Washoe Indians | The People Who Lived Here 5,000 Years Ago

It is estimated that over five thousand years ago, people have crossed the Sierra Nevadas right where you'll be sleeping during the Sierra Stake Out. Long before the "discovery" of this area by Euro Americans, this pass was a travel corridor for Native Americans such as the Washoe Indians. The name of their tribe derives from the Washoe word, waashiw (wa·šiw), meaning "people from here."

The Washoe tribe were skilled basket makers and wove the baskets so closely that they could contain the smallest of seeds and hold water. Neighboring Native Indian tribes of the Washoe were the Ute, Koso, Paiute, Panamint, Pueblo, Walapi and the Shoshone tribes. They were long-time enemies of the Northern Paiute who drove them from their tribal lands in Nevada to California.

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The ability to continue to survive in their home territory was put to a severe test, especially during the mining booms of the nineteenth century that centered around the California gold rush and the Comstock Lode in Virginia City, Nevada. The mining boom brought in large numbers of miners and settlers, displacing Washoe from access to traditional resources. Washoe people took jobs working as ranch hands and domestic servants, finding a new economic niche. This adaptation was not without cost: the Washoe suffered severe population loss from poverty and disease and lived under prejudicial treatment by Euro-Americans, evidenced by threats to Washoe language, religion, and culture.

Washoe have withstood the test of time and continue to live near or on their aboriginal lands. By 2007, tribal membership was approximately 1,500. Although never awarded large-acreage reservations, many Washoe inhabit small tribal acreage sites known as “colonies” to this day. 

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