis and Clark; they became the first white men to set foot in Idaho, they were the first to cross the Lemhi and Lolo passes and the Bitterroot Valley, and the first to contact the Shoshone and Nez Perce in their homelands.

The Lewis and Clark expedition became the first of many journeys through Idaho during the early 19th century. Idaho was home to an expansive Native American population that had evolved in the region over thousands of years.

The encroachment and settlement of Americans decimated the native way of life in less than eighty years. By the end of the 19th century, all of Idaho’s Indian population had been forced onto reservations.


15,000 B.C. to 6,000 B.C., Paleo-Indian Big Game Hunters. This group received its name from the large game, such as the mastodon, that they hunted for food.

Along with hunting large animals, the Big-Game Hunters fished and gathered wild plants. They lived a nomadic life and followed the migratory patterns of the animals they hunted.

They used bones, wood, and stone to create weapons and tools including knives, scrapers, and axes. This tool-making ability evolved throughout the period.

8,000 to 14,000 years ago – Clovis Culture. As the numbers of large mammals decreased, the native lifestyle would evolve into a small-game hunting society, and the Clovis people developed a unique type of spear point.

10,500 to 11,000 B.P, Folsom cultures lived in what is now Idaho.

8,000 to 10,500 B.P, Plano cultures, lived in what is now Idaho.

6,000 B.C. – A.D. 500, Archaic Period. During this period, Idaho experienced a big climate change that affected the land and its people dramatically.

During this time, the entire planet experienced a warming trend that lasted for nearly 2,000 years. Large mammals, such as the woolly mammoth and the mastodon, became extinct.

The ice in the mountains melted, making the rivers of the area much larger. Rivers became increasingly important in the lives of the Archaic People as their diet staples shifted to fish and mussels.

These people also hunted animals and gathered wild plants. There is also evidence that the people of this era traded with nearby tribes.

The Archaic-Indian culture began using permanent houses 5,000 years ago and bows, arrows and pottery 300 to 1,500 years ago.

They lived in small, self-sufficient family units where men and women had specific duties. Women traditionally did the cooking and gathering of roots, seeds, and berries.

Men were responsible for hunting and making tools. The Archaic People had not yet learned how to grow crops, so they depended entirely on their hunting, fishing, and gathering skills to survive.

A.D. 500 – 1805, As descendants of the earlier Archaic tribes mixed with the in-migration of desert people during this time, they formed what are known as the modern tribes of Idaho.

These people were the ancestors of the tribes that existed at the time of Lewis and Clark’s journey through Idaho in 1805.

200 to 260 years ago – Shoshone bands obtain horses for transportation but were decimated by smallpox spread from European sources.

Prior to the arrival of European and Mexican explorers, scientists estimate that around 8,000 Native Americans lived in the area we now call Idaho.

These people can be divided into two distinct cultural groups: the Plateau and the Great Basin.

The Nez Percé, Shoshone, and other Native American Indian tribes moved into Idaho during the 1700s. One group lived along the Snake River Plains, and the other in Northern Idaho.

The Snake River Plains Natives evolved into the Bannock and Shoshone tribes, while the Northern Idaho Natives evolved into the Nez Perce and other tribes.

The Shoshone’s settled throughout the mountains and Snake River Plains of Idaho, and the other mountains and plains in states near South East Idaho.

Plateau tribes included the Nez Perce, Coeur D’Alene, Flathead, Kutenai, Palus, Cayuse, and Kalispel, and these groups lived in the forests, prairies and along the rivers.

About half their diet was fish, and the other half came from large game animals and roots.

These groups interacted with Plains tribes and eventually came to be dependent upon annual buffalo hunts, and adopted many Plains Indians traits.

The Great Basin (or desert) tribes included the Shoshone-Bannock and the Northern Paiunte.

These groups lived in desert regions and lived on nuts, seeds, roots, cactus, insects and small game animals and birds.

These tribes were also influenced by Plains tribes, and by 1800 had adopted some of their customs, including the use of horses for hunting.

Sources of records on US Indian tribes


Article Index:

Ancient Idaho culture timeline, 6000 BCE to 3000 BCE

Idaho Indian tribes say they have occupied their homelands since time immemorial. The state of Idaho has a cultural history spanning at least 6,000 years that has been proven with modern archeology techniques.

This state spans two cultural areas: the Plateau Region in the north and the Great Basin Region in the south. Climate changes from 6000 BCE to 3000 BCE affected the original American Indian people in these two areas differently. This is called the Middle Period by archaeologists. Here is a timeline of the changes that occurred in this area.


Owl Cave: American Indians were using Owl Cave as early as 6000 BCE to trap and kill bison (commonly called buffalo today).  According to archaeologist B. Robert Butler in the Handbook of North American Indians :

“Apparently, each of the Owl Cave kills resulted from a well-planned and coordinated undertaking in which herds of 30 or more Bison antiquus were induced or driven into the cave, dispatched with spears thrust into the body cavities, and then systematically butchered.”

The now extinct Bison antiquus is generally considered to be the ancestor to the modern Bison bison  we are all familiar with. This extinct species was up to 25% larger than our modern bison.

Centennial Mountains: The original people of Idaho were hunting and gathering in the Centennial Mountains by 6000 BCE. Remains of hundreds of campsites have been found in this area.

Quarry Sites: Around 5800 BCE, the indigenous people were using a number of quarry sites along the upper Salmon and Pahsimeroi rivers, at an elevation of 7,800 feet. Quarry sites where good stone could be easily obtained were very important to their daily lives to make weapons and tools, and also gave them a valuable trade good they could barter to other tribes.

Bernard Creek Rockshelter: American Indian people were occupying the Bernard Creek Rockshelter in Hells Canyon by 5800 BCE.

Birch Creek: In 5200 BCE, native peoples were living in the Birch Creek area. At that time, the lakes had nearly dried up in an arid climate, and had become only occasional  marshes.

Kirkwood Bar Site: The ancient Idaho people were living near the  Kirkwood Bar site in Hells Canyon by 5100 BCE.

DeMoss Site: An ancient  cemetery at the DeMoss site in the south-central portion of the state has been dated to 5000 BCE.

Root Plants:  People in the eastern Plateau Area (what is northern Idaho today) were using root plants as early as 4400 BCE. We know this from earth ovens which were used in processing these plant foods. By 3500 BCE, camas was a regular staple of diets  in this area.

Nez Perce Village: Around 4050 BCE, the Nez Perce established a village site on the Clearwater River. Salmon fishing provided a major portion of their diet.

Ancient Graves: A graveyard containing 22 people near the Little Salmon River has been dated to around 4000 BCE.

Island Park Reservoir: Indian people began to live in the Island Park Reservoir area around 4000 BCE..

Weiser River: Two women and four children who were buried in a mass grave near the mouth of the Weiser River have been dated to about 3840 BCE.

Challis: A buffalo jump used to kill bison near present-day Challis dates to about 3380 BCE.

Burials: In southwest Idaho, Indian people were buried with elaborate grave goods, including red ochre, olivella shells, large biface points, dog skulls, pipes, hematite crystals, and tools by 3200 BCE.

Corn Creek: Native people began living in the Corn Creek area around 3000 BCE.