Salish Indians

Salish Indians. Probably a place name, the last syllable, -ish, “people.” Also called:

  • A-shu’-e-ka-pe, Crow name, signifying, “flatheads.”
  • A-too-ha-pe, Hidatsa name.
  • Flatheads, widely so called because, in contradistinction to the tribes west of them, they left their heads in the natural condition, flat on top, instead of sloping backward to the crown.
  • Ka-ka-i-thi, Arapaho name, signifying, “flathead people.”
  • Ka-ko’-is-tsi’-a-ta’-ni-o, Cheyenne name, signifying, “people who flatten their heads.”
  • Ko-tbh’-spi-tup’-i-o, Siksika name.
  • Mkatewetiteta, Shawnee name.
  • Mukkudda Ozitunnug, Ottawa name (Tanner, 1830).
  • Nebagindibe, Chippewa name, signifying, “flat head.”
  • Pa O-bde’-ca, Yankton Dakota name, signifying, “heads cornered or edged.”
  • Têtes-Piates, common French term.

Salish Connections. The Salish belonged to the interior division of the Salishan linguistic family, to which they have given their name.

Salish Location. In western Montana originally, extending from the Rocky Mountains on the west; south to the Gallatin; east to Crazy Mountain and Little Belt Ranges, north to some hilly country north of Helena. Later they were centered farther west around Flathead Lake. (See also Idaho.)

Salish Subdivisions. It is said that there was a distinct band of Salish Indians on a river near Helena, another band near Butte, another somewhere east of Butte, and another somewhere in the Big Hole Valley; and there are traditions of still others.

Salish History

According to Teit (1930) the Salish once extended farther to the east, and there were related tribes in that region which he calls Sematuse and Tunahe. As Turney-High (1937) has pointed out, however, the Tunahe were evidently a Kutenai division; and the Sematuse, if not mythical, seem to have been an alien people in possession of this country before the Salish entered it. Teit states that these Salish were driven westward out of the Plains by the Blackfoot, particularly after that tribe obtained guns. Turney-High, on the other hand, regards the Salish as rather late intruders into the Plains from the west. However, the pressure of tribes westward by their neighbors to the east as soon as the latter obtained guns is such a common story that it hardly seems probable that the Salish could have escaped its effects. Just how far the Salish retired westward may be a matter of argument, nor does it affect the theory of an earlier eastward migration if such a movement can be substantiated on other grounds. Salish relations with the Whites were always friendly and they were successfully missionized by Roman Catholics under the lead of the famous Father De Smet. By the treaty of July 16, 1855, they ceded all of their lands in Montana and Idaho except a reserve south of Flathead Lake and a second tract in Bitter Root Valley which was to be made into a reserve for them if it were considered advisable. It was, however, not so considered, and acting upon an Act of Congress of June 5, 1872, the Salish were removed to the former reservation, where they still live.

Salish Population. Mooney (1928) estimated that there were 600 Salish in 1780, evidently accepting the figure given by Lewis and Clark for 1806. Teit (1930) considers this much too low, the data collected by him indicating a Salish population of perhaps 3,000, but this would seem to err in the opposite direction. The Indian Office figure for 1905 is 557 and that for 1909, 598. The census of 1910 reported 486, of whom 400 were in Montana, 46 in Washington, 27 in Oregon, 6 in Idaho, 6 in Nebraska, and 1 in Kansas. The census of 1830 reported 2,036 Interior Salish from Montana, but did not give separate figures for the tribe under discussion. The United States Office of Indian Affairs reported 3,085 in 1937,

Connections in which the Salish have become noted. It was among the Salish Indians that the noted Father De Smet worked as a missionary. The large group of languages to which this tribe belongs is known to ethnologists as the Salishan linguistic family. Flathead or Selish Lake, Flathead Pass, and Flathead County, all in Montana, also derive their names from the Salish or “Flathead” Indians.

Swanton, John R. The Indian Tribes of North America. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 145. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office. 1953.

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