Shahaptian Indians

Shahaptian Family, Shahaptian Indians (from Saptini, pl. Sháptini, the Salish name for the Nez Percé). An important linguistic family occupying what is now south west Idaho, south east  Washington, and north east Oregon. The earlier, territory of the Shahaptian tribes extended from the Rocky mountains to the Cascade range, and from the Yakima river basin to the Blue mountains of Oregon. This territory was overstepped at various times, particularly by the Klikitat in the west who crossed the Cascades and occupied the headwaters of Cowlitz, Lewis, and White Salmon rivers, and even pushed temporarily as far south as Willamette valley after the depopulation of that region by fever in 1829 (see Chinookan). Along Columbia river Shahaptian villages extended nearly to The Dalles, where they were checked by the Chinook, who had pushed to that point from the coast. To the east occasional hunting parties crossed the Rockies, but no permanent settlements were formed.

The Shahaptian family is well defined linguistically, except possibly in its southern habitat where it may prove to be connected with the Waiilatpuan and Shastan families, and possibly the Lutuamian. In customs and habits its tribes were fairly homogeneous. Family organization was loose and showed no traces of a clan system. Village communities of varying size were the rule, but were prevented from normal development by the seasonal changes of residence necessitated by the character of the food supply. Chiefs were local in authority except in times of emergency. Salmon was the staple article of food, but at the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804-05 hunting various kinds of game was common, and this had probably been much advanced by the introduction of horses. Roots and berries also were much used as food, but no agriculture was evident. The Shahaptian tribes have always had a high reputation for bravery and, except for certain sporadic outbreaks, have been friendly with the whites.

The following principal divisions of the stock are usually considered as separate tribes: Klikitat, Nez Percé, Paloos, Tenino, Tyigh, Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Yakima. A large number of smaller divisions are often spoken of as independent tribes, but which are really subordinate bands of one or another of the tribes named. Of these smaller bands those most frequently met with in literature are:

  • Akaitchis
  • Atanumlema
  • Chimnapum
  • Des Chutes
  • Klinquit
  • Kowasayee
  • Klinquit
  • Kowasayee
  • Tushepaw
  • Wahowpun
  • Wiam


Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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