Tribes: New evidence proves massacre was at Nevada mine site

By SCOTT SONNER (Associated Press)
RENO, Nev. Oct. 5, 2021 8:42 p.m.

Tribal lawyers are asking a U.S. judge in Nevada to reconsider her earlier refusal to block digging at a proposed lithium mine near the Oregon line where they say newly uncovered evidence proves it was the sacred site of a massacre of dozens of Native Americans in 1865.

The new motion filed in federal court in Reno includes an 1865 newspaper report and two eyewitness accounts of how at least 31 Paiute men, women and children were “murdered by federal soldiers” at Thacker Pass.


The accounts were in an autobiography first published in 1929 by a well-known American labor organizer, Bill Haywood. One was from a cavalry volunteer who participated in the slaughter and the other by a tribal member who survived it.

Nevada Lithium Corp.’s construction is scheduled to begin earlier next year at what would be the largest lithium mine in the nation and the biggest open pit lithium mine in the world.

Lithium is a key component in electric vehicle batterie. Demand for the mineral is expected to triple over the next five years.

The only significant lithium mine now operating in the U.S. is in Nevada. Another planned halfway between Reno and Las Vegas by Ioneer Ltd. also faces legal challenges from environmentalists fighting to protect a rare desert wildflower that the Fish and Wildlife Service formally proposed last week to be listed as an endangered species.

Related: Judge says digging can continue at lithium mine site near Oregon border

Judge Miranda Du says she will hold a full evidentiary hearing on the merits of the case before any construction begins about 230 miles (370 kilometers) northeast of Reno.

But in recent months she has denied requests by environmentalists and tribes to prevent the Bureau of Land Management in the meantime from digging trenches for an archaeological survey that Lithium Nevada must complete before moving forward.


The tribes maintain 1,000 cultural resources and 57 properties there are eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. They say the bureau has failed to meet federal requirements it formally consult with the tribes on a government-to-government basis about the preparation of a historical properties plan.

The tribes said in the Friday court filing that the new evidence warrants a fresh review after Judge Du ruled Sept. 6 the government field notes dating to 1868 that they submitted in their earlier plea for injunctive relief “do not show a massacre happened within the project area.”

Lawyers for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and Burns Paiute Tribe of Oregon stated:

“The proximity of the Indian Lodgings in the project area, combined with the intervening plaintiffs’ oral histories describing how Paiute people, being hunted by the US Cavalry, hid in Thacker Pass, and especially the new accounts of the massacre make it very likely that the Sept. 12, 1865 massacre happened, at least partially, within the project area.”

A satellite image from Google Earth shows the location of Thacker Pass in the McDermitt Caldera, which stretches from southeast Oregon into northern Nevada.

A satellite image from Google Earth shows the location of Thacker Pass in the McDermitt Caldera, which stretches from southeast Oregon into northern Nevada.

Google Earth / Screenshot

Spokespersons for the bureau and Nevada Lithium said Tuesday they had no immediate comment.

The Owyhee Avalanche article cited in the Sept. 30, 1865, edition under the headline “Indian Fight in Queen River Valley” says a Capt. Payne and Lt. Littlefield of the 1st Nevada Cavalry had camped with 19 volunteers along Willow Creek in the area near Thacker Pass.

“A charge was ordered and each officer and man went for scalps, and fought the scattering devils over several miles of ground for three hours, in which time all were killed that could be found,” the story said.

The article said the troops located 31 dead, noting “more must have been kill (sic) and died from their wounds, as a strict search was not made and the extent of the battlefield so great.”

Haywood wrote in “The Autobiography of Big Bill Haywood” that the “story of the massacre of the Piute (sic) Indians at Thacker Pass” was first told to him by Jim Sackett, “one of the volunteers who took part in the killing” and Ox Sam, “a Piute (sic) who made his escape, one of the only three survivors.”

Haywood wrote that Sackett told him the Paiutes, including “squaws and little children” had been sleeping in “wickiups” — small huts also referred to as wigwams — and were “shot down before they came to their senses.”

“From one wickiup to another, we went pouring in our bullets.”