Great Basin Murals Story

The story of the impact of the westward migration on the tribes of the Great Basin is well depicted in the various murals in this room. The dominant mural on the southern wall depicts a summer sagehut camp of the Shoshone.

The camp lies along the banks of the Humboldt River, which winds its way across 300 miles of northern Nevada. You’ll notice a depiction of this winding river painted on the floor of this room as well. An antelope peers across in the distance. Antelope and deer provided some of the sustenance for Great Plains tribes, but they also found a number of other sources of food as well. These included fish from the river, insects, rabbits and other small game, along with roots and seeds (especially pine nuts). On the left end of the mural you’ll see two children feeding birds. Across the river from them a teen girl fills a willow container with water. These containers were woven very tightly and then sealed with pitch from pinion pine trees.

Next, on the near side of the river, a boy is thrilled to have successfully killed a rabbit using his bow and arrow. Meanwhile, a girl uses a mano (hand-held stone) and metate (grinding base) to grind grain into flour for baking bread. Behind them (across the river again) a man uses a harpoon to try to snag a fish from the river.

Many of the people in the center foreground are engaged in various elements of food preparation. A woman sitting next to a large bowl of water and a fire ring is mixing ingredients in a decorated pot. Behind her and to her right another young person walks to the river to fill another container with water. To her left another youth brings rush stalks for weaving material while another works on cleaning fish. Another young woman wearing a willow hat uses a winnowing tray to separate the lighter chaff from the heavier seeds.

Finally, next to the sage huts a man braids rush weaving material into a rope, while an older woman seated on the ground is weaving a carrying basket. There are three children next to her, a girl playing with dolls and a doll house, a boy standing next to a toy top, and an infant in a baby carrier. Many of these items, and others, can be viewed in the display cases at the west end of the room.

The mural on the wall next to the listening stations depicts a male Indian peering through the bushes at a line of “prairie schooners” entering the valley. The wagon trains full of emigrants at first were mere curiosities to the Indians, but as their numbers increased and their use of the natural resources began to deplete the life necessities of the tribes, tensions began to mount between the two people groups.

Continued westward emigration and settlement extended the U.S. policies developed in the East around establishing reservations for the tribes. While the National Historic Trail marking the “Trail of Tears” represents forced movement of Indians from lands in the East to reservations in the West in the early to mid-1800s, there was also forced movement later that century in the West. The mural on the West wall of this room depicts a Western version, if you will, of a “Trail of Tears” forced march of Paiutes from northern Nevada to Washington Territory (Idaho) in winter of 1878.

The mural on the north wall depicts an early graduating class of the Stewart Indian Boarding School established south of Carson City, Nevada in 1890. It represented a desire by the U.S. government to educate Native Americans with the goal of assimilating them into traditional U.S. cultural norms.

Finally, the mural just before you enter the Forty Mile Desert depicts a happier celebration of the annual Father’s Day Powwow at the former site of the Stewart Indian School, which is now a museum. It is a celebration of the rich history of local Indian culture.