Two hundred years ago, the place where I sit writing these words was the site of a massacre.
According to Harley Jackson, an elder from the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, the story goes like this.
A group of Northern Paiute / Western Shoshone / Bannock people, or Nuwu, as they call themselves in the Paiute language, were traveling and hunting through the center of their traditional territory, and camped in the broad saddle now known as Thacker Pass, which Harley calls “our main pathway.”
Drawn by the herds of antelope, deer, and elk, the strongest hunters traveled east, over the Santa Rosa Mountains and into Paradise Valley.
Most of the group remained behind. I can imagine them camped here, perhaps gathering roots and bulbs, trapping rabbits and tanning deer hides, fishing for trout in the creeks, harvesting wild bamboo for arrow shafts and willow for cradleboards and shelters, and knapping obsidian into knives, arrowheads, and other tools while telling stories around the fire.
With the hunters away, danger approached. A raiding party from another tribe – the Pit River Tribe from what is now northeastern California — came upon the family group left behind at Thacker Pass. They swept down quickly, killing those who resisted and seizing the rest as captives to take back to their territory.
When the Nuwu hunters returned from Paradise Valley, they found disaster. A full moon shone above Thacker Pass, and the rotting entrails of their relatives were spread out across the sagebrush.
This is why, in Paiute, Thacker Pass is called Peehee mu-huh, or “rotten moon.”
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