Once upon a time, in a far away land.. there were several tribes of people living in the Nevada desert. There were epic battles, Gods among nature, and ideals to live off the land. Of course we’ve all seen the old cheesy westerns with cowboys and Indians. Men on horses taking land from the natives and such. And we’ve also all witnessed Pocahontas falling for good ole John Smith, but for these people living in tribes was everyday life. How’d these indians live? How did they survive?
7 (of Many) Nevada Desert Native Indians:
The Mohave Indians:
There’s a story of how these indians were created and taught by a man named Mastamho. Mastamho’s older brother and sister fought over who was to teach the people but with the flick of the wrist, Mastamho used a willow stick to take charge. He drew a line in the sand, which became a river with fish and birds. Apparently the people knew nothing and so he led them and taught them to fish and hunt and build shelters etc. Later on, the people were able to fight for their territory with fierceness. One interesting thing they did was to “purify” after battle so they could wash off what they believed to be following evil spirits.
The Chemehuevi indians did something similar to making and storing jams in jars. Except instead of limiting themselves to jams, they cooked everything and, before a trip, stored their food in pots that they then stored in the ground or in caves. These people would trade things to other tribes for eagles. They used these eagles in their mourning ceremonies and would burn most all of the possessions of the deceased. There is a sad part of the history of these people that mentions them having to eventually work for men with guns and buy processed food. Fortunately, they have the songs and stories from the past to keep their rich history alive.
Timbisha Shoshone Indians:
Shoshone is the word for “Desert people.” Current Timbisha Shoshone indians were shocked to find out the land they once so prosperously dwelt upon is now named “Death Valley.” They explained that the land had always provided what was needed. The men hunted big horn sheep and other large animals and the women were happy making baskets so extremely intricate and closely woven they would hold water! When they weren’t hunting or making baskets they were closely watching and taking care of the Mesquite Trees doing various forms of gardening techniques still used today. The pods would fall off of these trees eventually and the people would grind up the pods making a sort of flour. They would then travel into the mountains where the desert floor got too hot and they would cook these pod cakes. Those kept them sustained through brutal winters.
It’s clear we could have learned so many amazing things from these tribes living off the land. Fortunately there are many reservations and ancestors who are willing to keep the accounts and traditions of their families alive. We hope they continue to share their wealth of knowledge and experiences with us.
The Goshute Indians hunted in family groups and every so often gathered into giant family groups for things like nut harvesting. These gatherings didn’t last more than six weeks typically and weren’t usually shorter than two weeks. These families were organized under one “dagwani” or headmaster. The men did most of the heavy hunting, searching out big animals like elk, bears, and coyotes. The women and children were left to doing hunting and harvesting for almost 100 different types of seeds and vegetables. They were also very involved with beading and basketry as hobbies and an artform.
The Washoe Indians:
The name “Washoe” is derived from the word “waashiw” which means “People from here” They lived in the Great Basin and near Lake Tahoe. Basket weaving seemed to be very popular in this tribe as well. Currently the language (part of the Hokan Language Family) is almost as good as dead. however there are many elderly Washoe Indians who are keeping the language alive. Fortunately they are keeping the youth in their families as a focus to teach the language to because the young people are the future for their people. They are able to do this at the Gardnerville reservation in Nevada.
The Mono People:
Sometimes in history known as the "Mona" or "Monache," can be currently found living in central parts of california including Madera County. Their western neighbors, known as the Yokuts, referred to them as the “fly people” since fly larvae was a huge food staple for them. Things that these people were known for, and still play a huge part in their lives, include fishing, acorn gathering, hunting, cooking, basket making, healing, and games. There’s actually a Festive day called “Indian Fair Days Festival” where many of the old traditions and rituals are being kept alive every first weekend in August annually in North Folk, California.
The Paiute Tribe:
The Pauite people were never able to really master the art of hunting. Since this was the case, they worse very little clothing and were very good at harvesting. This made them very good at basket weaving so they had a place to keep all the food they found. They were also a very nomadic tribe traveling from place to place. This meant they had very few possessions in way of jewelry and fine clothing and things of the sort. There were many rituals and ceremonies that this tribe heavily believed in keeping alive. One involved “puha” or power. They believed that everything around us has a life force and that in order to harness the puha they’d do a ritual. It was thought that this would give them victories in war, could change the weather and would give them fertility as well! Interestingly enough the Paiute Reservation can be found on Paiute Drive in Las Vegas, NV. They also own several smoke shops and a Golf Resort.
Vegas Off Road Tours enjoys sharing the history of the land. Robert, the main guide for the Las Vegas ATV tours, has a wealth of knowledge of the Goodsprings Nevada desert area. From indians to rocks to plant and animal life your tour will include so much more than just driving around in the dirt.