Last modified: September 8, 2022
Paiute Lake Powell: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/paiute.html – powell
Southern PAIUTE INDIANS OF UTAH
The Southern Paiutes of Utah live in the southwestern corner of the state where the Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau meet. The Southern Paiute language is one of the northern Numic branches of the large Uto-Aztecan language family. Most scholars agree that the Paiutes entered Utah about A.D. 1100-1200.
Historically, the largest population concentrations of Paiutes were along the Virgin and Muddy rivers; other Paiutes adapted to a more arid desert environment that centered on water sources such as springs. Both desert and riverine groups were mainly foragers, hunting rabbits, deer, and mountain sheep, and gathering seeds, roots, tubers, berries, and nuts. Paiutes also practiced limited irrigation agriculture along the banks of the Virgin, Santa Clara, and Muddy rivers. They raised corn, squash, melons, gourds, sunflowers, and, later, winter wheat.
Paiute social organization was based on the family. Fluid groupings of families sometimes formed loose bands, which were often named after a major resource or geographic feature of their home territory. Paiute groups gathered together in the fall for dances and marriages. Marriage meant the establishment of a joint household and was not marked by ceremony.
The riverine Paiutes had influential chiefs with limited power based on their ability to create consensus among the group. Leadership in the desert groups was usually only task specific. Some individuals were better at hunting rabbits, or at healing, or at twining baskets, and they organized those activities.
The supernatural world of the Paiutes revolved around the activities of Wolf and Coyote. Wolf was the elder brother and the more responsible god, while Coyote often acted the role of the trickster and troublemaker. Stories of the activities of these and other spirit animals generally were told in the winter.
Although the Euro-American travelers posed a threat to the Paiutes, it was the arrival of the Mormons in the 1850s that destroyed their sovereignty and traditional lifestyle. The Mormons came to stay, and they settled in places that had traditionally served the Paiutes as foraging and camping areas. As a result, starvation and disease drastically reduced the Paiute population. Between 1854 and 1858 the Mormons conducted a fairly intensive missionary effort among the Paiutes.
Ronald L. Holt
Paiute Tribe of Utah
Location The Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah includes five distinct bands: the Shivwits, Cedar City, Koosharem, Kanosh, and Indian Peaks. Their land is scattered from south-central to southwest Utah. The Shivwits Band has the largest amount of trust land, approximately 27,000 acres, located near St. George. The four other bands each have small amounts of land.
History The five bands of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah are all Southern Paiute, who once occupied a broad territory across southern Utah, southern Nevada, and into California. Each band maintained its own economic self-sufficiency, and the terrain dictated their diet of small game, seeds, roots, berries, agave, and pine nuts. In the 1850s, Mormon communities began displacing the Southern Paiute from their best gathering and horticultural lands; any major confrontations over this were successfully defused by the work of Mormon missionaries.
In 1968, Woodrow Pete summed up the past, present, and future hopes of the Koosharem Paiutes:
We lost our land a little at a time through treaties, by people fencing us out, by the government just taking it. Today we have no land, no place to camp except on land that people say is theirs and not ours. We do not own the houses we live in, the land we live on, or no water to even raise a garden with ….
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 Northern Paiute ranged over central and E California, W Nevada, and E Oregon. The Southern Paiute occupied NW Arizona, SE California, S Nevada, and S Utah. The Northern Paiute were more warlike than their southern relatives; they fought the miners and the settlers during the 1860s, and a considerable part of them joined the Bannock in the war of 1878. The Southern Paiute are often called the Diggers because they subsisted on root digging. In general the Paiute of the Great Basin area subsisted by hunting, fishing, and digging for roots. They lived in small round huts (wickiups) that were covered with tule rushes. It was among the Paiute that the Ghost Dance religion, which was to be of much significance on the frontier in the 1890s, first appeared (c.1870). The Native American prophet Wovoka was a Paiute. In 1990 there were over 11,000 Paiute in the United States, many of them living on tribal lands in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah. The name is also spelled Piute.
See J. H. Steward, Ethnography of the Owens Valley Paiute (1933); O. C. Stewart, Northern Paiute Bands (1939); M. M. Wheat, Survival Arts of the Primitive Paiutes (1967).
Southern Paiutes mostly ranged in southern Utah and southern Nevada, and followed the bend of the Colorado River southward through Arizona into California. No overall tribal organization existed historically. Each band is associated with a geographic territory and possesses dialectical linguistic markers within what is classified as the Southern Numic branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family. The aboriginal population was small, and remains so: the 1980 U.S. Census lists fourteen hundred Southern Paiutes. Southern Paiute occupation of the Great Basin is dated by archaeologists to a.d. 1000-1200.
Because the distribution of elk, bear, deer, antelope, and mountain sheep was erratic, small game such as rabbits, wood rats, mice, gophers, and squirrels provided most of the animal protein in the ecology of Southern Paiute territory, which varied from spruce, fir, and pine down through creosote and mesquite zones. Bird eggs, locusts, ant larvae, and caterpillars were also eaten, as well as lizards and snakes; fish were taken only at Panguitch Lake. The ownership of songs by individuals made hunting a magical as well as technical enterprise.
Plant foods, however, were more important: women gathered roots and berries on the plateau, and harvested pine nuts on Indian Peak and Charleston Mountain. Agave was another vegetable mainstay. In addition, there is evidence for early, if not precontact, irrigation agriculture: corn and squash planted near the mouths of Ash and LaVerkin Creeks, and along the Virgin River, and melons, native gourds, sunflowers, amaranth, and beans elsewhere.
Pottery and baskets, consequently, were essential for survival. Women wore twined basketry hats; men’s hats consisted of tanned hides, to which tufts of quail feathers were affixed on the crown. Women also wore a double apron of skin or vegetable fiber; men wore skin breechcloths. In winter, both sexes used bark leggings and rabbit-skin blankets, which doubled as bedding. Men often went naked in hot weather. Southern Paiutes also made bark or yucca moccasins. For skin protection, as well as to celebrate rites of passage, both sexes smeared red paint on their faces and bodies. They also tattooed their faces and pierced their ears. In fact, it was believed that the demiurge Coyote had instructed Southern Paiutes that without ear piercing an individual couldn’t pass to the other world.
Traditionally, a village consisted of two to ten houses and an owned spring, which was inherited by males. Elected headmen discoursed on morality and had advisory, not authority, functions. The Las Vegas band required dreaming for succession.
Birth took place in circular brush enclosures. Boys were required to surrender first kills to parents. Though marriage was an unimportant ritual, funerals were four-day affairs involving cremation or cave burials; the destruction of property; the killing of eagles, dogs, and horses, and sometimes even of a relative to keep the departed company; the abandonment of homes and gardens; and a naming prohibition. The Cry (or Mourning or Burning) Ceremony took place from three months to a year after each death. By 1900, Southern Paiute mourning ceremonies cut across band lines, and by the 1970s the Cry Ceremony and the funeral had coalesced.
In the late 1700s priests such as Silvestre Velez de Escalante began to baptize and enslave natives. Located as they were close to what became the Old Spanish Trail, Southern Paiutes were also subject to Ute and Navajo slave raiders. Disease followed, their population declined, and though Brigham Young ended their enslavement in the 1850s, Mormons took their best lands.
Today, new homes and economic enterprise reflect the Southern Paiutes’ determination to maintain their sovereignty.
PAIUTE The Paiute Bands in Southern Utah are made up of five bands: the Shivwits Band, Indian Peaks, Kanosh Band, Koosharem Band and Cedar Band. Reservations were established between 1903 and 1929 for all but the Cedar Band which the Federal Government ignored. During the Termination Era of the 1950s, the Paiute were released from Federal supervision. Following years of neglect and poverty, in 1980, through the efforts of Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, the Paiute were restored to federal recognition by the U.S. Congress. The Southern Bands of Paiute now number approximately 709. (Source: Utah Division of Indian Affairs-Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah Tribal Profile, 1997)
The Southern Paiutes
In Spring and Summer the Pahutes lived in the valleys of the red mountains where they planted corn, beans, and grass seeds. In Fall they harvested, held a feast to thank their gods Tabats and Shinob for their bounty, and lived in mountain caves during Winter. The rains and snows diminished. Seeds, corn, beans, and grass plants withered for want of water. The bountiful animals, deer and elk; the smaller ones, squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks; the wild fowl fled. The starving Pahutes called their gods for food. Shinob answered, “You should have as much sense as the animals and birds. The country is large and somewhere there is always food. If you follow the animals and the birds they will lead you to it…
From that day to this the Pahutes have been a nomadic people. Leaving their homes in the caves, they have followed the game from high land to low and gathered in gratitude the foods which the gods distribute every year over the face of tu-weap, the earth.25
The country that the god Shinob told the Shoshonean Paiutes about was large, encompassing extensive parts of southern Utah, northern Arizona, southern Nevada, and southeastern California. Throughout it, the Paiutes hunted, gathered, and farmed small plots. They organized themselves loosely into bands of several families, each of which controlled a definite territory. There was little or no tribal organization, although several bands or band members might temporarily join together for a certain project. The Paiutes were slow to acquire and effectively use horses. (When they did come into possession of one, they usually killed and ate it.) As a result they became victims of the Utes who raided them on horseback and captured their women and children as slaves, either for themselves or to be sold to the New Mexican Spanish settlements.
Some Paiutes who lived southeast of the Colorado River visited the Spanish settlements before 1776, but the central body of Paiutes living on the tributaries of the Virgin River -first encountered white men when the Dominguez-Escalante expedition crossed their lands on their return to Santa Fe. Father Escalante wrote of coming upon women who were gathering seeds and were
so frightened that they could not even speak…. we saw other Indians who were running away…. We did our best to know what kind of people those were who already planted corn…26
In the interim between the Escalante expedition and the beginning of commercial traffic on the Spanish Trail, the Spanish began to take a more active role in the slave trade, penetrating deep into Ute country to buy Paiute slaves. The successful establishment of the Spanish Trail that ran directly through the heart of Paiute country made the slave trade an important part of Spanish-Indian relations. In 1843 Thomas J. Farnham wrote of the slaves:
These poor creatures are hunted in the spring of the year, when weak and helpless… and when taken, are fattened, carried to Santa Fe and sold as slaves.
To elude capture the Indians carried water with them and avoided springs.27
Although the Paiutes partially retreated from the areas the whites had invaded, the aggressiveness of American trappers and explorers who began to enter the area in the 1820s forced the relations between Paiutes and whites to a low point. This was the condition when the Mormons arrived in Utah. The Paiutes experienced the usual displacement from their best hunting and gathering lands. Grazing animals, timbering, and cultivation drastically cut their food supply.
One of the first outer settlements established by the Mormons was located at Parowan, well within Paiute territory. By that time, the Paiutes had attained the reputation of being hostile, but the Mormons were able to establish peaceful and secure relations with them because they provided a buffer against Ute and Spanish raids, supplied trade that increased material wealth, and introduced productive fanning methods
The problem then arose of removing all the Southern Paiutes to a reservation in accordance with current government policy. In 1865 a few Utah Paiutes had signed a treaty relinquishing southern Utah in return for their removal to the Ute reservation in the Uinta Basin. This treaty had never been ratified, but, nevertheless, it became the basis of government policy. John Wesley Powell and George W. Ingalls were sent to the area to determine Paiute status. In 1873 they recommended that all of the Southern Paiutes be removed to Moapa. This policy was continued for the next decade. Either through lack of interest or forgetfulness, the government neglected the Indians for many years.
In 1891 the government provided a reservation for the Southern Paiutes in an area cut through by the Santa Clara River. This location had historically supported one of the largest segments of Paiute population. However, this reservation did not provide for the Tonoquint or Paroosit Paiutes who had once farmed its bottom-lands. It did provide for the remainder of the Shivwits Paiutes who lived deep in the Arizona Strip on the Shivwits Plateau near the Grand Canyon. There were not enough living members of the other bands to even perpetuate their names.
A colony of Paiutes had existed at Cedar City since the Mormons first settled there in 1851. The government twice offered to buy land for these Indians, but the local residents replied that they would provide the land.
The twentieth century has not changed the relative economic standing of the Paiutes significantly. The Indians who work are still mainly limited to manual labor; most depend on welfare to some degree for sustenance. Only on the Moapa and Kaibab reservations has there been much success in establishing a healthy economic community.
For all their adversity, the Paiutes can still say as did the old chief to Major Powell: “We love our country; we know not other lands.” Federal and state training programs have been unsuccessful because they require relocation that threatens close family ties. Still, the native language is heard less today. Fewer religious beliefs are retained, but herbs for medicine and berries and pine nuts for food are still gathered. Summertime is also visiting time, as it has always been, and families travel long distances to attend rodeos and Ute Sun Dances and Bear Dances. But many Paiutes no longer know that when their people were as free as the eagle, their costumes were adorned with its feathers. Now turkey feathers are used. “The young, they go away to school. They forget. They need to spend more time with their elders, learning, listening. They talk about their heritage but they don’t want to take the time to really feel it.” 30
Introduction: The Southern Paiute, or Nuwuvi (The People), came into the plateaus of the Colorado around 1100-1200 AD. It is believed that they coexisted with the Anasazi and Fremont cultures, who as time passed, moved on, possibly because of the newcomers or other unknown reasons. After the disappearance of these cultures, the land was possessed solely by the Paiutes. At one time, the Paiutes Nation stretched from Death Valley to Monument Valley. These proud people were skilled botanists who had to know the land, its plants, and its resources to live in its harsh environment. The Paiute or “Nuwuvi” people all spoke a dialect of the Numic language. Other tribes, whose language derives from the Numic language, include the Shoshone, Ute and Paviotso (also called the Northern Paiute).
Building Materials The Paiutes used different types of house dwellings. Each type built depending upon the season of year, and the type of material that could be found at hand when they constructed their dwellings. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the Indians replaced their natural construction materials with animal skins or canvas. This was thought to have been influenced by the Indians from the Great Plains. The thing that remained constant in all of their dwellings, no matter what it was made of or the season it was built for, was the doorway always faced the sunrise. The wickiups varied in their winter and summer makeup. Materials used included brush, boughs, cedar bark, and most anything available. All the wickiups had a hole in the middle to let smoke out from the fire built within.
Pine Nuts The gathering and preparing of pine (pinon) nuts were a bit of a different process then the gathering of seeds. The men and women would usually travel together to the area of the pinon forest. However, then the women would usually gather the nuts while the men would hunt for deer. The nuts were gathered by knocking them from the cones right out of the trees and then picking them up. If the cones were not yet open, they would knock them out of the trees and put them into a fire until the cones opened, thus releasing the nuts. Paiute women roasted the nuts on a fan-shaped basket, called a winnowing tray (separating chaff from grain), by shaking them together with hot coals. The nuts would then be cracked by lightly pressing them between the mano and the metate (grinding stones). The shells were separated from the nuts by tossing them in the air and letting the wind blow the shells away. If not enough wind, the women could blow the shells away using the same tossing technique. The seeds were then ground into meal and stored. These nuts were most often prepared and eaten as porridge. The Paiutes also stored unshelled nuts for later use.
Basketry The Paiute culture has had basket making techniques passed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years. The Paiute women are known for the basketry items they have made (and still make today), and for the skill and craftsmanship that went into each item. The basket weavers would use two different types of weaves, coiling and twining. The choice for which one was preferred over the other depended upon individual or family taste.
Traditional Clothing The Paiute way of life was one in which they did not need, or have, a lot of clothing. A breechcloth or double apron with front and back flaps, was typical dress for both men and women. The Paiute dress did include the following items: shirts, breechclouts (Indian name for breechcloths), leggings, moccasins, hats, and for the women dresses and peplums. The clothing could be made of either animal skins or plant materials, dependent upon which was more durable and/or abundant. Sometimes the breechclouts were made from animal skin, but it was usually made from cliffrose bark. The Paiute went bare foot where it was practical for them to do so, but footwear, when used, was either woven yucca sandals or moccasins made of animal hide. During the winter months they would wear blankets made of woven strips of rabbit skins, and wear badger-skin socks with fur turned inward or they would simply stuff cliffrose bark in their moccasins
Most of the dancing of the Paiutes was a form of the circle dance or round dance, which was performed primarily for pleasure whenever enough people were present to hold it. It consisted simply of a circle of people who side stepped or hopped to the accompaniment of singing. These get togethers or socials were very important in the courting process when bands from different areas got together. Marriage within the immediate band was frowned upon.
Introduction of the Horse
Originally the Spanish thought the Paiutes and Utes were one group. Until the mid-1600’s, the Utes and Paiutes shared a similar way of life. The commonalities of the cultures changed greatly when the Utes adopted the horse into their culture and the Paiutes did not. The horse provided great mobility to the Utes. The Utes started roaming and became more like the warring plains Indians, abandoning their heritage of seed gathering and farming. Later, the use of horses by the Utes would prove to be devastating to their relationship with the Paiutes. The Utes would raid Paiute villages and take women and children as slaves to trade in the Rio Grande Valley and California.
Paiute Converts to Mormonism
Many Shivwits did join the Mormon faith. In three days in March of 1875, nearly 200 Shivwits were baptized. Daniel D. McArthur, a high-ranking church official, David Cannon, and A.P. Hardy baptized nearly the entire Shivwit band.
When they baptized the Shivwits, they were each given a set of new clothes and some food. Therefore, the Paiutes connected this baptism with food and clothing instead of eternal salvation and for many years they requested to be baptized again to receive more food and clothing. While some have questioned the conversion of the Paiute to Mormonism, Mormon religious doctrine has influenced and infiltrated the Paiute way of life.
The Paiutes viewed the Mormon settlements as a mixed blessing. The Mormon presence provided some protection from both the depredations of the wagon trains and the slave raiding of the Utes, Navajos, and Spanish. The Paiutes would have been less accommodating if they had understood the devastating consequences of diseases the settlers brought with them. The early settlers suffered from epidemics of cholera, scarlet fever, whooping cough, measles, mumps, tuberculosis and malaria. Since the Paiutes were frequently living near the settlements, these diseases were passed on to them. Some Paiute groups during this time experienced a 90% drop in population.
The history of the Southern Paiutes is one that is not well known even in the area where they live. It is a fascinating history of a people who lived in one of the harshest areas in all America. Their unique abilities to exist and become proficient botanists are amazing. Their lifestyle and traditions are equally exciting and profound.
Currently the tribe seems to have a renewed interest in its traditions, its tribe as a whole and on the various band governing board. Each year a Pow Wow is held in Cedar City to bring together the bands and also other visiting tribes and do workshops, dancing, crafts and sharing of history and lore. The tribe also sponsors a parade down the Main Street in Cedar City, Utah. It is a time to show real pride for their heritage.
Education is constantly ongoing, and the number of dropouts decreases. Education is seen as a real tool to facilitating the needs of the tribe. The Southern Paiutes are a proud people with a fascinating heritage.
The Paiutes – Gathering Indians – 1) nomads 2) hunted in groups 3) did not use horses to hunt 4) children wore nothing – summers 5) men – breechclothes 6) women – skirts 7) rabbit skin blankets 8) lived in clans 15-30 people 9) lived in small villages 10) lived in wickiups.
(Summary from S.S. Book)
THE PAIUTE TRIBE OF UTAH
Utah´s Native Americans
Gary Tom and Ronald Holt
Tabuts [elder brother/wolf] carved people out of sticks and was going to scatter them evenly around the earth so that everyone would have a good place to live. But Shinangwav [younger brother/coyote] cut open the sack and people fell out in bunches all over the world and that’s why people fight. The people left in the sack were the Southern Paiutes, and Tabuts put them here in the very best place.
For a thousand years the Paiute people have lived in an area that is presently known as southern Utah, southeastern California, northern Arizona, and southern Nevada. Their homeland is adjacent to the Great Basin and included the resource-rich Colorado Plateau and a portion of the Mojave Desert.
The Paiute Lifestyle
The Southern Paiute language is one of the northern Numic branches of the large Uto-Aztecan language family. Most scholars agree that the Numic peoples began moving into the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau about 1,000 years after the beginning of the Christian era.
Prior to their contact with Europeans the Paiutes’ aboriginal land covered an area of more than 30 million acres—from southern California to southern Nevada, south-central Utah, and northern Arizona. These areas provided not only a wide variety and choice in foodstuffs but also climates that were comfortable to live in. The Paiutes knew the fragile environment intimately and were able to exist and maintain a way of life without overtaxing the resources of the land.
Their mobile lifestyle included moving frequently, primarily according to the seasons and plant harvests and animal migration patterns. They lived in independent groups of from three to five households. The largest concentration of Paiutes in Utah lived along the banks of the Santa Clara River.
Paiute housing reflected the seasonal cycles. In the summer a windbreak might be all that was required. In the winter a cone-shaped structure was made of a framework of three or four poles; branches were then leaned against the framework. The walls would then be covered with juniper bark, rushes, or other material. Starting in the 1850s, many Paiutes began to use canvas or skin teepees, adapting this Plains style of dwelling from their contact with the Utes.
Data indicates that the Paiutes were highly sophisticated botanists. They used at least thirty-two families of flora encompassing some ninety-six species of edible plants. The list would be greatly expanded were it to include the equally impressive array of medicinal plants, many of which also had nutritional value. In similar fashion, the Paiutes utilized most of the varieties of fauna found within their territory: hoofed animals, rodents, carnivores, birds, reptiles, and insects. Many Euro-Americans commented at great length on the fact that no portion of the area’s fauna—from ants to deer—was overlooked as a food source. The mountains of the Great Basin provided a great source of pine nuts from pinyon pines. Lakes provided fish and other aquatic resources. The major gatherings of the pre-contact period were centered around the pine nut harvest and the spring fish spawning time at Fish Lake. These gatherings provided a good time to catch up on news and to socialize. In many instances, mates were found at these gatherings.
Groups of Paiutes usually centered around one or more major food or water resources. Groups often used resources within other groups core areas, and groups such as the Moapa in Nevada were often seen in Utah.
Leadership roles also began to change with the arrival of the Euro-Americans. Major decisions were made in council meetings, with adult males, old women, and other interested persons present. The traditional Paiute leader was called niave. He would be identified by each community to lead by example and through a search for consensus. Although such a “chief” was not a decision maker, he would offer advice and suggestions at council meetings and would later work to carry out the council’s decisions as well as other prescribed duties. ‘White settlers assumed that the Paiute “chiefs” had more authority than they actually did. As early as 1855, Mormon settlers were “setting apart” as chiefs those Paiutes who were allied with them. The Mormon practice of appointing bandleaders and backing those Paiutes who stressed accommodation with whites may have led to factional splits within Paiute groups.
At the time of European contact, traditional rituals associated with childbirth, puberty, and funerals were still taking place. Paiutes prayed and conducted rituals to influence the spirits of nature and show their respect and gratitude to them. In the Paiutes’ view of the natural world, there was one most-powerful spirit being, often called simply the “one who made the earth”. The sun was one visible aspect of this spirit; most Paiutes made prayers to the sun at sunrise and sometimes at noon or sunset. The Paiutes also associated the mythic heroes Coyote and Wolf with this spirit, seeing the good and virtuous Wolf and wicked and silly Coyote as two necessary sides of the same all-powerful creator. Other supernatural beings such as the Thunder People and Water Babies were also part of the Paiutes’ world. Each of the food and medicinal plants as well as the various game animals also had spirits, according to the Paiutes.
A medicine man was called paugant in Paiute, meaning “one who has sacred power’ This medicine man usually had one or more animal spirit helpers. A spirit helper might be an eagle, a porcupine, a squirrel, or some other animal that the paugant had dreamed of or had encountered in some other mystical way. He would pray through this animal, perform magico-religious rituals with its feathers or fur, and might even capture one to keep as a pet. These animal spirits were believed to assist medicine men in healing the sick or, when applied to enemies, in causing illness and death through sorcery.
In the late nineteenth century, Paiutes borrowed the “cry” ceremony from the Mohaves and other Yuman-speaking tribes living to the south. The Las Vegas area Paiutes may already have adopted this funerary-type ceremony in the era before white settlement. In the “cry,” singers chant songs from evening until dawn over the course of one or more nights.
These songs belong to several sacred song cycles, including the salt song cycle, the bird song cycle, and others. Between spells of singing, relatives and friends of the dead get up and give speeches about the person. When it was first adopted, the “cry” was a separate ceremony from funerals, and often a cry was held to honor several people who had died over a given period. Later, the “cry” was combined with individual funeral ceremonies and was held at the same time. In some cases, a second memorial “cry” was held a year, or sometimes two years, after the funeral.
The Paiutes also enjoyed different gambling games. Most notable was the hand “bone” game, which is still played today. Two teams would sit facing each other. Each team took turns hiding one or more pairs of “bones” in their hands. “Bones” were bone or wood cylinders, one of which was marked with a stripe around the middle, while the other was unmarked. While one team was hiding the bones, that team’s members would sing their own game songs to give themselves luck and discourage their opponents. The competing team would then begin to sing its songs. Using traditional hand gestures and special words, one of the members of the second team would try to guess which hand on the opposite team held which bone. Score would be kept by stick counters thrust into the ground near each team. The two teams would play for valuable stakes, such as buckskins, horses, jewelry, and other goods.
Another popular gambling game was played with stick dice—a die being a flat piece of wood colored on one side and white on the other. A player would strike the dice on hard stone, usually a metate, making the dice fly up and fall to the ground with one side up. Different combinations of plain and colored sides had different point values. Score was kept in different ways, usually by moving a counter along a row or circle of stones.