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Angie Bulletts Paiute.jpg
Angie Bulletts (Kaibab Paiute) weaves a Paiute cradleboard, Arizona, 2011
Total population
6,300 (1990)[1]
Regions with significant populations
United States (Arizona, California,
Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah)
Northern Paiute language,
Owens Valley Paiute,
Southern Paiute language, English
Native American Church, Sun Dance, traditional tribal religion,[2] Christianity, Ghost Dance
Related ethnic groups
Bannock, Mono, Timbisha and Kawaiisu

Paiute (/ˈpjuːt/; also Piute) refers to three closely related groups of indigenous peoples of the Great Basin:

  • Northern Paiute of California, Idaho, Nevada and Oregon.
  • Owens Valley Paiute of California and Nevada.
  • Southern Paiute of Arizona, southeastern California, Nevada and Utah.

Their peoples have become members of numerous federally recognized tribes, as noted in the sections below. In many locations they have colocated with peoples of the Shoshone and Washoe tribes, who have also long been in the Great Basin.

Language and culture[edit]

The Northern and Southern Paiute peoples both speak languages belonging to the Numic branch of the Uto-Aztecan family of Native American languages. The terms Paiute, Northern Paiute and Southern Paiute are most correctly applied to refer to groups of people with similar language and culture. It does not imply a political connection or even an especially close genetic relationship. The Northern Paiute speak the Northern Paiute language, while the Southern Paiute speak the Colorado River Numic language. These languages are not as closely related to each other as they are to other Numic languages.

The Bannock, Mono, Coso, Timbisha and Kawaiisu peoples, who also speak Numic languages and live in adjacent areas, are sometimes also referred to as Paiute. The Bannock speak a dialect of Northern Paiute.

But, the Mono Tribe and other three peoples speak distinctly separate Numic languages: Mono is related more closely to Northern Paiute, as is Coso. The Timbisha language is related more closely to the Shoshoni language. The Kawaiisu language is more closely related to Colorado River Numic of the Southern Paiute.


They use the roots of Sagittaria cuneata for food.[3]

Northern Paiute[edit]

Sarah Winnemucca, Paiute writer and lecturer
Captain John, Leader of the Yosemite-Mono Lake Paiutes
Chief Winnemucca, Chief of the Paiutes. He was also named Poito.

The Northern Paiute traditionally have lived in the Great Basin in eastern California, western Nevada, and southeast Oregon. The Northern Paiute's pre-contact lifestyle was well adapted to the harsh desert environment in which they lived. Each tribe or band occupied a specific territory, generally centered on a lake or wetland that supplied fish and water-fowl. Communal hunt drives, which often involved neighboring bands, would take rabbits and pronghorn from surrounding areas. Individuals and families appear to have moved freely among the bands.

They gathered Pinyon nuts in the mountains in the fall as a critical winter food source. Women also gathered grass seeds and roots as important parts of their diet. The name of each band was derived from a characteristic food source. For example, the people at Pyramid Lake were known as the Cui Ui Ticutta (meaning "Cui-ui eaters," or trout eaters). The people of the Lovelock area were known as the Koop Ticutta, meaning "ground-squirrel eaters;" and the people of the Carson Sink were known as the Toi Ticutta, meaning "tule eaters." The Kucadikadi of Mono County, California are the "brine fly eaters."

Relations among the Northern Paiute bands and their Shoshone neighbors were generally peaceful. There is no sharp distinction between the Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone or Sosone. Relations with the Waasseoo or Washoe people, who were culturally and linguistically very different, were not so peaceful.

Sustained contact between the Northern Paiute and Euro-Americans began in the early 1840s, although the first contact may have occurred as early as the 1820s. Although the Paiute had adopted the use of horses from other Great Plains tribes, their culture was otherwise then largely unaffected by European influences. As Euro-American settlement of the area progressed, competition for scarce resources increased. Several violent confrontations took place, including the Pyramid Lake War of 1860, Owens Valley Indian War 1861-1864,[4] Snake War 1864-1868; and the Bannock War of 1878. These incidents generally began with a disagreement between settlers and the Paiute (singly or in a group) regarding property, retaliation by one group against the other, and finally counter-retaliation by the opposite party, frequently culminating in the armed involvement of the U.S. Army. Fatalities were much higher among the Paiute due to newly introduced Eurasian infectious diseases, such as smallpox, which were endemic among the Europeans. The Natives had no acquired immunity. Sarah Winnemucca's book Life Among the Piutes (1883)[5] gives a first-hand account of this period, although it is not considered to be wholly reliable.

The government first established the Malheur Reservation for the Northern Paiute in eastern Oregon. It intended to concentrate the Northern Paiute there, but its strategy did not work. Because of the distance of the reservation from the traditional areas of most of the bands, and because of its poor environmental conditions, many Northern Paiute refused to go there. Those that did, soon left. They clung to their traditional lifestyle as long as possible. When environmental degradation of their lands made that impossible, they sought jobs on white farms, ranches or in cities. They established small Indian colonies, where they were joined by many Shoshone and, in the Reno area, Washoe people.

Later, the government created larger reservations at Pyramid Lake and Duck Valley, Nevada. By that time the pattern of small de facto reservations near cities or farm districts, often with mixed Northern Paiute and Shoshone populations, had been established. Starting in the early 20th century, the federal government began granting land to these colonies. Under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, several individual colonies gained federal recognition as independent tribes.

Historic Northern Paiute bands[edit]

Wovoka, Paiute spiritual leader and founder of the Ghost Dance religion

Northern Paiute tribes[edit]

These are federally recognized tribes with significant Northern Paiute populations:

Notable Northern Paiutes[edit]


Estimates for the pre-contact populations of most native groups in California have varied substantially. Alfred L. Kroeber thought that the 1770 population of the Northern Paiute within California was 500. He estimated their population in 1910 as 300.[9] Others[10] put the total Northern Paiute population in 1859 at about 6,000.

Owens Valley Paiute[edit]

Owens Valley Paiute woman weaving a basket

Owens Valley Paiute live on the California-Nevada border, near the Owens River on the eastern side of the southern Sierra Nevada in the Owens Valley and speak the Mono language.[11] Their self-designation is Numa, meaning "People" or Nün‘wa Paya Hup Ca’a‘ Otuu’mu—"Coyote's children living in the water ditch"[12]


In the 1990s, approximately 2,500 Owens Valley Paiutes lived on reservations.[13]

Owens Valley Paiute tribes[edit]

Southern Paiute[edit]

Moapa Southern Paiute, Paiute woman and girl wearing traditional Paiute basket hats. Baby swaddled in rabbit robes in cradleboard, Las Vegas

The Southern Paiute traditionally lived in the Colorado River basin and Mojave Desert in northern Arizona and southeastern California including Owens Valley,[16] southern Nevada and southern Utah. Terminated as a tribe in 1954 under federal efforts at assimilation, the Southern Paiute regained federal recognition in 1980. Many of these Paiute traded with coastal tribes; for example, tribes of the Owens Valley have been proven to trade with the Chumash of the Central Coast, based upon archaeological recovery at Morro Creek.[17] A band of Southern Paiute at Willow Springs and Navajo Mountain, south of the Grand Canyon, reside inside the Navajo Nation. These "San Juan Paiute" were officially recognized as a separate tribe by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1980.

The first European contact with the Southern Paiute occurred in 1776, when fathers Silvestre Vélez de Escalante and Francisco Atanasio Domínguez encountered them during an attempt to find an overland route to the missions of California. They noted that some of the Southern Paiute men "had thick beards and were thought to look more in appearance like Spanish men than native Americans".[a] Before this date, the Southern Paiute suffered slave raids by the Navajo and the Ute. The arrival of Spanish and later Euro-American explorers into their territory increased slave raiding by other tribes. In 1851, Mormon settlers strategically occupied Paiute water sources, which created a dependency relationship. But, the presence of Mormon settlers soon ended the slave raids, and relations between the Paiutes and the Mormons were basically peaceful. The Mormon missionary Jacob Hamblin worked at diplomatic efforts. The introduction of European settlers and agricultural practices (most especially large herds of cattle) made it difficult for the Southern Paiute to continue their traditional lifestyle, as it drove away the game and reduced their ability to hunt, as well as to gather natural foods.

Today Southern Paiute communities are located at Las Vegas, Pahrump, and Moapa, in Nevada; Cedar City, Kanosh, Koosharem, Shivwits, and Indian Peaks, in Utah; at Kaibab and Willow Springs, in Arizona; Death Valley and at the Chemehuevi Indian Reservation and on the Colorado River Indian Reservation in California. Some would include the 29 Palms Reservations in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties of California.

Traditional Southern Paiute bands[edit]

Numaga, peace chief of the Paiutes during the Pyramid Lake Paiute War of 1860

The Southern Paiute traditionally had 16 to 31 subgroups, bands, or tribes.[18]

Contemporary Southern Paiute federally recognized tribes[edit]

Notable Southern Paiutes[edit]

Pah Ute War[edit]

The Pah Ute War, also known as the Paiute War, was a minor series of raids and ambushes which had an effect on the development of the Pony Express. It took place from May through June 1860, though sporadic violence continued for a period afterward.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Pritzker 2000, p. 224.
  2. ^ "Northern Paiute - Religion and Expressive Culture". Countries and Their Cultures. (retrieved 8 Dec 2009)
  3. ^ Fowler, Catherine S., 1989, Willards Z. Park's Ethnographic Notes on the Northern Paiute of Western Nevada 1933-1940, Salt Lake City. University of Utah Press, page 44
  4. ^ California and the Indian Wars, The Owens Valley Indian War, 1861-1865, The California Military Museum
  5. ^ Hopkins 1883.
  6. ^ The Paiute and Shoshone of Fort McDermitt, Nevada
  7. ^ Summit Lake Paiute Tribe Archived 2012-03-01 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ perhaps this was not a Norther Paiute band instead the Wiyimpihtikka (Buffalo Berry Eaters) of the Western Shoshone
  9. ^ Kroeber 1925, p. 883.
  10. ^ Liljeblad & Fowler 1978, p. 457.
  11. ^ Liljeblad & Fowler 1978, p. 412.
  12. ^ Pritzker 2000, p. 227.
  13. ^ Pritzker 2000, p. 228.
  14. ^ Liljeblad & Fowler 1978, p. 413.
  15. ^ Pritzker 2000, pp. 229-230.
  16. ^ W.C. Sturtevant, 1964
  17. ^ Hogan 2008.
  18. ^ a b c d e Kelly & Fowler 1978, p. 394.
  19. ^ a b c d e f Kelly & Fowler 1978, p. 395.
  20. ^ a b c d e f Kelly & Fowler 1978, p. 396.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]