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McDermitt Vicinity

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Located near the town of McDermitt, the 34,650-acre Fort McDermitt Indian Reservation is currently the home of about half of the 8,000-member Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone tribe. The reservation occupies the site of a nineteenth-century U.S. Army fort. A thirteen-mile loop road, east of U.S. 95, passes through the reservation into a small green canyon with alfalfa farms and ranches that produce horses and some cattle. Along this road are simple, early twentieth-century vernacular houses, late twentieth-century prefabricated dwellings, various outbuildings, and even some willow corrals.

The U.S. Army began patrolling the area in the summer of 1865 in response to conflict between settlers and Native Americans. Lieutenant Colonel Charles McDermit, commander of Fort Churchill and of the Nevada Military District, led his troops against the Native Americans in several battles that summer. After his death in battle in August 1865, a military post was established and named Camp McDermit. Soldiers built the first structures of stone and wood the following year. In 1879 the camp became known as Fort McDermit. (The spelling was changed to McDermitt with the establishment of a post office in 1891.) The longest-surviving active army fort in all of Nevada, the post was converted into a reservation in 1889.

Sarah Winnemucca, daughter of the Paiute Chief Winnemucca, came to the fort in 1870 with 500 starving Paiute and members of other groups from the Truckee River reservation to beg the army for food. She remained at the fort during the 1870s, where she worked in the hospital. An eloquent writer and fluent speaker of English and several Native American languages, she dedicated her life to improving living conditions and securing rights for all Native Americans.

The administrative complex of the tribe is adjacent to the only two remaining fort buildings. In an interesting twist of history, the tribe now uses these buildings for community activities.

Writing Credits

Julie Nicoletta

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