Edmund Potts started drinking whiskey when he was 10 or 11 years old. He doesn't remember exactly. At first, he enjoyed the feelings of pleasure and release alcohol gave him.
Later he began experiencing "internal pains," which led him to drink only beer . . . and then light beer."And then the drinking got the best of me and everything went haywire," said the 37-year-old Shoshoni man. "I've been through a couple of marriages. I got kids here and there."
Potts went to live at the Goshutes' Deep Creek reservation about five years ago when he met a half-brother of his - who is a Goshute - in a bar in Elko, Nev. Prior to that chance encounter, he didn't know he had a brother.
"We asked each other who each other's father was and we found out we have the same father," he said.
Lately, Potts has not been drinking. He's been trying to turn his life around by working odd jobs earning about $50 a month from the Goshute tribal government to supplement his meager income of about $240 per month from government assistance. As on most reservations, alcohol abuse is endemic at Deep Creek.
"A lot of people have the problem," he reflected. "A lot of people have died from drinking since I've been here the last five years. Young ones, too . . . my age."
The countryside around Ibapah is a bleak range land of scrubby brush and other desert vegetation bordered by the towering Deep Creek Range. This austere landscape is mostly silent except for the occasional gust of wind or far-off drone of a truck or car. Wind devils rise and fall like collapsing bursts of enthusiasm.
For their hardy ancestors, these lands were a paradise. Culturally and linguistically related to the Western Shoshoni tribes, the Goshutes were experts at desert survival who knew the food or medicinal value of every plant in the desert.
Early white settlers disparagingly called them the "root eaters" and scoffed at the Goshutes' crude lean-to huts and lack of material goods. Of course, few of these early settlers dared to make a living in the vast arid plains and desolate hills in which the Goshutes moved freely.
Few Goshutes - if any - living on the Deep Creek Goshute Reservation remember the old ways. But whether the tribe has assimilated is another question. Basically, the only jobs for the approximately 100 Goshutes living in the reservation area near Ibapah are the ones provided by the tribe through the largess of federal programs - plus the occasional laboring job on a ranch or unpredictable work at a mine.
The closest town is Wendover - a good hour and a half drive to the north. There are lots of jobs in Wendover, but making the transition from the reservation is not that easy.
"It's hard to get a place in Wendover - the rents are so expensive and the salaries are low," said Barbara Dushane, who is unemployed.
"The only job is in this building," she added, making reference to the new tribal center surrounded by a small group of ramshackle houses and stray dogs in the heart of Ibapah.
Dushane, like most people on the reservation, lives in government housing deeper in the heart of the reservation. She said she likes living in her two-bedroom home wrapped in aluminum siding, but if she had a steady job, she would move elsewhere, just as many others - especially the young - have already done.
"Because they have no job here, that's why they've got to go someplace and work," she said.
One of those lucky enough to work in tribal offices is Georgie Oppenhein, who provides day-care services for other employees at the tribal offices on the reservation.
She cares for about 12 children and gets paid by the tribe for doing so. She said most people would do better on the reservation if they would just stop drinking, like she and her husband did with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous.
"He got help and he's doing good now," she said. "He's been sober about two years."
Despite the isolation and hardships, Oppenhein said, most people like living in Ibapah and don't want to leave. She worked off the reservation and later came back. Her husband has found work at nearby Gold Hill Mine.
Oppenhein's father worked at an old welding shop next to the tribal offices that has long since closed down. The aluminum building where the welding shop was housed is surrounded by high weeds and junked automobiles. It seems severely neglected and damaged: the doors are partially ripped off, it is strewn with paper, old machinery and other debris. The shop once provided jobs repairing and building cattle guards.
Still, tribal leaders hope someone will someday find a use for and reopen the decaying facility. Potts wishes those who claim that Indians live high-on-the-hog off of government subsidies would come to Deep Creek and see how life really is.
"Live out here," he said. "Then you'll see what it's like. It's pretty hard to keep a household going."