George F. Wright Papers

Identifier: 90-37

Scope and Contents

The George F. Wright papers, consisting of the records of Wright's work as attorney for the case of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California before the United States Indian Claims Commission, were divided into six series. Of these, Series 1, Correspondence, and Series 2, Indian Claims Commission Docket No. 288 are the most important in providing an overall picture of the Washo's claims case against the federal government. In this claim the Washo sought compensation for lands and economic resources taken from them by white encroachment beginning in the 1850s.

Series 1 consists of correspondence between Wright and associated attorneys; appraisers of land, timber, minerals, and fisheries; anthropological experts whose testimonies described the cultural and economic worlds of the Washoe and other California Indians prior to and after contact with whites; the federal government; and Washoe tribal members. This correspondence helps to clarify the reasons why the Washoe case required twenty-two years to arrive at a settlement, and the difficulties imposed by that lengthy litigation on all involved, from the Washoe to the appraisers to Wright himself. This correspondence is supplemented by the court documents found in Series 2, which form part of the official record of the claims case. Especially useful for students of the Washoe culture and world are the reports filed by experts in appraisal of minerals, real estate, timber and fisheries values. These reports were based on extensive historical research, required months to prepare, and detailed conditions as they existed until the mid-1860s in the area occupied by the Washoe. Students of the Comstock era of Nevada history will find them especially useful, as they describe not only mining but the related industries of logging and transportation.

Wright also collected materials related to the claims case for the Indians of California, Docket Nos. 31 and 37 before the Indian Claims Commission. Although the antecedents of this case differed from the Washoes' case, there were many parallels in the evidence presented by expert witnesses and in how the cases were managed. The testimony by anthropological witnesses is extremely valuable. Men notable in their field spent days testifying in 1954 and 1955 about the Indians' culture, geographical territories, nature of Indian government, economic resources necessary for survival, religion, and language. These experts included Alfred L. Kroeber, Robert F. Heizer, Samuel A. Barrett, Edward Winslow, and Sherburne Friend Cook, among others. These testimonies form part of Series 3, as do other printed court documents. Lengthy descriptions of these two claims cases follow in this collection guide.

Wright also collected selections of court documents for about two hundred other Indian claims case dockets. Usually there are only a few documents, or even just one document in each case file. This series has been left as Wright arranged it, so researchers should be aware that it also contains some materials from Docket No. 288 and Docket Nos. 31 and 37.

The map series includes copies of maps presented as evidence in the Washo claims case. The originals of most of the copies came from the National Archives. A few original maps are included in this series; they consist of U.S.G.S. maps with the varying boundaries of the Washoe delineated as described by the anthropological experts.

Most of the photographs in this collection were also used as evidence in the Washoe case. All but a few images are aerial views of the Lake Tahoe, Carson Valley, and Washoe Valley regions of Nevada and California. A list of those views is included in this guide.


  • 1931-1973


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials must be used on-site; advance notice suggested. Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.

Historical Note

The Indian Claims Commission (hereafter referred to as the "Commission") was created by an act of Congress of August 13, 1947 (60 Stat. 1049) entitled "An Act to Create an Indian Claims Commission...." Recognizing that many of the Indian tribes in the United States had been deprived of their land and economic resources by the federal government without compensation, Congress gave the Commission authority to hear and determine claims against the U.S. on behalf of any identifiable group of American or Alaskan Indians and to determine an amount to be awarded to successful claimants. It was then up to Congress to authorize payment.

The Washoe Tribe of the States of Nevada and California met on April 21, 1948 and directed the tribal council to hire legal counsel and file a claim on behalf of the tribe. George F. Wright, an attorney in Elko, Nevada, signed a contract with the tribe which was approved by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in October of that same year. A fifty percent interest in Mr. Wright's contract was assigned by Wright to Washington, D.C. attorneys C.T. Busha, Jr. and John Lewis Smith, Jr. to facilitate handling of the case. Some years later after the death of Busha and retirement of Smith, the fifty percent interest was transferred to the Washington, D.C. law firm of Armour, Herrick, Kneipple & Allen.

The attorneys for the Washoe claims case were required to prove certain basic tenets: that the tribe was then and at the time of filing, an identifiable Native American entity; that prior to the encroachment of whites, the tribe occupied a fixed geographical area of a determinable amount of acres; that the tribe utilized economic resources within that territory; that those territories and resources were taken from the tribe without compensation or by coercion; and that such losses had a determinable dollar value.

The tribe's original petition of August 9, 1951 asked for a judgment in the amount of $43,811,985.84 based on the 1862 value of the land, fish and game rights, and minerals and timber which had been wrongfully removed, plus interest from 1863. To establish these values, Wright contracted with several professional appraisers who prepared extensive reports which subsequently became part of the exhibits in the Washoe legal case.

The Commission moved slowly on this docket (No. 288), as several hundred similar claims were filed by Indian tribes across the U.S. The Commission issued an interlocutory order on July 24, 1959 which declared that lands possessed by the Washoe Tribe were taken by the U.S. without payment on [or by] December 31, 1862 in Nevada, and March 3, 1853 in California. The Commission further ordered the case to proceed in order to determine the amount of acreage and value lost. Voluminous testimony was given by experts to establish the basis upon which the final judgment was rendered.

The federal government finally settled this claim in 1970 with a payment of about $5,000,000 to the tribe. This payment was based on a land area significantly reduced from the Washoes' original petition. $2,000 was distributed by the tribe to each authenticated Washoe member and with part of the balance the tribe established a commercial recreation and camping area on the Carson River. Thus ended the Washoes' and George Wright's twenty-two-year-old claims case to recover compensation for resources lost one hundred and eight years previously.


9 Linear Feet (9 boxes, 4 oversize folders)

Language of Materials



These papers were created or gathered by George F. Wright in his role as attorney for the Washoe Tribe before The Indian Claims Commission. Included in the collection are correspondence, reports, testimonies, maps and records of other relevant dockets before the commission.


Arranged into the following series: 1) Correspondence; 2) United States. Indian Claims Commission. Docket No. 288. The Washoe Tribe of the States of Nevada and California vs. the United States; 3) United States. Indian Claims Commission. Dockets No. 31 and 37. Clyde F. Thompson, et al and Ernest Risling, et al vs. the United States; 4) United States. Indian Claims Commission. Dockets of Other Indian Tribes; 5) Maps; 6) Photographs

Ownership and Custodial History

Papers deposited by Mrs. Lou Wright in the University of Nevada, Reno, Anthropology Archives in 1982 and donated by Mrs. Wright and the Anthropology Department to the Special Collections Department in 1990.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Mrs. Lou Wright on July 26, 1990.

Separated Materials

The majority of the original photos have been transferred to the Special Collections Photo Archive as collection number UNRS-P1991-28.


Guide to the of George F. Wright Papers
Susan Searcy
November 1990
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)