Paiute - The Water Ute
by Frederick Webb Hodge
The term Paiute involved a great deal of confusion
in the 1800's. In common usage it was applied at one time or another to
most of the Shoshonean tribes of west
Nevada, and eastern and southern
generally accepted idea is that the Paiute means either "water Ute" or "true
John Wesley Powell stated
that the name properly belonged exclusively to the Corn Creek tribe of
Utah, but was extended to include many other tribes
and employed as a convenient divisional name for
the tribes occupying southwest
the southwest part of
Nevada, and the northwest
With regard to the
Indians of Walker River and Pyramid Lake reservations,
who constitute the main body of those commonly known as Paiute, Powell
claimed that they were not Paiute at all, but another tribe which he called Paviotso. He
"The names by which the tribes are known to
white men and the department give no clue to the relationship of the
Indians in the vicinity of the reservation on the Muddy
Indians on the Walker River and Pyramid Lake reservations are called Pai or Pair Utes, but the
Indians know only those on the Muddy by that
name, while those on the other two reservations are known as Paviotsoes,
and speak a very different language, but closely allied to, if not
identical with, that of the Bannocks"
Indians of Walker River and Pyramid lake claimed the Bannock
as their cousins, and said that they spoke the same language. The different
small bands had little political coherence, and there was no recognized
head-chief. The most influential chiefs among them were Winnemucca and Natchez. As a rule they
were peaceable and friendly toward the whites, although in the early
1860's they several times came into collision with miners and
emigrants, hostility being frequently provoked by the whites themselves.
The northern Paiute were more warlike than those of the south, and a
considerable number of them took part with the Bannock War of 1878.
Owing to the fact that the great majority of the Paiute (including the
Paviotso) were not on reservations, many of them being attached to the
ranches of white men, it was impossible to determine their population, but
were estimated at from 6,500 to 7,000.
Paiute family and wikiup in 1906.
As a people the Paiute were peaceable, moral,
and industrious, and were highly commended for their good qualities.
By their willingness and efficiency as workers they made themselves
necessary to the white farmers, which enabled to supply themselves
with good clothing and many of the comforts of life, while on the
other hand they steadily resisted the vices of civilization, so that
they were spoken of by one agent as presenting the "singular anomaly"
of improvement by contact with the whites. Another authority said:
habits and excellence of character may be attributed the fact that they
are annually increasing in numbers, and that they are strong, healthy,
active people. Many of them were employed as laborers on the farms of white
men in all seasons, but they were especially serviceable during the time of
harvesting and haymaking."
Aside from their earnings among the whites,
they derived subsistence from the fish of the lakes, jackrabbits and small
game of the sage plains and mountains, and from piñon nuts and other
seeds, which they ground into flour for bread. Their ordinary dwelling was
the wikiup, or small rounded hut, of tule rushes over a framework of
poles, with the ground for a floor and the fire in the center, and almost
entirely open at the top. Strangely enough, although appreciating the
advantages of civilization so far as relates to good clothing and to such
food as they can buy at the stores, they manifested no desire to live in
permanent houses or to procure the furniture of civilization, and their wiki-ups
were almost bare of everything excepting a few wicker or grass
baskets of their own weaving.
Two more famous chiefs of the Paiute were Big
Bill, who aided Mormon John D. Lee in the