By Sheila D. Reddy
Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service
Regions 1 and 4
Heritage Program
August 1996

In 1996, USDA Payette National Forest Archaeologist, Lawrence A. Kingsbury and Steven E Stoddard found about 55% of a flat bottomed greyware pot in a hearth adjacent to the Middle Fork of the Salmon River near Sheep Creek. The pot consisted of 9 rim, 9 base, and 118 body sherds. The exterior of the pot was grey in color and the interior had black residue. Found next to the river trail by a ponderosa pine, pottery fragments were mixed in an old eroded hearth with fire cracked rock and burned bone fragments.

One piece of culturally modified, shipped grey chert was found near the hearth/pottery feature. All of the pottery fragments were collected, and all of the remaining hearth feature, consisting of black carbonaceous soil amounting to 8 pounds 12 ounces were sent to the Department of Geology, Washington State University, Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory for radiometric dating. The dated results produced a calculation of 250 +/- 50 years BP or before present (WSU 4845). With zero age of A.D. 1950, the date of the pottery in the hearth ranges from A.D. 1650 to 1700 to 1750. Archaeologists have identified this type of pottery as Intermountain Ware and contribute it to having been used by the Northern Shoshone Indians; in Middle Fork of the Salmon River area, the Tukudika or Sheepeater Band.

A Journal kept by a traveler passing through the Snake River Plain in the early 1800's, records and describes the Shoshone use of a pot similar to that found by Kingsbury and Stoddard in 1996. In 1844, John Minto was riding along the west bank of the Snake River when he and his party stopped at a Shoshone Falls fishing village. He wrote:

"The canyon was so deep that the dome-like wickiups below looked like meadow mouse nests rather than human habitations…. We descended a very steep and rough trail to the lower part of Salmon Falls (Shoshone Falls), and found ourselves near three of those nest-like houses. We could see people busy along the river on both sides above us, but we found only one very old woman housekeeper. She quickly understood that we wanted food, and led us into the lodge. A large unevenly molded earthenware pot stood near some live coals of burning sagebrush. She filled for us bowls of fish soup, which our hunger made taste good to us. The bowls, woven of plaited grass, seemed to be made soup-proof by fishskin glue. The pot itself took most of my attention, as it seemed to have been made of common brick clay, but had no crack or flaw. It was beyond doubt of Indian manufacture."

Fragments or sherds of the pottery type identified as Intermountain ware have been recovered from several locations in central and southern Idaho and are attributed to Shoshone potters.

The Intermountain wares found in central and southern Idaho resemble flat-bottomed clay flower pots in style; however some pottery sherds found in southern Idaho exhibit rounded, excurvate sides with round bottoms. The second method of constructing clay walls is the use of paddle and anvil. The exterior of a pot could be smoothed with fingers, a stone, stick, or piece of leather.

Donald Tuohy (1956) pointed out another interested feature present in some Intermountain ware vessels. He noted after examining various regional pottery sherds, "It appears likely that the original vessel was either cracked and then mended, by drilling two small homes on either side of the crack and lacing it together, or else the holes were drilled near the rim in order to facilitate transport."

Seasonally migrating Shoshone bands were not dependent on clay vessels as were more settled tribes. This is evident by the scarcity of pottery fragments recovered from archaeological sites. It is obvious, however, the Shoshone had the knowledge, but relied more heavily on basketry for utensils, making pottery vessels only at or near camping locations where clay was available and time allowed.

Text taken from, Another Look at Yokuts Potter Making, by William J. Wallace (1990:172-178), published in, Hunter Gatherer Pottery in the Far West., Nevada State Museum Anthropological Papers No. 23, edited by Joanne M. Mack, Carson City, Nevada.


Wilderness Archaeologists are currently working to preserve, protect and understand the prehistory of the ancient people who lived in the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness. As this prehistory is discovered and understood, they will share it with the public through educational monographs ad other publications. You can help in this effort by leaving artifacts where they lie, and informing Forest Service Wilderness managers of your discovery. Take pride in our American heritage. Take nothing but photographs.