Sunday, March 25, 2007

Timbisha of Tümpisa

I was somewhat surprised to discover that a tribe of Indians, the Timbisha Shoshone, have lived in Death Valley for centuries, and continue to do so just a quarter-mile from Furnace Creek Ranch. Their name for Death Valley is Tümpisa, which means "rock paint".

The Mesquite tree is a focal point of Timbisha culture. The Timbisha collected fallen mesquite pods, grinding them into a sweet flour and shaping it into cakes to take with them into the mountains when the valley floor grew too hot. These cakes provided food throughout the fall and winter, supplementing a diet of of game and roasted pinenuts. The current health of the mesquite groves is not good, with 95% of the water in Furnace Creek going to support tourist activities.

Relations with outsiders have ebbed and flowed over the years. They were last uprooted from their property in 1936, and their tenure in the Park was guaranteed only recently, when Congress passed the Timbisha Homeland Act of 2000.

Left: Timbisha tribe headquarters. Right: A Timbisha adobe house, built by the CCC in the 1930s.

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