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Mojave Desert Indians - Historic Desert Indian Territories Map: Southern Paiute Indians

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” (Fowler 1998:121).

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 Game Range.

source: excerpts from; COYOTE NAMED THIS PLACE PAKONAPANTI - Elizabeth von Till Warren

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