UPPER SOUTH EAST COMMUNITIES COALITION, INC - Environmental Preservation Group in Washoe County
The Washoe People
(Washo)
 
WA SHE SHU
 
One of the many things that is striking about the Washoe People is that they have inhabited the Great Basin for 6000 years.  Their language is not like any other of the native people in the area and, in fact, their language is considered "a language isolate" and is considered endangered.  They are believed to have inhabited the area long before other tribes.
 
According to the Manataka American Indian Council, "The Washoe are the original inhabitants of Lake Tahoe and all the lands surrounding it.  The ancestral territory consists of Lake Tahoe at the center and extended out from Honey Lake to the North, the Pah Rah/Virginia Ranges to the east, the Sonora Pass to the south, and the central Sierra Nevadas in the west."
 
Washoe Tribe Settlement areas
"They shared the lands to the east with the Paiute and Shoshone, they shared the land to the west with the Maidu and Miwok.  But they were considered a peaceful people and the Washoe traveled a great deal in a year."
 
"In the spring they would begin to break camps in the valleys east of the Sierras and gather bulb plants and early grasses to hold them over until the snows melted enough to get to Lake Tahoe.  When they got to the Lake, they began the first of their fish harvests when the fish of Lake Tahoe began to rise to the surface to spawn.  This would only last for several weeks, and while the fishing was going on they were also gathering berries, wild rhubarb, cat tail seeds, sunflower seeds, wild onions, wild mustard, wild spinach, wild potatoes, sweet potatoes, tule root, wild turnips, wild celery and countless other edible and medicinal plants."
 
"During the summer they would begin to travel to other mountain lakes for additional fishing.   They would hunt quail and other game.  The Washoe were mindful not to deplete the populations or disrupt nature's reproductive cycles." 
 
"During the fall they would catch mountain whitefish before the snows fell.  They began to gather the harvest that would feed them through the winter. 
 
 
Washoe Tribe winter house and summer house
 
They now began to move back down
into the valleys to winter.  Pine nuts were a staple for the Washoe People and they harvested for about 6 weeks.  Then came the game hunting in the valleys.  Rabbits, squirrels, marmots, sage hens, quail, waterfowl, deer, antelope and big horn sheep."
 
"In the winter little food could be gathered and the Washoe ate mostly what they had stored from the previous year."
 
It is widely believed, and sites have been found proving that the Washoe People wintered and made camps along the Steamboat Creek and by Washoe Lake.  Artifacts like arrow heads and pestles are commonly found along the Steamboat Creek watershed even today.
 
There are designated historic and archaeological sites between the TMWRF and the Butler Ranch North that had to be protected from developers in the 1990's.  Is it not reasonable to assume that there are more that have not been found yet?  An EIS (Environmental Impact Study) would make sure that there is no history about to be paved over and that there are no issues regarding historic archaeological sites that could be lost forever.
The Donner Party
 
 
This story is very well known.   Less known is the connection to the Washoe People.
 
After a long and difficult journey, filled with many tribulations, the Donner Party, as understood by most, came through the Truckee River canyon east of Sparks and into the Truckee Meadows.  Many believe they turned left and followed Steamboat Creek (as there are many mentions of a "slough" in the diaries) and camped by Rattlesnake Mt.   
 
Donner Party Route
Over forty years ago the Nevada Emigrant Trails Marking Committee installed a yellow "t" marker and a small monument at Donner Party Park at the base of this mountain telling their story.
 
In journals they describe coming into the Truckee Meadows Valley and there was tall grass for miles and miles.  When they camped, their livestock enjoyed fresh water and as much forage as they wanted.  It is described as one half of the valley being lush and green (the east side) and the other half being scrub and brush (the west side). 
 
When the Donner Party made it's ill fated decision to advance into the Sierra's so late in the season, they had set themselves up to fail.
 
Donner Party early November 1864 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains
There are reports that during that horrific winter, the Washoe People had either heard about or knew that the Donner Party was stranded in the Sierras.  Being a peaceful and compassionate people, there are reports that they were able to reach them several times to bring them small amounts of food, but risked their own lives each time. 
 
The last time they got through they found the horrific evidence of cannibalism and that so shocked them, that it forever changed their views of white settlers.  They did not go back again.
 
Back to the Truckee Meadows; in 1846 the east side of the Truckee Meadows was very different.  In fact, up until about the 1900's, the upper south east Reno area was marshes, springs and wetlands with willows along streams and the periodic clump of cottonwood trees.  A flood plain that was rich in plant and wild life diversity.  Where the Washoe People camped to assure their very best chances of survival though the winter.  
 
In the 1940's, what had not been used for agriculture started to change.  Of course the Airport had gone in and they had filled that wetland area to build the runways.  More agriculture started to pop up all around the upper south east Reno to take advantage of all the available rich soil and water. 
 
By the 1950's people were starting to notice the available flat land in the flood plain for development.  By the 1970's the wetlands and the flood plains fate was sealed.
 
The Donner Party historical marker is just about one half mile from another designated "historical site" that is not advertised for fear of destruction.  The Southeast Connector Road is going right past this "site", so the potential is there for irreparable damage.  In addition, construction of Phase I is now dangerously close to another marker, the Trails West historical marker for the Emigrant Trail that is by the entrance to the waste water treatment plant.
 
Is this the right spot for a six lane highway?  Is the history that is lost a fair price?  The piece meal destruction of the remaining flood plain that is so critical for the safety of the entire region? 
 
This should be evaluated through an Environmental Impact Study to determine if this is the correct location for a road and the potential destruction of history and flood storage.