Pyramid Lake, The Pyramid Lake War

The Pyramid Lake War – The Conflict That Forced The Northern Paiute Indians Off Of Their Ancient Lands

On May 5, 1860, after Northen Paiute Indians killed five men and burned the William’s Stop, a Pony Express site, to the ground. In response to the murders and the destruction of a crucial Pony Express site, the Williams brothers kidnapped and raped two Northen Paiute Indians.

On May 12th, 1860, the first battle of the Pyramid Lake War, also known as the Paiute War, the Washoe Indian War and the Pah Ute War, occurred after settlers, who had immigrated from the United States, banded together to retaliate against the destruction of the Pony Express stop, that was established in the Nevada territory. Northern Paiutes Indians allied with the Shoshone and the Bannock Indians against the Nevada settlers to secure a victory in the First Battle of Pyramid Lake.

Numaga, the chief of the Northern Paiutes who was also known as Young Winnemucca, advised against war and prophetically claimed that:

“They will come like the sand in a whirlwind and drive you from your homes. You will be forced among the barren rocks of the north, where your ponies will die; where you will see the women and old men starve, and listen to the cries of your children for food.”

While Numaga, called for peace he prepared his people for an armed conflict before the start of the two battles, of the Pyramid Lake War, that ensued.

Photograph of Numaga at the Pyramid Lake Museum.

After the Second Battle of Pyramid Lake, Numaga’s prediction came to pass and his people were forced off of their lands, around Pyramid Lake, and onto reservations in Oregon and Washington.

In present time, two Nevada historical markers indicate a site of where part of the two battles, of the Pyramid Lake War, occurred.

John Charles Frémont, Lake Lahontan, Numu Native Americans, Pyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake – A Geographical Formation Named By Explorer John Charles Frémont

John Charles Frémont’s expedition party at Pyramid Lake in 1844.

Pyramid Lake is a remnant of the ancient Lake Lahontan, which covered some 8,450 square miles in western Nevada during the Earth’s Ice Age. In ancient times, Lake Lahontan reached out to eastern California and up to southern Oregon.

Along the shores of Pyramid Lake, cave and rock shelters have yielded evidence of Numu Indians, also known as Northern Paiute Indians, living at the Pyramid Lake area for thousands of years. The Numu Indians are known to have a language that is derived from the Uto-Aztecan language family, which is most closely related to the language of the Owens Valley Paiute and to the Mono Paiute, also known as the Monachi Paiute and as the Kutzadika Paiute, a dialect which is spoken directly on the other side of the Sierra Nevada.

On January 10, 1843, John Charles Frémont came upon Pyramid Lake, during his second trip to the Black Rock Desert, on and named it for the pyramid-shaped island just off the east shore. The Numu called the pyramid formulation (sic) Wono. In 1859, the Pyramid Lake Indian Tribe Reservation was created as a site for the Numu Indians, after the conclusion of the Pyramid Lake War.

Author’s Note:

In August 2019, author Philip Andrew Hamilton visited Pyramid Lake, for his first time, on his way to Burning Man Metamorphosis.