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Washoe Indians, Lake Tahoe, 1866, Lawrence and Houseworth.

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An indigenous Native American people, the Washoe initially lived around Lake Tahoe and adjacent areas of the an excellent Basin. Their people name derives native the Washoe word, waashiw (wa·šiw), an interpretation “people indigenous here.”

Semi-sedentary hunters and gatherers, their territory prolonged from the western slope the the Sierra Nevada hills to locations as far eastern as Pyramid Lake in Nevada, consisting of Lake Tahoe and the top valleys the the Truckee, Carson, and also West pedestrian Rivers. Traditionally, they would spend their summers in the Sierra Nevadas, the fall in the ranges to the east, and also winter and also spring in the valleys in between. Their food base consisted mainly of pinyon pine tree nuts, roots seeds, berries, and also game.


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Sierra Nevada Mountain variety by thomas Moran, 1875.


Family was and also is the main point of the Washoe since these are the civilization that lived and also worked together and relied on each other. In the past, family members are recorded as seldom fewer than 5 individuals and also only occasionally exceeding twelve in size. A household was often a married pair and your children, yet there to be no unique rules around how marriages and also families need to be formed and also households to be regularly consisted of of the parents of a couple, the couple’s siblings and also their children, an ext than one husband or wife, or non-blood associated friends.

Generally, a household was differentiated by whoever lived with each other in the winter house. Winter camps were typically composed of 4 to ten family members groups life a brief distance from each other. These household groups regularly moved with each other throughout the year. The Washoe exercised sporadic leadership, so in ~ times, each team had an informal leader that was usually well-known for his or her wisdom, generosity, and truthfulness. The or she may possess special powers to dream that when and also where there to be a huge presence that rabbit, antelope and also other game, including the spawning of the fish, and would i think the role of “Rabbit Boss” or “Antelope ceo to coordinate and also advise communal hunts.

The Washoe to be traditionally divided into 3 groups, the northerners or Wel mel ti, the Pau wa lu who stayed in the Carson sink in the east, and the Hung a lel ti, who stayed in the south. These three groups each spoke a slightly different yet distinctive variant the the Washoe language. These groups came with each other throughout the year for unique events and also gatherings. Individual families, groups, or local groups, came with each other at specific times to take part in hunting drives, war, and special ceremonies. During their yearly gathering at Lake Tahoe, each of the three local groups camped at their family members campsites in ~ the lake. A person might switch from the team that they to be born right into to a group from another side that the lake. Over there were regularly cross-group marriages, sometimes even between the Paiute and the California tribes.

Relations with various other tribes bordering Washoe are were mostly about tolerance and mutual understanding. Sometimes events lead to tensions and also warfare. It was advantageous to both sides to store their distance, yet they also needed to keep a relationship to exchange profession goods.


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Explorers by freder Remington, 1904


They were first driven right into the area indigenous the eastern by their long-time enemies, the northern Paiute, by whom they were later on dominated. ~ soundly defeating the Washoe, the Paiute, who had actually obtained and also learned to ride horses, would not enable the Washoe to own or drive their very own mounts.

When white trappers and explorers began to do their means into their territory, the Washoe go their finest to avoid them. They had heard around the new intruders prior to they ever saw one. Together the Spanish attacked the California shore to create missions and convert Indians to Catholicism, the Washoe started to make fewer and fewer trips come the west coast until eventually, those trips stopped altogether. Surrounding tribes the escaped right into hiding in the high mountains probably warned the Washoe about the invaders.

Although White historians have actually concluded that the Spanish never gone into Washoe territory, the Washoe have actually told stories about them for generations, and also some Washoe words, consisting of names for relatively brand-new additions come the Washoe world, choose horse, cow, and money, are comparable to the Spanish terms.


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John C. Fremont


When the very first white fur traders and also surveyors began to enter Washoe region the indians approached the newcomers v caution. They wanted to observe the intruders native a distance. The first written record of non-Indians in Washoe land were hair trappers in 1826; castle may have met the Washoe, but left no description of the encounter. The very first written summary of the Washoe to be by John Charles Fremont in 1844, who was leading a government surveying expedition. Fremont described the Washoe as being mindful of gift close come them, however in time, once he showed no aggression, the Washoe come forward and gave him handfuls of pine tree nuts. Fremont defined struggling with deep snow and being impression by the Washoe’s skill with snowshoes. The Washoe willingly shared their understanding of the land and eventually guided Fremont come a safe passage come California.

As an ext and more colonizers started infiltrating Washoe land, the was not long before relations grew hostile. The summer that 1844, simply a few months after Fremont had actually passed through, a group of trappers left record of having actually shot and killed five Indians (either Washoe or Paiute) for having taken traps and also perhaps horses. The Indians probably take it those points in order come discourage the trappers from entering your land. After the deaths, the trappers searched the area, yet not surprisingly discovered no an ext Indians. Many westward-migrating settlers had actually been conditioned by their experiences passing v the country of aggressively defensive tribes that the great Plains and also saw no difference between various tribes. They supposed the Washoe to it is in violent and also dangerous and also projected these qualities upon them.


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The Donner Party by Andy Thomas


In 1846, the Washoe noticed the famed Donner party wagon train due to the fact that they had never checked out wagons before. They described seeing the wagons and wondering if they to be a “monster snake”. In route to California, the Donner party reached the Sierras so late in the year and got trapped in eye for a specifically harsh winter. The Washoe confirm in v the stranded travelers a couple of times and brought castle food as soon as they could. Even so, in the challenge of suffering and starvation, the Donner Party resorted come cannibalism. When the Washoe saw them eating each other they were shocked and also frightened. Return the Washoe confronted hard times every winter and also death by famine sometimes occurred, lock were never ever cannibalistic. Stories about the situation, part gruesome and also some sympathetic, were told for countless generations and also were stated to have added to the general mistrust of the white people.

In 1848, gold was “discovered” in California, and also although until then, many of the Washoe had actually never viewed white people, or had actually previously avoided them, this soon came to be impossible. The wagon trains came by the hundreds, and because most of the wagon trails had previously been Indian trails, encounters to be numerous. Many of the brand-new people were simply passing through, however by 1849, several began to establish seasonal trading articles in Washoe territory.

By 1851, year-round trading short articles were established, and also colonizers became permanent occupants on Washoe land. The inhabitants often decided to live on some of the most productive gathering areas that the Washoe depended on. A couple of years after yellow was discovered in California, silver- was “discovered” in the an excellent Basin and the “Comstock Bonanza” lured countless miners that had passed through back into Washoe territory.

The Euro-American perspective viewed land and also its sources as objects that frontier opportunity and exploitation. In a quick time, the colonizers had actually overused the jaw nuts, seeds, game and also fish the the Washoe had lived harmoniously through for hundreds of years. Through 1851, Indian agent Jacob Holeman recommended that the federal government sign a treaty with the Washoe and wrote, “…the Indians having actually been moved from your lands, and their searching ground damaged without compensation, because of this – they room in numerous instances reduced to a state of enduring bordering top top starvation.” all this taken place in much less than ten year after Fremont had actually passed through Washoe territory.

Settlers and miners reduced down trees, including the sacred Piñon jaw to construct buildings, support mine shafts, and also even burn as fuel. The Piñon pine tree woodlands that had once detailed the Washoe, other tribes and all the pets with much more than sufficient nuts ended up being barren hillsides.


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Paiute, 1873


In 1859, Indian agent Frederick Dodge said removing the Washoe to two reservations, one in ~ Pyramid Lake, and another at walker Lake. Since the appointments were intended to be shared by the Washoe and also the Paiute, it shortly became apparent that this was impossible. Not only did the two people speak entirely different languages, yet historically they had actually not constantly been friendly and also trouble would no doubt arise if lock were required to live in close quarters. Furthermore, the Washoe intended to live ~ above the land where the an equipment had developed them, and they withstood all attempts to be relocated. Many formal requests indigenous Indian agents were created a different reservation for the Washoe, but the government ignored them all. By 1865, there were no follow me of unoccupied land big enough within traditional Washoe are to kind one reservation, therefore an agent made a reference that two different 360-acre parcels be set aside because that the Washoe.

The complying with year, in 1866, a brand-new agent destroyed any hope the this happening once he sent out a letter to his authorities the stated, “There is no an ideal place for a reservation in the bounds of their territory, and, in see of their rapidly diminishing numbers and also the illness to i m sorry they space subjected, none is required.” This guy wrongly thought that with time the Washoe would disappear. In between 1871 and also 1877 several more requests for a reservation for the Washoe to be made by agents, yet again they were no heard. The federal government made no attempt to secure legal rights for the Washoe or to protect against the destruction of the soil by the colonial culture. Settler’s breed cub grazed the soil intensely and also grasses that had actually once detailed the Washoe v seed to be trampled and also eaten. Advertisement fishing was exercised on every stream and also lake in the area and also it was not long prior to the fish to be depleted. In ~ the height of the fishing, 70,000 pounds the fish to be being sent from Lake Tahoe to Reno, Carson City, and also Virginia City, Nevada. There were several attempts by the colonizers to prevent the Washoe indigenous fishing, yet the indians banded together and restrictions were relaxed. Also so, there to be no longer sufficient fish for the Washoe come subsist on. Sagehens that provided to “cover the hills choose snow” were killed off by sport hunting as well.

Though the Washoe had tried their ideal to prevent the white settlers, your lands had actually been taken, their searching grounds succumbed to farms, and also the Pinyon groves were cut down. Lock soon uncovered themselves dependent upon the settlers for jobs. Their new settlements were referred to at the time as “Indian colonies,” however were no formal Indian reservations.

Despite some regional opposition, floor was lastly purchased for the Washoe in 1917. Two tracts of land to be purchased near Carson City, Nevada that totaled 156.33 acres. This came to be the Carson Indian Community. Soon after this purchase, the federal government received 40 acres of land southern of Gardnerville from the Dressler family, to unlimited be held in to trust for the Washoe, now well-known as the Dresslerville Community. Second 20 acre were got for the Washoe and Northern Paiute families who lived in Reno referred to as the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony. Most of the soil purchased because that the Washoe were rocky and also had poor soil, however the human being moved onto this areas and also built the best homes the they could. Many were one-room shacks without electricity and also running water. Eventually, the government developed larger four-room houses.

Under the Indian Reorganization Act, between 1938 and 1940, the Washoe acquired 95 acres in the Carson sink that became known together Washoe Ranch. Finally, the Washoe had farming land whereby they could raise animals and also food. After stable on their recently returned land, the Washoe uncovered it difficult to adapt to preventive life. They were traditionally a free-roaming human being that were now minimal and confined to boundaries and were under continuous monitoring by Indian Agents that pressured them come renounce their old customs in favor of colonial ways the living. The superintendent the the Reno firm attacked several traditional practices, including the girl’s passage to womanhood. Ironically the practices that he targeted together “heathen” and also “immoral” prefer giving gifts were similarly practiced in ~ Euro-American birthdays and also marriages. Another superintendent announced that timeless games that affiliated exchanging money to be not permitted on federal government lands or Indian reservations, however he do no proclamations prohibiting comparable games played by colonizers such together poker. Government officials went as far regarding prohibit the usage of timeless Washoe medicine.

The government had considerably reduced the area the the Washoe had designated together their ancestral homeland, and in 1951 the Washoe filed a case to the Indian claims Commission for your lands and also resources that had actually been lost. The legit proceedings lasted virtually 20 years, and the Washoe ultimately received their case in 1970. The last settlement was 5 million dollars, which “scarcely constitutes also a token compensation because that the appropriation of an ancient territory and also its sources which today make up one of the richest and also most attractive locations in the American West.

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Also in 1970, a one-of-a-kind act of congress granted 80 acre in Alpine County, California come Washoe that had lived there for numerous years. This is now recognized as the Woodfords Community. In an ext recent year the tribe has actually been getting lands within their genealogical territory including, candid Parcel, Lady’s Canyon, Babbit Peak, Uhalde Parcel, wade Parcels, Olympic Valley, Incline Parcel, Upper and also Lower clean Creek Parcels. Few of the lands have been collection aside as conservation and cultural lands for the Washoe People.