The Washoe Native American Indians, who are classified as Great Basin Indians, have a rich history dating back thousands of
years. They originally occupied land throughout California and Nevada, including the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. They were the first known Lake Tahoe Region
inhabitants. The name Tahoe actually comes from the
Washoe language. It is a mispronunciation of the Washoe word, Da ow, meaning the lake. Today the Lake
Tahoe area is home to tribal owned businesses, colonies, and even an annual Native American Arts Festival.
Washoe Tribe History Facts
The land where the Washoe people lived was a mix of the Sierra Nevada's high mountains, low valleys and dry meadows. Because of the dry climate, fewer plants and
animals populated the area than that of neighboring regions.
It made hunting and gathering more challenging and required a great deal of skill and knowledge of the
In the spring and summer, Lake Tahoe was where the Washoe would go to hunt, gather and fish. It was
considered a spiritual place with healing powers that many went to in order to rid themselves of worries
Men were responsible for hunting, fishing, and tool making. Small game like rabbits, hens, and waterfowl
were much easier to come by than larger game like antelope, deer, and sheep. They would move seasonally
to optimize hunting.
Women tended to the children, gathered plants, roots, fruits, and nuts, prepared the food, and weaved
The protein rich pine nut was the staple ingredient in the diet of the people of this region. Although the
Washoe did not have the means to store large quantities of food for winter; they were able to store pine
nuts and eat them throughout the year. The pine nut harvest was an annual tradition right before the winter move to a lower elevation. It was a significant social
event for the Washoe incorporating stories, lessons
for the young, and celebrations.
Because of the need to follow seasonal food resources, the Washoe were a nomadic tribe. They tended to
move with each season. Their winter houses were the most permanent structure as they tended to stay
in them the longest. The winter houses consisted of a circular pattern of long poles erected from the ground and secured at
the top, and then covered with either tree bark or deer hide. The summer camps were simple, temporary
dwellings made of woven brush and strips of willow.
Family units tended to stay in close proximity as much as possible. During summer months families
sometimes split up to increase their success in catching fish and harvesting greens. In seasons such as
fall, where resources were most plentiful, families were able to stay together.
Present Day Washoe Tribe Facts
The native language of Washoe is currently in danger of becoming extinct with only a handful of fluent
The tribe was not especially known for their jewelry making but they did weave beautiful baskets. In fact,
Washoe member Dat So La Lee became one of the most famous Native American basket weavers.
Today her baskets can be seen at the Nevada State Museum and have an estimated worth of one million dollars.