Northern Paiute - History and Cultural Relations



Linguistic, and to some degree archaeological, evidence suggests that the ancestors of the Northern Paiute expanded into their ethnographically known range within the last two thousand years. Although these data are controversial, they support a generally northward movement from some as yet undetermined homeland in the South, perhaps in southeastern California. Arguing against this view are a number of tribal traditions that tie groups to local features (especially Mountain peaks) for origins. With neighbors to the east there was considerable intermarriage and exchange, so that bilingualism prevailed in an ever-widening band as one moved northward. With people on the west, relations were less friendly. First encounters with non-Indian fur trappers and explorers in the 1820s and 1830s were on occasion hostile, prefiguring events to come near mid-century. With the discovery of gold in California in 1848, and gold and silver in western Nevada in 1859, floods of immigrants traversed fragile riverbottom trails across Northern Paiute territory and also settled in equally fragile and important subsistence localities. Environmental destruction led a number of groups to adopt a pattern of mounted raiding for subsistence and booty. Scattered depredations on both sides led to clashes with troops beginning in 1860. After that time, reservations were established to settle the people, principally at Pyramid Lake and Walker River. Those who did not settle on the reservations continued to live near emerging towns and on ranches where wage labor provided a meager living. In the early twentieth century, populations at several of these localities were given small tracts of federal land, generally referred to as "colonies." Both reservations and colonies persist to the present, although few are economically well developed or self-sustaining.

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