NSS 75th Anniversary Convention

Native American Culture in Nevada

Human habitation in Nevada's Great Basin stretches back over 13,000 years. Today, modern cultural influences in the Great Basin National Heritage Area are enriched by the descendants of the region's first peoples. While the official lands of these groups are now limited to small reservations, historically their homelands extended throughout the region, where for millenia they migrated in response to seasonal and longer-term environmental changes. Today, the tribes of the Great Basin continue to adapt to a changing world, preserving and sharing their traditions through celebrations of dance, music and arts. Many tribal events are open to the public.

Sitting at the intersection of the Western Shoshone and Southern Paiute homelands, Ely, Nevada encompasses only a fraction of the Native American regions that have been active in the overall region.

Today, four distinct reservations are active in the surrounding area: the Ely Shoshone, the Duckwater Shoshone, the Goshute, and the Utah Paiute-Kanosh Band.

Ely Shoshone

Prior to foreign settlement, there were a number of Western Shoshone villages in Steptoe Valley including Duck Creek, McGill, Warm Springs, Schellbourne, Egan Canyon and Cherry Creek. The Shoshone called the valley Bahanai. As the towns were built, the Shoshone were pushed off their lands. They had to make their living by working for miners or ranchers or in homes in the area.

Today, the Ely Shoshone Indian Reservation has a membership of about 500 people with nearly half of these living on reservation lands in and near the City of Ely. The reservation is made up of three separate land areas. The first of these areas consists of 10 acres in "the Canyon" and was acquired through the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. Most of this land was too steep for homes, however, with only about two useable acres.

In 1973 the tribe leased 11 acres in "the Terrace" subdivision in Ely. It purchased this land outright in 1992. There are now homes, administrative offices, a gymnasium and a small park at this location. In 1977 the tribe received an additional 90 acres on the southern edge of Ely. Thirty-eight homes were built there in 1985 with five more added in 1996.

All three of the present Shoshone parcels are surrounded by development. So, to accommodate expected future population growth, the tribe asked the Bureau of Land Management to transfer additional public lands near Ely into a trust account for the tribe. In December of 2006, the White Pine County Public Lands bill transferred 3,526 acres to the Ely Shoshone for traditional, ceremonial, commercial and recreational purposes.

The tribe also operates a smoke shop and a textile business called Shoshone Cloth Industries. In 2003, the tribe constructed a new truck stop on Highway 93 coming into Ely.

Each year the Ely Shoshone Tribe hosts a fandango where members gather to share stories, sing traditional songs, and participate in traditional dances and games. Six dancers from Ely participated in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Ely Shoshone Tribe offers its members classes in the native language and instruction in traditional games and skills. It has a preschool, a clinic with a physician’s assistant on staff, law enforcement officers and a court system, an environmental protection program, and a social services department. A language preservation program is taught twice a week and there is a youth intervention recreation program that includes both cultural and sports activities. The tribe also offers higher education scholarships for four-year colleges and adult vocational training.

Duckwater Shoshone

Historically, the Shoshone lived in the valley during the summer to hunt and gather food including rabbits, ducks, sage hen, prairie dog, ground squirrel, roots and berries. In the fall they moved to the mountains to build cone-shaped shelters. They hunted deer and other big game and gathered pine nuts and firewood for the coming winter. Legend describes a native species called "flying wolves." These were wolves with wings that would swoop down and kill the unwary Indians. Thus, they always went out in pairs so one could watch for flying wolves.

Check the Programs area of our website for full-length videos you may download for your grotto meetings.

The Duckwater Shoshone Tribe is located in a beautiful remote valley near the southwest corner of White Pine County. It is primarily an agricultural community, drawing water from the many geothermal hot springs in Railroad Valley.

When white settlers came to the valley in the late 1800s, the Shoshone families worked as ranch hands. The Indian ReorganizationAct of 1934 allowed the Indians to acquire land. Shoshone around the state began discussing the possibility of establishing a reservation. They purchased the 3,272-acre Florio Ranch in 1940 and it became the Duckwater Shoshone Reservation. There were 21 families and about 3/4 of them came from the Smokey Valley area.

The tribe, governed by a five-member tribal council, offers many services for approximately 130 members who live in the area. The tribal administration office is located near the grade school, gymnasium and community park. There is an office of environmental health, a health department and clinic with a full-time doctor, and a senior center. High school students travel 50-miles one-way via gravel road to Eureka, NV.

The tribe owns two greenhouses as part of the Duckwater Falls Nursery where they raise seedlings of native plant species. These plants are used by large mining operations like Newmont and Placer Dome in their land reclamation programs.

Also, in cooperation with the US Fish & Wildlife service, the tribe has received three grants to restore the habitat of the "Railroad Valley Spring Fish" that has been listed as threatened species. These small fish (up to 3-inches) were a traditional food source for the Shoshones in this area prior to non-native settlement in the late 1800's. The plan calls for putting in walkways and signage to restrict public access and provide interpretation as well as returning the spring to its natural meandering channels. To facilitate the restoration and prevent the introduction of non-native species, the tribe will purchase an existing catfish farm business located near the spring.

Each June, the tribe holds the "Duckwater Festival" in the park next to the tribal center. This includes a Bar-B-Q, pow-wow, hand games, gambling, horseshoe tournaments and more.


The Goshute Indian Reservation is located on the Nevada-Utah border in Snake Valley. The Goshutes are a Shoshone people in culture and language.

Before settlers arrived, the Goshutes spent winters in Deep Creek Valley. They lived in dug-out houses covered with poles, willow branches and earth. Clothing consisted of buckskin. Blankets were woven from buck-brush bark and rabbit skins. In the spring, they moved closer to the mountains and then returned to the valley again in the fall.

After the settlers came, the Goshutes worked on the ranches and were paid in food rather than money. In the 1850s, Mormon missionaries came to Ibapah and began teaching their religion.

Next, soldiers came to Goshute lands. One troop attacked a group of Indians who had gathered for a ceremony in Spring Valley killing the men, women and children in one family. So the Goshutes retaliated by attacking a nearby fort and burning the barn.

President Taft set aside 34,560 acres for the tribe in 1914 and in 1928; an additional purchase enlarged the reservation to more than 111,000 acres.

Currently, the tribe is working with Trout Unlimited to help re-establish the native Bonneville Cutthroat Trout populations in mountain streams. The area has also been designated an Audubon Society Important Bird Area.