Southern Paiute Tribes


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The Southern Paiute Tribes traditionally lived in the Colorado River basin and Mojave Desert in northern Arizona and southeastern California including Owens Valley, southern Nevada and southern Utah. Terminated as a tribe in 1954 under federal efforts at assimilation, the Southern Paiute regained federal recognition in 1980.

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. They noted that the some of the Southern Paiute men “had thick beards and were thought to look more in appearance like Spanish men than native Americans.”

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.

The Southern Paiutes, which once included 15 bands across Southern Nevada and the West, today includes two federally recognized bands in Nevada: the Las Vegas Paiutes and the Moapa Paiutes. A band also lives in Pahrump, Nevada but it’s not federally recognized.

In Utah there are Paiute tribes at Cedar City, Kanosh, Koosharem, Shivwits, and Indian Peaks; at Kaibab and Willow Springs in Arizona; and in Death Valley and at the Chemehuevi Indian Reservation and on the Colorado River Indian Reservation in California. Some would include the 29 Palms Reservations in San Bernardino and Counties of California.

Contemporary Southern Paiute federally recognized tribes