Northern Paiute is a tribe that has traditionally lived in the Great Basin in eastern California, western Nevada, and southeast Oregon. The Northern Paiutes' 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,[1] 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)[2] 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

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

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.[6] Others[7] put the total Northern Paiute population in 1859 at about 6,000.


  1. ^ California and the Indian Wars, The Owens Valley Indian War, 1861-1865, The California Military Museum
  2. ^ Hopkins 1883.
  3. ^ The Paiute and Shoshone of Fort McDermitt, Nevada
  4. ^ Summit Lake Paiute Tribe Archived 2012-03-01 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ perhaps this was not a Norther Paiute band instead the Wiyimpihtikka (Buffalo Berry Eaters) of the Western Shoshone
  6. ^ Kroeber 1925, p. 883.
  7. ^ Liljeblad & Fowler 1978, p. 457.

See also