Paiute War – Background

Published on February 25, 2013 by Carol

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Numaga, high chief of the Paiute
during the war

The Paiute War, also known as the Pyramid Lake War, Washoe Indian War and the Pah Ute War, was an armed conflict between Northern Paiutes allied with the Shoshone and the Bannock against the United States. It took place in 1860 in the vicinity of Pyramid Lake in the Utah Territory, now within present day Nevada. The war was preceded by a series of increasingly violent incidents, culminating in two pitched battles in which approximately eighty settlers were killed. The number of Paiutes killed in action is unrecorded. Smaller raids and skirmishes continued until a cease-fire was agreed to in August 1860; there was no treaty.

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Early settlement of what is now northwestern Nevada had a tremendously disruptive effect on the Northern Paiute people. The fragility of the Great Basin ecosystem magnified this disruption despite the relatively low density of the settlers. These disruptions included the felling of single-leaf pinyon groves, a major food source for the Paiute, for the mining industry and monopolization of water sources. In addition, settlers and Paiutes competed for grazing lands. Several murders were committed by both Paiutes and the settlers. The lack of effective government in the area meant that there was no formal judicial response to these incidents, leading to private retribution and a general atmosphere of fear and distrust. The winter of 1859-1860 was particularly cold and snowy in the Great Basin, creating great hardship for the Paiute. Chief Winnemucca died in the winter of 1859. He had been influential among the Paiute, widely liked by the settlers, and therefore served as an ambassador and keeper of an uneasy peace. Paiute bands from across the Great Basin gathered at Pyramid Lake for the spring fish run due to monopolization and destruction of local food supplies by the settlers.

Source: Legendsofamerica

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