top of page

Forked Stick and Riddles

Shoshone Indian Village
Shoshone Indian Village

Mary said that none of the pioneers locked their doors. To keep the doors so they wouldn’t come open there was a wooden latch on the inside and a string was fastened to it and put through a hole to the outside so that anyone who wanted to get in had to pull this latch string and raise the latch inside the door. One could press a knee against the door and break the wooden latch easily. At night when one retired, one pulled in the string to the inside of the door.

In the early 1860s, when Mary and her family were leaving the house for a while, she noticed her father pick up a stick and set it on and against the door. She said, “Why do you do that father?”

And he replied, “That is to let the settlers and the Indians know that I have gone away.”

When an Indian leaves his tepee, he puts a forked stick against the flap or opening of his tent. Then other Indians will not go in because they know no one is there. Mary’s father adopted the custom from the Indians and did likewise.

Once the school teacher took a basket of food to the sick Indian women during the noon hour and allowed some of the little girls to go with her. Mary noticed that a number of tepees that they passed had sticks crossed against the flaps or openings, and the teachers told them that the Indians who occupied those tepees weren’t at home and for them not to go near. [1]

An Indian Riddle

When the little Indian girls came over to play, Mary and her sister used to tell riddles and the Indian girls tried to guess them. Little Rose Leaf one day said, “Guess this riddle: There is something that has two legs and a body but no head that guards the door.”

Of course, they couldn’t guess, and Rose Leaf was delighted. Finally, they asked her what it was, and she said, “It is the crooked stick we put outside to hold the flap of the wickiup together and to let everyone know we are not at home, and then no one comes in.” [2]


[1] - Autobiography of Mary Elizabeth Hutchens Sherner, Mary Elizabeth – Her Stories, dictated to her daughter Dorothy A. Sherner, manuscript, 1933, p. 87.

[2] - Ibid, p. 78.

[object Object]

bottom of page