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Goshuite Indians


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Goshute (Juab) is a small Indian community on the Goshute Indian Reservation. The Goshute people are of Shoshoni extraction and their name means “dust” or “desert” people in the Ute language.

John W. Van Cott

The Goshutes have inhabited the Southwestern part of the United States for thousands of years. They were here before the Mormons, the Mexicans, and even the Spaniards. At their peak the Goshutes numbered about 20,000. Today there are less than 500 Goshutes, of which 124 belong to the Skull Valley Band.

At one time the Goshute homeland extended from the Wasatch front westward past Wells, Nevada and occupied several hundred square miles. Today, the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation is comprised of approximately 18,000 acres. South of Skull Valley on traditional Goshute territory there was wild game which roamed the country freely and served as a vital food supply.  East of Skull Valley in the area known as Rush Valley there was native sagebrush, pine trees, food plants, and also wild game.

GOSHUTE INDIANS Dennis R. Defa Utah History Encyclopedia

The Goshute Indians are part of the larger Shoshonean-speaking Native American groups that live in the Intermountain West. Although no one knows how long the Goshutes had occupied the area where they lived when first contacted by Europeans, a date of 1,000 years ago is most probable as the time when Shoshonean speakers entered the Great Basin from the Death Valley region of California.

At the time the Mormons arrived in Salt Lake Valley, the Goshute Indians lived in the desert regions to the southwest of the Great Salt Lake. Although exact boundaries are hard to determine because of the nature of the land and the proximity of other peoples, the Goshutes lived in the area between the Oquirrh Mountains on the east and the Steptoe Mountains in eastern Nevada, and from the south end of the Great Salt Lake to an area almost parallel with the south end of Utah Lake. This area is located entirely within the Great Basin, which is an area with some of the most arid conditions on the continent, as well as one of the most varied regions in terms of climate, topography, flora, and fauna.

The Goshutes had an effective understanding of growing cycles, variations in climate, and animal distribution patterns. They lived in the most desolate part of what is now the western portion of Utah and eastern portion of Nevada, and because of this their culture has long been recognized as the simplest of any to be found in the Great Basin.  They lived at a minimum subsistence level with no economic surplus for future growth.

The Goshutes exemplify the historic Great Basin desert way of life perhaps better than does any other group because of the nature of their territory. Organized primarily in families, the Goshutes hunted and gathered in family groups and would often cooperate with other family groups that usually made up a village. Hunting of large game was usually done by men; women and children gathered plants, seeds, and insects. A hunter shared large game with other members of the village, but the family was able to provide for most of its needs without assistance.

The harsh desert conditions and paucity of material and cultural wealth helped to isolate the Goshutes from the white onslaught until a fairly late date. Spanish and later Mexican slavers may have entered the Goshute domain in search of captives, but it was not until 1826 that white incursion into the Goshute homeland was first documented. The journal of Jedediah Smith gives the first written description of the Goshute domain, made while Smith and two companions were on their return trip from California to Bear Lake. For the next two decades white contact with the Goshutes remained sporadic and insignificant. Only after the arrival of the Mormons in 1847 did the Goshutes come into continual and prolonged contact with whites.

After the Mormons, a myriad of emigrants, settlers, and government agents came to the Goshutes’ land. The Pony Express, the Overland Stage, and the transcontinental telegraph all ran through Goshute country bringing many white people into the land and contributing to the Indians’ problems of survival. The Mormons established communities at Tooele, Grantsville, and Ibapah–all important Goshute sites. The military established Camp Floyd (Fairfield), while the Pony Express and Overland Stage set up stations along a line between Fairfield, Simpson Springs, Fish Springs, and Deep Creek. Ranchers and farmers moved into the region, taking the best lands available with water and forage.

In the fragile environment of the desert, domestic livestock represented an important source of competition to the Goshutes. They had never raised horses because the animals would eat the grass which they relied upon for seeds and fiber. Water, always in short supply, was denied to the Goshutes by farmers, ranchers, and Overland Stage stations. The Goshutes responded to this threat in the only way they knew how, by attacking the stations and farms and killing the inhabitants and livestock. Mormons had moved into the Tooele Valley by 1855 and were wintering stock in Rush Valley. Goshutes began to kill their livestock and threaten settlers, in a vain attempt to force the whites off of their homelands. Local militias, and later the United States Army, attacked the Goshutes, killing many and forcing the survivors to sign a treaty in 1863. The treaty was not one of land cession, nor did the Goshutes give up their sovereignty. They did, however, agree to end all hostile actions against the whites and to allow several routes of travel to pass through their country. The Goshutes also agreed to the construction of military posts and station houses wherever necessary. Stage lines, telegraph lines, and railways could be built throughout their domain; mines, mills, and ranches would be permitted and timber could be cut. The federal government agreed to pay the Goshutes $1,000.00 a year for twenty years as compensation for the destruction of their game. The treaty was signed on 13 October 1863. Signing for the Goshutes were Tabby, Adaseim, Tintsa-pa-gin, and Harry-nup, while James Duane Doty, Indian Commissioner, and Brigadier-General Patrick E. Connor signed for the United States. The treaty was ratified in 1864 and announced by President Lincoln on 17 January 1865.

By 1869 the majority of Goshutes had abandoned many of their traditional ways and had settled on farms at Deep Creek and Skull Valley. Hunting and gathering were still important to the Indians subsistence, but their traditional lifestyle had ended. Attempts were made to relocate the Goshutes to other Indian reservations, including the Ute reservation in the Uinta Basin. All attempts to remove the Goshutes failed, and the government cut off the annuities promised in the treaty of 1863.

The remaining decades of the nineteenth century proved tumultuous for the Goshutes. Whites moved into their homeland in even greater numbers and the federal government reneged on its treaty obligations. Finally, in the first decades of the twentieth century, the federal government established two reservations for the Goshutes. The larger of the two is on the Utah-Nevada border at the base of the Deep Creek Mountains, while the smaller reservation is located in Skull Valley. Today, the Goshutes live on these reservations and in the surrounding communities, small in numbers and still relatively isolated from their white neighbors.

See: James B. Allen, and Ted J. Warner, “The Gosiute Indians in Pioneer Utah,” Utah Historical Quarterly 39 (Spring 1971); Carling I. Malouf, “The Gosiute Indians,” Archaeology and Ethnology Papers, Museum of Anthropology, University of Utah 3 (1950).

The Gosiutes

Early travelers through Gosiute country, southwest of the Great Salt Lake, were appalled at the small tribe’s miserable existence and amazed that human beings could survive in that desolate country of alkaline earth and sagebrush. Mark Twain wrote:

we came across the wretchedest type of mankind… I refer to the Goshoot Indians… [who] have no villages, and no gatherings together into strictly defined tribal communities–a people whose only shelter is a rag cast on a bush to keep off a portion of the snow, and yet who inhabit one of the most rocky, wintry; repulsive wastes that our country or any other can exhibit.31

Capt. J. H. Simpson, exploring the Great Basin in 1859, was repelled by the Gosiute food of crickets and ants, rats and other small animals; their scrawny nakedness; and their dogged clinging to life. They illustrated, he said, the theory that man’s terrain is “intimately connected with [his] development….” 32

The Gosiutes had no horses; their shelters in the summer heat and winter cold were made of piled-up sagebrush called wickiups. They used twine to bind juniper and sage, as well as rabbit skins, to make blankets. Moccasins were a prized rarity. Explorers thought of the Gosiutes as near-animals and were surprised when they showed human emotions.

These Indians appear worse in condition than the meanest of the animal creation. Their garment is only a rabbit-skin cape… and the children go naked. It is refreshing, however,. . . to see the mother studiously careful of her little one, by causing it to nestle under her rabbit-skin mantle.33

The same explorer gave bread to

a very old woman, bent over with infirmities . . . and the most lean, wretched-looking object it has ever been my lot to see. . . . [Although the old woman] was famished, it was very touching to see her deal out her bread, first to the little child at her side, and then only after the others had come up and got their share, to take the small balance for herself.34

With hunger a constant, the Gosiute birthrate was low, keeping the tribe at several hundred in number. They survived through the ingenious use of the desert wasteland.35 Their entire lives were devoted to the search for food, leaving hardly any time for ceremonies. Only the round dance was known, a sideways shuffling to the beat of a drum, an invocation to make grass seeds grow; at infrequent times it was also a social. dance. Because they were constantly moving in their food search, their possessions were few: baskets to collect seeds, knives and flint scrapers to skin and dress the small animals, and grinding stone for crushing seeds. Except for communal animal hunts, each family moved alone in its gathering of food, and this made solidarity and tribal development impossible.

The Gosiutes exploited the desert to its fullest. They used eighty-one species of wild vegetables: forty-seven gave seeds, twelve berries, eight roots, and twelve greens. The most important food was the pine nut. Large quantities were stored because it was not an annual crop, and when it failed starvation neared. A good crop meant a good winter.

It was in winter when seed gathering could not be done that the Gosiutes huddled in their sagebrush wickiups and told their myths.36 Summer was not the proper time for telling myths; it was even dangerous to do so. Hawks and coyotes were actors in many of the myths. Coyote was feared and even when starving, the Gosiutes would not eat its flesh. It was a quarrel between hawk and coyote on a large mountain that formed the mountains of Gosiute land. In anger hawk flew high, then swooped down on the mountain and clawed it, breaking off the top and scattering it into smaller mountains. Besides animal myths, there were stories of “Little Man” who gave shamans power and “Water Baby” who cried at night but disappeared by day. In the winter, also, a few simple games were played: hoop and pole game, hand game, and races.

In the harsh life of the Gosiutes, communal hunts were exciting events. The most common game pursued was the black-tailed rabbit. Hunts for antelope were not held yearly because they greatly reduced the herds. Preparation for an antelope drive brought several families together to erect mile-long, V-shaped traps of stone and sagebrush under the medicine man’s direction. Twenty miles away from the mouth of the trap, hunters stationed themselves and slowly converged toward it. Antelope would run from the hunters toward the trap. They would then be enclosed in the small end where a few at a time would be taken out, killed, the meat dried, and the skins tanned.

This barren, simple Gosiute life was destined to change when Capt. Howard Stansbury, surveying for the Corps of Topographic Engineers, built an adobe house in Tooele Valley. Timbering began nearby and a mill was built. By 1853 there were farms surrounding the townsite of Tooele and the cycle began: settlers invading Indian regions and uprooting the land to make farms; their cattle, sheep, and horses eating the grasses that the Indians needed for seeds; and the Indians retaliating by raiding the settler’s livestock.37

An incident during these first years when whites began crossing Gosiute lands has become legendary. Capt. Absolom Woodward’s company of ten men had camped in Ibapah land (“Deep Water” or “Deep Creek”) near a cluster of Gosiute wickiups. Four soldiers were later discovered killed, food for scavengers, and the mail they were transporting strewn over their bodies. Rumors that the killings were not senseless acts of the Gosiutes but motivated by revenge continued for decades. An amateur historian, James P. Sharp, attempted for years to learn the truth behind the rumors, but the Indians would tell him nothing. He had his opportunity when an old Indian, Antelope Jake, came to ask him for work. Sharp knew that Antelope Jake was said to be one of the men who had killed the soldiers and hired him as a sheepherder. While gaining his confidence, Sharp found that Antelope Jake was fond of canned tomatoes. Taking four cans with him, he visited Jake’s sheep camp and displayed them. He soon had Antelope Jake’s story: the soldiers camped near the wickiups had learned that the tribe had gone antelope hunting and had left their girls behind to tend the elderly and the small children. They raped the girls and moved on. When the tribe returned, six of the men on foot, armed with bows and arrows, stalked the company through falling snow, hiding on the mountain slopes, knowing that they were no match for men armed with guns and riding horses. They ambushed five of the men in a mountain draw; one escaped and rode on to spread the story of wanton murder.38

Indian raids in search of food became more frequent. To put an end to them, Robert Jarvis, an Indian agent, tried to convince the Gosiutes to learn farming. One of the hands had already plowed the ground by using sticks and had planted forty acres of wheat, but most of the Gosiutes were unwilling to give up their traditional life. To prevent further raids, the government and the mail company provided provisions for the Indians who, however, were not placated. They killed three employees and wounded another during the winter of 1862-63. A treaty that followed gave the president of the United States the right to remove the Indians to reservations, but when the Uinta Basin was chosen for the relocation of Utah tribes and most Indians submitted, the Gosiutes refused to leave their land.

Federal annuities continued for the Gosiutes; their game was gone and their territory reclaimed for farms. Again farming was tried, but the wheat crop was destroyed by grasshoppers. Further efforts were made to induce the Gosiutes to move to a reservation but they were afraid, they said, of living among other Indians. Only the Gosiutes in Skull Valley had had success with farming, entirely through their own efforts. The government had given them no help and continued to press for the removal of all Gosiutes to the Uintah Reservation although the tribe repeatedly avowed they would never leave their land. John Wesley Powell and George W. Ingalls were among the government officials recommending relocation and to insure the success of their proposal advised that no annuities be given except at the designated reservations. Negotiations went on for the removal of the Gosiutes to the Uinta Basin, but the years passed and they remained in Skull Valley. They were absent from official correspondence and forgotten by the government.

Two reservations were eventually established for the Gosiutes on their own lands: in 1912 eighty acres were reserved for their use in Skull Valley with an additional 17,920 acres added in 1919, and in 1914 the Deep Creek Reservation in western Tooele County and eastern Nevada was founded with 34,560 acres.

A young doctor who arrived to practice in the area in 1912 said:

The agent in charge at this time was an old-time bureaucrat who worried more about his reports than about the Indians. In addition to his other duties he was busily trying to make the Gosiutes over into Ohio Presbyterians like the ones he had known back home…. His sister-in-law was supposed to be the schoolteacher, but nary an Indian ever darkened the door of her temple of learning in quest of an education….39

The doctor came to like the Gosiutes and pondered:

Were these Gosiute women wiser than I when they.., let the unfit die? They were good mothers, kind and gentle with their children. Were they also kind in eliminating the weak that the tribe might be perpetuated only by the strong?40

From the tenacious Gosiutes Dr. Joseph H. Peck learned about “psychosomatic medicine ten years before anything about it appeared in medicine journals.” 41 Dr. Peck discovered little about the Indians’ Great Spirit and religion. “Their yearly binges upon marijuana and peote [sic] had somewhat the nature of a religious festival. When questioned about it they always said it was too long and complicated to explain to a white man and we would not understand, a conclusion that was probably true.”42

Dr. Peck practiced medicine in Deep Creek country and Tooele for twenty-seven years before moving away. In 1967, fifty years after first coming to the Gosiute lands, he returned to Deep Creek.

Where there had been nothing but sagebrush and tin cans, now there were green alfalfa fields with plenty of good stock grazing upon them. The wickiups were gone and each little cabin had a radio aerial sticking up out of the roof. I stopped at the first one and asked for some of my old friends. Most of them had gone to the happy hunting grounds…..43

Only three of the sixty-one Skull Valley Gosiutes remain on the reservation. The rest have migrated for school and employment opportunities and live mostly in Tooele and Grantsville. They will soon be dispersed like members of the Shoshone communities that were disbanded after World War II and reside now in northern Utah towns. (Washakie in Box Elder County existed with close ties to the Mormon church until that time.)

The Deep Creek Reservation in 1970 numbered eleven families. Nine women began meeting every Tuesday of that year to make necklaces, bob ties, moccasins, women’s purses, belts, headbands, and earrings. They had to learn beadwork from others; the craft was not part of their tribal skills.”.., they are ‘building culture.’ Culture is something the tribe never had.”44 “It went directly from rabbit-skin robes to store-bought clothing.

The ingeniousness of the old Gosiutes is still with them. Men skin the deer, killed on the reservation; and women tan the hides, making lye from charcoal for removing the hair. The women would make more buckskin articles if they had hides. “We don’t have many deer, and our men would have to buy licenses to hunt off the reservation.45

GOSHUTE The Goshute people show the historic Great Basin desert way of life perhaps better than does any other group because of the nature of their territory. They have both benefited and suffered from living in the desert. There are two bands of the Goshute Nation–the Skull Valley Band of Goshute (tribal membership of 127) and the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute (tribal membership of 409).

The Skull Valley Band has held to its 1863 treaty relationship with the Federal Government and refused any form of Federal aid. The Confederated Tribes have accepted lands selected through executive order (approximately 112,085 acres) and organized its government under the Indian Reorganization Act. Both tribes are trying to grow and develop. (Source: Utah Historical Society, Division of Indian Affairs Tribal Profiles, 1997)

The Gosiutes – ADigger Indians@ – 1) nomads 2) did not use horses to hunt 3) men – breechcloth 4) women – aprons and grass skirts 5) rabbit skin blankets 6) lived in clans 7) lived in small villages 8) lived in wickiups in summer 9) winter – caves and rock shelters.

(Summary from S.S. Text)

Goshute Beliefs

Religious concepts derived from a mythical cosmogony, beliefs in powerful spirit-beings, and a belief in a dualistic soul. Mythology provided a cosmogony and cosmography of the world in which anthropomorphic animal progenitors, notably Wolf, Coyote, Rabbit, Bear, and Mountain Lion, were supposed to have lived before the human age.

“Through the music we can relate to people who lived long ago,” Ketchum said. “The flute is used for many things, like healing. It helps us understand who we are and where we stand. To make a flute, everything has to be in balance. Flute music is for all living things.”

The Hualapai (pronounced WALL-uh-pie) [of the Goshute band] believe their ancestors emerged from the earth of the Grand Canyon, and the area surrounding the project is scattered with the tribe’s sacred archaeological and burial sites?

Ute, Goshutes and Paiute

They use Peyote as a sacrament and healing medicine in the mid 1800s. Traditional Ute healers still use peyote to treat infections, and a variety of other plants. The Ute have integrated peyote religion into their culture,

Peyote is a cactus that is used for both medicinal and religious purposes by many Indian tribes.

Ute religious beliefs borrowed much from the Plains Indians after the arrival of the horse. The Ute’s and subgroups were the only group of Indians known to create ceremonial pipes. The Ute have a religious aversion to handling thunderwood (wood from a tree struck by lightning) and believe that the thunder beings would strike down any Ute Indian that touched or handled such wood.

Each spring the Utes hold their traditional Bear Dances. Origin of the Bear Dance can be traced back several centuries. Each year, a mid-summer fasting ceremony known as The Sun Dance is held; this ceremony has important spiritual significance to the Utes.

The Sun Dance is a ceremony practiced by a number of native americans. Each tribe has its own distinct rituals and methods of performing the dance, but many of the ceremonies have features in common, including dancingsingingpraying, drumming, the experience of visionsfasting, and in some cases piercing of the chest or back.

The Ute constructed special ceremonial rattles made from buffalo rawhide which they filled with clear quartz crystals collected from the mountains of Colorado and Utah. When the rattles were shaken at night during ceremonies, the friction and mechanical stress of the quartz crystals impacting together produced flashes of light which partly shone through the translucent buffalo hide. These rattles were believed to call spirits into Ute Ceremonies, and were considered extremely powerful religious objects.