Nestled deep in the harsh deserts of Utah and Nevada live a tribe of American Indians that exemplify the extraordinary adaptability of American Indians. For over approximately 1,000 years, these people have mastered the traditional ecological knowledge of their environment so successfully as to, what some would say, make something out of nothing. “As highly efficient hunters and gatherers, they maintained the fragile balance of the desert, providing for their needs without destroying the limited resources of their arid homeland” (Utah American Indian Archive). The Goshutes, or Newe (“The People”) as they called themselves, are a tribe of hunter/gatherers that inhabit the Great Basin Area in the states of Utah and Nevada. The Goshutes occupy the deserts that straddle the two states just southwest of the Great Salt Lake (Utah History to go). Related to the Ute, Paiute and Western Shoshone, they are collectively a part of the Uto-Aztecan language group and speak the Western Numic dialect. They lived in conical brush homes called wickiups.
The Goshutes were so adept at using all their available resources to the fullest potential, that unlike their Ute and Shoshone neighbors, they refused to keep horses. The animals were competition for precious resources in the harsh desert environment; they ate grass and seeds the Goshute depended on as a food and fiber for making clothing and baskets (Utah History To Go). Little has been recorded on the preparation of Goshute dishes. The Goshutes had knowledge and use of 81 vegetable species (Utah History To Go, UT American Indian Digital Archive). They took seed from 47 of them, twelve yielded berries, eight provided roots and twelve were used for greens (Utah History To Go). They fished when they could, but more often they small reptiles, rabbits, deer, antelope, and other small mammals (UT American Indian Digital Archive). Adult insects and their larvae were also collected (UT American Indian Digital Archive).
The Goshute hunted and gathered in family groups organized around the nuclear family (Utah History To Go). Hunting of large game was done by the men and often several families would get together to organize a hunt. Women and Children gathered plants, seeds and insects (Utah History To Go). Hunters would share resources with other families in harsher times, but most of the time individual families were able to provide for themselves (Utah History To Go).
In the spring months greens were collected. By early summer they collected fruits and seeds. At summers end they were digging tubers and roots. Surplus of these foods were always stored in case of a particular food source failure. Every fall they moved to the mountains to harvest pinon nuts from the pine trees (Utah History To Go). They relied primarily on pinon and dried meet to get them through the winter (UT American Indian Digital Archive).
Grass seeds, sunflower and pinon were collected by placing woven mats under the plant or tree and then beating them with sticks. The seeds would fall to the mats, be collected and stored (Utah History To Go). These would sometimes be ground using a stone metate and formed into cakes or used as flour or mush (Utah History To Go). Grass hoppers were hunted collectively. A large group would make a circle several acres wide and began beating the ground with branches and drive the insects to a pit in the center where they would be collected, roasted and either eaten or stored (Utah History To Go). Because they did not use horses, deer and pronghorn were driven into corrals and shot. Rabbits were driven into fiber nets and clubbed. Because of the scarcity of water the majority of meat and insects were either roasted or dried.
Because of their location in such a harsh environment white encroachment came far later than those of neighboring tribes such as the Ute and Shoshone. The harsh desert climate was not appealing to Whites. It was not until the Mormons settled in the immediate area around 1847 that the tribes had in significant contact with Europeans (Utah History To Go). After the Mormons came, the Pony Express, Overland Stage, and the telegraph all passed through Goshute country (Utah History To Go). Shortly after the Mormons came more Whites began to settle nearby making already scarce resources even scarcer.
Through Mormon influence the majority of Goshute had taken up farming by 1860. In 1863 they were placed on reservations and offered assistance. They accepted but it never came (Utah History To Go). The Goshute once again relied on themselves. They still wanted to farm and began growing wheat, potatoes, beets, and carrots to supplement their diet (Utah History To Go).
Today the Goshute live on two reservations and number around 500 (Tribal website). They are the Skull Valley Band and the Deep Creek band. They are located approximately 70 miles south east of Wendover, UT (Tribal Website). The reservation covers about 112, 870 acres of their former lands covering one White Pine county in Nevada and Juab and Tooele counties in Utah (Tribal website).
At present the majority of Goshute diet depends on a lot of “Old World” foods. They consume high fat, high calorie snacks and beverages and eat a lot of fried foods. Not much is mentioned specifically except the introduction of fry bread as a staple for family meals, gatherings, and the ever popular Indian taco. As a result diabetes is seen as a major health concern (Utah History To Go, UT American Indian Digital Archive).
www.goshutetribe.com; confirmed 9/20/11.
http://historytogo.utah.gov/facts/brief_history/americanindians.html; confirmed 9/20/11.
http://www.utahindians.org/archives/goshute.html; confirmed 9/20/11.