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The Goshutes

The Goshute life

painting of Goshute group

A painting made by J. J. Young from a sketch drawn by H.V.A. von Beckh during Col. James H. Simpson's expedition of 1859. The caption is "Go-Shoot Habitation, Pleasant Valley." National Archives image.

The Goshute people were specialists in desert living. In the northern deserts of the Great Basin family groups moved around to find food sources.

What kinds of food would be available in the desert?

White people gave these people the name Goshute. They call themselves the Kusiutta.

Before and during the historical period, the Goshute often:

Oppression by other groups

mother and child

A Goshute mother and child, not dated.

Between about 1830 and 1854, Ute bands regularly raided the Goshute camps and stole children that they could sell as slaves to Mexican traders. The explorer J.H. Simpson wrote that the Goshutes feared capture so much that they camped in hidden places, away from water sources.

Euro-Americans arrive

When Euro-Americans showed up--first fur traders and explorers, then settlers, Pony Express riders, and stage station managers--these newcomers killed the game and took over traditional lands. The Goshute people tried to adjust. But they grew hungry and very frustrated.

Some stole livestock, raided settlements, and attacked mail stations and the Overland Stage, sometimes killing people. In retaliation, army troops once attacked a peaceful camp of Goshutes.

Although the U.S. government tried to get the Goshutes to move to the Ute Reservation in the Uinta Basin, they resisted and stayed put.

Reservations

man on horse

A Goshute horseman at Ibapah, Utah (near the Goshute Indian Reservation), in 1924.

Not until the 20th century did the government create two Goshute reservations—in the areas where the Goshutes were already living. So, although they received only a small portion of their traditional lands, they were able to remain in their homeland.

One reservation straddles the Utah-Nevada border near the Deep Creek Mountains. The other is in Skull Valley, Tooele County, near a military test site, chemical weapons storage facility, and a magnesium production facility. 

In recent years, some members of the Skull Valley Band tried to offer the reservation for the storage of high-level radioactive materials from nuclear power plants. This plan generated a lot of controversy and opposition, both on and off the reservation, and it has not happened.

Understanding and misunderstanding the Goshute people

The Goshutes were smart, adaptable people. They created a culture that worked for them well. How many people can survive in the desert, after all? But white people often couldn’t see that and instead looked at them with prejudiced eyes.

On a trip through Utah, Mark Twain said of them, “We came upon the wretchedest type of mankind…. I refer to the Goshoot Indians…. [They] have no villages—a people whose only shelter is a rag cast on a bush to keep off a portion of the snow, and yet who inhabit one of the most rocky, wintry, repulsive wastes that our country or any other can exhibit.”

This point of view makes the Goshutes look like they didn't have the ability to take care of themselves--though they did, very well, before Euro-Americans upset their lifeways. In many countries, new arrivals often looked at the indigenous people as "unworthy," just so they could feel better about taking away the indigenous people's land and resources.

Learn more. See "Goshute Indians," by Dennis Defa. See the Goshute section of the Utah American Indian Digital Archive. See more photos of Goshutes. Learn about how Goshutes governed themselves.