Social Organization. Age and sex largely determined roles and status within the traditional society, with inheritance playing a small role. Social positions, however, were earned in warfare or attributed to the acquisition of supernatural power. Women were socially subordinated to men and menstruation stigmatized women as sources of dangerous ritual pollution. Polygyny (never sororal) involved conflicts and the economic exploitation of younger wives. In middle and older ages, midwifery, curing, or gambling earned prestige for women. In modern times, large bilateral kindreds have become key sociopolitical elements. Berdaches, of low status, were also present.
Political Organization. The whole tribe was gathered at times for winter shelter. In winter and early spring, the tribe could break up into three to five bands, each having a loose association with a particular region in western Wyoming, but not named or bounded. Membership in each band was flexible, with extended family groups joining one or another of the bands or sometimes another tribe entirely. Effective Leadership was necessary in the bison hunt, warfare, trade, and winter shelter. In the tribe, and to a varying extent in each band, the conduct of chieftainship was aided by two military societies and by a variety of temporary aides, such as heralds. The chief was a middle-aged or older man of military and shamanic distinction who gave orders affecting the tribal march or a collective hunt. He also gave counsel on issues of joint decision, but had little to do with internal disputes. There was evidence of an active tribal council in earlier times, but on the reservation now, they maintain a business council of six members. The business of the reservation as a whole is carried out by a joint business council with the Northern Arapaho tribe, also residents of the reservation. The two military societies, the Yellow Brows and the Logs, were complementary rather than competitive.
Social Control and Conflict. War was a continuing state among them, and war gains and losses directly affected tribal viability. In the early nineteenth century, the Shoshone were badly battered by smallpox and were threatened by Sioux, Cheyenne, and Gros Ventre raiders. They countered these threats by alliances with fur traders and the U.S. government, but they continued to lose small parties to raiders until well into the late nineteenth century. The demographic effects of warfare were severe. Eventually, there was a low adult male/female sex ratio, as a result of which they were forced to recruit trappers, Metis, and Indians from other tribes into Marriages. Features evident in Shoshone warfare were war honors, which were the greatest source of prestige, suicide in combat, and horse-stealing raids on foot. Chiefs were in charge of large actions and peacemaking.