Dr. Minnie Howard lived in Pocatello and had a deep interest in history. She had a theory about where the tribal name Bannock came from. She thought the name came from the word “Bampneck,” which was a hairstyle where the hair is brushed back in a pompadour and tied in a knot at the nape of the neck.
A letter appeared in the March 13, 1938 edition of the Idaho Statesman from one J.C. York taking issue with that interpretation. Mr. York had been a clerk in the early days on the Fort Hall Reservation. He assisted in allotting lands there and settling the tribal members. A part of his duties was to record the genealogy and history of the Indians.
York, in learning their language and working with a trusted interpreter came to understand that the word “Pah” meant water in the Bannock language. When the interpreter would ask what they called themselves, elders would say “Pah ahnuck.” He did not know what “ahnuck” meant, so he asked. It was interpreted as meaning something like “across,” with the literal meaning of “People on, or over, or from, or across the water.”
The word was corrupted a bit into Bannock. York thought the confusion of Dr. Howard might have come from misunderstanding “nuck” and assuming that it meant neck.
I contacted some tribal members. They were inclined to believe Mr. York because of his careful study of first-hand sources.
I should mention that there is another definition of “bannock” that seems not to have originated with these tribal people. In Scottish and early English a bannock is a round, quick bread made from barely or oats, often fried on a griddle.
The Bannocks of more than a century ago were bison hunters and seasonal salmon fishers. They were indigenous in parts of what now are the states of Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Wyoming. As with many tribes, the coming of white men was not good news.
Today, the tribe is but a ghost of its former self. The 2010 U.S. counted 89 souls claiming Bannock or mixed Bannock lineage. Many of them live on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. The Indians there are often referred to as Shoshone-Bannock or even shortened to ShoBan. The two tribes are related.
Even with such a low population you may have heard of a couple of tribal members, both of whom I’ve mentioned in previous posts.
Mark Trahant is the editor at large of Indian Country Today and previously worked as a columnist for the Seattle Times and was the editorial page editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Trahant was the publisher of The Moscow-Pullman Daily News. He has also worked for the Salt Lake Tribune and the Arizona Republic and has reported for the PBS series Frontline.
Randy'L Teton, who served as the model for Sacagawea on the dollar coin, traces part of her ancestry along the Bannock line. She was the public affairs manager for the Shoshone-Bannock tribes and now serves as a US Forest Service public information officer.