The Death Valley Timbi-sha Shoshone Tribe has a 40-acre federal reservation in Death Valley (Inyo County), in south-central California, near the Nevada border. This site is commonly known as Indian Village. They also have additional lands in and near Death Valley National Park.
Official Tribal Name: Death Valley Timbi-sha Shoshone Tribe
Address: PO Box 20,6 900 Indian Village Rd., Death Valley, CA. 92328
Official Website: www.timbisha.com
Recognition Status:The Timbisha Shoshone tribe was federally recognized in 1983. In this effort, they were one of the first tribes to secure tribal status through the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Federal Acknowledgment Process.
Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:
Prior to European contact, the Western Shoshone called themselves the Newe or Numa, both meaning “the people.” The difference is Newe is the singular form, while Numa is the plural form of this word.
The group that traditionally lived in the Death Valley region called themselves Timbisha, named after what is now known as Furnace Creek. Timbisha translates to “red rock face paint” in English.
In the Indian Entities Recognized and Eligible To Receive Services From the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs periodically listed in the Federal Register, their name is presented as “Timbi-Sha”, but this is a typographical error and ungrammatical in Timbisha. The tribe never hyphenates its name. Both the California Desert Protection Act and the Timbisha Shoshone Homeland Act spell their name correctly.
The term Shoshone is a relatively modern one. Its etymology reveals that it was coined about the year 1700 by the Shoshone themselves, (then, Numa people) when they first acquired horses. It literally means “men who ride.” The Shoshone people made a distinction between those people who were wealthy enough to own horses, and those who were not. Those who did not have horses were referred to among the Shoshone as Shoshocou, meaning “men who walk.” A person could move between the two designations, depending on whether he acquired or lost his horses.
Common Name: TimbiSha Shoshone
Panamint, Panamint Shoshone, Koso, California Shoshone, Northern Death Valley Shoshone, Southern Death Valley Shoshone, Kawaiisu, Tümpisa Shoshoni, O’hya and the Tu’mbica
Alternate spellings / Mispellings:
Formerly known as the Death Valley TimbiSha Shoshone Band of California, and Death Valley Timbi-Sha Shoshone Tribe
Timbi-sha is a misspelling. In the Federal Register, their name is presented as “Timbi-Sha,” (with a hyphen) but this is a typographical error and ungrammatical in Timbisha. This is an impossible spelling since “timbisha” is from tɨm ‘rock’ + pisa ‘paint’ and cannot be divided into Timbi-sha. The tribe never hyphenates its name.
Name in other languages:
Many other tribes called the Shoshonean people Snakes. In fact, the Plains sign language symbol for Shoshone is a slithering S motion of the hand and arm like the movement of a snake.
Region: Great Basin Culture
The Great Basin Culture , under which most anthropologists classify all of the Western Shoshone along with the Southern Paiute and Northern Paiute, are considered nomadic foragers, and indeed most are. Two exceptions would be the San Juan Southern Paiutes who were farmers, and the Panamint Shoshone (Timbisha) who were semi-sedentary hunter/gatherers, more like the classic California tribes to the west.
State(s) Today: south-central California, near the Nevada border.
The Timbisha have lived in the Death Valley region for over a thousand years.They also lived in the Great Basin Saline Valley and northern Mojave Desert, and Panamint Valley areas of present day southeastern California.
Congress ratified the Treaty of Ruby Valley in 1866. The treaty was a statement of peace and friendship between the United States and the Western Shoshone. But, it also granted the United States rights-of-way across Western Shoshone territories.
Reservation: Timbi-Sha Shoshone Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land
President Hoover took the tribe’s ancestral lands to create the Death Valley National Monument in 1933. After unsuccessful efforts to remove the band to nearby reservations, National Park Service officials entered into an agreement with Timbisha Shoshone tribal leaders to allow the Civilian Conservation Corps to construct an Indian village for tribal members on 40 acres near park headquarters at Furnace Creek in 1938.
With the help of the California Indian Legal Services, Timbisha Shoshone members led by Pauline Esteves began agitating for a formal reservation in the 1960s. However, the tribe’s reservation, the Death Valley Indian Community, wasn’t formally established until 1982.
By the time the federal government officially took the Panamint Shoshone primary ancestral lands with the creation of Death Valley National Monument in 1933, most of the men of the tribe were working in the mines or in construction. The tribe had been living in three villages in Grapevine Canyon, Wildrose Canyon, and Furnace Creek.
It would be three years before the Park Service would set aside 40 acres for the tribe. Twelve small adobe structures were built to house the 150 or so tribal members. These structures had no water, indoor plumbing, or electricity.
Several of these homes were bulldozed by the Park Service when their Panamint Shoshone inhabitants left to spend time in the nearby mountains to escape 120+ degrees summer heat.
In the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, trailers and mobile homes were added to the small village and utilities were added with funds provided by several federal agencies.
The Panamint Shoshone finally became a federally recognized tribe in 1983, naming their tribe the Timbisha Shoshone. But few of the benefits of being federally recognized were realized.
As a result of continued mistreatment by Park Service employees and feeling like they were being “corralled like cattle”, most of the Timbasha Shoshone removed from Death Valley and ventured north to Bishop, California to live as guests of their distant cousins the Northern Paiute on the Bishop Reservation. There many were able to find employment, some in the casino owned and operated by the Bishop Paiute.
In 1994, the Desert Land Protection Act instructed the Secretary of the Interior to work with the Timbasha Shoshone in finding a suitable reservation for the tribe. Nonetheless, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit decided to throw the Tribe off the last remnant of its traditional homelands in Death Valley. Mr. Babbit was unsuccessful, and in September, 1998 the tribe reached an agreement with the Department of the Interior to establish a Timbisha Shoshone reservation.
The Timbisha Shoshone Homeland Act was ratified in November, 2000. A total of 7,700 acres were restored to the tribe as a reservation. But, the tribe was forced to waive certain rights to secure ratification of this act, rights related to economic viability such as rights to game, construction of a casino, and others. As a result, the restored reservation was not an economically viable one, and was still in violation of the Desert Land Protections Act, except that it also provided that “… the Secretary of the Interior shall acquire additional lands for the tribe for the purpose of economic development …” This provision gave the tribe the right to place into trust land in the City of Hesperia, which falls within the tribe’s traditional ancestral homelands.
In September 1998 the U.S. Department of Interior reached a long negotiated agreement with the Timbisha Shoshone tribe, resolving the grievance dating back to 1933 when the Death Valley National Monument took over their lands.
In November 2000, 17 years after the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe gained federal recognition, President Clinton signed the Timbisha Homeland Act providing for a reservation of about 12 square miles (nearly 10,000 acres) near the Nevada-California border to include land in and outside of Death Valley National Park. The park is full of sites that hold cultural significance to the Timbisha Shoshone people, such as Klare Spring, where their ancestors hunted bighorn sheep and left behind centuries-old petroglyphs.
Land Area: About 10,000 acres
Population at Contact:
Estimates for the pre-contact populations of most native groups in California have varied substantially. Alfred L. Kroeber put the combined 1770 population of the Timbisha (Koso) and Chemehuevi at 1,500.He estimated the population of the Timbisha and Chemehuevi in 1910 as 500.
Julian Steward’s figures for Eastern California are about 65 persons in Saline Valley, 150-160 persons in Little Lake (springs) and the Coso Range, about 100 in northern Panamint Valley, 42 in northern Death Valley, 29 at Beatty, and 42 in the Belted Range.
It is impossible to know exactly what the population of the Panamint Shoshone was in 1849, but one would expect it to have been in the range of 150 or so persons living in four small winter villages on the floor of Death Valley. Their population was estimated at less than 100 in 1891.
Registered Population Today:
Currently the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe consists of around 300 members, usually 50 of whom live at the Death Valley Indian Community at Furnace Creek within Death Valley National Park. Many members spend the summers at Lone Pine in the Owens Valley to the west.
Tribal Enrollment Requirements:
Name of Governing Body:
Number of Council members:
Dates of Constitutional amendments:
Number of Executive Officers:
Language Classification: Aztec-Tanoan -> Uto-Aztecan -> Northern Uto-Aztecan -> Numic -> Central Numic -> Shoshoni-Goshiute -> Timbisha
The Shoshone are part of a great language phylum known to linguists as Aztec-Tanoan. Evidence indicates Aztec-Tanoans were probably a component of the hunter/gatherer Cochise Culture of southwestern New Mexico, southeastern Arizona, and northern Mexico. This culture began about 10,000 years ago, and lasted to about 500 B.C. But since this period began about the time of the end of the last Ice Age, flora and fauna were becoming sparse and even extinct and many tribes, including the Uto-Aztecan ancestors of the Shoshone, apparently fissioned about that time from this Cochise Culture.
Evidence indicated that the Uto-Aztecans eventually appeared along the vast shores of huge Lake Lahontan which covered most of northern Nevada and reached into neighboring states. Lake Lahontan began to dry up between 9,000 and 7,000 years ago due to global warming, and another fissioning happened to the culture. Only the Numic ancestors of the Shoshone remained in the general region. Those who dispersed would become the Aztecs, Hopi, Pima, Serrano, Cahuilla, and numerous other tribes of the southwest and Mexico.
About 3,000 years ago, there would be more dispersal among the Numics with the Western Shoshone being a component of the Central Numic language along with what would become the Comanche, Koso, and Northern Shoshone. Linguistic evidence indicates that the Panamint, the ancestors of the Timbisha Shoshone, arrived in Death Valley within the last millennium (1,000 years), though there are many claims that they arrived earlier.
Language Dialects: Panamint
Number of fluent Speakers: No monolinguals. No speakers who did not also learn English as children.
Dictionary: Tumpisa (Panamint) Shoshone Grammar
Shoshoneans believe that they descended from a tribe which lived in Yellowstone they call the Sheepeaters. Legend has it that the Sheepeaters made bows of bighorn sheep horns cooked in the hot springs of Yellowstone and then pounded into shape. Some believe that big horn sheep depicted in California petroglyphs reflect a spiritual tie to these ancestors.
Bands, Gens, and Clans
The Shoshone and Paiute tribes often hunted together, shared hunting and gathering territories, had common ceremonial gatherings, and often intermarried with each other.
Ely Shoshone Tribe | Duckwater Shoshone | Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe | Ft. McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe | Winnemucca Colony | Yomba Shoshone Tribe | Reno/Sparks Indian Colony | Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone Indians (comprised of the Battle Mountain Band, Elko Band, South Fork Band, and Wells Band)
Duck Valley Paiute | Pyramid Lake Paiute | Fort Independence Paiute | Goshute Confederated Tribes | Kaibab Band of Paiute | Las Vegas Paiute Tribe | Lovelock Paiute Tribe | Moapa River Reservation | Summit Lake Paiute Tribe | Walker River Paiute Tribe | Yerington Paiute Tribe
Paiutes and other Shoshone bands in particular. Visiting tribes were always welcome and trading was conducted vigorously. Coastal tribes traded shells for the inland obsidian. Other trade items included steatite (soapstone), flint, chert, crafted items, white sage, and feathers. White sage is the most important religious plant to all of the tribes of the southwest. However, it grows well only on the up-slope areas facing the coast where fog is common. The Cajon Pass area was a prime growing area for white sage and it was an important trade item.
All of the tribes of the Mojave Desert were peaceful and friendly except for the Mojave and Yuma of the Colorado River.
Ceremonies / Dances:
Modern Day Events & Tourism:
Legends / Oral Stories:
The Timbisha maintained many cultural traits of their Great Basin relatives, including stories and ceremonies. Winter was a time for storytelling for all of the tribes of North America. The stories, besides being entertaining, held the tribal history, religion, laws, mores, traditions, and explanations of natural phenomena. More often that not, the stories were poems and songs, who’s circularity, meter, and verse ensured against deviation over time.
Art & Crafts:
The Timbisha Shoshone were among the best basket weavers in North America. Their basketry included both water-tight coiled baskets and beautiful, functional twined carrying, leaching, and winnowing baskets.
Western Shoshone, Southern Paiute, and Kawaiisu rock art can be found as far west as Black Canyon, 35 mile northwest of Barstow and Inscription Canyon, 42 miles northwest of Barstow. These petroglyphs depict bighorn sheep and fantastic animistic deities and rites. Petroglyphs attributed to Western Shoshone, Southern Paiute, and Vanyume can be found at Surprise Tanks, about 20 miles east of Barstow. These petroglyphs depict rattlesnakes, other animals, a large bee, a plant, and other fantastic images.
The sheep depicted in the aforementioned petroglyphs were not commonly found prehistorically in the Barstow region. They were common in the mountains around Death Valley, however, as well as San Jacinto Range far to the south and mountains as far to the east as the Rockies. Interestingly, bighorn sheep were not an important food source of the Western Shoshone. Nonetheless, at least half of the petroglyphs attributed to the Western Shoshone are of the sheep.
Some believe that these petroglyphs reflect a spiritual tie to ancestors from the Yellowstone region who were called Sheep Eaters.
If they depicted their most important animal food source, they would probably depict rabbits. Community roundups of huge amounts of rabbits using nets occurred each fall. This is one of the times the small foraging patriachial family groups came together as a community to combine their efforts for the hunt. Afterwards, they would stay together for a few days of ceremonies, dancing, gambling, games, and courting.
The Timbisha Shoshone lived in modest conical shaped huts. It seldom got uncomfortably cold in Death Valley during the winter, so substantial houses were not needed and Death Valley was relatively safe from marauding Mojaves who preyed on the tribes of Arizona and Southern California during the winter months.
The Timbisha Shoshone were semi-sedentary hunter/gatherers, more like the classic California tribes to the west. California’s classic semi-sedentary tribes typically owned a winter village and would travel from spring to fall hunting, gathering foods, and collecting materials for tools and utensils. This would be typical behavior for all tribes from northern Baja California north to the Central Valley and excluding the tribes east of the Sierras, except for the Panamint Shoshone.
Life was generally easy wintering in Death Valley. The Panamint would spend the preceding months, (about 3/4 of the year), gathering non-perishable pine nuts, mesquite beans, and various seeds. They would augment these foods with what fresh plants and game they could accumulate during the winter.
In discussing the Mojave Desert, the National Park Service says, “To American Indian peoples known as Mojave, Shoshone, Paiute, Serrano, Chemehuevi, and Kawaiisu, the lands were occupied and used in many ways, with flexible boundaries among these tribal groups.” Indeed, the modern concepts of boundaries was non-existent in this pre-historic setting. Save the immediate villages, sacred sites, and certain prized food gathering sites, the great Mojave Desert was public lands … owned by all and visited by all as well.
The steatite (soapstone) quarries of Lucerne Valley and Death Valley were visited by all. The obsidian gathering spots dotted the desert and were likewise visited by all.
In drought years when the piñon pines produce not one nut, the Panamint Shoshone traveled west to the Transverse Range to gather acorns lest they experience a winter of famine. There were no oak trees in the eastern Sierra. And, the region of present Hesperia provided the California juniper from which all of the Mojave Desert tribes preferred to fashion their hunting bows. “The bow is of juniper, short, and sinew backed.”
Acorns were the most important food of most of the tribes of California except along the immediate coast and in the northwest. The meat of the acorn was ground and leached in a basket in running water for eight or so hours. The resulting acorn mush was then cooked in a water tight basket by removing a heating stone form a fire and placing it in the mush. This would bring it to a quick boil and it could then be eaten in the same vessel. A common name for acorn mush was we-wish. Many joke that it means we wish we had something else to eat. Not the case, though it is bland.
Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:
Though California has been inhabited by Whites since 1769, prehistory for the Panamint Shoshone did not end until 1849 when gold rush settlers first entered Death Valley. From that point on, the Panamint Shoshone, later called the Timbisha Shoshone, would be among, if not the most oppressed people in the United States.
Throughout California, Indians who lived anywhere there was a possibility of gold or other riches were fair game. California’s rush of American settlers continued the Indian genocide that had been begun by the Spanish and Mexicans. The exception was that Spanish and Mexican genocide had not reached the Shoshone. American genocide did.
Even if they didn’t kill the Shoshone outright, masses of prospectors and settlers headed to the gold fields and coastal areas of California and Oregon devasted the fragile plant and animal ecosystems the Timbisha depended on for survival in their passage through Shoshone territories.
Only one year later in 1850 during the California State Constitutional Convention, California’s first law was enacted. It was the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians. This act was essentially a slave act. Any White citizen could take any Indian child to any justice of the peace and state that he wanted to adopt the Indian child. The Indian child was immediately placed in the custody of that person. Not only could Indians not testify in this hearing, none could speak English. Likewise, any White could follow the same process with an Indian family and they would be immediately indentured to that person’s property. To leave was punishable by death at the hands of the property owner or others. This law was only enforced to the benefit of the White population. This law was finally repealed in 1863.
Squatters grabbed the nearby mountains in 1849 which the Panamint depended upon for food, especially their staple, pine nuts. Violent miners ran the Panamint from the water resources of the valley floor. Many of those who survived became slaves. Others foraged meager lives in the wilderness on drastically reduced resources, while still others perished from famine or execution on sight by Whites. The repeal of the act turned most who survived into virtual slaves of abusive employers for meager wages. Indian/White violence reached its zenith in the 1860’s.
In the News:
Shoshone History and Culture
The Road On Which We Came: A History of the Western Shoshone
Dances and societies of the Plains Shoshone
Lessons from a Shoshone Doctor