Margaret M. Wheat Papers

Identifier: 83-24

Scope and Contents

The Wheat papers are a reflection of Wheat's professional life as a geologist and ethnographer; there are no personal papers in the collection. The papers were divided into five series: research files, Nevada State Parks, Nevada Indians, tapes and transcripts, and photographs and films.

The strength of this collection lies with the resources on the lifestyles of Northern Paiute Indians of Nevada. Wheat, a curious and eager observer, made many friends among elderly Paiute tribal members over the years and gradually won their confidence, so that she was able to make notes on their technology, photograph their lifestyle, and finally tape record their memories of customs and cultural practices that were fast disappearing. 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.

Wheat began her professional career during the early 1950s when she was studying the pluvial geology of Lake Lahontan. Some of the files found in series 1, "Research Files" contain her papers on the subject, as well as those of her colleagues. Correspondence in this series documents her work in this field and that of budding geologists who wrote detailing their progress toward advanced degrees and asking for her advice. Letters from the 1950s also describe work she undertook for the Nevada State Museum as a field ethnologist, a period when she began to discover and conduct research about caves used by prehistoric communities.

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 the sometimes acrimonious struggles to provide funds for Dr. Camp's work and to develop the site as a Nevada State Park. Her files labeled "Ichthyosaur Battle" contain original and xeroxed copies of correspondence, financial statements, invoices, Park Commission minutes, and notes designed, in her eyes, to keep the park alive and prevent the Commission from becoming a rubber stamp for Thomas W. Miller and Howard Squires, chair and director respectively, of the State Park Commission.

Many of the products of Wheat's intellectual curiosity about the Indians of Nevada may be found in Series 3, "Indians." Among the items represented here are 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. Wheat acquired a scrapbook compiled by J.D. Oliver, Superintendent of the Nevada Indian School in the early part of the twentieth century. Clippings in the scrapbook and from historical Nevada newspapers which Wheat amassed provided details on Nevada Indians used to further her own work, including an interest in Sarah Winnemucca. Wheat attended the Pyramid Lake Area Technical Group meetings; several files containing clippings, correspondence, and notes serve to remind the reader that her interest in Paiutes extended from prehistory to the present.

Among the more important files of this series are those about Jack Wilson, also known as Wovoka, who led the American Indian ghost dance movement. These files include a manuscript by Wheat about Ed Dyer, who had many contacts with Wilson; a manuscript by Dyer entitled "The Jack Wilson Story;" several articles and part of a thesis about Wilson; a transcript of an oral interview with Ed Wilson; and information about the Vidovich family members who were Jack Wilson's grandchildren.

Wheat began recording conversations with Paiute friends in the late 1950s when she was given a used wire spool tape recorder. She continued her recordings utilizing a reel to reel recorder in the late 1960s and 1970s through a grant from the Fleischmann Foundation to the Foresta Institute. Those recordings are now part of the Wheat papers, as are transcriptions made of a number of those original recordings and tapes. Approximately one-half of the transcriptions were made by Wheat; the others were made by Professor Catherine Fowler and her interns during 1991. The collection also contains indexes made of the recordings; indexes are both by name and by Human Resource Area File subject terms. The last series, "Photographs and Films" has been transferred to the photo archives section of the Special Collections Department. Many of the several thousand photographs were taken by Wheat, or by Rolly R. Ham and Laura E. Mills. A fuller description of this series can be found near the end of this collection guide. Copies of the film have been made on VHS video tape and are available for researcher use. These films were the raw materials from which the film "Tule Technology" was made.


  • 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 M. Wheat, 1908-1988

Margaret Marean Wheat 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. Recognized 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. A special interest in the Ichthyosaur area in central Nevada involved her in the Nevada State Park System, and she served on the Nevada State Park Commission and on the Nevada Ichthyosaur Park Board between 1953 and 1960.

A major portion of Mrs. Wheat's research time was devoted to the Northern Paiute Indians. 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 friends 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 Paiute native americans. In 1980, Margaret Wheat received an honorary doctorate of science degree from the University of Nevada, Reno. Papers collected or created by Wheat in her professions as an ethnologist and geologist, her involvement in Nevada State Parks, and during her work of making oral histories of elder Paiute Tribal members. Of special note are files on Ichthyosaur State Park and Dr. Charles L. Camp; controversies within the State Park Commission; Northern Paiute 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; the rich collection of oral tapes recording traditional Northern Paiutes culture and survival arts; photographs by Wheat, Rolly R. Ham and Laura E. Mills; and films documenting Paiute survival arts such as basketry and food gathering. A later accession includes ms drafts of and photos for Wheat's book, Survival arts of the primitive Paiutes; and weekly letters from Wheat's father, Stanley Marean, 1918; 1943-1968, discussing activities of his extended family.


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.

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.

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.


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)