In this National Park that receives almost a million
visitors each year, few people are aware that there
is a Native American Tribe living in the heart of Death
The ancestors of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe came into
the area over a thousand years ago. This land provided
them with all of their needs. There were plants, springs
and many kinds of wildlife from bighorn sheep to rabbits
and lizards. The People ranged over the land in a seasonal
pattern to harvest the fruits, seeds and plants. Pinyon
pine nuts and mesquite beans were major parts of their
diet. Family members gathered to listen to storytellers
who told the history of the world, the animals and the
People in story form. People were close and religion
was an important part of life. Different dances were
held for healing and to influence the weather. All things
were seen as part of a whole. Group hunts and gatherings
for dances, games and socializing brought people from
different villages and districts together.
Men made bows and arrows and hunted, while women collected
plants and made baskets. The People used rouge paint
in ceremonies that symbolized from where the tribe got
its strength: the earth. The word Timbisha means red
rock face paint and would later become the official
name of the tribe.
A Time of Change
In 1849 emigrants from the East who became lost in this
area, not only brought news of Death Valley to the outside
world, but they also started the end of the way of life
for the Panamint Shoshone people. With the advent of
mining and boomtowns in Death Valley, Panamint Shoshone
Indians could no longer pursue their traditional way
of life. Anglos inhabited the watering areas. Pinyon
pine trees were cut down for wood and mesquite bushes
disappeared. Eventually the People revolted at this
encroachment on their way of life. Hostilities between
Anglos and Native Americans surfaced in the 1860s
and resulted in the deaths of both miners and Indians.
In 1866 Congress ratified the Treaty of Ruby Valley,
which was a statement of peace and friendship that granted
the United States rights of way across Western Shoshone
territory to California, but did not cede to the United
States any Western Shoshone land.
The People had to learn to survive by the Anglo rules
and their economic condition declined. For them, the
important thing was that the People be able to provide
for themselves off the land, and if they could do that,
they were rich. Now the People were treated as if they
were poor because they lacked material wealth. They
worked at any job they could find. These jobs included
guides, miners, message carriers, woodchoppers and packers.
They were responsible for finding many gold and silver
ore veins for Anglo prospectors. Women did laundry in
boomtowns. Some married prospectors like Montillion
Murray Beatty, founder of the Nevada town named after
him. Often Native American culture and values were misunderstood.
In the 1920s they worked in construction jobs
at Scottys Castle and at the Furnace Creek Inn.
In the 1930s, when Death Valley became a National
Monument, the Timbisha were living in Grapevine Canyon,
Wildrose Canyon and at Furnace Creek. In 1936 the National
Park Service set aside 40 acres of land for the People.
With help from Indian Service funds, Civilian Conservation
Corps and local Shoshone labor, a village of 12 small
adobe structures was built. There was no indoor plumbing
or electricity in the structures. The village had a
trading post which operated until the 1940s. A
road leading to the village was paved. In 1977 8 trailers
were added and in 1983 6 mobile homes. In recent years
additional community municipal improvements were made
with funds from several federal agencies.
Timbisha Shoshone Homeland Act
In December, 2000, capping years of legislative activity
by CILS, President Clinton signed the Timbisha Shoshone
Homeland Act (P.L. 106-423) which restored the Death
Valley lands of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe to Tribal
control. Much of the newly created reservation is located
within Death Valley National Park.
Under an unprecedented arrangement, the Tribe and the
National Park Service will manage the lands cooperatively.
In 1936, Tribal members who lived since time immemorial
around Furnace Creek in Death Valley suddenly found
themselves in the position of squatters within the boundaries
of a national park. The Tribe received federal recognition
in 1994, also with the help of CILS, and pressed for
the return of their homeland to Tribal management for
the next six years.
The new reservation includes a total of about 7,700
acres and will include Tribal housing, a community center,
museum and cultural center.