Paiute people

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 (play /ˈpjuːt/; also Piute) refers to three closely related groups of Native Americans — the Northern Paiute of California, Idaho, Nevada and Oregon; the Owens Valley Paiute of California and Nevada; and the Southern Paiute of Arizona, southeastern California and Nevada, and Utah.


Origin of name

The origin of the word Paiute is unclear. Some anthropologists have interpreted it as "Water Ute" or "True Ute." The Northern Paiute call themselves Numa (sometimes written Numu); the Southern Paiute call themselves Nuwuvi. Both terms mean "the people." The Northern Paiute are sometimes referred to as Paviotso. Early Spanish explorers called the Southern Paiute Payuchi (they did not make contact with the Northern Paiute). Early Euro-American settlers often called both groups of Paiute "Diggers" (presumably because of their practice of digging for roots). As the Paiute consider the term derogatory, they discourage its use.

Language and culture

The Northern and Southern Paiute both speak languages belonging to the Numic branch of the Uto-Aztecan family of Native American languages. Usage of the terms Paiute, Northern Paiute and Southern Paiute is most correct when referring 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 Ute-Southern Paiute language. These languages are not as closely related to each other as they are to other Numic languages.

The Bannock, Mono tribe, and Coso People, Timbisha and Kawaiisu peoples, who also speak Numic languages and live in adjacent areas, are sometimes referred to as Paiute. The Bannock speak a dialect of Northern Paiute, while the Mono Tribe and other three peoples speak separate Numic languages: Mono language is more closely related to Northern Paiute, as is Coso; Timbisha language is more closely related to Shoshoni, and Kawaiisu language is more closely related to Ute-Southern Paiute.

Northern Paiute

Captain John, Leader of the Yosemite-Mono Lake Paiutes

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. Rabbits and pronghorn were taken from surrounding areas in communal drives, which often involved neighboring bands. Individuals and families appear to have moved freely between bands. Pinyon nuts gathered in the mountains in the fall provided critical winter food. Grass seeds and roots were also important parts of their diet. The name of each band came from a characteristic food source. For example, the people at Pyramid Lake were known as the Cui Ui Ticutta (meaning "Cui-ui 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."

Chief Winnemucca, Chief of the Paiutes. He was also named Poito.

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. Relations with the Washoe people, who were culturally and linguistically very different, were not so peaceful.

Sarah Winnemucca, Paiute writer and lecturer

Sustained contact between the Northern Paiute and Euro-Americans came 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 largely unaffected by European influences at that point. As Euro-American settlement of the area progressed, several violent incidents occurred, including the Pyramid Lake War of 1860, Owens Valley Indian War 1861-1864,[3] 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. Many more Paiutes died from newly introduced infectious diseases such as smallpox than in warfare. Sarah Winnemucca's book Life Among the Piutes (1883)[4] 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. The federal government's intention was 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 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.

Wovoka – Paiute spiritual leader and creator of the Ghost Dance

Historic Northern Paiute tribes

  • Hunipuitöka (‘Hunipui-Root-Eaters’, often called Walpapi,lived along Deschutes River, Crooked River and John Day River in central Oregon, today known as Burns Paiute Tribe)
  • Goyatöka (‘Crayfish-Eaters’, often called Yahuskin, also known as Upper Sprague River Snakes or even Upper Sprague River Klamath, lived along the shores of the Goose, Silver, Warner and Harney Lake, living along Sprague River in Oregon)
  • Wadadökadö (Wada Ticutta, Wada-Tika - ‘Wada-Root -and Grass seed-Eaters’, today known as Burns Paiute, lived along the shores of Malheur Lake, between the Cascade Mountains in central Oregon and Payette Valley north of Boise, Idaho, as well as in the southern parts of the Blue Mountain in the vicinity of the headwaters of the Powder River, north of John Day River, southward to the desertlike surroundings of Steens Mountain)
  • Koa'aga´itöka (‘salmon caught in traps-Eaters', lived in the Snake River Plain)
  • Tagötöka (Taga Ticutta - ‘Root-Tuber-Eaters’, literally ‘Eaters of the Root-Tuber of the desert parsley’, lived along the Jordan River and Owyhee River in Oregon and Idaho. The edible plant was also called "biscuits roots", because powder biscuits were baked from it.
  • Tsösö'ödö tuviwarai (‘Those who live in the cold’, lived in the surroundings of Steens Mountain in Oregon)
  • Kidütökadö (Gidu Ticutta - ‘Yellow-bellied marmot-Eaters’, also called Northern California Paiute, lived around Goose Lake, in Surprise Valley of northern California and Warner Valley in Oregon, and in the valley along the eastern mountains of the Warner Range along the Oregon-Nevada border to the south to Long Valley and the Lower Lake)
  • Atsakudökwa tuviwarai (‘Those who live in the red mesas', lived in the northwest of Nevadas along the Oregon-Nevada border in the Santa Rosa Mountains, north of the Slumbering Hills, west to the Jackson Mountains, northeast to Disaster Peak and east back to the Santa Rosa Mountains, Quinn River was the most important water resource, today known as Ft. McDermitt Tribe)
  • Makuhadökadö (also called Pauida tuviwarai, lived around Battle Mountain and Unionville in Nevada, parts of the Humboldt Valleys, in the desert valleys of Buena Vista Valley, Pleasant Valley, Buffalo Valley as in the Sonoma and East Mountains)
  • Moadökadö (Moa Ticutta - ‘Wild-Onion-Eaters’, also called Agaipaninadökadö / Agai Panina Ticutta - ‘Lake-Fish-Eaters’, lived around Summit Lake in Nevada and along the southern border of Idaho, east of the Kidütökadö, today known as Summit Lake Paiute Tribe)
  • Sawawaktödö (‘Sagebrush-Eaters’, also called Sawakudökwa tuviwarai - ‘Sagebrush-Eaters, who live in the mountains’, lived in the Winnemucca area, from the Osgood Mountains and the Sonoma Mountains in the east to the Jachson Mountains in the west, from the Slumbering Hills and Santa Rosa Mountains in the north to Table Mountain in the south, now known as Winnemucca Tribe)
  • Kamodökadö (Kama Ticutta - ‘Hare-Eaters’, lived north of Pyramid Lake in the Smoke Creek and Granite Creek deserts, today known as Yerington Paiute Tribe)
  • Tasiget tuviwarai (‘Those who live amidst the mountains', lived in Winnemucca Valley, today known as Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe)
  • Kuyuidökadö (Cui Ui Ticutta - ‘Cui-Ui-Fish-Eaters’, lived along the shores of Pyramid Lake, today known as Pyramid Lake Paiute)
  • Küpadökadö (Koop Ticutta - ‘Ground-squirrel-Eaters’, lived along the shores of Humboldt Lake, their territory in the east was limited by the Shoshone, including the Pahsupp Mountains Kamma Mountains and Majuba Mountains and the Humboldt River and Sink River, today known as Lovelock Paiute Tribe)
  • Toedökadö (Toi Ticutta - ‘Broadleaf Cattail-Eaters’, ‘Tule-Eaters’, lived in the Carson Sink)
  • Aga'idökadö (Agai Ticutta - ‘Cutthroat-Trout-Eater’, today known as Walker River Paiute)
  • Pakwidökadö (Pugwi Ticutta - ‘Chub-Carp-Eaters’, today known as Walker River Paiute)
  • Tövusidökadö (Tobusi Ticutta - ‘Pine-nut-Eaters’, lived in the mountain foothills of Nevada, today known as Yerington Paiute Tribe)
  • Kutzadika'a (Ku Zabbi Ticutta - ‘Brine fly larvae Eaters’, derived from Kutsavi - ‘fly larvae’ and Dika'a - ‘Eaters’, also called Mono Lake Paiute or Western Mono, derived from Monoache - ‘Fly larvae-Eaters’ the designation of the Yokut for the Kutzadika'a)
  • Onabedukadu (‘Salt-Eaters’, lived in California)
  • Yamosöpö tuviwarai (Yamosopu Tuviwa ga yu - ‘Those, who live in Crescent Valley’, lived in Paradise Valley, which was called by them Crescent Valley, Nevada, as well as in the Santa Rosa Mountains and along the Little Humboldt, southward along the Oregon-Nevada border in the Osgoods Mountains, today known as Ft. McDermitt Tribe)
  • Pogidukadu (Poo-zi Ticutta - ‘Onion-Eaters’, today known as Yerington Paiute Tribe)

Northern Paiute tribes

These are federally recognized tribes with significant Northern Paiute populations:

Notable Northern Paiutes


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.[5] Others [6] put the total Northern Paiute population in 1859 at about 6,000.

Owens Valley Paiute

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 Mountains in the Owens Valley and speak the Mono language.[7] Their self-designation is Numa, meaning ‘People’ or Nün‘wa Paya Hup Ca’a‘ Otuu’mu - ‘Coyotes children living in the water ditch’ [8]


In the 1990s, approximately 2,500 Owens Valley Paiutes lived on reservations.[9]

Owens Valley Paiute tribes

Southern Paiute

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,[12] 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.[13] A band of Southern Paiute at Willow Springs and Navajo Mountain, south of the Grand Canyon, reside inside the Navajo Indian Reservation. 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. 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 Reservation in Riverside County, California.

Traditional Southern Paiute bands

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

The Southern Paiute traditionally had sixteen to 31 subgroups, bands, or tribes.[14]

  • Antarianunts (Yantarii), historically from near Henry Mountains, Utah[14]
  • Beaver band (Kwi?umpacíii, Kwiumpus, Quiumputs), "Frasera speciosa people," from near Beaver, Utah[14]
  • Cedar band (Ankappanukkicicimi), Unkapanukuints, "Red-stream people," from near Cedar City, Utah[14]
  • Chemehuevi (Camowév, Acimuev), "those who do something with fish,"[14] now often viewed as a distinct group
    • Howaits (Hokwaits, lived in the Ivanpah Mountains, called Ivanpah Mountain Group)
    • Kauyaichits (lived in the area of Ash Meadows, called Ash Meadows Group)
    • Mokwats (lived in the Kingston Mountains, called Kingston Mountain Group)
    • Moviats (Movweats, lived on Cottonwood Island, called Cottonwood Island Group)
    • Palonies ((Spanish) "the bald-headed.", traveled to the area north of Los Angeles)
    • Shivawach (one group of them lived at Twentynine Palms, the second one in Chemehuevi Valley)
    • Tümplsagavatsits (Timpashauwagotsits, lived in the Providence Mountains, therefore called Providence Mountain Group)
    • Yagats (lived in the Amargosa Valley and along the Amargosa River, called Amargosa River Group)
  • Gunlock band (Matooshats, Matissatï), from near Gunlock, Utah[15]
  • Kaibab (Kaipapicicimi, Kaivavwits, Kaibabits) named for the Kaibab Plateau in northern Arizona[15]
  • Indian Peak Band
  • Kaiparowits (Escanlante band), named for the Kaiparowits Plateau in Utah[15]
  • Las Vegas band (Nipakanticimi, Nuaguntits), "People of Charles Peak"[15]
  • Moapa (Moapats), "Muddy Creek Paiute"[15]
  • Pahranagat (Pata?nikici), "Person who sticks his feet in the water, named for the Pahranagat Valley, Nevada[15]
  • Panaca (Tsouwaraits, Matisabits), named for Panaca, Nevada[16]
  • Panguitch (Pakiucimi), "fish people," named for Panguitch, Utah[16]
  • San Juan band (Kwaiantikowkets), "People being over on the opposite side," from the San Juan River in northern Arizona[16]
  • Shivwits (Sipicimi, Shebits, Sübüts), "People who live in the East"[16]
  • Uinkaret (Uainuints (Uenuwunts, St. George band), from Saint George, Utah[16]

Contemporary Southern Paiute federally recognized tribes

Notable Southern Paiutes

  • Tony Tillohash, linguist and politician

Pah Ute War

The Pah Ute War, also known as the Paiute War, was a minor series of raids and ambushes initiated by the Paiute and 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


  1. ^ Pritzker, 224
  2. ^ " Northern Paiute - Religion and Expressive Culture ". Countries and Their Cultures. (retrieved 8 Dec 2009)
  3. ^ The California Military Museum; California and the Indian Wars, The Owens Valley Indian War, 1861-1865
  4. ^ Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, 1883
  5. ^ Kroeber, p.883
  6. ^ Fowler and Liljeblad, p.457
  7. ^ Liljeblad and Fowler, 412
  8. ^ Pritzker, 227
  9. ^ Pritzker, 228
  10. ^ Liljeblad and Fowler, 413
  11. ^ Pritzker, 229-230
  12. ^ W.C. Sturtevant, 1964
  13. ^ C.M. Hogan, 2008
  14. ^ a b c d e Kelly and Fowler 394
  15. ^ a b c d e f Kelly and Fowler 395
  16. ^ a b c d e f Kelly and Fowler 396


  • Dutton, Bertha Pauline (1976) The Ranchería, Ute, and Southern Paiute Peoples Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, ISBN 0-13-752923-6
  • Fowler, Catherine S. and Liljeblad, Sven (1978) Northern Paiute In d'Azevedo, Warren L. (editor) (1978) Great Basin, pp. 435–465, Handbook of North American Indians, William C. Sturtevant, general editor, vol. 11. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
  • Hittman, Michael (1996) Corbett Mack: The Life of a Northern Paiute University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, ISBN 0-8032-2376-5
  • Hogan, C.Michael (2008) "Morro Creek" at Megalithic Portal edited by A. Burnham electronic copy
  • Kelly, Isabel T. and Catherine S. Fowler. "Southern Paiute." D'Azenvedo, Warren L., vol. ed. Handbook of North American Indians: Great Basin, Volume 11. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1986. ISBN 978-0-16-004581-3.
  • Kroeber, A. L. (1925) Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. Washington, D.C.
  • Liljeblad, Sven and Fowler, Catherine S. "Owens Valley Paiute." D'Azenvedo, Warren L., vol. ed. Handbook of North American Indians: Great Basin, Volume 11. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1986. ISBN 978-0-16-004581-3.
  • Pritzker, Barry M. (2000) A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples. Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, ISBN 978-0-19-513877-1.
  • Wheeler-Voegelin, Erminie (1955) "The Northern Paiute of Central Oregon: A Chapter in Treaty-Making, Part 1" Ethnohistory 2(2): pp. 95–132
  • Wheeler-Voegelin, Erminie (1955) "The Northern Paiute of Central Oregon: A Chapter in Treaty-Making, Part 2" Ethnohistory 2(3): pp. 241–272
  • Wheeler-Voegelin, Erminie (1956) "The Northern Paiute of Central Oregon: A Chapter in Treaty-Making, Part 3" Ethnohistory 3(1): pp. 1–10

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