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Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California

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An indigenous Native American people, the Washoe originally lived around Lake Tahoe and adjacent areas of the Great Basin. Their tribe name derives from the Washoe word, waashiw (wa·šiw), meaning "people from here."


Semi-sedentary hunters and gatherers, their territory extended from the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to areas as far east as Pyramid Lake in Nevada, including Lake Tahoe and the upper valleys of the Truckee, Carson, and West Walker Rivers. Traditionally, they would spend their summers in the Sierra Nevadas, the autumn in the ranges to the east, and winter and spring in the valleys in between. Their food base consisted primarily of pinyon pine nuts, roots seeds, berries and game.


Washoe Indians at Lake Tahoe

Washoe Indians at Lake Tahoe, 1866,  Lawrence & Houseworth.

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They were first driven into the area from the east by their long-time enemies, the Northern Paiute, by whom they were later dominated. After soundly defeating the Washoe, the Paiute, who had obtained and learned to ride horses, would not allow the Washoe to own or ride their own mounts.


Though the Washoe tried their best to avoid the white settlers, their lands were some of the first in the western Great Basin to be extensively settled. As their hunting grounds succumbed to farms, and the Pinyon groves were cut down for lumber in Virginia City, the Washoe found themselves dependent upon the settlers for jobs. Their new settlements were referred to at the time as "Indian colonies,” but were not formal Indian reservations.


That did not change until the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, when the colonies in the Carson Valley area of Nevada and California gained federal recognition as the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California.  Another colony near Reno, Nevada, which was also comprised of Paiute and Shoshoni people, was granted separate recognition as the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony.


The federally recognized Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California now counts among its membership, some 2,000 people. With their deep roots for the Lake Tahoe area, they combine traditional and modern conservation practices in the protection and restoration of endangered habitats. 


They are governed by a Tribal Council and a Chairman, consisting of 12 representatives from the Washoe Tribal Community Councils. The council is responsible for the cultural preservation of the Washoe history and culture and the Chairman is responsible for the daily operations of the tribe.


Contact Information:


Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California



© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated August, 2010.


Native American Founding FathersNative American Founding Fathers - It is too often forgotten that the first to settle America were the Native Americans. They, along with their chiefs and heroes should be commemorated just like like the colonists that formed our Constitution. Utilizing our great vintage photos, we have created a montage to recognize these great founders.






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