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Owyhee

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The small town of Owyhee, near the Nevada-Idaho border, is the center of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, established in 1877 for the Shoshone and Paiute. The reservation, a huge square of land, half in Nevada, half in Idaho, is situated in the beautiful Owyhee River Valley. Driving north on Nevada 226, one gradually leaves the Great Basin and enters the Columbia Plateau. Until around the turn of the century, salmon from the Pacific Ocean swam up the Columbia and Snake rivers and tributaries to spawn in the nearby Owyhee River.

After the establishment of the reservation, Native American residents lived in a variety of dwellings, ranging from wickiups covered with blankets or canvas to log cabins and adobe houses. Until fairly recently, many tribal members continued to live in log cabins, but new housing, built by the tribe's own housing authority under the aegis of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), is replacing these structures. In the 1930s the BIA and other federal agencies constructed a number of vernacular stone buildings consisting mainly of institutional structures and housing for its employees. Many of the houses and cottages were built from standard plans prepared in the construction division of the Office of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. The Public Works Administration (PWA) funded construction of some of the larger buildings, as well as structures built to support an improved electrical power supply for the town. In style and materials, particularly their native multicolored stone, these buildings resemble those at the Stewart Indian School in Carson City, though no evidence directly connecting the architecture of the two complexes has been found. Although the buildings are serviceable, they constitute an ambivalent legacy as reminders of white oppression.

Reservation residents continue to use many of the old BIA buildings and even plan to restore some of the stone structures, but others are deteriorated and vacant. Traditional architecture, such as wickiups made of willows and brush or pieces of wood, can also be found in Owyhee, although they are used for storage or summer shade rather than as year-round dwellings. Contemporary architecture, in the form of prefabricated houses and a new tribal headquarters, provides another counterpoint to the earlier federally constructed buildings on the reservation.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Julie Nicoletta

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