views updated Jun 11 2018



Paiute (pronounced PIE-yoot). The name means “true Ute.” (The group was related to the Ute tribe.) The Spanish called both the Paiute and the Ute “Yutas,” which served as the origin for the name of the state of Utah. The Northern Paiute refer to themselves as Numa or Numu, while the Southern Paiute call themselves Nuwuvi. Both of these words mean “the people.”


The Paiute occupied the Great Basin desert areas of Nevada, California, Oregon, Idaho, Arizona, and Utah. Modern-day members of the tribe live on more than two dozen reservations located throughout Nevada, California, Oregon, Utah, and Arizona. The largest numbers of Paiute live in California, Nevada, and Utah.


In 1845 there were an estimated 7,500 Paiute. In the 1990 U.S. Census, 11,369 people identified themselves as Paiute. California was home to 4,605 Paiute; Nevada was home to 3,887; and Utah was home to 753. In 2000 the number of Paiute had dropped to 9,893. Of those, 3,099 resided in California, 4,333 in Nevada, and 652 in Utah.

Language family

Numic (Uto-Aztecan).

Origins and group affiliations

Native peoples have lived in the land of the Paiute for many hundreds of years. The Paiute are closely related to the Shoshone peoples of the Great Basin. The tribe is divided into three groups: Northern, Southern, and Owens Valley Paiute. The Northern Paiute were relatives of the Bannock. The Owens Valley Paiute were very similar to the Northern Paiute but did not speak the same language or live in the same area. (They shared their territory with the Washoe tribe.) The Southern Paiute, who moved into the Southwest around the year 1000, lived near the Pueblo people and learned farming from them. A group called the Chemehuevi broke away from the Southern Paiute sometime in the mid-eighteenth century.

Most Paiute were peaceful wanderers who roamed through the forested highlands of the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and the desert lowlands between the two ranges. Some led comfortable, settled lives with abundant resources; others struggled to survive in an extremely harsh environment. Although they tried to resist the hordes of American settlers and gold seekers who swarmed into their territory beginning in the mid-1800s, Paiute lands were taken over, and the people were moved to many small reservations.


Before their first contact with non-Natives in the 1820s, the lifestyle of the various bands of Paiute depended largely on the types of foods that were available to them. Groups were often referred to by the names of the foods they ate. For example, some Northern Paiute were called “Fish Eaters,” but most of the other bands survived on small game, roots, seeds, and berries.

Important Dates

1860: The Paiute War between the Southern Paiute and a volunteer army begins and ends. The move to reservations increases.

1889: Wovoka, a Southern Paiute, founds the Ghost Dance religion, which soon spreads to other Native peoples throughout the West.

1965: The Southern Paiute in Utah are awarded $8.2 million for land wrongfully taken from them.

1970: The Southern Paiute win $7.25 million for land wrongfully taken from them.

1980: The Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah receives federal recognition.

1990: Congress awards the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe a $43 million settlement.

Northern and Southern Paiute

There are three Paiute groups: Northern, Southern, and Owens Valley Paiute. The Northern Paiute lived in parts of Nevada, California, Oregon, and Idaho. The Southern Paiute lived in parts of California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. The tribe had little contact with early European explorers, trappers, and settlers who arrived in the New World in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Their troubles began in the 1840s with the discovery of gold in the West. American settlers and gold seekers flooded Paiute territory, demanding more and more land and destroying the environment at an alarming rate. The discovery of silver in western Nevada brought another stream of non-Natives in the 1850s and 1860s.

White settlers overran Native American ancestral land, brought livestock with them, and set up fencing to contain their animals. The livestock destroyed edible plants and spread diseases among local wildlife. The fences cut the Paiute off from their hunting and gathering grounds. In addition, settlers cut down the prized piñon trees to use for fuel, displacing local wildlife.

The settlers often looked down on the Paiute because most of them traveled on foot rather than on horseback. When they saw the Paiute digging for edible roots, they expressed their scorn by calling the Natives “Diggers.” The Native Americans responded by raiding livestock at ranches, farms, mining camps, and wagon trains. Sometimes Paiute who did not own horses carried out these raids on foot. A major clash occurred at Pyramid Lake, Nevada, in 1860, after a group of white men kidnapped two Paiute girls. Warriors responded by attacking and killing five whites in a rescue attempt. After several minor battles, the whites formed an eight-hundred-man volunteer army and defeated the Paiute. This series of conflicts became known as the Paiute War. Thereafter, the move to reservations, which had begun the year before, was stepped up.

Reservations for Northern Paiute

Several large reservations were established for the Northern Paiute in Nevada and Oregon between 1859 and 1891. By the turn of the twentieth century their traditional land had been reduced to a mere 5percent of its original size. Many Paiute bands refused to move to reservations that were occupied by other bands. Instead these groups established settlements called colonies on the outskirts of American cities. There they worked as wage laborers. Between 1910 and 1930 the U.S. government established official relations with most of these Native American colonies, treating them as reservations.

The Bannock Break Away from the Northern Paiute

Members of the Bannock (pronounced BANN-uck) tribe were originally Paiute people who lived in southeastern Oregon. They acquired horses around 1690 and moved east to south-central Idaho, near the Snake River, to gain better access to the region’s thriving buffalo-hunting grounds. There they met and intermingled with the Northern Shoshone (see entry) and, like them, were often referred to as Snake Indians. In time the two groups were practically indistinguishable. The Bannock adapted to the wandering, horse-riding culture of Plains Indians, changing their clothing, lodging, and many customs to fit their new lives as buffalo hunters.

The Bannock began their struggles with whites long before many other tribes and quickly gained a reputation for their forceful attacks on settlers and travelers. In 1814, led by a chief known as “The Horse,” they attacked a fur-trading post on the Boise (pronounced BOY-zee) River. The Horse continued his campaign against white fur traders until 1832. In 1863, another chief, Le Grand Coquin (“The Great Rogue”; a rogue is a mischievous person), signed the tribe’s first treaty with whites.

One thousand Shoshone and Bannock reported to the Fort Hall Bannock Reservation in Idaho in 1873. Later the Bannock would live on reservations situated on or near their homelands of southeastern Idaho and western Wyoming. In the mid-1990s the population of the Fort Hall Reservation numbered around 5,100 people (including the Shoshone). That figure increased to 5,762 in the 2000 census.

Southern Paiute and Mormons in Utah

Meanwhile the Southern Paiute of Utah encountered Mormons—members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints—who began settling in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Mormons stress the importance of hard work, devotion to family life, and refraining from the use of alcohol and tobacco. They moved to Utah to escape religious persecution from Americans in the East.

The Mormons’ firsthand experience with religious intolerance helped them forge a bond with the Paiute, who had already faced discrimination and prejudice from other white settlers. Mormons protected the Paiute from bloodthirsty settlers, gold seekers, and Ute (see entry) slave raiders. In return the Paiute shared their food and their knowledge of the environment with these displaced whites. Because the Mormons were determined to settle in the area, they gave the Paiute food, clothing, and jobs to foster a relationship of trust and productivity.

Mormon advancement) on Paiute land, however, strained relations with the Native Americans. Too many people crowded onto Native lands, making it impossible for the Paiute to hunt and gather in the old ways. Hostilities grew as starving Native Americans raided Mormon settlements. U.S. Army troops were called in, and government agents began to handle all Indian matters in the West, including those in Utah. The first Southern Paiute Reservation in Utah was established in the 1880s. Several more were set up there and in Nevada, but most of these lacked sufficient farmland to support the population. Many people had to move away to find work elsewhere.

By the 1950s the U.S. government made drastic changes in its Native American policies. In 1954, under the terms of a program known as Termination, the government declared that the Southern Paiute tribe in Utah no longer existed in the eyes of the government. Several groups filed a lawsuit, and in 1965 the Utah Paiute were awarded $8.2 million to compensate for 30 million acres of land wrongfully taken from them. Fifteen years later the government granted federal recognition to the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah. (Federally recognized tribes are those with which the U.S. government maintains official relations. Without federal recognition, the tribe does not exist as far as the government is concerned and therefore is not entitled to financial assistance and other aid.)

Owens Valley Paiute

The Owens Valley Paiute lived near the Owens River in southern California. They were fortunate to have a reliable water supply, which allowed them to settle down, build irrigation canals, and begin farming. By the early 1860s American settlers in the Los Angeles area were trespassing on the fertile lands of the Owens Valley and casting their eyes on the bountiful waters of Owens River. The Paiute held them off for a time, defeating a volunteer army in 1862, but they were no match for the increasing number of whites in the area.

Around the turn of the twentieth century many Owens Valley Paiute were moved to reservations located on or near the lands where they had lived. Most of these reservations, however, were far too small to support their former way of life. In 1937 the rapidly growing city of Los Angeles convinced the U.S. Congress to pass laws allowing the city to take over water rights and most of the Owens Valley Paiute land. In exchange the Owens Valley band was given 1,391 acres in nearby Big Pine, where their largest settlement stood prior to the arrival of whites. Five Owens Valley Paiute reservations now are home to about 2,200 Native people.

On the reservations

In the early 1900s the Paiute were settled on more than two dozen reservations, most of them small. Federal or state governments controlled their land and lives and were often slow in delivering on promises of schools, health care, and adequate housing and sanitation. The Paiute faced ongoing struggles over land and water rights as whites diverted rivers to fulfill their own needs. White ranchers continued to allow their cattle to graze on Paiute land, and Native populations declined from diseases and high rates of infant death.

For decades the Paiute’s tribal development was seriously hampered by a lack of funding. This trend did not show signs of reversing itself until the 1960s, when tribal land claims suits began succeeding in the courts.


The Paiute believed in many supernatural beings that were present in elements of the natural world, such as water, thunder, and animals. For some groups the most powerful spirit was the Sun, called Thuwipu Unipugant, or “The One Who Made the Earth.” Other groups gave credit to Coyote and his wife for populating the Earth. The Paiute prayed to the spirits in order to influence them and show their respect. For example, they might pray for rain or a successful hunt.

The Mormon influence

Mormon missionaries worked among the Southern Paiute in Utah in the nineteenth century, and some Paiute converted to Mormonism. Other Christian missionaries, who arrived in the late 1800s, influenced additional Paiute. By the late 1990s most Paiute attended religious services in some Christian denomination. Others participated in Native American religious movements such as the Native American church, which combined several Native religious traditions with aspects of Christianity.

The Ghost Dance religion

The Paiute played a key role in one of the major Native American religious movements of the modern era. In 1889, when most of the tribe had been pushed off their ancestral lands and forced to live on reservations, a Southern Paiute named Wovoka (c. 1856–1932) founded the Ghost Dance religion. Wovoka’s underlying message was steeped in Christian sentiment. An advocate of nonviolence, he urged the Native Americans to express themselves through song and dance while they awaited the great event—the day when the whites would disappear. Some Natives were so anxious for the event and danced so energetically, they fainted. A few tribes, like the Dakota and Lakota (see entries), believed the Ghost Dance could protect them in armed conflicts with whites, but Paiute followers embraced the religion as a source of strength and a form of passive resistance to white culture.


Members of the three Paiute groups spoke versions of the language that could not be understood by the other groups. Paiute groups have maintained their language to varying degrees. The San Juan Paiute, a Southern Paiute band, is the only group that continues to teach Paiute to children as a first language. Other Paiute groups, however, have taken steps to preserve their Native languages.


Paiute groups tended to be small, consisting mostly of an extended family (parents, children, grandparents, and other close relatives) led by a headman. Although the tribe greatly respected the opinion of the headman, he could not make major decisions without consulting every adult in the community—both male and female. Each morning he gave a rousing speech, urging his people to live in peace and harmony. The headman held his position only as long as he carried out the wishes of the community.

In early times the Paiute were peaceful and had no need for war chiefs. So much energy was required to gather food that there was no time for war. After whites overran their land, however, some groups appointed war chiefs. Modern-day Paiute on reservations are governed by elected tribal councils.

Paiute: 2000 Census

In the 2000 U.S. Census, members of the various Paiute tribes identified themselves this way:

Paiute: 2000 Census
Burns Paiute145
Pyramid Lake1,291
Owens Valley2,237
Walker River833
Yerington Paiute452

“2000 Census of Population and Housing. Matrix 7: American Indian and Alaskan Native summary file.” Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Data User Services Division, American FactFinder, 2004.


The early Paiute economy was based on hunting, gathering, and some farming. After the people were relocated to reservations, they were encouraged to farm, but were given neither instruction nor modern equipment to do so. Many were forced to leave the reservation and earn a living by working in nearby towns or on ranches. Some also raised cattle.

In 1970 the Southern Paiute received $7.25 million from the U.S. government in a lawsuit over tribal lands that had been wrongfully taken from them. Many bands used this money to improve living conditions and develop educational and employment opportunities. Some of the more common business ventures have included the ownership and management of mini-marts (small convenience stores), smoke shops, and campgrounds.

In the past the Northern Paiute raised cattle and hay or worked for wages in a variety of professions. In more recent times they have looked for ways to benefit from tourism. The Las Vegas Paiute, for example, opened a golf course in 1995. The Owens Valley Paiute work primarily in mining and businesses that cater to tourists.

Since the 1960s, when federal funds became available, many Paiute bands have successfully used government development grants to improve conditions on the reservations. They have built houses, roads, community buildings, and sewer and water systems. Because many reservation economies were long hampered by a lack of skilled workers, vocational training among the tribal members is now of primary importance.

Daily life


The wandering Paiute bands built small, temporary huts called wickiups (pronounced WIK-ee-ups). These were made of willow poles covered with brush and reeds. The Paiute often constructed wickiups near streams, where they could fish or draw water for irrigation.

Clothing and adornment

Paiute men and women often wore a bark or antelope-skin breechcloth, similar to an apron with both front and back flaps. They wore animal-skin moccasins or woven yucca sandals. (The yucca is an evergreen plant.) In the winter the Paiute wrapped themselves in blankets made of strips of rabbit fur. Members of some Paiute bands wore hats decorated with bird feathers, and important men wore elaborately feathered crowns. Face and body paints were common for protection from the sun. Ear piercing was associated with long life and was a sign to the god Coyote to allow the souls of the dead to cross to the other world. Some men may have pierced their noses as well.


The Paiute wandered the Great Basin in search of food. They knew and understood their environment—what was ripening when and where. Their diet depended largely on their location; plant foods gathered by the women made up the bulk of the food supply. Many of these wild foods, such as acorns, pine nuts, and agave (pronounced uh-GAH-vee; a plant with tough, spiny, sword-shaped leaves that grows in hot, dry regions), were baked or roasted in earth ovens. The Paiute ate other vegetable foods, including cattails, roots, berries, and rice grass. They often used stones to grind seeds and nuts into flour to make bread.

The Paiute also hunted ducks, rabbits, and mountain sheep using bows and arrows or long nets. Some bands in mountainous regions fished, while others in arid desert regions dug for lizards, grubs, and insects.

The Southern Paiute learned to grow corn from the Pueblo (see entry). The Owens Valley Paiute developed irrigation techniques and engaged in a kind of farming that did not involve planting seeds. Instead their canals brought water to small plots where plants were already growing, thereby allowing the plants to produce better yields.

The Prized Pine Nut

Pine nuts, also called piñon nuts, come from the cones of the piñon pine, which grows in the western United States. Extremely expensive, these small nuts are high in protein and oil content. Their rich, sweet taste has long been prized by many Native American tribes. The Walker River Paiute Tribe based in Schurz, Nevada, hold an annual Pine Nut Festival each September. Cookbook author E. Barrie Kavasch offers the following recipe for Windwalker Pine Nut Cookies.

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup stone-ground white cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1/2 cup shelled pine nuts (about 6 ounces)
  • dash of cinnamon
  • pinch of salt (optional)

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Lightly grease 2 cookie sheets. Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add cornmeal alternately with the flour, stirring thoroughly. Mix in the pine nuts and seasonings and blend carefully.

Drop generous tablespoonfuls of dough onto the cookie sheets, spacing them about an inch apart. Bake about 10 minutes until edges are lightly brown. Cool for 5 minutes and serve warm, or cool completely and store in airtight containers.

Makes about 20 cookies.

From E. Barrie Kavasch. Enduring Harvests: Native American Foods and Festivals for Every Season. Old Saybrook, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1995, p. 25.


Paiute children learned by observing, imitating, and listening to adults. Sarah Winnemucca (1844–1891) described Paiute teachings passed on to children in her book, Life among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims: “My people teach their children never to make fun of anyone, no matter how they look. If you see your brother or sister doing something wrong, look away, or go away from them. If you make fun of bad persons, you make yourself beneath them.”

By 1910 all Paiute reservations had at least one government-run school. A number of children from the tribe were sent to boarding schools far from home. Some never returned, either because they died from infectious diseases or because they chose to stay away from the poverty-stricken reservations. In the late 1990s, Paiute children attended public schools, but many did not graduate. Small, rural communities are currently struggling with the problem of developing bicultural programs in their public schools.

Healing practices

Many Paiute believed illness was the work of evil spirits, ghosts, or other supernatural causes. Tribal healers were called shaman (pronounced SHAH-mun or SHAY-mun). Shaman were men or women believed to possess supernatural powers. Shaman formed magical relationships with one or more animal spirits, using the fur or feathers of the animal to call upon the spirits for assistance in their work. A shaman used little else in the way of tools, but often accomplished remarkable feats such as curing poisonous rattlesnake bites, healing wounds, controlling the weather, and assisting in childbirth.

The Paiute sought the help of shaman well into the 1960s. The two most famous modern Paiute healers were Jimmy George (died 1969) and Joe Green (died c. 1950s). By the 1990s the people of the Paiute reservations were making many different arrangements for health care. Some operated their own health centers to care for minor problems and sent patients with serious health threats to large cities for treatment. Most of the dozen Paiute reservations have access to community health representatives, who provide specific types of health care, including care for diabetic adults. The Paiute are at higher risk of contracting adult-onset diabetes than the rest of the American population.


Basketry, rock art, and duck decoys

For centuries the Paiute were known in international trading circles for their outstanding basketry. Other tribes, and later European traders, often sought out Paiute creations. The tradition continues today on some reservations. The National Endowment for the Arts has recognized San Juan Southern Paiute weavers for their excellence.

Much of Owens Valley contains remnants of Paiute rock art, most of which depict animals such as mountain sheep. These drawings may have served as a decoration, as the mark of a family’s territory, or as a symbol that would help bring “hunting magic” to the tribe.

The Northern Paiute were expert makers of duck decoys (artificial ducks used to lure live ducks within gunshot range when hunting). The tribe made decoys from plants gathered from the deserts and marshes and the skin of a recently killed duck.

Oral literature

Aunts, uncles, and grandparents passed on tribal legends to Paiute children through bedtime stories. The child repeated each line just as the teller told it. One popular creation story described how Coyote carried two boys in a water jug from Canada to the Great Basin, where he released them. One of the boys became the father of the Shoshone tribe, and the other became the father of the Paiute tribe. Because the two tribes were related, they never fought.


Festivals and ceremonies

Certain Paiute groups celebrate the desert coming into bloom with a spring Flower Festival. At this festival Paiute girls, who are often named for flowers, compose songs about their names. Young people from the Paiute bands often engage in the Round Dance. Formerly an all-night social affair, the dance features an ever-widening circle of men and women holding hands, singing, and moving to the beat.

Puberty and childbirth observed

The Paiute observed two related rituals to celebrate major life events: one for a young woman entering puberty and one for a woman expecting her first child. In the puberty ritual the young woman was isolated for four days. During this time she could not touch her face or hair with her hands, eat animal foods, or drink cold liquids. After the four days had passed she was bathed in cold water, her face was painted, and the ends of her hair were burned or cut. Then she ate a special meal of animal foods mixed with bitter herbs and spat into a fire.

The ritual for a woman expecting her first child was very similar, but traditionally lasted for thirty days instead of four. The pregnant woman also received advice on childbearing from older women.

Courtship and marriage

Potential mates were judged on their performance of gender-based roles. The chief qualification for a good husband was his skill at hunting. A young girl—even one who was not yet physically mature—was considered a good candidate for marriage if she possessed outstanding homemaking skills.


Fathers buried the umbilical cord of a newborn boys in a hole made by a squirrel or in the track of a mountain sheep to ensure their sons’ hunting ability. A girl’s cord was buried in an anthill or small rodent lair to insure that she would be a hard worker.

Death and burial

Author Sarah Winnemucca shed some light on ancient Paiute burial rituals when she described in Life among the Paiutes the last hours in the life of her beloved grandfather, who was called Chief Truckee by white settlers. While the chief lay on his deathbed, fires were lit on mountaintops so people would know it was time to pay their last respects. After his death Chief Truckee’s body was wrapped in blankets and buried in the ground. The burial service ended with the killing of six horses. Winnemucca explains, “I do not want you to think that we do this thing because we think the dead use what we put in; or, if we kill horses at any one’s death that they will use them in the Spirit-land. No, no; but it is the last respect we pay our dead.”

According to Paiute traditions, the dead were either buried or cremated. Paiute mourners abstained from eating meat for four days. Some cut gashes on their arms and legs or cut their hair off. The deceased person’s property was destroyed, and his or her name was never spoken again. Often the tribe moved away from the site where the death had taken place, at least for a time.

A ceremonial funeral rite known as the Cry was introduced to the Paiute in the 1870s. The Cry took place over one or two nights after a person’s death, before the funeral. It was repeated a year or two later as a memorial. During the Cry ceremony, which is still held by some groups, two groups of singers perform song cycles known as Salt Songs and Bird Songs. Between the singing, people who had been close to the deceased give emotional speeches, and the person’s valuables are distributed among the guests.

Current tribal issues

Conditions on Paiute reservations have improved since the 1960s. The quality of housing has gotten better, and most people of the tribe have access to utilities (electricity, plumbing, heat) and schooling for their children. But the situation for the Paiute is far from ideal. Problems such as substance abuse, low educational attainment, higher than average unemployment, and the loss of Native language and customs still plague the tribe.

Their inability to make a decent living in traditional ways has led the Paiute to seek out new sources of income for tribal members. Economic difficulties prompted two Paiute bands to consider controversial projects in the early 1990s. The Northern Paiute of the Fort McDermitt Reservation in Nevada discussed the possibility of building a storage facility for nuclear waste on their lands, while the Southern Paiute of the Kaibab Reservation in Arizona debated about whether to construct a hazardous waste incinerator. The financial rewards of these projects made them appealing, but they ultimately turned down both projects because of environmental concerns.

The Owens Valley Paiute reservations also struggled with environmental concerns. In the early 1900s and again in 1971 the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) built an aqueduct that diverted water from the Owens River, causing the lake to dry up and plants to die. After years of court battles the LADPW agreed to rewater the lower Owens River by 2003. By 2005 they still had not met the deadlines. After another court case the LADPW claimed they had met the agreement in 2007.

The San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe, a small tribe with about 265 members, lives in several communities on the Navajo Reservation as well as near the Grand Canyon in Arizona. They received federal recognition in 1990 and in the early twenty-first century were engaged in legal proceedings for land of their own.

Notable people

Wovoka (c. 1856–1932), known by American settlers as Jack Wilson, was a Southern Paiute who founded the Ghost Dance religion in 1889. He is believed to have been the son of Tavibo (c. 1835–c. 1915), another Paiute who had magnificent visions—visions of unfenced plains full of buffalo, freedom from whites, and peaceful communities of Native Americans living in harmony with the Earth. Sometime in the late 1880s Wovoka became seriously ill with a high fever. At the height of his illness he experienced a vision much like that of his father. Wovoka preached that the Native peoples could inherit a virtual paradise by purging themselves of white influences (such as alcohol) and by praying, meditating, and dancing. Wovoka’s vision formed the foundation of the Ghost Dance religion, based on the belief that in the future all Native American people—the living and the dead—would be reunited on an Earth forever free from death, disease, and misery. Word of the new religion spread quickly among Native American peoples of the Great Basin and Plains regions, even though Wovoka himself never traveled far from his birthplace. The Native Americans revered Wovoka, but local settlers denounced him as an impostor and a lunatic.

Another prominent Paiute was Sarah Winnemucca (Thocmetony, meaning “Shell Flower”; 1844–1891). Her grandfather befriended whites and grew to trust them. At his urging, Winnemucca was educated at a Roman Catholic mission school in California. She later served as an interpreter and scout for the U.S. Army. Electrifying audiences with her lectures on Native American rights, Winnemucca became the first Native American woman to publish a book. Titled Life among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, it describes the history and culture of the Paiute people.

Dolan, Edward F. The American Indian Wars. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 2003.

Gray-Kanatiiosh, Barbara A. Paiute. Edina, MN: Abdo Publishing, 2007.

Reeve, W. Paul. Making Space on the Western Frontier: Mormons, Miners, and Southern Paiutes. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006.

Shull, Jodie A. Voice of the Paiutes: A Story About Sarah Winnemucca. Minneapolis, MN: Millbrook Press, 2007.

Winnemucca, Sarah. Life among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims. Privately printed 1883. Reprint: Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1994.

Burns Paiute Tribe. (accessed on September 7, 2007).

Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe. (accessed on September 7, 2007).

Kaibab Paiute Tribe. (accessed on September 7, 2007).

Las Vegas Paiute Tribe. (accessed on September 7, 2007).

Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Reservation. (accessed on September 7, 2007).

Ned Blackhawk, Associate Professor, Department of History, American Indian Studies Program, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Laurie Edwards


views updated May 08 2018


PAIUTE. The Northern and Southern Paiute Indians of northern Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, and eastern California live in the southern and northwestern portions of the Great Basin. They have migrated seasonally throughout these arid lands for thousands of years. The Northern Paiutes speak the Western Numic branch of the Shoshonean division of the Uto-Aztecan language family, while the Southern Paiutes speak the related Southern Numic branch. Organized in small family bands, Paiute communities evolved in intimate contact with the fragile ecologies of the Great Basin. They harvested pine nuts, berries, seeds, and grasses in the spring, summer, and fall, and consumed stored foods with game, fish, and fowl throughout the year. Using the precious resources of the Great Basin for all aspects of their lives, Paiute communities have creatively adapted to their changing environments, imbuing their ecological and human geographies with deep philosophical and spiritual meaning.

Northern and Southern Paiutes numbered approximately eight thousand in the early nineteenth century, when they came into contact with intruding Europeans and other Native groups. Living in northern Arizona and southern Utah, Southern Paiute communities became incorporated into the political economy of colonial New Mexico in the late 1700s. Unlike the Utes to their east, Southern Paiutes had difficulty incorporating horses into their spare ecologies, and when Spanish traders, missionaries, and traders ventured into their territories, they often noted the effects of Ute and Spanish slaving on Paiute communities. Unsure of the exact sociopolitical distinctions among these non-equestrian Paiute bands, Spanish, Mexican, and early American officials often failed to identify them consistently.

Northern Paiutes generally lived in more concentrated communities in California's Owens Valley, Nevada's

Pyramid and Walker Lakes, and along the Humboldt and Truckee Rivers in Nevada. Northern Paiutes also faced the challenges of conquest, but unlike the Southern Paiutes they negotiated treaties that established extensive reservations at Pyramid Lake and Walker River. Many of these treaties came at the end of wars, including the 1860 Paiute War north of Virginia City, Nevada. Smaller Northern Paiute groups in Oregon and California often migrated to neighboring Indian communities for survival, and many Western Shoshone, Wasco, and other Indian groups throughout the region have welcomed Paiute families into their communities. Indeed, throughout the twentieth century Western Shoshones and Northern Paiutes have lived together throughout Nevada, particularly in federally recognized urban Indian communities, known as colonies.

Several prominent Paiute leaders, artists, and intellectuals have achieved worldwide fame. In the nineteenth century, Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins compiled her family and communities' struggles in her acclaimed autobiography, Life Among the Piutes, while a Walker River Paiute, Jack Wilson, also known as Wovoka, initiated the pan-Indian spiritual movement known as the Ghost Dance that prophesized the end of white supremacy and the return of Indian lands and the deceased.

Over a dozen Paiute communities with over eleven thousand members in 1990 extend from Warm Springs, Oregon, through northern, central, and southern Nevada, eastern California, and into southern Utah. Several Utah Paiute communities lost federal recognition in the 1950s as part of the federal government's termination program, which "terminated" over a hundred Indian tribes' federally recognized status, handing Indian affairs from the federal to the state government of Utah. This termination policy ended Paiute eligibility for federal funding for education, health care, and governance and was subsequently repealed under the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah Restoration Act of 1980.


Knack, Martha C. Boundaries Between: The Southern Paiutes, 1775–1995. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Knack, Martha C., and Omer C. Stewart, As Long as the River Shall Run: An Ethnohistory of Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation. Reprint, Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1999.

Sturtevant, William C., gen. ed. Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 11, Great Basin. Edited by William L. D'Azevedo. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1986.


See alsoIndian Economic Life ; Indian Land Cessions ; Indian Policy, U.S.: 1830–1900, 1900–2000 ; Indian Reservations ; Indian Treaties ; Wars with Indian Nations: Later Nineteenth Century (1840–1900) .


views updated Jun 27 2018

Pai·ute / ˈpī(y)oōt; pīˈ(y)oōt/ • n. (pl. same or -utes) 1. a member of either of two culturally similar but geographically separate and linguistically distinct American Indian peoples, theSouthern Paiute of the southwestern U.S. and theNorthern Paiute of Oregon and Nevada.2. either of the Uto-Aztecan languages of these peoples.• adj. of or relating to the Paiute or their languages.


views updated May 21 2018

Paiute Shoshonean-speaking tribe of Native North Americans. They are divided into two major groups: the Southern Paiute (or “Digger Indians” during the Gold Rush days) who occupied w Utah, n Arizona, se Nevada, and California; and the Northern Paiute (or “Snake Indians”, Mono-Paviotso) who inhabited w Nevada, s Oregon, and e California. Today the Paiute number some 4,000.