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The Washo People

Click the links below for better understanding of the native peoples of Nevada

Washo tribe
Tribes of Nevada and California

The Washo are perhaps the least known of all the western native american tribes. Even the long-running 1959-1973 TV series Bonanza, set in the northeastern corner of Lake Tahoe (and miraculously a short ride from Virginia City!), mentioned the Paiutes several times, but neither Ben, Adam, Hoss, nor Joe ever mentioned the Washo tribe, even though the show's early episodes accurately called the area of the claims diggings (what would be Virginia City) by the "Washoe" name. (By the way, in my reading, "Washo" meant the tribe; "Washoe" meant the place names the whites gave a lake or valley, although I see that today, the two spellings seem interchangeable.)

Prophecies have always been a part of people's spiritual life; this is certainly true for native americans. One of the most enduring prophecies emerged from Wovoka, a northern Paiute, late in the 19th century. It is his prophecy that grew into the Ghost Dance movement of the late 19th century.

Although the prophecy in Who Have the Power is my own creation, it is based on what I have read about native american prophecies on the whole - and on prophecies in general (no on really understands them!).

One of the major background themes for Who Have the Power is the effect of the immigration of people from the eastern United States to California during the gold rush and to Nevada during the discovery of the Comstock Lode of silver and gold. This novel explores the effect of that immigration on the Washo people, whose sacred body of water is Lake Tahoe. It begins seven years after the Comstock discovery.

Although the tribal clan featured in Who Have the Power is fictitious, as is the prophecy, I consulted gratefully the few books and studies about the Washo people for background, which were written, alas, some decades ago. I gave names to all Washo that were derived from the Washo language as compiled by the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, and which I anglicized: Maakbuhusing and Masete, for example. The exception is Elisabeth Barclay herself, whose name, Timpanagos, I came upon years ago. This name and variants are found throughout the Far West, and it is perhaps of Paiute derivation. I chose it for its meaning, "she who sleeps." The Washo did not live in a vacuum, however, and they traded and socialized with various other groups in the area, and so I brought in what I learned about other tribes, particularly the Paiute but also from tribes in California.