Fort Hall Indian Reservation

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Grain elevator on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation

The Fort Hall Indian Reservation is an Indian reservation of the federally recognized Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in the U.S. state of Idaho. This is one of five federally recognized tribes in the state. The reservation is located in southeastern Idaho on the Snake River Plain north and west of Pocatello, and comprises 814.874 sq mi (2,110.51 km2) of land area in four counties: Bingham, Power, Bannock, and Caribou counties. To the east is the 60-mile-long Portneuf Range, with Mount Putnam and South Putnam Mountain both located on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation.

Founded under an 1868 treaty, the reservation is named for Fort Hall, a trading post in the Portneuf Valley that was established by European Americans. It was an important stop along the Oregon and California trails in the middle 19th century.

A monument on the reservation marks the former site of the fort. Interstate 15 connects with the community of Fort Hall, the largest population center on the reservation. The total population of the reservation was 5,762 at the 2000 census. There are more than 5,300 enrolled members in the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and more than half reside on the Fort Hall Reservation. The tribes are governed by a seven-member elected council and maintain their own governmental services, including law enforcement, courts, social and health services, and education.

The four other federally recognized tribes in the state are the Coeur d'Alene, Kootenai, Nez Perce, and Shoshone-Paiute at Duck Valley Indian Reservation.


The reservation was established by the Fort Bridger Treaty of 1868 between the United States and the Shoshone and Bannock tribes. This was achieved in the wake of the Bear River Massacre (1863), where US Army troops killed about 400 men, women and children in a band of Shoshone.

In the 1850s the Shoshone, led by Chief Pocatello, had attacked emigrant parties in part because the increasing tide of settlers was encroaching on their hunting grounds and game. The Mormons, led by Brigham Young, had subsequently pursued a policy of reconciliation with the Shoshone. In 1858, the arrival of the U.S. Army into the Utah Territory led to a full-scale conflict between the U.S. and the Shoshone.

Colonel Patrick Edward Connor killed more than 400 Shoshone, including women and children, in present-day southeastern Idaho. The massacre was the culmination of a long struggle between the Shoshone and Bannock, and U.S settlers, which included numerous attacks by both sides. Connor led his troops from Fort Douglas in January 1863 in order to "chastise" the Shoshone.

Warned of Connor's advance, Pocatello led his people out of harm's way. Another chief and his band were attacked. Pocatello subsequently sued for peace and agreed to relocate his people in 1868 to a newly established reservation along the Snake River. Four bands of Shoshone and the Bannock band of the Paiute relocated to the reservation, then consisting of 1.8 million acres (7,300 km2) of land.[1] As part of the treaty, the U.S. government agreed to supply the Shoshone-Bannock tribes annually with goods and supplies annuities worth 5,000 dollars.

Houses in the town of Fort Hall, with the Portneuf Range in the background

The reservation, located on the Snake River Plain, was not appropriate for the model of subsistence agriculture that the government wanted the Shoshone-Bannock to adopt. In addition, the U.S. government often failed to provide the annuity goods on time, and food supplies sometimes arrived spoiled.[1] In the years following their relocation, the Shoshone-Bannock peoples suffered severely from hunger and disease, with high mortality. Hoping to relieve his people's suffering, Pocatello led a small group to a missionary farm in the Utah Territory to receive mass baptism and conversion to Mormonism. Although the Shoshone were baptized, the local settlers, primarily Mormon, agitated for removal of the Indians.[citation needed] The U.S. Army forced the Shoshone back onto the reservation.

From 1868-1932, the reservation territory was reduced by two thirds due to encroachment of non-Native settlers and governmental actions to take lands.[1] For instance, under the Dawes Act of 1887, an attempt to impose the model of private property and subsistence farming, the government allotted individual 160-acre plots of land to registered tribal households. Given local conditions, these allotments were generally too small to support subsistence agriculture. But the government declared the remainder of the communal land to be "surplus" to Shoshone-Bannock needs, and sold much of it to European-American settlers. Some members of the tribes later sold their plots because they were too small to be successfully farmed, leading to the tribes losing control of more lands.

20th century to present[edit]

In 1934 during the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, the US Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act, created in part to end the allotment process and encourage tribes to re-establish self-government and to stabilize their land bases. In 1936 these two tribes reorganized, wrote a common constitution and established their own elected government. They have managed to retain most of their lands since that time.

During World War II, however, the US government assumed control of a 3,300-acre tract within the reservation, which it developed for use as an air base. Federal officials had told the tribe they would return the land after the war. Instead, the federal government sold the property for $1 to nearby Pocatello, a city about nine miles to the east, which developed it as a regional airport.[2] In the 21st century, there continue to be conflicts over development at the airport without consultation with the tribe.

FMC Corporation operated a phosphate mine and plant on the Fort Hall Reservation. Between 1949 and 2001, it produced an estimated 250 million pounds of elemental phosphorus annually. In 1989, as part of what is termed the Eastern Michaud Flats Contamination, its 1500-acre plant site was designated by EPA under CERCLA as a Superfund site because of extensive water and land pollution caused by these operations, including degradation of the Portneuf River.[3]

As a result of this case, EPA worked with the Tribes to develop the Clean Air Act’s Tribal Authority Rule, to provide tribes with more control over enforcement of clean air quality. The company abandoned the plant and related mine, due in large part to increased costs of electricity and competition from cheaper Chinese phosphate. Seventeen mines in the region have been designated as Superfund sites because of selenium poisoning. Since 2001, FMC has been working on cleanup at the reservation. The tribe has developed its own expertise in air, water and land quality but its resources are still seriously threatened by the extensive cleanup needed.[3]

Today, the tribes employ nearly 1,000 Native and non-Native people in various trades: 575 in tribal government, 85 by the enterprises, and more than 300 by gaming. Their combined payroll is more than $32 million. The tribal government is building the tribes' economy and ensuring the protection and enhancement of the reservation landbase for generations to come.

The main agricultural crops are wheat and potatoes, with the value of crops produced on the reservation exceeding $75 million annually. Since the late 20th century, the Tribes have developed the Fort Hall Casino and two smaller satellite casinos on the reservation. They are all operated by the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, who use the revenues for additional economic development and to support education and healthcare for the people.

Relations with the city of Pocatello became strained in April 2016 after the tribes learned that the city had contracted with Pocatello Solar, based in Boise, to lease a new property at the airport. The tribe was consulted by FAA officials, who are handling the environmental assessment, but they learned that the company was prohibited by the city from entering into any written agreement with the tribes. They are worried about getting stuck with an operation that could cause environmental damage.[2]

The tribes are still having to deal with serious water and land pollution from two phosphate plants, FMC Corporation and the J.R. Simplot Company, which operated on and near the reservation for decades. Their sites have been designated by the EPA as Superfund sites. Although some mitigation has been accomplished, scientists estimate the pollution will be hazardous for a very long time.[2]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes". Retrieved 2011-07-19. 
  2. ^ a b c Anne Minard, "Shoshone-Bannock’s Stinging Insult That Is the Pocatello Airport", Indian Country Today Media Network, 6 June 2016; accessed 6 June 2016
  3. ^ a b Anne Minard, "The Wound That Won’t Heal: Idaho’s Phosphate Problem", Indian Country Today Media Network, 25 September 2013; accessed 6 June 2016

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°57′52″N 112°21′59″W / 42.96444°N 112.36639°W / 42.96444; -112.36639