Native American tribe living in the heart of California's Death Valley desert, whose ancestors arrived in the area over a thousand years ago. The valley provided them with plants, springs, and wildlife and they moved in seasonal patterns throughout the region.
A major part of their diet consisted of pine nuts and mesquite beans. Early Timbisha men hunted with bows and arrows while women collected plants and made baskets.
The word 'timbisha' refers to a red material found in the Black Mountains not far from Furnace Creek in Death Valley. Their ancestors used this material (called ochre in English) to paint their faces for protection and healing purposes. They believe that
‘timbisha’ strengthens their spirituality.
The mid 19th centrury brought mining and boom towns to Death Valley, and the Shoshone found their traditional way of life threatened. The Anglos inhabited their watering areas and cut down their Pinyon pine trees and mesquite bushes for wood. Eventually the Shoshone revolted against this intrusion; hostilities between Anglos and Shoshones erupted in the 1860's. In 1866 Congress ratified the Treaty of Ruby Valley, a statement of peace and friendship that granted the United States rights of way across Western Shoshone territory.
A few years ago one member of the tribe compiled a Shoshone dictionary and stories so that the younger members of the tribe could learn the language.
Several of the younger members are studying the Shoshone language today and the tribe is getting more involved with issues relating to their homeland and conservation.
These issues include the recycling program, intrusion by modern gold-mining
companies, and water issues facing this part of the country.
I remember visiting grandpa, who still lives on the Res out that
way. Back then he was living in the old abandoned mining town
Darwin. Everything was baked and bleached by the angry sun, except glass,
which turned purple, and tin, which rusted in the summer blaze. The wind
kicked up dust devils and scoured the sides of his wooden house and
I wondered what drove him to continue on in this fashion. He was about an
hour from the nearest functional town and Darwin's population had quickly
dwindled since the mine petered out in the 50's. All that was left was a
handful rugged reclusive whites and a few hippies avoiding the pigs.
If Grandpa ever spoke the old language, I never heard it. His cousin
said that they were forced into a boarding school back when they were kids and
Grandpa and him escaped 3 times. The last time they were picked up by a
carload of fellow Indians who passed around whiskey. This must've been
around the 1940's or so, because the 3rd time he escaped, he joined the Navy
and went off to war.
There's supposedly a bunch of gold on the Res, but it's in a sacred
place so nobody who knows where the gold is located says anything.
Tribal Homeland map