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Northern Paiute Indians

Northern Paiute. The significance of the word “Paiute” is uncertain, though it has been interpreted to mean “water Ute” or “true Ute.” Also called:

Northern Paiute Connections. With the Bannock, the Northern Paiute constituted one dialectic group of the Shoshonean Branch of the Uto-Aztecan stock.

Northern Paiute Location. The Northern Paiute were not properly a tribe, the name being used for a dialectic division as indicated above. They covered western Nevada, southeastern Oregon, and a strip of California east of the Sierra Nevada as far south as Owens Lake except for territory occupied by the Washo. According to the students of the area, they were pushed out of Powder River Valley and the upper course of John Day River in the nineteenth century by Shahaptian tribes and the Cayuse. (See also Idaho)

Northern Paiute Villages

There were no true tribes or bands except in the extreme western and north-eastern parts of the area covered, but topography enforced concentration into certain valleys. Aside from the detached Bannock, the Northern Paiute were divided by the Sierra Nevada Mountains into a widely spread eastern division and a small division confined to California, the Eastern and Western Mono of Kroeber. Kroeber (1925) distinguishes six divisions of the latter as follows:

Balwisha, on the Kaweah River, especially on its south side.
Holkoma, on a series of confluent streams—of which Big Burr and Sycamore Creeks are the most important—entering Kings River above Mill Creek.
Northfork Mono, for whom no native name has survived, on the North Fork of San Joaquin River.
Posgisa or Poshgisha, of the San Joaquin, on Big Sandy Creek, and toward, if not on, the heads of Little and Big Dry Creeks.
Waksachi, on Limekiln and Eshom Creeks and the North Fork of Kaweah River.
Wobonuch, at the head of Mill Creek, a southern affluent of Kings River, and in the pine ridges to the north.

Away from Owens Valley and the immediate neighborhood the Paiute have been divided into a large number of bands with names which usually signify that they were “eaters” of some particular kind of food. Although the entire area has been filled in with such names, they have been given largely by Indians from areas outside those of the supposed bands; different names are given by different inform-ants, the same name occurs in a number of places, at times widely separated, and there is lack of agreement among informants, including Steward (1933), Kelly (1937), Park (1938), and Blyth (1938), as to the numbers, names, and locations of the groups under consideration. Instead of attempting any sort of classification, therefore, I will simply insert a miscellaneous list of villages and local settlements though these were almost as fluctuating and impermanent as the larger groups. In most cases, however, it may be assumed that the location was determined by economic factors and mention of such a site has, therefore, some permanent value however often the name may have changed or the composition of the village fluctuated.

Gifford (1932) gives the following hamlets belonging to Kroeber’s Northfork Mono besides 83 fishing places and campsites, the exact locations of which are entered in his report and accompanying map:

Steward enumerates the following “districts” of Owens Valley and neighboring valleys, each with communistic hunting and seed rights, political unity, and a number of villages:

The people of Deep Springs Valley called their valley Patosabaya and themselves Patosabaya nunemua; the Fish Lake Valley people to the north of these did not constitute a unified band but were distributed into the following villages:

Steward (1933) gives the following village names in and near Owens Valley:

The following are miscellaneous local groups of Northern Paiute, the names drawn from various sources:

Northern Paiute History

Although the territory of the Northern Paiute has been occupied for a long period by human beings and has been modified from time to time along its margins by neighboring cultures, there seem to have been few fundamental changes in the culture of the region taken as a whole, the economic life having been based on hunting and gathering. Contacts with Europeans began at a comparatively late period, probably with the entrance of trappers about 1825. Jedediah Smith made journeys across Nevada in 1825 and Old Greenwood may have visited it still earlier. Peter Skene Ogden visited the Paiute of eastern Oregon between 1826 and 1828 and probably reached Humboldt River in Nevada. These men were followed by Walker (1833), Russell (1834-43), and many others. During this period relations with the Indians seem to have been uniformly friendly, but clashes became more numerous with the great stream of immigration which began about 1840 and swelled to tidal proportions with the discovery of gold in California. The Paiute in the remote valleys, however, remained for a long time little affected. Descriptions of Indian life in the numerous reports of travelers are disappointing. A great crisis in the affairs of the Indians was brought about by the discovery of the Comstock lode at Virginia City, Nevada, since in the next 10 years prospectors penetrated every part of the territory, says Steward, “and boom towns sprang up in the midst of sheer desert.” A greater menace to the lives of the Indians was the introduction of livestock and consequent destruction of native food plants. Pinyon trees were also cut down for fuel. By this time the natives had both guns and horses and were in con-sequence much more capable of inflicting damage in the clashes which began about 1860 and in consequence of which several military posts were established. With the completion of the first trans-continental railroad in 1869, the native period came practically to an end. On October 1, 1863, the United States Government extended its authority without formal purchase over the territory of the “Western Shoshoni” and included within it the northern part of the lands occupied by the Northern Paiute under discussion. The Government assumed “the right of satisfying their claim by assigning them such reservations as might seem essential for their occupancy, and sup-plying them in such degree as might seem proper with necessaries of life” (Royce, 1899). By virtue of the authority thus granted, a mill and timber reserve was created on Truckee River by Executive order, April 24, 1864, for the Pyramid Lake Indians. In December 1864 Eugene Monroe surveyed a reservation for the Paiute at Walker River, and in January 1865 he surveyed another at Pyramid Lake. The former was set aside by Executive order March 19, 1874, and the latter 4 days later. “The remainder of the Pai Ute country,” says Royce, “[was] taken possession of by the United States without formal relinquishment by the Indians.” On the other hand, the Indians by no means confined themselves to these reservations.

Northern Paiute Population.— Mooney (1928) estimated that this division, i. e., the tribes embraced under the name of Northern Paiute, and the true or Southern Paiute numbered 7,500 in 1845. The figures given in the Report of the Indian Office for 1903 indicate a population of about 5,400 for the group. The Census of 1910 reports 1,448 “Mono” and 3,038 Paviotso, a total of 4,486, but the United States Indian Office Report of 1923 seems to give a total of more than 13,000. This is evidently erroneous since the United States Census of 1930 reported 4,420. The figures of the United States Indian Office in 1937 seem to yield 4,108, after subtracting 270, which plainly belonged to the Southern Paiute.