Shelter and Household Furniture
The lifeway of the Southern Paiute people necessitated that they be mobile and that any shelters they
built be only as ample and sturdy as required to give itinerant people some protection from the sun, wind, and
cold. A number of social factors, such as the abandonment of a camp upon the death of a member and the
burning of personal possessions of the deceased, also mitigated against building more permanent structures.
Practical factors included that shelter be fabricated from whatever resources the camp area offered. The
shelters favored by the Southern Paiutes thus were either natural rockshelters and caves or the simple
“wickiup,” made of brush (Figures 5.3 and 5.4). Kelly and Fowler described the brush structures and
illustrated the variety of shelters built in the region historically (Kelly and Fowler 1986:371-373, Figure 3).
Las Vegas Paiute elders described shelters of these types, adding that in the summer everything was moved
outside. In recent times, when tables and stoves became part of the domestic furniture, the legs of stoves and
tables were placed in a can of water “so the ants wouldn’t walk up the table. Water was sprinkled over the
ground to cool it off”.
Kelly reports that the Las Vegas Valley Paiute houses were used by a single family and were built
near springs (Fowler 1998:121):
Winter houses were dome-shaped and tall enough to stand upright inside. To construct them,
first the ground was cleared then postholes (4 or more) for the uprights were dug along the
walls for the mesquite supports. If the houses were smaller, a central post forked at the top
was set in the ground. Additional posts of willow were leaned against the central dome of
whichever type. A covering of cane, arrowweed or grass, depending on what is at hand, was
added for the walls, and perhaps some mud along the base. The doorway faced east and the
house had a central firepit, although consultants differed as to whether the house had a
smoke hole. A cliffrose bark mat covered the doorway and additional mats were on the floor.
This house would be used for two to three years or longer, being renewed periodically”
Other structures built were semi-circular brush-walled shade kitchens, flat-roofed shades with four
posts, and storage platforms. Households were furnished primarily with baskets (Figure 5.5), made by women
from natural grasses, bark, willow branches, and seed pods. Pottery vessels were also made, but basketry
comprised the more important class of goods. Both baskets and pots were used to carry water and to cook in,
although obviously the techniques of cooking differed. Tightly woven baskets, coated on the inside with pine
pitch, were used to carry water on journeys. Cooking in baskets was accomplished by heating pebbles in a fire
and then dropping them into the basket containing the gruel or soup, replacing the stones as they cooled. The
heat from the stones cooked the foodstuff. Meat could be cooked directly over the fire, and flat cakes made of
mesquite flour were cooked on flat stones placed in the fire. Plants with tough, woody stems, such as the
agaves, were roasted in earth ovens built near the collecting sites. Limestone rocks were heated and placed in
the pits with the raw foods, then covered and left for 24-36 hours. The cooled rocks were thrown out of the pit
when the cooked foods were retrieved. Pits were used repeatedly over many years; the resulting characteristic
cone-shaped structures are a common feature of the foothills of southern Nevada. There are no agave roasting
pits at Corn Creek, but large ones are situated north of Corn Creek in the mountains, within the boundary of
the Desert Wildlife Refuge but outside the geographic scope of this project.
The way of life of the Southern Paiute people changed dramatically and permanently with the arrival
of outsiders in Las Vegas Valley. Paiute hegemony over the land, water, and resources was displaced by
Euroamerican settlers and miners in the 19th century, and by railroad developers and city dwellers in the 20th.
A consequence of these changes was the severe depletion of the natural resources of the region, notably of the
native bighorn sheep. In 1936, concern for the survival of these animals resulted in the creation of the Desert
source: excerpts from; COYOTE NAMED THIS PLACE PAKONAPANTI - Elizabeth von Till Warren