The Southern Paiute have called this challenging region home for centuries, defending their land from other tribes and eventually the European-Americans who migrated here. They have had a presence in Cedar Breaks and the surrounding area (a land area spanning from the Great Basin to southern California) at least as far back as 1100 A.D.
“Paa” ute means water ute, and refers to their preference for living near water sources. These “water utes” lived nomadically and traveled to various areas throughout the year to harvest food and natural materials in the appropriate seasons.
During spring, in the valleys to the west and south of Cedar Breaks, the Southern Paiute practiced floodplain gardening, creating reservoirs and irrigation ditches to water corn, squash, melons, gourds, sunflowers, beans and wheat.
The Spanish explorer Escalante kept detailed journals of his travels in the Southwest and made notes concerning Southern Paiute horticulture, writing in 1776, that there were “well dug irrigation ditches” being used to water small fields of corn, pumpkins, squash, and sunflowers. Nearly every traveler who documented his explorations in southern Utah had an account that made reference to fields cultivated by the Southern Paiute along Ash Creek, the Santa Clara River, and the Virgin River. Water was the crucial element to traditional Paiute life-ways and subsistence strategies. In the 1850s, when Mormon settlement of southern Utah began, it was through water-access-denial that the Southern Paiutes began being marginalized.
After planting their fields in the spring, the Paiute often journeyed up in elevation (10,000 ft.+) to the lush meadows and cool forests of Markagunt Plateau. Markagunt means high land of trees, and it is atop this plateau that Cedar Breaks National Monument is situated. Here, in the refreshing high-country, the Southern Paiute gathered berries and plants, hunted mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, antelope, woodchucks, and rabbits.
From this area the Paiute also collected agate, a type of rock used for making stone tools. Their skill at making these tools was widely known and respected, and their arrowheads, spear points and more were traded with many surrounding tribes.
Southern Paiutes were also, and still are, skilled basket weavers. They used their handwoven baskets to carry seeds, roots, tubers, berries, and nuts. When sealed with pine pitch, the finely woven baskets carried water. Other forms of production included the making of bow and arrow; nets; sandals; cordage; lightweight bark skirts and leggings; buckskin and other hide dresses, shirts and breechcloths; and rabbit skin leggings, ropes, blankets and capes.
The lasting Southern Paiute presence in the Cedar Breaks area has been well-documented. Over a 4-year period (1996-1999), archaeologists surveyed 2,318 acres within the Monument and additional acres of the surrounding Dixie National Forest. Results concerning the lengthy Southern Paiute presence in the area included the discovery of ceramics, shards, debitage (material resulting from the manufacture of stone tools), projectile points and tools like scrapers, choppers, and hammer stones.
Early explorers estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Paiutes once lived in the nearby Parowan and Cedar Valleys. After suffering many confrontations with European-Americans and being denied use of valuable farmland, water and other resources, the area’s Southern Paiutes were decimated to a current population of less than 1,000.
In spite of these hardships, the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah remains and has successfully established the Paiute Nation with reservation lands in five Southern Utah counties. Today, the tribe pursues various economic development projects to ensure sustainability and cultural preservation for future generations. They also continue to celebrate through dancing and games at their annual inter-tribal gathering, held the second week of June in nearby Cedar City.
Their tradition as storytellers also continues. Elders who still speak the language pass tribal history down to the next generation of Paiute, through a variety of community activities and events. The Southern Paiute are standing strong. Yesterday, today and tomorrow...
Wunuh suh’ uh’ hunt
(Sounds like “Wah-new sue oo hunt”) Paiute for “Standing Strong”
For more information about the southern Paiute people, visit the links below: