Prior to the coming of the emigrant bands in the early ’forties of the last century, the only white men the Indians ever saw were occasional trappers who wandered into the new and strange land. Then, the beautiful Indian name, soft and limpid as an Indian maiden’s eyes, was Wasiu—not the harsh, Anglicized, Washoe. Their range seemed to be from Washoe and Carson valleys on the east in winter, up to Tahoe and over the Sierras for fishing and hunting in the summer. They never ventured far westward, as the Monos and other mountain tribes claimed the mountain regions for their acorns and the game (deer, etc.), which abounded there.
While in the early days of the settlements of whites upon their lands the Washoes now and again rose in protest, and a few lives were lost, in the main they have been a peaceable and inoffensive tribe. The Paiutis were far more independent and warlike, placing their yoke upon the weaker tribe. Indeed, when I first talked with the older Washoes and Paiutis thirty years ago they were full of stories of big wars between themselves. They showed me rocks near to the present town of Verdi, on the line of the Southern Pacific, on which their ancestors had made certain inscriptions which they interpreted as warnings to the Paiutis not to dare trespass beyond that sign, and the Paiutis had similar notices inscribed upon bowlders near to their boundary lines. As a result of one of their fights the Washoes were forbidden the use of horses, and it is only since the whites have exercised control that the weaker tribe has dared to disregard this prohibition.
To-day they number in the region of six hundred men, women and children. On account of their nomadic habits it is impossible to secure a complete census.
In appearance they are heavy and fat, though now and again a man of fine, muscular form and good height is found. The women have broad, shapeless figures and clumsy, deliberate movements. The older they get the more repulsive and filthy they become. While young some of the women have pleasing, intelligent and alert faces, while children of both sexes are attractive and interesting. But with them as with all aboriginal people who have absorbed the vices and none of the virtues of the whites, the Washoes are fast losing power, vigor and strength by disease and dissipation. The smoke of the campoodie fire is also ruinous to their eyes and ophthalmia is prevalent among them. It is no uncommon thing to see a man or woman entirely blind.
The old-time methods of clothing have entirely disappeared. When I first knew them it was not unusual to find an old Indian wrapped in a blanket made of twisted rabbit-skins, but I doubt if one could be found to-day. The white man’s overalls, blouse and ordinary coat and vest for the men, with calico in variegated colors for the women, seem to have completely taken the place of their own primitive dress. A pair of moccasins, however, now and again, may be found in use at a dance or on some special occasion.