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The Big Pine Band of Owens Valley Paiute Shoshone Indians of the Big Pine Reservation are a federally recognized tribe of Mono and Timbisha Indians in California.

The Big Pine Reservation is located 18 miles from Bishop, at the eastern base of the Sierra Nevada. The tribal headquarters is in Big Pine, California.[1]

View of Big Pine from the valley floor

The tribe has 462 enrolled members.[1]



The Owen Valley Paiutes traditionally spoke a dialect of the Mono language, which is part of the Western Numic branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family.[2]:228 While there are extremely few speakers left, the language is still living today. Their name for themselves in their own language is Numa or "People."[2]:228 The so-called Shoshone in the community spoke the Timbisha language, which is part of the Central Numic branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family.

Traditional culture

The Owens Valley Paiute were several Paiute groups that cooperated and lived together in semipermanent camps. They mediated between Californian and Great Basin culture. They irrigated crops along the Owens Valley, a highly arable and ecologically diverse region in the southern Sierra Nevadas. Their name for themselves was Numa or "People."[2]:227

The tribe participated in round dances and held annual harvest festivals. Girls had elaborately puberty ceremonies. Mourning was expressed through a ceremony called, "The Cry." It was Yuman in origin and included ritual face washing after a year of mourning. The tribe had both medicine man and women. Hereditary chiefs lead the tribe's communal activities. Irrigator was an elected tribal position.[2]:228

Indian ricegrass and pine nuts were important crops. Hunting supplemented farming, and the tribe hunted rabbits, quail and deer, especially in the summer. The tribe fished for suckers, minnows, and pupfish, as well as brine shrimp. Caterpillar larvae was eaten after being baked and dried.[2]:228-9 Wild foods were gathered, such as acorns, cattails, and berries.[2]:229

Popular traditional games include shinny, the four-stick game, hoop and pole, dice games, and handgame,[2]:228 the last of which is still very popular today.


In the early 19th century, European-Americans, such as trappers and gold prospectors encountered the Owens Valley Paiute. US military surveyors explored the region in the mid-19th century, planning to establish a reservation for the local Indians. Non-Indians settled in the valley in 1861. Increasing numbers of European-Americans fought with the local tribe for water and farmlands. A military outpost, Camp Independence was built in 1862, and the non-Indians fought with the tribes, destroyed their crops, and were able to seize the best lands.[2]:228

In the early 19th century, the Paiutes numbered 7,500,[2]:227 with about 1,500 to 2,000 Owens Valley Paiutes.[2]:228 In the 1990s an estimated 2,500 Owens Valley Paiutes lived on reservations.

Meanwhile, Timbisha or Panamint Shoshone moved in with the Owens Valley Paiute. A reservation was not established until the 20th century.[2]:228

The City of Los Angeles purchased much of the valley for its water in the 1930s, effectively destroying the local economy. In the 1940s the US federal government developed the Indian lands with housing and water systems.[2]:228


The Big Pine Reservation was established in 1912 and is 279 acres large, located along US 395 in the high desert town of Big Pine, California. Much of the area houses were built by the Indian Housing Authority. The reservation has a school, with classes from kindergarten to 12th grade. The 1,500-volume public library is located within the school. Tribal members raise horses on the reservation lands.[3]


  1. ^ a b California Indians and Their Reservations. San Diego State University Library and Information Access. 2009 (retrieved 25 Feb 2009)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Pritzker, Barry. A Native American Encyclopedia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998: 229 ISBN 0-19-513877-5.
  3. ^ Biggs, Bonnie. Big Pine Reservation. California State University San Marcos. 14 Oct 2003 (retrieved 25 Feb 2009)

Coordinates: 37°09′32″N 118°17′06″W / 37.15889°N 118.285°W / 37.15889; -118.285



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