Paiute Tribe

Wild Rice Gatherers

Great Basin Indians Harvesting Wild Rice

This article contains interesting facts, pictures and information about the life of the Paiute Native American Indian Tribe.

The Paiute Tribe
Summary and Definition: The Paiute tribe were nomadic hunter gatherers who inhabited lands occupied by the Great Basin cultural group. The Paiute tribe  inhabited the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range that forms the border between present-day Nevada and California. The most famous members of the Paiute tribe was Wovoka (c. 18561932) a Northern Paiute shaman who founded the Ghost Dance movement. 

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Facts about the Paiute Native Indian Tribe
This article contains fast, fun facts and interesting information about the Paiute Native American Indian tribe. Find answers to questions like where did the Paiute tribe live, what clothes did they wear, what did they eat and who were the names of their most famous leaders? Discover what happened to the Paiute tribe with facts about their wars and history.

What was the lifestyle and culture of the Paiute tribe?
The Paiute tribe were originally seed gathers and hunters from the Great Basin cultural group of Native Indians. The Paiute tribe lived in a large area centered mainly upon Nevada, but extending east to Utah, west to California, south to Arizona, and north to Idaho and Oregon. The Paiute tribe had two major bands called the Walpapi and the Yahooskin, who were known as the Snake Indians. The locations of the Paiutes were divided into three groups:

  • Northern Paiute of California, Idaho, Nevada and Oregon

  • Owens Valley Paiute of California and Nevada

  • Southern Paiute of Arizona, southeastern California, Nevada and Utah

The Paiute tribe lived in small family groups in small camps of grass houses or temporary wikiups. They spent most of their time gathering seeds, fishing and hunting especially for migratory ducks. The tribe used canoes to travel across the waters. The Great Basin social and cultural patterns of the Paiute tribe were those of the non-horse bands. The neighbouring tribes of the Paiute included the Koso, Washoe, Panamint, Walapi, Ute and the Shoshone tribes. The white settlers that rushing to reach the California Gold fields or the Comstock Lode silver passed through Paiute lands. Some traders and settlers decided to stay in the area, cut down trees ruining the Pine Nut forests and trampling across the grasses that had once provided the Paiute with their means to survive. In 1858, the Paiute tribe allied with the Coeur d'Alene in a 2 year war against the white invaders. After initial successes in the Pyramid Lake War of 1860, they were defeated. The Paiute tribe again came to the fore when Wovoka (c. 18561932) a Northern Paiute shaman who founded the Ghost Dance movement. 

The Ghost Dance
In Ghost Dance movement was initiated in by two Paiute shamans and prophets, called Wodziwob and Wovoka c.1870. The Ghost Dance was part of a mystical ceremony designed to re-establish the Native Indian culture and to bring a peaceful end of the westward expansion of whites and a return of the land to the Native American Indians. The ritual lasted five successive days and dances underwent rituals that resulted in hypnotic trances. Word of the Paiute Ghost Dance spread to other Native Americans tribes who sent delegates to Wovoka and Wodziwob to learn their teachings and rituals. In an incredibly short period of time the religion spread to most of the Western Native Indians. The Ghost Dancers wore Ghost shirts of white muslin, which the Native Indians believed could not be pierced by the bullets of enemy soldiers. The ghost dance was significant because it was a central feature among the Sioux tribe just prior to the massacre of Wounded Knee, in 1890.

What were the rituals and ceremonies of the Paiute tribe?
The rituals and ceremonies of the Paiute tribe and many other Great Basin Native Indians included the Bear Dance and the Sun Dance which first emerged in the Great Basin, as did the Paiute Ghost Dance.

What language did the Paiute tribe speak?
The Paiute tribe spoke in a Numic language, formerly called Plateau Shoshonean, which was a division of the Uto-Aztecan language.


The Paiute are people of the Great Basin Native American cultural group. The location of their tribal homelands are shown on the map.  The geography of the region in which they lived dictated the lifestyle and culture of the Paiute tribe.

  • The Paiute tribe originally lived in the American Great Basin region but with the advent of the horse many migrated to the Great Plains

  • Tribal Territories of the Paiute:  Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and California

  • Land: Deserts, salt flats and brackish lakes

  • Climate: Very hot summers and cold winters with very low levels of rainfall

  • Animals: The  animals included deer, sheep, antelope, rabbits, hares, lizards and snakes. Fish was also available

  • Natural resources: pine nuts, seeds, berries, nuts, roots, leaves, stalks and bulbs. Indian rice grass was harvested

Map showing Native American Indians Cultural Groups

Map of Great Basin
Native American Cultural Group


Paiute Woman gathering seeds

Paiute Woman gathering seeds

What food did the Paiute tribe eat?
The food that the Paiute tribe ate included Indian rice grass, also known as sandgrass, Indian millet, sandrice and silkygrass.  Rice grass occurs naturally on coarse, sandy soils in the arid lands throughout the Great Basin. Other common names are sandgrass, sandrice, Indian millet, and silkygrass. The seeds of rice grass were a staple food of Native American Indians, including the Paiute tribe, who lived in the Great Basin area. The Paiute tribe were skilled basket makers and wove their baskets so closely that they could contain the smallest of seeds and hold water.

The Paiutes foraged for tubers and greens, including cattail sprouts, and for berries and pine nuts. The seeds of rice grass were ground into meal. Whenever possible they fished and hunted, especially for migratory ducks.


What did the Paiute tribe live in?
The Great Basin Paiute tribe lived in temporary shelters of windbreaks in the summer or flimsy huts covered with rushes or bunches of grass simply called Brush Shelters. The materials used for Brush shelters were sagebrush, willow, branches, leaves, and grass (brush) that were available in their region. 

Paiute Wickiups: The more permanent winter homes of the Paiute were  called Wickiups. These were cone-shaped huts that were built using a frame of willow boughs and covered with reeds, branches, brush and grass. The Paiute wickiup was rounded at the base and at the top of the dome was an open smoke hole. Rocks were often piled around the base of the grass house for added insulation. The Paiute wickiup houses were sometimes built over a 2 - 3 foot foundation. Bark and earth was added to the Paiute house covering to keep out the cold.

Great Basin Native Indians: Paiute Grass House

What clothes did the Paiute tribe wear?
The earliest clothes worn by the Great Basin Paiute men consisted of breechcloths made from sagebrush bark. In cold weather they wore twined bark leggings and poncho-like shirts. Paiute clothes were made from fibers harvested from sagebrush bark and tule (a type of bulrush). The fibers were dampened and then pummeled by the women of the Paiute tribe until they could be woven or twined. Robes were typically made from rabbit furs for added warmth. Trade with the white settlers also provided blankets for the Paiute tribe. The clothes worn by the Paiute women were knee length woven fiber aprons as a single front covering or double apron that covered the front and the back. The tribe's clothing also included clothes made of buckskin if deer inhabited their regions. Paiute clothing for both the men and women was adorned with fringes and feathers and jewelry made from beads and shells. With the advent of the white traders, western clothes were then worn by the Paiute triibe. 

What weapons did the Paiute tribe use?
The weapons used by the Paiute tribe were primitive and included bows and arrows, stone knifes, spears, rabbit sticks and digging sticks. The Paiute tribe were also known to have used poisoned arrows from either their bows or from a blowgun. The poison used by Native Americans for the poisoned arrow, or dart, was obtained from either reptiles or from extracts from various plants. 

Picture of a Blowgun

Picture of a Blowgun

Paiute History Timeline: What happened to the Paiute tribe?
The following history timeline details facts, dates and famous landmarks of the people. The Paiute timeline explains what happened to the people of their tribe. 

Paiute History Timeline

  • 1000: Woodland Period including the Adena and Hopewell cultures established along rivers in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States

  • 1776: First white contact was made with the Paiute tribe by Spanish explorers, Francisco Atanasio Dominquez and Silvestre Veles de Escalante

  • 1825: Mountain man Jedediah Smith (January 6, 1799 May 27, 1831) made contact with the tribe

  • 1830: Indian Removal Act

  • 1832: Department of Indian Affairs established 

  • 1848: Gold was discovered in California

  • 1851: Trading posts were established on Paiute lands

  • 1853: The Walker War (18531854) with the Ute Indians begins over slavery among the Indians. Wakara (Walker) leads the Utes in Utah in a series of raids on Mormon settlements

  • 1855: Treaty of friendship between the Paiute and Shoshone Indians and the US was signed at Haws Ranch

  • 1857: Comstock Lode major silver discovery in Nevada (then Utah)

  • 1858: Coeur d'Alene War (1858-1859) The Northern Paiute were allies of the Coeur d'Alene

  • 1860: By 1860 the Pine nut forests had been ruined and seed grasses trampled

  • 1860: Paiute War also known as Pyramid Lake War, Utah Territory, (now Nevada)

  • 1861: 1861 - 1865: The American Civil War

  • 1864: The Snake War (18641868) was fought by the U.S. army against the "Snake Indians" which was the settlers term for Northern Paiute, Bannock and Western Shoshone bands who lived along the Snake River. Fighting took place in Oregon, Nevada, and California, and Idaho

  • 1870: The Ghost dance religion is initiated c1870 by Wovoka and Wodziwob at the Walker River Reservation

  • 1881: Between 1881- 1888 the Paiute Indians in California, Nevada, Oregon and the Territory of Washington are forcibly moved to reservations at: Malheur River in Oregon and Fort McDermitt and Pyramid Lake in Nevada.

  • 1887: Dawes General Allotment Act passed by Congress leads to the break up of the large Indian Reservations and the sale of Indian lands to white settlers

  • 1890: The Ghost Dance was central among the Sioux tribe just prior to the massacre of Wounded Knee, in 1890.

  • 1915: The Bluff War, aka Posey War or the Posse War when Ute and Paiute in conflict with the US army. Location: San Juan County, Utah and Montezuma, County, Colorado

Paiute History Timeline

The Story of the Paiute Tribe
For additional facts and information refer to the story of the Ghost Dancers.


  • Interesting Facts and information about the way the people lived
  • The clothes worn by men and women
  • Description of the homes and the type of food the Paiute tribe would eat
  • Fast Facts and info about the Paiute tribe
  • Names of famous chiefs and leaders
  • Interesting Homework resource for kids on the history of the Paiute Native American Indians

Pictures and Videos of Native American Indians and their Tribes
The Paiute Tribe was one of the famous tribes of the Native American Indians. Discover the vast selection of pictures on the subject of the tribes of Famous Native Americans such as the Paiute tribe. The pictures show the clothing, war paint, weapons and decorations of various Native Indian tribes, such as the Paiute tribe, that can be used as a really useful educational resource for kids and children of all ages. We hope you enjoy watching the video - just click and play - a great social studies homework resource for kids .


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