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People of the Colorado Plateau
Paleoindian and Archaic Peoples
Archaeological Treasures
Prehistoric Farmers
Population Change
The Anasazi "collapse"
Pueblo Peoples
Western Apache
Navajo (Diné)
Southern Paiute
Spanish Exploration
Mormon Pioneers
Anglo Settlement

peoplebutton.gif (1940 bytes)Southern Paiute

The name Paiute means "true Ute" or "water Ute,’ indicating their kinship with the Ute Indians. Like the Utes, all Paiute groups spoke dialects of the Numic branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family. The numerous bands are usually divided into three main groups for study: the Northern, the Owens Valley and the Southern Paiute. Only the Southern Paiute reside on the Colorado Plateau, where it meets the Great Basin in the southwestern corner of Utah. Most scholars agree that the Paiutes entered Utah about 1100-1200 A.D.

The Southern Paiute were hunter-gatherers, hunting rabbits, deer, and mountain sheep, and gathering seeds, roots, tubers, berries, and nuts. They also practiced some flood-plain gardening, an adaptation attributed to Anasazi influences. Historically, the largest population concentrations of Paiutes were along the Virgin and Muddy Rivers, where they practiced limited irrigation agriculture. They raised corn, squash, melons, gourds, sunflowers, and, later, winter wheat.

The large-scale migration to California by Anglo-European explorers and settlers in the 1840s was the beginning of the end of the traditional way of life for the Southern Paiutes. As more and more of their territory was claimed by whites, conflicts increased. After two Southern Paiute girls were kidnapped and raped by traders at a Pony Express station, the so-called Paiute or Pyramid Lake War began. The tribe was defeated at Pinnacle Mountain by an 800-man volunteer army led by Colonel Jack Hays. The U.S. Government subsequently moved to extinguish Indian land claims in Utah and to confine all Indians on reservations. The Southern Paiute refused to go to the Uintah Reservation and eventually settled in the uninhabited hills and desert areas of southern Utah. In the early twentieth century several groups of Southern Paiutes finally received tracts of reserved land, but were left with little choice but to work in the wage economy. Some also raised cattle.

In 1970, the Southern Paiute received $7.25 million for the U.S. government in a lawsuit over tribal lands that had been wrongfully taken. Many bands used this money to start small businesses. Further efforts at self-determination have included the development of mineral deposits on reservation lands, utilization of water resources, development of recreation and tourism, and industrial development to provide employment for tribal members.


Native Americans and the Environment. A comprehensive survey of twentieth century environmental issues facing Native Americans on the Colorado Plateau and throughout the Southwest, including discussions of agriculture, logging, mining, grazing, water rights, and tourism. Adapted from a published journal article by David Rich Lewis.


Bunte, P. A. and Franklin, R. J. 1987. From the Sands to the Mountain: Change and Persistence in a Southern Paiute Community. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.

Bye, R. A., Jr. 1972. Ethnobotany of the southern Paiute Indians in the 1870's, with a note on the early ethnobotanical contributions of Dr. Edward Palmer. In: Fowler, D. D., editor. Great Basin Cultural Ecology. Vol. 8. Desert Research Institute Publications, Reno, NV.

Dutton, B. P. 1976. The Ranchería, Ute, and Southern Paiute peoples. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Fowler, C. S. 1966. Environmental setting and natural resources. In: Euler, R. C., editor. Southern Paiute Ethnohistory. Utah Anthropological Papers Vol. 78. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.

Holt, R. L. 1992. Beneath These Red Cliffs: An Ethnohistory of the Utah Paiutes. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, NM.

Hughes, J. D. 1987. American Indians in Colorado. Second edition. Pruett Publishing Co., Boulder, CO.

Kelly, I. T. 1934. Southern Paiute bands. American Anthropologist 36: 548-560.

Lewis, D. R. 1994. Neither Wolf nor Dog: American Indians, Environment, and Agrarian Change. Oxford University Press, New York, 256 pp.

Lewis, D. R. 1995. Native Americans and the environment: A survey of twentieth century issues. American Indian Quarterly 19.

Spicer, E. H. 1962. Cycles of Conquest: The Impact of Spain, Mexico, and the United States on the Indians of the Southwest, 1533-1960. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 609 pp.

Stoffle, R. W. and Evans, M. J. 1976. Resource competition and population change: A Kaibab Paiute ethnohistorical case. Ethnohistory 23.

Trimble, S. 1993. The People: Indians of the American Southwest. School of American Research Press, Santa Fe, NM.