Contact Us
To ensure the security of your information, we ask that you type the code (displayed below) in the text box.
Tribal Office Number: 760-933-2321

Tribal History

The Benton Paiute Reservation, established in 1915, is the home of the Utu Utu Gwaitu Paiute Tribe which translates into “Hot Water Place People”, a name derived from the “Numic” language, originating from their location next to their ancestral hot springs, a natural flowing spring discharging at 140°F. Today, it is called the Benton Hot Springs and it is not owned by the Tribe. Also adjacent to the Reservation is the historic silver mining town known as “Old Benton”.

The Reservation is located in Mono County, California, near the town of Benton which is at the intersection of Highway 120 and Highway 6, approximately 10 miles west of the Nevada border and 45 miles east of Mammoth Lakes, California. Federal trust land held in ownership by the United States government for the benefit of the Tribe consist of 400 acres, the original 160 acres identified in the 1915 Executive Order and 240 acres obtained by Act of Congress in 2006. The Tribe’s Administrative Center lies within the high desert ecosystem of the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountain range at 5,700 feet above mean sea level.

The Tribes owns 67 acres of fee land purchased over the years for economic development purposes. The Tribe has successfully operated the “Benton Station Cafe” for years at the intersection of Highway 120 and Highway 6, a favorite seasonal stop for travelers visiting Yosemite National Park. The Tribe also contracts with the U.S. Postal service to operate a Post Office at Benton Station.

The Tribe’s federally-approved Constitution was established on November 22, 1975 and ratified on January 20, 1976. Tribal enrollment is 138 members with approximately 37 homes on the Reservation. Tribal government consists of five council members, Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Secretary/Treasurer, and two Members-at-Large.

The Band’s formal “government to government” relationship with the United State of America government was established by Presidential Executive Order in 1915. On July 10, 1915, Assistant Indian Commissioner E.B. Meritt wrote to the Secretary of the Interior:

On March 19, 1915 the Superintendent of the Bishop Indian School, California, recommended that steps be taken to have the NE/4 of Sec. 11, T. 2 S., R. 31 E. M.D.M. Mono County California, set aside as a cemetery for the Paiute Indians, who have used the land in this manner for a very long time. The Superintendent’s report also showed that there was some undertaking on foot to interfere with the burying ground of these Paiute Indians.

Moreover, he reports that there are quite a number of Indians in that section who are without a camping ground, being located on private land at present, and the 160 acres would not only provide them with a cemetery but also with a place to camp.

This request appears reasonable to the Office, and it is felt the Indians’ rights to bury their dead in this spot, as they have been so long accustomed to do, should be unmolested.

The Benton Reservation was set aside by President Woodrow Wilson by Executive Order on July 22, 1915 and this undeniably established a “federal government to government relationship” that has remained “unbroken” to this day:

It is hereby ordered that the N.E. 1/4 of section 11, township 2 south, range 31 east, M.D.M., containing 160 acres, in Mono County, California, be, and the same is hereby, reserved for the use of a small band of Paiute Indians living near Benton, California, as a cemetery and camping ground: Provided, That this order shall not affect any existing valid rights of any person or persons to the land described.

Past Tribal Chairman Joseph C. Saulque wrote a letter to the BIA, Sacramento Area Office, on August 12, 1970:

First, I would like to know if there is a reservation in old Benton, California. If so, what is the location? If not, what happened to it? I’m told by Native Americans around here that there was one.

BIA, Sacramento Area Office, Acting Area Realty Officer, responded on August 19, 1970, to Mr. Saulque’s August 12, 1970 letter:

We are unable to find any record of a reservation around Benton, California. The nearest reservation is at Bishop, approximately 40 miles south.

Mr. Saulque persisted in his efforts to seek information from the BIA on the existence of the Benton Reservation and wrote a letter on September 21, 1971 to the Sacramento Area Office:

I wrote a letter to you, dated August 12, 1970, concerning Indian Land in Benton, Mono, California. Your reply dated August 19, 1970, signed by Weldon A. Rolfe, acting area Realty officer, said, “We are unable to find any record of a reservation around Benton, California. The nearest reservation is at Bishop, Calif, approximately 40 miles south.”

However, since I have been here at Brigham Young University, I have been looking in the library for information concerning reservations and/or Indian Land. I came across a book with orders from the White House concerning Indian Land. The Benton area land signed by Woodrow Wilson, July 22, 1915.

Acting Sacramento Area Director, Wesley L. Barker, wrote to Mr. Saulque by letter, dated December 30, 1971:

Dear Mr. Saulque:

This acknowledges your letter of September 21, received on December 23, regrind the NE1/4 of section 11, T. 2 S., R. 31 E., M.D.M., California 160 acres, which was reserved for the Paiute Indians of Benton, California, by Executive Order of July 22, 1915.

The Executive Order has been overlooked by both the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and we were not aware of it until you brought it to our attention.

The Bureau of Land Management has been carrying the land on their records as vacant public domain; however, we sent their Riverside Office a copy of the Executive Order and informed them that from now on the reserved land will be known as the Benton Paiute Indian Reservation.

/s/ Wesley L. Barker

During the Dawes Allotment period in history, members of many families now enrolled with the Tribe received Individual Indian Trust Allotments in various locations in Mono and Inyo Counties near the Tribe’s Reservation. Before and after the establishment of the Benton Paiute Reservation in 1915 members of the “Band” received federal services in the form of schooling at Indian Schools located in Bishop and Riverside, California and Stewart Indian School, Carson City, Nevada.

Currently, the Tribe is managing a number of federal grants intended to fund its operations and strengthen its self-determinative authority for the benefit of the Tribe and the health and welfare of tribal members. In 2010 the Tribe sought to identify potential and viable economic development opportunities to create income for the Tribe and jobs for members and they received a $350,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Interior, Division of Energy and Mineral Development for a study of the feasibility for geothermal energy development on tribal lands. As a result of a successful feasibility study, efforts continue to seek more federal grants to further identify the potential for geothermal energy development and direct use applications such as green houses, aquaculture and other related projects.