Margaret M. Wheat Papers

Identifier: 83-24

Scope and Contents

The Wheat papers reflect Wheat's professional life as a geologist and ethnographer. Much of this professional material is focused on documenting the lifestyle, culture, and customs of the Northern Paiute Peoples (Numu) of Nevada. The results were two significant works: Survival Arts of the Primitive Paiutes, and a series of oral and film recordings which are found in this collection.

Series 1, Research Files, contain Wheat’s materials on both geology and anthropology. Also included in this series is correspondence between her and other colleagues and students studying geology. Wheat began her professional career during the early 1950s when she was studying the pluvial geology of Lake Lahontan. The series also contains historical papers and research materials about the region. Additional correspondence also describes work she undertook for the Nevada State Museum as a field ethnologist.

Series 2, Nevada State Parks, contains records relating to Wheat’s activity in the Nevada State Park Commission. Wheat was instrumental in persuading Dr. Charles L. Camp, paleontologist from the University of California, Berkeley, to begin excavation of ichthyosaur fossils discovered near Gabbs, Nevada. She was a member of the Nevada Ichthyosaur Park Board and the Nevada State Park Commission and collected extensive documentation pertaining to funding disputes for Dr. Camp's work and the development of the site as a Nevada State Park

Series 3, Northern Paiute Peoples (Numu), contains materials collected by Wheat, among them indexes and professional papers on linguistics. Many of the indexes were created in collaboration with Sven Liljeblad, a linguist at Idaho State University and later the University of Nevada-Reno. Also in this series is a scrapbook compiled by J.D. Oliver, Superintendent of the Nevada Indian School (likely the Stewart Indian School). Clippings in the scrapbook and from historical Nevada newspapers which Wheat amassed provided Wheat attended the Pyramid Lake Area Technical Group meetings; several files containing clippings, correspondence, and notes Additionally, there are also materials on Sarah Winnemucca, and Jack Wilson (Wovoka).

Series 4, Tapes and Transcripts, contain recordings Wheat conducted with Paiute peoples along with their transcripts. Beginning this work in the late 1950s, Wheat continued this work through the Forest Institute.

Series 5 contains photographs and film, primarily of depicting Northern Paiute culture, lifestyle, and customs.

Series 6 contains correspondence from Wheat’s father, S.R. Mareans. The letters were sent to his family and friends and contain regular updates regarding Mareans’ work and personal life. Last, Series 7 contains two manuscripts from Wheat’s book, Lost Arts of Primitive Paiutes.


  • 1879-1981


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Certain items are inaccessible due to a lack of playback or may require additional conversion work. Please contact Special Collections for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

Any published material, photographs or recordings used by another author/user requires written acknowledgement be made of material contributed by Margaret M. Wheat.

Biographical Note

Margaret Marean Wheat (1908-1988) was born September 9, 1908 in Fallon, Nevada. She received her education in Fallon and at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she studied geology. During her time as a geologist and an anthropologist, her field experiences ranged from association with the U.S. Geological Survey to cave sitter at Winnemucca Lake, protecting the site from vandals. She worked as an archaeological field worker for the Nevada State Museum and also on water resources projects for the Desert Research Institute, University of Nevada, Reno. She later, through her own interest in the Ichthyosaur area in central Nevada, became involved in the Nevada State Park system. She served on both the State’s park commission and the Nevada Ichthyosaur Park board between 1953 and 1960.

Most of Wheat’s research time was devoted to the Northern Paiute Peoples (Numu). Recording and photographing these people, their arts, and life ways resulted in the book, Survival Arts of the Primitive Paiutes, published in 1967 by the University of Nevada Press. A grant from the Fleischmann Foundation to the Foresta Institute enabled Wheat to continue her work among the Paiutes; from 1968-1971 and 1972-1974 she made approximately 150 audio recordings of her elderly Paiute collaborators discussing their life ways, legends, and tribal history. She also did extensive photography among the Paiutes and was involved in the production of a film documenting their customs. Segments of the film footage were incorporated into "Tule Technology: Northern Paiute Uses/Marsh Resources in Western Nevada," by the Smithsonian Institution Office, Folk life Programs.

In 1980, Margaret Wheat received an honorary doctorate of science degree from the University of Nevada, Reno. She resided in Fallon, Nevada, until her death August 28, 1988.


22 Linear Feet (170 audio tapes, 8 reels of movie film)

Language of Materials



Margaret M. Wheat (1908-1988) was an ethnologist, geologist, and photographer who worked closely with the Numu peoples. Collection includes papers collected and created by Wheat throughout her career as an ethnologist and geologist, among other things. Of note are files on Ichthyosaur State Park and Dr. Charles L. Camp; controversies within the State Park Commission; Numu linguistics; a scrapbook compiled by J. D. Oliver as Superintendent of the Nevada Indian School; Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins; Jack Wilson (Wovoka); Edward A. Dyer; Vidovich Family members; Wuzzie George; tapes recording traditional Northern Paiutes culture and survival arts; photographs by Wheat and Laura E. Mills; and films documenting Numu practices such as basketry and food gathering. A later accession includes weekly letters from Wheat's father, Stanley Marean, 1918; 1943-1968, discussing activities of his extended family and manuscript drafts of and photos for Wheat's book, Survival arts of the primitive Paiutes.


Arranged into the following series: 1) Research files; 2) Nevada State Parks; 3) Northern Paiute Peoples (Numu); 4) Audio Tapes and Transcripts; 5) Photographs and Film; 6) Correspondence of Stanley Marean; 7) Manuscript Drafts of Survival Arts of the Primitive Paiutes; 8) Margaret Wheat Materials from Catherine Fowler

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated to the Special Collections Department by Margaret M. Wheat between 1980 and 1984; Papers, tapes, photos, films donated by Margaret M. Wheat in 1981. An additional gift of S. R. Marean correspondence and manuscript drafts of Survival Arts of the Primitive Paiutes was donated by Wheat's daughter, Sylvia J. Jesch, in 1990. Materials received from Catherine Fowler in 2015.

Related Materials

Wheat, Margaret M. Survival arts of the primitive Paiutes. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1967 [Special Collections stacks, E99.P2 W46]

Separate Materials

Series 5 photographs and the film were transferred to the photo archives sections of the Special Collections Department as collection number UNRS-P1989-32.

The Rolly R. Ham photographs were transferred to Special Collections Photograph Archives as a separate collection, collection number UNRS-P1989-55. The Rolly R. Ham Photograph Collection contains 800 prints, negatives and glass plate negatives depict scenes in the Fallon area; however, other subjects include the Lahontan Dam construction, Northern Paiute Indians, Donner Lake, and Reno and San Francisco scenes. All photographs in this group were transferred to the Special Collections Photo Archive as a separate collection from the Margaret M. Wheat Photographs.

Most printed materials, such as professional journals and books, were also transferred to the Special Collections stacks. The front cover of each item transferred was photocopied and placed in designated folders within each series and the original materials were placed in either the Special Collections book stacks or transferred to the Gifts and Exchange Department of the library.

Processing Information

In 2023, additional work was done to both update outdated and offensive language and restore equity in the relationships between Margaret Wheat and the Numu peoples.

Initial collection descriptions courtesy of Catherine Fowler. Collection descriptions amended by archives staff, where appropriate.

  • 600 duplicate photographs of Fallon Paiute-Shoshone tribal members and history.


Guide to the Margaret M. Wheat Papers
Lenore M. Kosso and Susan Searcy
1983; February 1989
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Nevada, Reno. Special Collections Department Repository

Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center
1664 N. Virginia St.
Reno Nevada 89557-0322 USA
775-682-5724 (Fax)