—Raymond Yowell, Western Shoshone leader (qtd. in Solnit, Savage Dreams, 1994)
Western American History as Colonial Palimpsest
In 1863, Nevada territorial governor James Nye negotiated the Treaty of Ruby Valley with the northern bands of the Western Shoshone Indian Nation in north-central Nevada. Although the treaty granted the United States only right-of-way access to the land for purposes of mineral development, rather than absolute ownership, white emigrants had been moving into and claiming Shoshone land in increasing numbers since the 1840s. The 1887 General Allotment Act further eroded the Shoshone land base by opening land on the Duck Valley Reservation to non-Indian settlement. In the 1950s, the Indian Land Claims Commission attempted to compensate the Western Shoshone for losses incurred by this process of “gradual encroachment,” but the thirty-four bands of the Western Shoshone continue to refuse to accept payment because their land was never officially ceded to the United States.
Because the Western Shoshone maintain that they never relinquished their land to the United States, Shoshone sisters Carrie and Mary Dann have refused to pay fees for grazing their cattle livestock on the now federally managed Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land surrounding their family’s 800 acres in Crescent Valley, Nevada. After unsuccessful attempts to enforce grazing fee regulations, the BLM filed numerous lawsuits against the Danns and impounded their livestock. Ironically, the BLM complains of “decades of environmental abuse” wrought by the Danns’ “trespass” in a geographic area that is considered part of the Western Shoshone Nation’s original 26 million acres of ancestral land (“Dann Trespass”).1